Charleston SC | South’s Best City

by | Mar 13, 2019

Best City In the USA | World’s Best City

The USA city of Charleston SC has been recognised as the ‘Best City in the South‘, three years in a row. In 2018, Charleston was voted America’s favourite small city by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler  for the 8th time.

Loved up couples have been snuggling up in Charleston SC on weekend getaways for centuries. There are an abundance of charming stays in Downtown Charleston and the surrounding neigbourhoods. So why does Charleston keep winning awards each year? Visitors come to Charleston to see the huge live oak trees, the colourful centuries old homes on Rainbow Row, historical plantations and to wine-n-dine in its world-class restaurants.

Places To Stay in Downtown Charleston SC offers every style of accommodation imaginable from quaint boutique hotels, luxury stays, Charleston historic district hotels to comfy downtown bed and breakfast. Today visitors are looking for that unique vacation experience and are choosing to stay in parts of Charleston’s bygone era. Converted warehouses, art hotels, 1880s mansions and carriage houses offer todays travellers a new Charleston.

Looking for travel tips on what to do in Charleston, South Carolina?

Pat Conroy, a well-known international and Southern author describes in the forward of “The Mayor”, what the majority of visitors feel about Charleston – ‘There is no city on earth quite like Charleston.’ His books ‘The Prince of Tides‘ and ‘South of Broad‘ are both worthy of a read. His writings are renowned for their painfully honest insights into families and the human heart.

Exploring Charleston

Charleston is one of those historic cities that are good to walk, wander and get lost in! For me, walking a city and seeing it unique surroundings gives me a sense of connection as if I am walking through time. Taking one or two of Charleston walking tours is an ideal way to learn more about this magnificent and friendly city.    

It’s a pretty place where everything is relatively close and easy to get to. Large magnolia trees line the streets and offer shade from the heat of day. Rambling spring gardens bloom with large flowering hydrangeas, and the fragrance of roses and jasmine lingers in the warm air.

With so much on offer, the hardest part is deciding what to see and do in a short period. The 3 days I spent in Charleston were a mixture of interesting experiences and happy moments. If you only have a short time to visit Charleston ‘the best city in the South‘ or if it’s your first time, here are a few things you just can’t miss.

Charleston Theater Downtown

King street is a shopper’s paradise with both international and locally owned boutiques, specialty homewares and handmade crafts.

For those who love old treasures, the antique district is located on Lower King Street (south of Market Street). 

Opposite the Cruise terminal on East Bay Street, you’ll find the (day/night) ‘Charleston City Market’, with everything from Charleston t-shirts to local art from over a hundred vendors.

Charleston Theater | Hollywood Favourite 

The art deco ‘American Theater‘ on King Street was use as a film location in the love-story book / movie ‘The Notebook‘. Other hollywood blockbusters have been filmed in Charleston including actor Mel Gibson in The Patriot, Amanda Seyfried ‘Dear John‘, and many more.

King Street Is The Hub

King Street is a popular meeting place with elegant bars and  some of the best restaurants in Charleston.

Most bars offer a daily ‘happy hour’ of beers, wines and cocktails. Cocktails are more popular and much cheaper in the U.S. than in Australia and other parts of the world.

While I tend to mostly consume a wine or two, I enjoyed trying a number of yummy cocktails from Margarites to Moscow Mules.

Charleston’s diverse culinary scene is impressive. There are a number of quality King Street restaurants varying from eclectic and ethnic. Most nights the restaurants, eateries and cafes are packed with hungry customers and thirty travellers. Charleston’s Tuesday restaurant deals attract the masses so make sure you make a reservation.  

One of the greatest travel experiences is trying the local specialties from crab cakes, shrimps / prawns and grits.

The coffee and nutella pastry at Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer off King Street was to die for! Map 

Riley Waterfront Park

Families and visitors gather at Riley Waterfront Park to catch the sea breeze and photograph the spectacular sunsets. The iconic Pineapple fountain has been the park’s centrepiece since 1989.

The fountain opened after the devasting Hugo hurricane of 1989 that caused $7B damage and killed 49 people. Riley Waterfront Park stretches for 1.5 miles / ks along the Cooper River. Map

Charleston Plantation Homes

Plantation homes are an intricate part of the history of Charleston’s earliest families which was integral to the wealth that shaped the city.

Charleston Tour Guide

Take a plantation tour to learn how the wealthy plantation owners lived and get a deeper understanding of slave life in the Lowcountry as it is known.

