What is There to Say About Downtown Charleston That Hasn’t Already Been Said?
From its history to its status as one of the world’s top vacation destinations according to Condé Nast and Travel + Leisure, so much has been written about Charleston already. Charleston’s restaurants and beaches are world-class, and people come from around the world to shop on King Street and stroll down Rainbow Row. So, what is there to say about downtown Charleston that hasn’t already been said? Simply put, it’s time to write your own story.
Living in downtown Charleston is a unique experience. There is something special about absorbing the city’s culture, being surrounded by water, and living in a place that most people have on their bucket list of travel destinations. When you live here, it’s not hard to see why. Once the restaurants, the beaches, and the Lowcountry sensibilities become a part of your everyday life, you will truly feel like a Charlestonian, and you will want to invite everyone you know to experience all that the Holy City has to offer.
Many people who come to Charleston on vacation end up moving here. That is one of the unique things about the city as well. While Charleston is indeed a vacation destination, it is also a place that is easy to call home.
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Living in Downtown Charleston
So, what is it like to live in downtown Charleston? Despite its outsized reputation, Charleston is a small city. According to official government data, the City of Charleston’s population is just over 150,000. However, this figure includes not only downtown Charleston (known to locals as “the peninsula”), but the surrounding areas of Daniel Island, James Island, Johns Island, and West Ashley as well. If you look solely at the peninsula, the city has a population of just about 35,000 full-time residents.
For many visitors, the peninsula’s small size comes as a surprise. They expect the Holy City to be much bigger—but it isn’t. As a result, downtown Charleston is walkable and bikeable, and residents never feel trapped downtown (as is often the case in larger urban areas). Designated resident parking means that owning a car in downtown Charleston isn’t an issue (and many downtown homes have their own driveways and garages), and the closest of the Charleston area’s five main public beaches are just about a 20-minute drive away during off-peak hours.
As a result, residents (and visitors) can do a lot in a day. In fact, for your average Charlestonian, a typical weekend day might start with having breakfast at a downtown coffee before heading to the beach in the morning to beat the crowd. After lunch, the afternoon might be taken up with a walk downtown or a stroll around Hampton Park, and dinner at one of Charleston’s famous restaurants might be followed by an evening watching the sunset from a rooftop deck that overlooks the Ashley River or the Ravenel Bridge. Taking out your boat stored at Charleston City Marina or The Harborage, kayaking, standup paddle boarding (SUP), fishing, and taking in a Charleston RiverDogs baseball game or a live show at the historic Sottile Theatre might be in the cards as well.
In short, living in Charleston is what you make it. As we said above, you can write your own story. When you live here, it’s easy to see why people fall in love with Charleston, and why the Holy City deserves its title as one of the United States’ best places to live.
Eating Out in Downtown Charleston
Many people come to Charleston for the food alone. Among its many superlatives, Charleston is known as a food city, with upscale fine dining and Lowcountry classics alike drawing residents, locals, and visitors from around the world.
Like many cities, Charleston lost some of its most well-known restaurants in 2020. But, many long-time favorites remain, and new restaurants are replacing those that have vacated the ground floors of many of downtown Charleston’s historic buildings.
Asking someone where to each in Charleston is like asking about their favorite color. The answer you get will be based on the person’s personal preferences; and, if you ask five Charlestonians, there is a good chance that you will get five different answers. The best advice is to try as many of Charleston’s eateries as you can—from world-renowned restaurants like Husk, Magnolias, and Basic Kitchen to local favorites like FIG, SNOB, and Butcher & Bee.
Things To Do in Downtown Charleston
As is the case with restaurants, when it comes to things to do in downtown Charleston, residents and visitors are spoiled for options. There are indoor and outdoor options, free and high-end options, options for families and couples, and options on land and on the water.
Let’s start with options on the peninsula itself. Walking in downtown Charleston is a common pastime activity for residents and visitors alike. King Street and the Battery never get old, nor to places like Waterfront Park, the French Quarter, and Hampton Park. Many local families have memberships to the Charleston Aquarium and Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, and residents in downtown neighborhoods like Wagener Terrace and Lowndes Point can put their kayaks in the water blocks (if not steps) from home.
Charleston is home to several historic theaters that continue to host live events to this day. These include the Dock Street Theatre, Gaillard Center, Sottile Theatre, and Charleston Music Hall. The Charleston RiverDogs, an MiLB baseball team, play at Joe Riley Stadium (“the Joe”) on the peninsula, and the Citadel and College of Charleston have fields and arenas downtown as well.
