It’s no surprise Charleston, South Carolina is one of the top travel destinations in the US. From its sweet Southern hospitality, historical architecture, and delicious food, there are plenty of reasons to love Charleston. There is also plenty to do whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend getaway, a fun girl’s trip, or a trip with your family. If you’re heading there for the weekend, here is your ultimate Charleston travel guide on the best places to stay, eat, and see in this charming city!
Your Ultimate Charleston Travel Guide
When is the best time to visit Charleston?
It’s a great year-round destination if you don’t mind the hot humid summers and has a pretty temperate winter season. But my personal favorite is the springtime before it gets too warm and humid. We visited in March, which I think is the best month to visit. The weather was sunny and low 70s, the azaleas were blooming everywhere throughout the city, and it was not as crowded as the summer vacation season can be.
Where to Stay in Charleston
You have a lot of options for places to stay in Charleston, from splurging on a luxury hotel to something more budget-friendly or renting through VRBO. I would recommend booking your stay early, especially if you’re visiting during peak season. Because the weather is nice for most of the year, the off-season is relatively short from December to February.
The Dewberry: We stayed at The Dewberry during our last visit and loved the location. We booked a suite so Josie would have her own space to sleep, which I highly recommend if you’re traveling with a baby and it’s in your budget. Staying at the hotel in Charleston gives you priority access to the popular Citrus Rooftop Bar, which has the best view of the city from above and great drinks and finger foods. This is also a great hotel option for experiencing some real Charleston history!
The Ryder Hotel: A trendy spot to stay in Charleston and in a great location to get around North or South Charleston.
86Cannon: If you’re not traveling with kids and want to stay somewhere luxurious, but homey, I highly recommend 86 Cannon. The collection of iconic buildings in the historic district creates a beautiful experience for guests to experience the charm and architecture of Charleston. You’re greeted with a champagne toast and they have happy hour from 5-6 each evening with complimentary wine and cheese.
what to do in Charleston
Explore: My favorite thing to do in Charleston is just walking around and exploring on foot, taking advantage of the walking tours, or even exploring via bike. Charleston is a very walkable city with so many beautiful homes and charming streets to take in. Parking around the city isn’t ideal, so keep that in mind if you’re renting a car. And if you want to venture somewhere further I would recommend taking Uber.
Shopping: Central King Street is a busy area of Charleston with a lot of great shopping, from luxury stores like Gucci, LoveShackFancy, and a local favorite Hampdem. There are also great local shops and plenty of food options to try along the way.
Go to the beach: There are two close beaches nearby if you’re craving a beach day: Folly Beach and Sullivans Island with its own charm and restaurants to explore if you’re looking for a day trip away from the city.
Book a sailboat cruise: If I didn’t get seasick, I would love to do a sunset sailing adventure.
Areas to explore
Rainbow Row: Of course, this is a must-see in Charleston. If you want a photo try to get there early if you’re visiting during peak season.
Charleston City Market: I personally don’t think the trinkets inside are very worthwhile, but it’s a popular spot to browse if you have extra time to kill.
The Battery: We loved walking The Battery and saw the prettiest pink mansion (photo above) and southern antebellum homes along the way. There’s an elevated sidewalk along the water that takes you to White Point Garden. When we visited it was very windy, so I wouldn’t recommend wearing a dress if you’re going to this area.
Waterfront Park: This is where the famous pineapple fountain is you always see on social media! There are plenty of benches and shade under gorgeous oak trees to take a rest if you’ve been on your feet for a while.
Prettiest Streets in Charleston: Rainbow Row, Elliot Street, Battery Street, Pennsylvania Alley, Bedons Alley, Church Street, Queens Street, Tradd St. But I encourage you to just explore and see what you find! There is beauty almost everywhere in Charleston, especially in the South of Broad area.
Isle of Palms: The Isle of Palms is known for its beaches and delicious restaurants. Sea turtles nest in the area, so it’s a really run place to take any kiddos! The oceanfront Isle of Palms County Park includes a beach, picnic areas, and a playground. Neighboring Sullivan’s Island is home to Fort Moultrie, a site of significant battles during the American Revolution and the Civil War for any history buffs. Fort Sumter is another great spot to check out!
Holy City: Did you know that Charleston has the nickname of the “Holy City”? Charleston is believed to have this nickname because of its history of religious tolerance and abundant places of worship. Don’t miss out on all of the rich history in downtown Charleston!
what to pack for a spring trip to Charleston
We visited in March and the weather was absolutely perfect! It’s still humid, but not uncomfortable. If your hair is anything like mine I would skip the curling iron and plan for some cute ponytails. It was pretty breezy, so short dresses weren’t the best option. It’s warm during the day but can be cool in the mornings and evenings, so just bring a light layer with you just in case.