Magnolia Plantation

Magnolia Plantation was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, the oldest plantation site on the Ashley River and home to the greatest public gardens in America. Today, Magnolia Plantation remains privately owned and operated by the Drayton Family. Map

Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall is a 350-acre plantation which dates back to the early 1750s empire of John Drayton. Drayton owned close to 100 plantations across South Carolina and Georgia.

Native Americans and enslaved Africans and their descendants grew rice and indigo. Indigo is a plant that produces a blue dye, that was an important part of South Carolina’s eighteenth-century economy. Map

Sullivan’s Island

Sullivan’s Island is a breathtaking stretch of beach offering a serene environment to relax and unwind. The island vibe is calm and casual with an assortment of restaurants and specialty shops. The town of Sullivan’s Island with about 2,000 residents, has no hotels and limited short-term rentals making it the perfect location for a day visit. Fort Moultrie is located at Sullivan’s Island with distant views of the Charleston skyline. Map

‘The Obstinate Daughter’ Restaurant

Pro Tip: Visitors to Sullivan Island make sure you check out, ‘The Obstinate Daughter’ Restaurant.  It’s a place where you can’t help but people watch. This stylish and confident coastal setting offers guests not only a place to dine but also a place to relax. The reclaimed timber ceiling and warm lighting overhead enhances the dining experience whether sitting at the bar or a dining table.

The Obstinate Daughter menu and wines are Italian influenced with a stylish modern twist. Moderately priced accompanied by exceptional service makes for a great dining experience and growing culinary reputation. The restaurant is very popular with both residents and visitors. One resident I spoke to makes regular return visits to OD just for the delicious clam chowder. To avoid disappointment, I recommend reserving a booking well in advance however walk-ins are welcomed.

Tip: There are no public parking lots; street parking is only permitted on one side of the street.

Photography provided by The Obstinate Daughter. Photography credits Andrew Cebulka

Folly Beach

Visitors and locals flock to Folly Beach to bask in the sun and partake in variety water activities including surfing. The large timber pier and pavilion offers some shade and lots of places to sit, relax and view the ocean.

There is a good selection of shops, restaurants and bars within walking distance of the beach and pier. Visitors beware Folly Beach parking can be a challenge!

Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row is a stretch of 13 brightly coloured restored Georgian homes. These 1930-1940 homes are located between number 79 to 107 East Bay Street and are the most photographed homes in Charleston.

It is referred to as Rainbow Row for the pastel colours used to paint the houses. There are a number of tales as to why the houses were painted so colourful. One is so intoxicated sailors coming in from the Charleston port could remember which house to bunk in.

White Point Garden

Charleston Accommodation

We chose to stay at a Holiday Inn Express Hotel located about 6M / 9.6K from downtown Charleston. The reason being, these hotels are generally cheaper, include breakfast, parking and provide an opportunity to see different things out of the main city area. Many hidden gems, attractions and restaurants are located in the suburbs and with the help of Google Maps are easy to find.

Today, the internet has become a traveller’s best friend with access to maps, transport, accommodation, restaurants and reviews, all at our fingertips. It’s hard to believe how our forebears travelled without this form of medium.

Loyalty Programs

Tip: You’re paying too much for accommodation and miss out on all the best possible deals if you’re not booking through hotel loyalty programs.

Hotel Programs offer a variety of upgrades including discounted rates, more expensive rooms, access to special lounges, complimentary breakfast and beverages, Wi-Fi, even complimentary stays.

Holiday Inn is part of the IHG Hotel and IHG REwards Club. 

Getting Around Charleston

Some transportation options for getting around downtown Charleston and the surrounding areas

Taxi, Lyft and Uber
Water Taxi
Rickshaws and Pedicabs
Bikes and Segway Rental

Tip: Carta DASH trolley service operates for free in downtown Charleston

“There is no city on Earth quite like Charleston. From the time I first came there in 1961, it’s held me in its enchanter’s power, the wordless articulation of its singularity, its withheld and magical beauty. Wandering through its streets can be dreamlike and otherworldly, its alleyways and shortcuts both fragrant and mysterious, yet as haunted as time turned in on itself.”

Pat Conroy

American Author

If you enjoyed learning why Charleston is the best city in the USA, check out my other USA Posts. Below are a couple:

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About The Progressive Traveller

I am the Progressive Traveller. I've been travelling the world extensively since 2002. My website is full of travel stories, tips, recommendations, resources, offers for you to use and enjoy. Follow my journey on social media and travel the world with me. Happy days.


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