Day Tripping in Charleston, SC

If you haven’t been to Charleston, South Carolina and would like a little glimpse of the historic and picturesque town, keep reading to see what my sister and I did on our recent day trip to this charming southern destination.

Hanging flower baskets on a light pole on King Street in Charleston, SC

I have been to Charleston a few times in the past, but my sister never has been and wanted to go see it for herself. Since the town isn’t very large, you can see most of the highlights in a day which we did.

Charleston visitor's center

We started at the Charleston Visitor’s Center that has a parking facility right next to it. The center is not right in the historic district and if that is where you want to go, you can drive to get closer to the sights and find a parking lot, they are well-marked and most you pay via your phone.

At the Visitor center you can learn a lot about Charleston and pick up literature just about everything there is to do.

Charleston-Discovery-Map

Make sure you pick up one of the free Discovery Maps. I found it much better than using the GPS on my phone to find and get where we wanted.

Once we left the visitor center for the historic downtown section and found parking we started walking.

My sister and I on a narrow street in Charleston, SC

You can walk pretty much all of the historic downtown area as Charleston is a relatively walkable city, so you can easily get around without a car.

Old South Carriage ride ticket seller in Charleston, SC

There are a few other ways to get around to see everything, but the most popular is to take an Old South Carriage ride around the city. There are many other horse and carriage ride companies, but this is the one I always take friends and family to.

Charleston,-SC-Carriage-tour

It is best to call ahead to make sure you get on a tour that is going to go to the areas you want to see as every tour goes to different areas. You also may want to ask for a tour where the carriage only has a few passengers, not a full carriage as this can be a heavy burden for one horse working all day, especially in the hot and humid summer.

If you get a good driver you will learn quite a lot about the city. For instance did you know that there was an earthquake in Charleston in 1886 that registered about 7.0 on the richter scale?

Charleston home with earthquake bolts.

After the earthquake, tie rods and pattress plates were used extensively to reinforce damaged masonry buildings — so much so that they became commonplace among the stately buildings of downtown Charleston. Thus, they earned their moniker of “earthquake bolts. Some are quite decorative.

Other Ways to Get Around

a line up of yellow and black bike taxis in Charleston, SC

If you want to see something up close that you saw while on a carriage ride you can hop on a bike taxi to see more.

My sister on the Charleston harbor walkway

After our carriage ride, we wanted to see The Battery section which is where all the historic mansions are that face the harbor.

Raised Walkway along Charleston Harbor

In the area there is also an elevated waterfront seawall promenade that offers stunning views of the harbor and Fort Sumter. We had it all to ourselves.

Diane and Carol in walking along the walkway along E Battery and the harbor.

I highly recommend heading here, especially if it is a hot and humid summer day as the breeze coming off the water is refreshing.

The Historic Houses & Mansions

Since we only had a day, we didn’t go on any tours of the homes – there are a few. We opted to just do a walking tour.

Rainbow row in Charleston, SC

First up is Rainbow Row. It is a colorful line-up of 18th-century townhouses that have become a very popular tourist attraction.

Pink Charleston home with a narrow lot where front of home is not facing the street.

The Sideway Homes – When the city’s first streets were laid out in 1680, residential lots were long and deep with little street frontage. Placing the house sideways on the lot made the best use of space.

a house where front is placed on the side

Placing the houses sideways also allowed the home to take full advantage of the prevailing southerly breezes, necessary in the hot summer climate.

Pink mansion on E. Battery Street in Charleston SC

This pink mansion is across from the promenade and harbor and wasn’t hidden behind a gate like many of the homes are.

taupe and white Charleston mansion.

Not all the houses are sideways though, many are not.

Historic pink and white 3 level mansion in Charleston, SC

And many are a shade of pink!

Historic pink and white ornate mansion in Charleston, SC
a brick mansion along the harbor in Charleston, SC

This brick mansion in The Battery section was quite impressive. See the earthquake bolts?

Brick mansion overlooking park and Charleston harbor.

As was this one with the Mansard roofline.

A southern mansion overlooking the harbor in Charleston
a teal and white historic southern mansion overlooking the harbor in Charleston

And the surprise color on the ceilings of the porches. Thanks to Linda a reader who left the reason the ceiling is painted the color in the comments – The practice of painting the ceilings in a Haint Blue color traces back to the Gullah Geechee people living in the low country of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Gullah folklore explains that ghosts, also referred to as “haints,” were not able to cross water. In order to repel evil spirits from plantations, the porch ceilings were painted a soft blue.

