Historic Charleston, SC was the wealthiest of all the colonial American cities. In 1670, a ship carrying 148 men and women sailed into Charleston Harbor. They would establish the settlement of Charles Town, named after the British King Charles II. The port of Charleston brought related trade, which moneyed these early residents tremendously.
The affluent citizens of Charleston desired culture so they arranged for it. Charleston quickly became a cultural icon in the Americas, and was home to our nation’s first museum, (The Charleston Museum, 1773), city college (The College of Charleston, 1770), golf club (Country Club of Charleston, 1786), and theater (Dock St. Theater, 1736).
The cultural ambitions and tastes of Charleston’s founding families have been wonderfully preserved for Historic Charleston SC visitors today. The streets are from another time, lined with stunning homes, grand cathedrals, old-time storefronts, weathered graveyards, military relics, and tree-filled parks. Some of the streets have maintained their original cobblestone, and horse-drawn carriages are visible all throughout the day.
Tourists from all over the world bask in the sights of Charleston, smiles plastered across their oscillating faces. All of it is splendid, a lived-in museum without admission. There is no finer place than here. Every moment in Historic Charleston SC feels stolen.
In this article we want to run through the layout of the historic district and highlight the major parks and attractions in conjunction with their street location. Knowing the layout ahead of time is very helpful when visiting Historic Charleston SC. The four most significant streets are Broad Street, King Street, Meeting Street, and East Bay Street — Each will have their own section.
Below is a simple map made by a simple man.
The intersection of Meeting and Broad is the most famous in Historic Charleston SC. The iconic Saint Michael’s Church rises from this junction and is visible from all over the city.
Walk south down Meeting Street a half-mile to White Point Garden and The Battery (more info further down). Along the way you will pass by the St. Michael’s cemetery (linger a moment here), the South Carolina Society Hall, The Williams Mansion (photo below), a couple of churches, and a handful of historic homes. The last house on the left, at the intersection of Meeting and Battery, is the Two Meeting Street Inn, an absolutely stunning hotel. This stretch of road is not to be missed. Take your time and read the placards on the houses; some houses are from the late 1600’s.
Walking north from Meeting and Broad you will immediately find Washington Square (a picturesque park) on the right, and the beautiful buildings just keep coming. Shop Historic Charleston is a terrific gift shop at Meeting and Chalmers (the first intersection north of Broad), on the right. Turn right at Chalmers — onto the cobblestone road — and walk two blocks to visit the Old Slave Mart Museum.
Turn left on Queen St. and you will quickly arrive at famed restaurants Poogan’s Porch and Husk (on your right), as well as a parking garage highly convenient for downtown exploration (on your left). The next block is home to the Gibbes Museum of Art (photo below), and across the street is the photogenic Circular Congregational church and graveyard.
After crossing Horbeck Alley you will arrive at the Charleston City Market. A former slave market, the Charleston City Market now specializes in local arts and crafts. Be prepared for sticker shock — the sweetgrass baskets are priced to startle. In addition to the indoor/outdoor City Market are some terrific shops on both sides of Market Street. We happen to love Byrd Cookies.
If you like seafood, another block up the way is Hyman’s Seafood (since 1890), always a good time.
The Charleston Museum is our nation’s first museum, founded in 1773. Its mission is to preserve and interpret the culture and history of Charleston and the South Carolina Low Country. Lots of interesting stuff. To get there, continue north on Meeting 0.7 miles past the Historic City Market.
East Bay Street runs parallel to the water on the NE side of town. Because of the restaurants and access to Rainbow Row and The Battery, East Bay Street is the most heavily foot-tracked street in Historic Charleston SC.
The action starts on the opposite end of the Charleston City Market. Within the next three blocks you will find highly favored restaurants such as High Cotton (of Notebook fame), Slightly North of Broad (amazing), Fleet Landing (waterfront dining), and more. It’s hard to mess up your dinner plans here.
When East Bay intersects Vendue St., turn left to see Joe Riley Waterfront park (more on that later).
At the intersection of East Bay and Broad St. the building on your left is the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon where slaves were auctioned on the street (later moved to the indoor Old Slave Mart because the auction crowd perpetually clogged the road).
Rainbow Row is a stretch of colorful houses (two photos above) that has gained notoriety as a Historic Charleston SC landmark. The homes are pleasant and their doorways are wonderful for photographs. Shortly after Rainbow Row ends The Battery begins.
King Street is known for shopping, restaurants, and clubs. When you stroll south of Broad St. you will enjoy one historical home after another until you reach The Battery and White Point Garden. We highly recommend walking this stretch of King St.
