Welcome to my Charleston travel guide. Charleston is one of the most dynamic destinations in the United States. There are so many aspects that come together to make it a unique and special place.
The combination of its remarkable history, culinary offerings, recreation, shopping, relaxation, and rich theatre and music culture make it an ideal place for me to call home.
I’m Michael Habat – a 28 year old freelance graphic designer and photographer living with my wife and bulldog in Charleston. I was born just outside of Los Angeles, California and grew up in Columbia, South Carolina.
Many things influenced my love of travel and photography. The earliest thing I can remember is looking through the boxes of polaroids my mom had been accumulating since the day I was born.
For almost every picture she took, she would write the date and a little blurb for context (the original Instagram). I also grew up watching my dad film birthdays and Christmas with his camcorders.
I remember watching those home videos and flipping through the boxes of polaroids and realizing just how much those memories meant to me.
Through some well-planned Christmas lists and birthday wishes, I would eventually come to own my first digital camera (Sony Cybershot 7.2mp) and video camera (Canon ZR80).
Since then, I’ve enjoyed taking photos of Charleston at every opportunity. It’s a wonderful little destination for photographers and travelers alike.
The History of Charleston
My favorite part about Charleston would have to be either its history or the local, hometown vibe that it gives off despite being one of South Carolina’s largest cities.
Charleston has a fascinating, and at some points (in regards to the slave trade) very dark, history. It has a played a role in just about every stage of American history from its founding, to the slave trade, the Revolution, the Civil War and every war of the 20th century.
A vital colony during the American Revolution, numerous battles were fought in Charleston Harbor and the surrounding area – repelling the British at one point but ultimately being invaded.
The first shots of the Civil War were fired upon Fort Sumter (a fort in the middle of Charleston Harbor) and would begin the bloodiest war in American history. The Civil War would leave Charleston, like much of the South, devastated for decades to come.
There are numerous historical sites to visit in the area including forts from the Revolution, Civil War and World War 2, plantations, churches, jails, mansions, lighthouses, cemeteries, and more.
I’ve lived here for 5 years and have yet to visit them all.
The Local, Hometown Vibe of Charleston
The culture of Charleston, historically, has been shaped by a mixture of Barbadian-English colonization, the Atlantic slave trade, European immigration, Northern carpetbaggers, and now a transient population of out-of-staters bringing their own cultures to the lowcountry.
While it’s not the only “friendly/hospitable” city in America – its mix of nature, history and culture truly make it unique. Simply put: there’s a relaxed, local and hometown vibe down here.
Whether it’s because of the weather, the proximity to the water, or the fact that many people are here on vacation (for the weekend or permanently), life moves a little slower and people here appreciate its beauty.
Charleston Travel Guide: My Favourite Place
It’s difficult to choose just one place in Charleston that I would consider my favorite but I would have to say Broad Street and the area below it (South of Broad) is my favourite area. It’s a must for any travel guide to Charleston.
One of the original streets in the old walled city of Charles Town, Broad Street is so historic. Some landmarks include the oldest structure in the city, the site of the old draw bridge entrance to the city, historic churches, a park, a dungeon, part of the old city wall, etc.
The best thing is that (combined with all of this history) it still boasts some of my favorite restaurants and bars. Broad Street is also one of the more iconic locations in the city and a good starting point for a day of touring.
5 Best Things To Do in Charleston
If this is your first time visiting Charleston, then I would recommend the following 5 experiences. These are essential must-do experiences and should be included in every Charleston travel guide that you come across.
1. Go on a Helicopter Tour of Charleston
I’ve been coming to Charleston all of my life and only just took a helicopter tour for the first time a few years ago. It’s an incredible way to view the city and the surrounding area. The tours are affordable and cover more ground than you could in days of driving and walking.
I think it would be a great way to start off a trip to Charleston. You would get a fantastic understanding of the layout of our beautiful coastline.
2. Walk the Ravenel Bridge
This is a “must-do” when coming to Charleston. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, also known as the Ravenel Bridge, spans the Cooper River and connects to Mount Pleasant (another beautiful area worthy of exploring).
It gives you a vantage point 186 feet above the river. The views of the Charleston peninsula, North Charleston, Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, and Mount Pleasant are spectacular.
3. Visit the Charleston City Market
The beautifully restored city market has been around since the 1790’s and is still a hub of the peninsula. There are dozens of shops and vendors all throughout the market where you can find things like beautiful sweetgrass baskets, candles, African black soap, handmade goods and fine art.