A Charleston mansion in the Battery being renovated.

There were also a few that were undergoing renovations.

Driveway& Courtyard Gates

Many of the larger homes are behind hedges and gates. Some of the gates are quite stately and decorative.

Ornate wood driveway door flanked by brick square columns.
Ornate wood driveway doors painted black on a white house.
Ornate green wood driveway door with brick columns
ornate brick wall along sidewalk in Charleston, SC
White wood driveway door flanked by stucco square columns.

Flower Boxes

Charleston is also known for its flower window boxes. They are everywhere and always well maintained.

close up of flowers in a window box on a brick townhome in Charleston, SC
flower boxes with white geraniums on a brick house
2 flower boxes showcasing windows on a pale yellow house.
Pale lavender historic home in Charleston, SC

Go Shopping

When you tire of seeing historic mansions and sightseeing, Charleston has plenty of shops.

Walking along King Street in Charleston, SC

You will find shops from boutiques to art galleries to antique stores and…

Charleston's Target store

…even a Target in the historic downtown area along King Street.

Inside Charleston City Market shopping.

And don’t miss a stroll through the Charleston City Market. This historic market is home to over 300 vendors selling everything from handmade jewelry, souvenirs to ice cream cones.

Where We Ate

Shopping street in Charleston, SC

Charleston is a foodie paradise, with restaurants serving up everything from Lowcountry cuisine to international fare. Since we were only there for a day, we asked a local where the best place for lunch was and was told Millers All Day on King Street.

Millers all day restaurant in Charleston, SC

It was perfect for lunch and was hopping. (This is a stock photo I found online.) We were lucky to get two seats at the counter. The atmosphere was fun and the food delish.

Additional Things to Do In and Around Charleston

As you can see from what we did in a day there are many great things to see and do in historic Charleston. Here are some additional ideas when planning a trip to Charleston:

  • Go on a boat tour. There are many boat tours available in Charleston, which offer a great way to see the city from a different perspective. You can take a harbor tour, a sunset cruise or a tour out to Fort Sumter.
  • Visit the plantations. Charleston is home to several plantations, which offer a glimpse into the South’s antebellum past. Some of the most popular plantations include Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Middleton Place, and Boone Hall Plantation.
  • Take a ghost tour. Charleston is a city with a rich history of ghosts and hauntings, and there are many ghost tours that offer a spooky glimpse into the city’s past.

A few tips when planning a day trip to Charleston

  • The summer is the busiest time of year in Charleston, so be sure to book your accommodations and activities well in advance.
  • The weather in Charleston in the summer can be very hot and humid, so be sure to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. The best time to visit is in the spring or fall when it is not so hot.
  • Wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot and the sidewalks are old, narrow and in places hard to walk along.

Extra: Don’t Miss Mount Pleasant

When you finish doing the sites around Charleston, hop in your car for an easy 12 minute trip across the harbor to the town of Mount Pleasant. Put Shelmore Blvd into your GPS and head there.

What you will find is a dappled tree-lined newer suburban community with wide sidewalks. If you like taking dream drives to see beautiful homes with lots of character, you will not be disappointed.

Shem's creek restaurant row in Mount Pleasant Sc

After cruising along both North and South Shelmore Blvd for a while, head to Shem’s creek where you will find a handful of restaurants along the water.

Tavern and Table restaurants stenciled wood floor.

We ate our dinner at Tavern & Table. Isn’t the stenciled floor amazing? It was hot, so we ate inside, but there is outdoor seating so you can enjoy seeing the boats go by.

Tavern and Table restaurants stenciled wood floor.

After we finished eating we started the 2 hour trip back home. My sister enjoyed the day. When I asked her what she liked the best – she said Shelmore Blvd in Mount Pleasant. Yes it is really nice and away from the bustle of Charleston.

If you have any questions about day tripping in Charleston, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.

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16 Comments

  1. Jane Wallace says:

    Diane,

    Looks like you all had a wonderful day. I love Charleston, it was very hot when we were there too. Your sister and you look like twins.

    By the way, please wish Ed a belated Happy Birthday – I hope it was a fun day.

