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What Is Charleston, South Carolina Known For?

Charleston is a must-visit city in the South. Its stunning, antebellum architecture, horse-drawn carriages, and trademark southern hospitality have certainly earned it a place in the hearts of its many visitors. Its eclectic mix of old and new Southern traditions makes it an irresistible place for a visit.

Charleston is a waterfront city, known for its beaches, harbor-side strolls, creative dining, and entertainment options. Walking its historic streets gives you well-preserved architecture, ghost stories, and a taste of the city it once was. Here, old and new come together seamlessly.

In the rest of this article, I will dive deeper into what Charleston is best known for. I will explore the city’s best beaches, nightlife, cultural offerings, and its haunted history. I will also take a look at some of the most iconic sites that visitors shouldn’t miss.

Charleston Is a Waterfront City With Plenty of Beach Access

Charleston is a beautiful port city with plenty of places to walk, sit, and enjoy the views over the water in its historic city center. From the Battery to the Waterfront Park, Charleston has plenty of designated public space to enjoy its beautiful downtown. 

However, enjoying the water doesn’t end there. If you’re looking to get a little bit closer and perhaps even take a swim, there are plenty of swimmable beaches accessible from the city. You can have a refreshing dip in the Atlantic during the day and a scenic waterfront stroll around the city at night. 

There are several barrier islands that are easily visited from the city. One of these is Sullivan’s Island. This particular island is a popular choice as it is not far from the city center and has 2.5 miles (4.02 km) of coastline for everyone to enjoy. This barrier island has plenty to do for the whole family, from kiteboarding to sunbathing to waterfront dining. It is well known for its soft sands, signature lighthouse, and historic Fort Moultrie. 

Folly Beach is another staple of the Charleston beach offerings. This island has plenty of character and is a go-to destination for long-time Charleston residents and visitors alike. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy after a long day on the soft white sands and Atlantic waves.

Isle of Palms is another good choice, as it is also quite close to Charleston’s downtown. This island is known to be home to nesting sea turtles, and visitors may be able to catch a glimpse of this endangered species on the beach. This island is home to many resorts and activities and is a favorite upscale vacation getaway. 

The City Has a Haunted History for Paranormal Enthusiasts

If you’re a fan of ghost stories and other tales that may make your hairs stand on end, Charleston is definitely the place for you. The city is famous for its wide offering of ghost tours. Several companies offer custom-tailored tours that take you through the historic streets, into haunted jails and dungeons, and even through pubs where paranormal activity is rumored to be. You can find these tours on foot as well as in horse-drawn carriages. 

In addition to the numerous guided tours you can participate in while in Charleston, wandering the city’s cemeteries is another favorite activity. The cemeteries in the city are some of the most historical and compelling in the country. 

Graves date back to before the United States was established as a nation, and you can find many historic figures laid to rest in these grounds. You can wander these on your own or follow a self-guided tour to make the most of this city full of haunted history. 

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Charleston Is Home to One-of-a-Kind Museums

While walking down the historic streets of Charleston can feel like you’re already in a museum, there are plenty of actual museums you can visit here too. From history to art to aquatic animals, Charleston celebrates its history and culture in its many local museums. Let’s take a look at some of its most well-known attractions. 

 

Gibbes Museum of Art

This fine art museum opened its doors in Charleston in 1905 and has been a well-loved institution in the city ever since. With a focus on American art, particularly from the South, this museum celebrates artistic heritage from its home region as well as the rest of the country. Over 10,000 pieces make up the museum’s permanent collection, while their rotating exhibits showcase pieces from other styles and parts of the world.

In the last few decades, this museum has been through renovations and innovations that have kept it up-to-date and ever-evolving. Nowadays, it has a first floor that is open to everyone without the cost of admission. 

There are many community and educational events hosted at the museum, and it even contains an impressive rear garden that is part of a historic Gateway Walk series. When it comes to traditional art museums in Charleston, the Gibbes cannot be missed.

 

Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art

This downtown institution is known for showcasing the work of emerging, contemporary artists. The Halsey Institute prides itself on showcasing the outstanding work of artists that may have been overlooked in other contexts. If you want to see an interesting and unique look at what is currently happening in the art world, a night out at the Halsey is a must. 

This institute is part of the School of Arts at the College of Charleston and offers so much more in addition to its art exhibits. You can find educational programs, film screenings, and cultural events housed here. 

One of the things that make the Halsey so unique is that it is a non-collecting museum. Instead of amassing pieces in a permanent collection, the institute is more focused on creating a lively interaction between the artist, their work, and the community. 

 

South Carolina Aquarium

While many major cities in the United States have an aquarium of their own, the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston is a particularly special place. Sea turtles naturally lay eggs on South Carolina beaches, and this proximity to their natural habitat has made this aquarium an important part of the local environment. 

