When you live in Charleston, it is easy to take the city for granted. Water views and palmetto trees become the norm; and, if you don’t make it to the beach today, you can always go another time.
But, Charleston is a vacation destination, and there are lots of reasons why it consistently ranks among the top vacation spots in the world. From its miles of oceanfront to its world-class restaurants and Lowcountry character, it’s not hard to justify Charleston as a bucket list destination.
If you live here and you haven’t been experiencing the Holy City to the fullest, it’s time to fall in love with Charleston once again. Or, if you are planning a Charleston vacation, you can use this information to get the most out of your stay. Here is a look at what you can do in just 24 hours in Charleston:
Experiencing All That Charleston Has To Offer in 24 Hours
In Charleston, every day is a good day to go to the beach. To kick off our 24 hours in Charleston, we’ll put on some beach attire and flip flops, grab a bottle of water and some sunscreen, and head out the door. Grab the keys, make sure there’s a towel in the trunk, and hit the road.
Breakfast and Coffee on the Way to the Beach
Since it’s centrally located, we’ll head toward Folly Beach. But, on the way we need some breakfast—and a cup of coffee. We’re after the Charleston experience, so a chain won’t do.
Instead, we’ll make a stop at Baguette Magic on James Island. This local favorite’s austere façade belies the gems hidden within. We’ll get there right when they open at 8:00am—while the first pastries of the day are still warm from the oven.
An espresso—or maybe a honey lavender latte or Vietnamese orange cold brew—and an almond croissant later, and we’re back on the road. It’s still early, so we shouldn’t have to worry about traffic the rest of the way.
The rest of the drive is easy, and 10 minutes later we’re on Center Street. A right on W. Ashley Ave., another right on 2nd Street, and we’ve got a parking spot (all four tires in the sand) with a short walk to the beach.
Before laying down our towel, we’ll take a walk along the shoreline. The early birds have been out already, but if we get lucky maybe we’ll find something worth taking home. Is that a shark tooth? Nope, just a black shell. Oh well, at least we got some exercise.
At this point, it’s about two hours until lunch time. Since we’ve got free parking, we’ll just relax awhile as the sun continues its daily journey up from the horizon.
Lunch Al Fresco Then Time for Some Activities
As noon approaches, the effects of the almond croissant are starting to wear off. So, where to for lunch?
Folly Beach has lots of options for dining al fresco, and this is the perfect day for lunch outside. While Rita’s Seaside Grille isn’t quite on the route back to the car, it’s pretty close. Plus, they have guacamole.
Sitting on the patio with the sounds of waves crashing just across the street, we decide to keep it light. After the appetizer, a soup and salad will do. We’re not in a rush, but we want to make the most of our 24 hours, so when we’re done we head back to the car.
Rested and refueled, it’s time for some activities.
As much as it is a beach town, Charleston is also well-known for its inland waterways. Boating, fishing, and kayaking are all popular among locals and visitors alike. The city’s rivers and marsh creeks go on for miles, and it is not at all unusual to see dolphins, bald eagles, pelicans, egrets, and ibises all in the same day.
Since we’re out for a day to remember, though, we’ll try something a little bit different.
We could stay on Folly Island, but to get the most out of our day we’ll head back inland—for now. We take the James Island Connector across the Ashley River, then continue across town to the Ravenel Bridge. This is another local icon that locals too often take for granted. Not only is it beautiful, but it also has bike and pedestrian lanes that are separated from vehicle traffic. Walking to the top is well worth it—so that you can watch the cargo ships and sailboats go under you with the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon.
But, we’ll save that for later.
For the afternoon, we’re going across the Ravenel Bridge to get to Shem Creek. We’re renting stand up paddleboards (SUPs). There are multiple places to rent SUPs in Charleston, but Shem Creek has some of the calmest waters in the area. After a brief introduction, we’re on our boards paddling casually under the bridge in the direction of the Charleston harbor. We won’t go out into the harbor—not today—but the tides favor us in this direction, and it offers the opportunity for a unique perspective of the Ravenel Bridge and downtown Charleston.
Exploring Mount Pleasant’s Historic District and Dinner on Sullivan’s Island
When we get back, we’re ready for a break from the sun. So, we get back in our car and make the short drive to the Mount Pleasant historic district. We take our time strolling and taking in the architecture, making stops in some local stores like SOUTH and Studio Shoppe. We see something we like, but don’t need, and decide to let ourselves make an impulse buy. Even though we’re locals, it’s still a day worth remembering. Plus, it’s always nice to support a local business.
At this point, it’s getting toward dinner time, and our reserves from lunch are wearing thin. It’s back to the car for a drive to Sullivan’s Island. We get lucky and find parking on Middle Street; and, after browsing the menu boards on both sides of the road, we sit down for a true Lowcountry dinner.
Whenever you’re on Sullivan’s Island, it’s always worth going to the beach. Sullivan’s Island is very different from Folly Beach, where we were earlier today. Plus, if one beach is good, two beaches are better, right? We take off our flip flops and take a short stroll with just a few other people barely visible farther down the shore. Locals, probably, doing the same thing we are after a dinner at home.
A Sunset View from the Highest Point in Charleston
As the last stop on our 24-hour tour of Charleston, we head to Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. There’s plenty of free parking, and you can get ice cream on the pier. But, instead of heading to the pier, we’re taking the sidewalk the other way to the Ravenel Bridge.
Up we go.
We take our time walking to the benches at the closest of the two cable-stay towers. The breeze feels amazing, and is the perfect complement to the evening atmosphere. As the sun goes down behind us, we watch the Holy City’s lights come to life—boats passing under us occasionally almost 200 feet below.
While it’s getting late, we still have a lot of hours left. Even so, we’re going to call it a day. We know that almost no one is going to go for 24 hours straight—and that’s not really the Lowcountry lifestyle, anyway. We head back to the house, crack a window, enjoy the smell and the breeze, and get ready to wake up feeling ready to do it all over again.
To recap, here’s everything we were able to do in well under 24 hours:
- Have breakfast at a local café
- Spend the morning at Folly Beach
- Have lunch on an open-air patio by the beach
- Go stand up paddleboarding on Shem Creek
- Explore Mount Pleasant’s historic district
- Have dinner and stroll the beach on Sullivan’s Island
- Walk up the Ravenel Bridge at sundown
What Would You Do with 24 Hours in Charleston?
Of course, this is just one example of numerous ways you could make the most of a day in Charleston. What would you do to make the most of your 24 hours in the Holy City? Let us know @life_charleston.