Heading north on King St. you will find an assortment of shops and eateries. Millers All Day is a popular restaurant just north of Broad on the right. At the intersection of King and Queen you will find a first-rate gift shop, the Preservation Society of Charleston, that should not be missed. Clothing stores, jewelry stores, antique stores, and art galleries are found in frequent rotation along here.
Somewhere around Clifford or Market Street the green awnings arrive and the milieu gets uppity. Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade are found across from the Riviera Theater. For several blocks shops full of artwork, cosmetics, jewelry, etc., rinse and repeat until you reach Calhoun Street.
Across from Calhoun Street is Marion Square, home to the Charleston Saturday Farmer Market. Across from Marion Square is a towering cathedral, St. Matthews Luthern Church (photo below). Shopping continues along here, mixing in with a vast assortment of bars, pubs, jazz joints and night clubs.
Hall’s Chophouse, the famous Charleston steakhouse, is one block north of Marion Square. If you’re hankering for a $135.00 Tomahawk ribeye steak, this is where you put your hanker. Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is just north of there, a great place for a quick bite. Between the two restaurants are the American Theater and the William Aiken House, both stops on The Notebook Tour of Charleston.
Historic Charleston’s most impressive attraction is The Battery, a seawall built along the NE side of Charleston, along which stands a magnificent row of southern mansions. I’m sure a lifetime of visits could make The Battery seem quotidian, but we’ve visited a dozen times and it’s still amazing to us.
Any time of day you will find folks walking or jogging along the elevated seawall walkway (photo above). Some historic estates are more grand than others, which is excellent for playing Downtown Charleston Real Estate Fantasy where you buy fixer-upper property and spend a lifetime trying to repair it.
East Bay turns right at Oyster Point (above photo) and White Point Garden. Here the road becomes Murray Boulevard, which continues along the seawall for another mile of homes and ocean views.
White Point is a magical park full of oak trees and historical markers (below photo). This is a terrific place to lay down a picnic blanket beside a stack of cannonballs for sunset date night. The gazebo in the middle of the park is perfect for family photos, wedding photos, etc.
South Battery St. breaks off of E. Battery before it turns the corner, and runs along the north side of White Point Garden. Along here are some of the most beautiful homes in all of Charleston, including the William Washington House, Two Meeting Street Inn, and 20 South Battery.
Joe Riley Waterfront Park is found at the end of Vendue Range, one block NE of East Bay St. You will be greeted by a splash fountain in which children love to play (two photos down). Beyond that is Waterfront Pier, a long wood and concrete prominence lined with a series of swinging benches. To the right is Echo Rock, a tree and bench-lined shady path that leads to the Pineapple fountain.
Pineapples are a symbol of hospitality in Charleston. Sea captains in the colonial days would spear a pineapple outside their home to let friends know they had returned home safely, and that they could come over to hear stories of their seafaring travels. Pineapple fountain (photo above) is one of the iconic images of Historic Charleston SC. The fountain is a charismatic meeting place, excellent for photographs or getting your feet wet.
Indigo Home is another one of Charleston’s quality gift shops. It is found at the end of Vendue Range.
You will instinctively want to walk south from Waterfront Pier along the salt marsh. Eventually you will find another public pier — this is an excellent place to spot dolphins and sailboats in the bay. There are also some nice flower arrangements along this path and benches for sitting and making empty promises.
Keep walking south to find East Bay Dog Park, Hazel Parker Playground, Styles Beach, and The Battery.
Few places in the United States can contend with the beauty and yore of Historic Charleston SC. It is one of our national treasures, voted best city in the US multiple times over. For whatever reason, Charleston doesn’t top most folks lists of places to visit in their lifetime. We don’t understand, but its fine with us. By all means, go to Vegas instead.
If you stay for a weekend, you’ll be back; if you stay longer you might shop for a house. When you find yourself looking at the cost of housing you know you’ve found a good place, but the benchmark of a great place is when you look at which neighborhoods suit your budget and personality.
James Island would be a wonderful place to live, as would West Ashley. If you can’t afford to live that close to the city, Summerville is clean and only 20 miles away. If you have the money, Isle of Palms and Folly Beach are incredible. Mount Pleasant is overdeveloped and populated mostly with transplants.
Now that you know your way around the city, to learn more about all the things to do, see, eat, and experience in and around Charleston SC, be sure to read our Complete Guide to Charleston.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Charleston on our website! Feel free to comment below.
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