At the South Carolina Aquarium, the Sea Turtle Care Center is a special place that helps injured or sick sea turtles regain their full health before being released back into their natural environment. This unique center is both a hospital for sea turtle patients as well as a place for visitors to come and learn. 

Aquarium goers can discover more about the process of rehabilitating these endangered sea turtle species and how they can take steps in their lives to protect the sea turtle’s fragile environment.  

However, the Care Center is just one of the many impressive things to see at the Aquarium. There are over 5,000 animals that you can visit here, and a must-see is the famous Great Ocean Tank. This exhibit stands two stories tall and is the deepest tank of its kind in the country. The tank itself is home to over 700 animals, and visitors can spend hours watching them swimming around in their massive home. 

You Can Take an Unforgettable Stroll Along the Battery

The Battery is one of the most visited and most well-known spots in Charleston. Located along the water in Charleston’s downtown, the Battery is a wide pedestrian promenade that runs alongside a fortified seawall. While it has a long and rich military history, nowadays, it is a pleasant place to go for a walk, enjoy the view, and marvel at the historic mansions along the way. 

The Battery is a favorite jogging and walking path for local residents and a wonderful attraction for visitors. While walking on the path, you can catch a glimpse of many of Charleston’s famous historic features

You can see Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie from the path, as well as Sullivan’s Island. The mansions and other historic buildings that run alongside the Battery are incredibly well-preserved and are breath-taking for many first-time visitors.

While not technically part of the Battery, White Point Garden runs right alongside the path. This beloved city park offers visitors plenty of shade, statues, and bits of history. Inside the park and between the old oak trees, visitors can find the signature gazebo as well as cannons left over from the Civil War. You can take in amazing views of Charleston from this park. 

Charleston Has Amazing Craft Beers, Good Eats, and Live Entertainment

In addition to its rich history and cultural offerings, Charleston is a great city for a fun-filled night out. The craft beer scene in this city is quite lively, and you can easily spend your evening sampling different brews made right in Charleston itself. The dining scene is also a creative and innovative one, and you can find all kinds of trendy restaurants, food trucks, and pop-ups practically any night of the week.

Charleston doesn’t disappoint when it comes to live entertainment. There are plenty of venues where you can catch live music while enjoying your favorite local brew. In the summer, outdoor venues are popular places for residents and visitors to gather for an evening of beers, cocktails, good food, and live music. 

The Barrel is a popular option for those looking for outdoor music, and delicious craft beer all rolled into one. The venue itself doesn’t serve food but is known for its rotation of food trucks that serve up delicious snacks and meals to hungry patrons. 

The Bay Street Biergarten is another popular place right in downtown Charleston. As you can guess from the name, this venue has plenty of beer to choose from as well as a full menu for hungry drinkers. Music, DJ sets, and other events are a staple of evening life at the Bay Street Biergarten.

Palmetto Brewery is another example of a Charleston microbrewery turned popular entertainment venue. This local brewery has a large patio where friends and family can sit, enjoy live music, grab something from a food truck and enjoy a delicious Palmetto beer. This blend of brewery, bar, and music venue is a staple of Charleston nightlife and provides great evening options for long-time residents and new visitors. 

Charleston is a unique city where you can find Civil War artifacts, antebellum architecture, and innovative, modern breweries and eateries all in the same block. Charleston’s dining and entertainment scene is a fully modern and exciting part of life in this richly historic city. 

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You Can Trek Across the Iconic Cooper River Bridge

Another site Charleston is known for is the Cooper River Bridge, also known as the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. This is one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the country and is an iconic part of Charleston’s skyline. As you may have guessed from the name, this bridge runs over the Cooper River and is responsible for connecting downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant. 

This iconic bridge is also equipped with a pedestrian walkway for those looking to stroll across. It takes about an hour to walk from one side to another and is a fun activity that lets you take in Charleston’s beautiful skyline from a new perspective. 

Each April, a race is held where participants from the Mount Pleasant side cross the bridge to downtown Charleston. This run is a big event for the city and regularly attracts tens of thousands of people each year. 

The City Has an Infamous Pineapple Fountain

While Charleston may not be short on statues, there is one, in particular, that is a local landmark. Known as The Pineapple, this is a fountain that is located in the Waterfront Park in downtown Charleston. This large fountain is shaped like its namesake fruit and is a welcoming symbol of Southern hospitality. 

The Pineapple is a favorite meeting point for locals as well as a popular tourist attraction where countless selfies are taken each day. The Waterfront Park is another great place to visit in Charleston, featuring beautiful views of the water, plenty of shade, and other gorgeous non-fruit-shaped fountains.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a modern city that blends its rich history with innovative new ideas, Charleston is exactly what you’re looking for. Its streets are full of history and innovation, with creative new eateries next to sites older than America. This city is the perfect mix of old Southern beauty and modern life in the South.