Comfortable walking shoes are a must. I packed my favorite white sneakers and wore those most of the weekend. I have a more detailed guide on what I packed for my spring trip to Charleston here!
where to eat in Charleston
I am a huge foodie and love to go all out when traveling. I highly recommend making reservations ahead of time to avoid long waits. We booked our trip last minute and I couldn’t find last-minute reservations at the spots I wanted to try. If you don’t have reservations, you can also try eating off-hours (11-12 before the lunch rush and between 5-6 for dinner). But otherwise, expect to wait for a table. Most of the restaurants had an option to text you once your table was ready.
We didn’t make any reservations ahead of time and since we had Josie with us, we went with convenience based on location and wait time for all our meals during this trip. We grabbed dinner at Virginia’s On King, which has a wholesome Southern menu. I ordered the trio sliders with fries, which hit the spot after walking around all day! If you’re in the mood for sushi, we ate at Ok-U. I recommend trying the coconut curry and tuna tartare roll.
I received so many great recommendations from y’all on Instagram, so here’s a roundup of the most loved places to eat in Charleston.
Breakfast and Brunch
Millers All Day: Order the cinnamon roll biscuit and thank me later. They had a full coffee bar and bakery if you want to grab something for on the go.
Callies Hot Little Biscuits: A popular spot to grab a quick and delicious biscuit. Order it online ahead of time to avoid the line! We actually stopped here twice over the weekend because we didn’t want to spend too much of our morning time sitting down to eat. I ordered the trio and picked blackberry, cinnamon, and shortbread biscuits. Tim ordered the breakfast sandwich. You can also make your own biscuit with a ton of unique flavors and toppings.
Poogan’s Porch or Magnolias: These were the most recommended spots for brunch. The fried chicken and waffles at Poogan’s is a must-try!
Harken: A popular stop for coffee in the French Quarter. I heard they have great avocado toast, but I just got a vanilla latte to sip on while we walked around.
Second State: They source coffees all over the world, so you’re sure to have a unique tasting experience here.
Basic Kitchen: If you’re looking for something healthier, but not lacking in flavor, definitely check out Basic Kitchen. They have a lot of vegan options on the menu. I wasn’t impressed with the avocado toast, but the cauliflower wings were delicious!
The Darling Oyster Bar: Located right on King Street, Also great for brunch and dinner. I heard they have an epic bloody mary!
Leon’s Oyster Shop: We didn’t make it here because we didn’t walk North of our hotel during this trip, but this spot was highly recommended for lunch. I would go on a nice sunny day and enjoy the outdoor seating with a rosé
XIAO BAO BISCUIT (XBB): I wanted to make it here because I’ve seen this spot recommended on every travel guide I looked at. Everyone recommends the cabbage pancake if you go! Heads up, they’re closed on Sundays so plan your weekend accordingly.
Popular Dinner Spots
The Ordinary: One of the best spots in Charleston for elevated seafood. It’s located in an old bank and I’ve heard it’s worth the wait if you go!
167 Raw: A popular spot for seafood and oysters. They don’t take reservations either, so arrive early or plan to spend some time at the bar while you wait for a table. They’re closed on Sundays.
R. Kitchen: This was recommended by a friend and sounds like a unique experience. It’s a 5-course tasting menu that changes daily, so you won’t know what to expect ahead of time. It’s an intimate setting where you dine with the chefs. Reservations are required and booked far in advance, but you can try calling to see if they had a last-minute cancellation.
Chez Nous: This is another intimate spot for dinner with a unique, handwritten menu every night (choice of 2 apps, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts). I heard it’s a must-try if you have a small group!
Sugar Bakeshop: You just have to try it to believe it, the desserts are too good to be true!
Vintage Lounge: A stunning bar on Upper Kings Street in a renovated historic building.
The Citrus Club: Rooftop bar at The Dewberry with a great view of the city.
Little Palm: A chic boho bar in The Ryder Hotel.
Camellias: If you’re on a girls’ trip, the pink champagne lounge is a must.
- If you’re traveling with a baby, I recommend bringing a baby carrier. Charleston isn’t super stroller-friendly, although you can totally make do with a little lift here and there.
- Charleston is very walking-friendly, but you can get around much quicker with bikes or taking a pedicab.
- If you want to avoid crowds, I highly recommend getting an early start to your day. My favorite part of each day was walking around the empty streets in the morning. I’m usually a big brunch person, but I wanted to explore during this time instead. Also, you can typically leave the crowds by walking just a block or two over since most of the streets run parallel to each other.
- Most of the restaurants can text you once your table is ready, so it was nice to walk around and explore while we waited for a table.
Are you planning on traveling to Charleston soon? Leave a comment down below with your favorite recommendations if you have some!