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Jane – Ed says hi and thanks for the bday wishes. My sister and I are twins. She is 5 minutes older than me. XO

  2. We’re there any WFPB restaurants there?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Pam – No, WFPB restaurants are had to find around SC. On the menu at Millers I got the Southwestern Salad with no cheese or dressing. It was quite tasty. :-)

  3. What a beautiful tour of Charleston…I’d love to go visit, the homes are gorgeous…thank you for posting…….the fall or spring seems the best time….next year….,

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Nancy – Yes the best time is for sure the spring or fall when the weather is so much better. In the summer it is way too hot and all you will be looking for is a place with AC.

  4. Valarie Sanford says:

    Thank you for the tour Diane, it was fabulous! I just vacationed in Beaufort and Blufton but didn’t get up to Charleston sadly. And I do recommend a tour of Beaufort if you haven’t yet..we like the cemeteries ha!
    Val

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Valerie – I haven’t been to Bluffton or Beaufort, but heard they are beautiful. We pass them when we stay in Hilton Head. I need to add both to my travel bucket list.

  5. Jeane Gallo says:

    There’s still plenty more to see. The waterfront park is gorgeous, with the pineapple fountain. The Charleston museum, across from the visitor’s center is really a nice museum with collections they change periodically. The Gibbes art gallery is a gem, as well as many of the art shops throughout the city. The SC aquarium showcases animals throughout the state. There is also Fort Sumter, where the first shot of the civil war was fired. Any the Hunley museum, the first submarine. Lots of interesting graveyards as well. Too bad you didn’t have more time. Can you tell I live near Charleston?

  6. Thank you Diane, for the tour. 27 years ago we moved just outside Charleston and enjoyed our time in the area exploring Charleston and the Mansions along the Ashley River. Great memories. Although we only lived there 3 years, our daughter who was born there returned some 18 years later and exclaimed on our drive in the area “It feels like home”. Imprints in her mind or just nostalgia I am not sure which, but worth a visit for sure.

  7. Diane,
    Respectfully please consider removing your promotion of the cruel and inhumane horse drawn carriages in Charleston.

    The City’s ordinance allows the MOST EXTREME TEMPERATURE READING in the NATION before animals are allowed to stop working AND the heaviest passenger load – 17 adults pulled by one horse (about 2 1/2 TONS per hour.)

    Carriage animals can be forced to work up to 10 hrs with wagon in tow.

    If that’s not enough to make you reconsider, please know that during the time period from January 1, 2016 – July 1, 2022, there have been over 140 carriage industry incidents recorded by the City of Charleston.

    Thank you!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Janice – I completely understand every point you made in your comment and will add it to my post so readers know about how the horse’s are treated and the accidents. Maybe someday they will come up with a motorized way to give a carriage ride or have open air buses for the tours.

  8. Here’s a little information on the Haint Blue porch ceilings ….

    Why do Southerners paint their porch ceiling blue?

    The practice traces back to the Gullah Geechee people living in the low country of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Gullah folklore explains that ghosts, also referred to as “haints,” were not able to cross water. In order to repel evil spirits from plantations, the porch ceilings were painted a soft blue.

    Lovely place, indeed, the fence gates are a favorite attraction for me!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Linda – Thank you so much for taking the time to explain about the Haint Blue porch ceiling color. Very interesting. I added it to the post as I know readers will be interested. I agree with you that the fence gates are the best. When we were on the carriage tour we saw a lot, but I couldn’t get good photos of them since people’s heads that were on the carriage with us got in the way. :-(.

  9. I visited this city in February and it rained for two days! It didn’t stop me from enjoying the beautiful city. We also enjoyed touring historic homes. I guess your schedule didn’t allow for a tour. My favorite food memory was a fresh biscuit with pimento cheese. YUM!
    I love the idea of the carriage ride. Next time I will give it a try. Thanks for reminding me to go back!

    1. Celia Dubin says:

      Diane , my first time in writing to you! So happy that you took your sister on a tour of Charleston ! I have been there on a couple of occasions , with family , and my husband . I do hope y’all got to go on one of the Cemetary tours ! It was soooo much fun , and we learned a lot about the culture , of South Carolinians ! Loved the houses , and ice cream colors ! I’m happy you had that special time with your sister , as well !