It’s lined on either side by amazing restaurants, bars and gift shops. You could easily spend an entire afternoon here and I recommend that you do!
4. Explore Charleston on a Carriage Tour
Like the helicopter tours, carriage rides are a one-of-a-kind way to see the city. Cruising through the quieter streets south of Broad Street and learning small anecdotes about the surrounding buildings on a spring morning is one of the best things you can do in the city, hands down.
I’ve been on dozens of tours and have learned new things every time.
5. Wander around Battery/SOB
The area south of Broad Street (SOB) is one of the largest concentration of restored/preserved Antebellum (before the Civil War) homes in the country.
It’s truly amazing to walk these streets on a quiet morning and take in the beauty of the homes, hidden alleyways and cobblestone streets that make up the lower peninsula.
This area concludes at the iconic Battery. It’s a defensive seawall used as a location to hang pirates that attacked ships leaving the harbor, a Civil War artillery battery and now a scenic park. Battery is also an amazing spot to view the harbor and Castle Pinckney – another less-used Civil War fort.
Bonus: if you can make it to Charleston during any of our national or international events, it will only enhance your love of this city. Some that I recommend are Spoleto Festival, Charleston Wine and Food Festival, Charleston Fashion Week, Film Festivals and Southeast Wildlife Expo.
Charleston Travel Guide: The Best Day Trips
Not only is Charleston a fantastic place in and of itself but it also makes for the perfect base to go explore more of the South Carolina region. Below I’ve outlined some of my favourite day trips for this travel guide to Charleston.
Capers Island/Bulls Island
Both of these trips you’ll want to commit an entire day to. Capers Island and Bulls Island are barrier islands off the coast of South Carolina that are undeveloped and offer undisturbed glimpses of the local wildlife (you can even camp on Capers Island).
They are both accessible by ferry and offer awesome ecotours. If you’re crunched for time and still want to get on the water, rent a kayak and explore Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant for encounters with dolphins and other coastal wildlife.
Sullivan’s Island is an affluent island town about 20 minutes from downtown. It has amazing, wide open beaches, great restaurants and bars (and ice cream shops), and it’s own historic district. I highly recommend it!
Fort Sumter is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. There are regular tours that leave from downtown and drop you off for guided tours. If you feel like skipping the boat tour, this amazing piece of history can be viewed from the beaches of Sullivan’s Island.
These are all amazing trips that transport you back into the Antebellum history of coastal South Carolina. You can easily get lost at just one of these places for the day.
Firefly Distillery/Deep Water Vineyard
Visit Deep Water Vineyard for some amazing wines and a beautiful lowcountry setting to enjoy them. Deep Water offers tastings and is on the same property as Firefly Distillery, famous for their sweet tea vodka.
There are also a number of distilleries in downtown Charleston if you can’t make the drive out to Wadmalaw.
Charleston Travel Guide: World-Class Cuisine
The culinary scene in Charleston can compete with any city in the world. While I’m no culinary connoisseur, I’ve traveled around the world and found that Charleston holds its own when compared to other cities.
It’s also a highly competitive industry to enter into and that leads to creative and innovative restaurants and dishes. Some of my favorite places to eat and drink are Lewis BBQ, Oak Steakhouse, R. Kitchen, Revelry Brewing, and Peninsula Grill for a slice of their renowned coconut cake.
Charleston Travel Guide: Where to Stay
If you’re on a budget, Mount Pleasant and West Ashley hotels will be your best bet to save some money. If you’re looking for the quintessential Charleston experience, check out the Belmond, Zero George, Hotel Bennet, The Spectator, or the Market Pavilion (to name a few).
These hotels are on the fancier side but, the service and the locations are top-notch and are within walking distance of many of Charleston’s best eateries and attractions.
The city also has an abundance of Airbnb’s and traditional bed and breakfasts to choose from. They allow you to experience what it’s like to live in some of Charleston’s most beautiful, historically preserved homes.
Charleston Travel Guide: Tips for your Visit
The first thing is to leave your diet at home. Secondly, pace yourself throughout the day. Thirdly, hop around. Try as many places as possible.
Charleston has so many amazing places it’s hard to recommend just one place “you have to go to”. So you need to go-go-go and experience all you can in the time that you’re here.
Make sure to stop and read some of the historical plaques and appreciate the history. It has shaped Charleston after all. Understanding it can really add to the atmosphere and the experience you have while visiting the city.
Thanks for reading my Charleston travel guide. I hope it has provided you with some insight and inspiration for your visit. If you have any further questions feel free to contact me on Instagram or by email.