Then, there is the Gibbes Art Museum, which is located just north of the historic district and South of Broad. There are also several art galleries downtown, as well as all types of local businesses located on and off King Street.
Now, let’s talk about things to do on the water. We already mentioned kayaking, but even residents who don’t have direct water access in their neighborhoods can shove off from downtown locations like Brittlebank Park. There are several marinas on the peninsula, and many downtown residents own slips or are members of boat clubs at Charleston City Marina, The Harborage, or Seabreeze Marina. Residents (and visitors) can also take dinner cruises or sunset sailboat charters, or walk to the middle of the Ravenel Bridge and watch the ships in Charleston harbor.
Finally, while there is plenty to do on the peninsula, Charlestonians can find even more to do in Mt. Pleasant and West Ashley, as well as on Charleston’s barrier islands. The Charleston Battery are a professional soccer team that plays at Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant; and, as we already mentioned, there are several beaches just a short drive away.
Real Estate in Downtown Charleston
Some of the most famous photos of Charleston include the stately homes along the Battery or the brightly colored historic homes on Rainbow Row. Homes in these areas can get expensive—well in excess of a million dollars in many cases.
But, if you don’t have a multi-million-dollar housing budget, you can still find lots of options on the peninsula. Real estate in downtown Charleston is still reasonably affordable in many areas; and, along with historic houses and recently-remodeled homes there are still fixer-uppers to be found.
Unlike many other cities, downtown Charleston does not have distinct residential and business districts. While there are quiet neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and the famous historic neighborhoods like South of Broad, many Charlestonians live right in the action and within walking distance to all that the city has to offer. Downtown Charleston’s neighborhoods include:
- Cannonborough Elliotborough
- East Central
- French Quarter
- Hampton Park Terrace
- Harleston Village
- King Street
- Lowndes Point
- North Central
- South of Broad
- Wagener Terrace
Apartments in Downtown Charleston
Along with homes for sale, there are several options for individuals who are looking for apartments in Charleston as well. This includes newer luxury apartment buildings like WestEdge in Harleston Village, as well as individual apartments on the upper floors of buildings on King Street and other avenues downtown.
FAQs: What’s It Like to Live in Downtown Charleston?
What is Charleston, SC Most Known For?
Charleston, SC is perhaps most well-known for being named a top vacation destination in the world by Condé Nast and Travel + Leisure. This ranking is based on several of the Holy City’s unique characteristics, from its history and culture to its restaurants and beaches. Some of Charleston’s most-famous landmarks include Fort Sumter (which is recognized as the location of the start of the Civil War), King Street and the Charleston City Market, and the skyline-defining Ravenel Bridge.
Is Charleston, SC a Nice Place to Live?
Charleston, SC is an incredible place to live. The same things that attract visitors from across the United States and around the world also bring many people to call the Holy City home. World-class restaurants, historic theaters, museums, live sports, fishing and boating, watersports, water views, beach days, walkability, and light traffic are just some of the things that Charleston residents enjoy about living in the city.
Is Charleston, SC Worth Visiting?
Charleston, SC is absolutely worth visiting. There is a reason—or, rather, there are several reasons—why it has been named a top vacation destination worldwide for several years running. Whether you are interested in Charleston’s history, its culture and restaurants, or its waterways and beaches, you will have more than enough to do during your stay.
What is the Best Month to Visit Charleston, SC?
The best month to visit Charleston, SC depends on what you want to do while you are here. If you are planning a beach vacation, then we’d recommend May or June. But, if you aren’t interested in sunny beach days, then consider coming during the offseason. Temperatures are mild most of the year; and, in December, Charleston is filled with holiday lights and hosts live performances of the Nutcracker.
How Many Days Are Enough in Charleston, SC?
The answer to this question also depends on what you want to do while you are in Charleston. Generally, we’d recommend at least four or five days to get a flavor for the city and visit the beaches at the barrier islands on either side of town. Depending on the time of year, you could fit in a RiverDogs game, a Charleston Battery game, or a live show as well. But, if you only have a weekend, this should not steer you away. Two days are still plenty to explore the peninsula, try out a few of Charleston’s famous restaurants, and get a taste of what it is like to live in the Holy City.
What is the Nicest Part of Charleston, SC?
From a real estate perspective, the nicest part of Charleston is undoubtedly South of Broad. Many homes here have recently sold for several million dollars, and some have had price tags above $10 million. But, from the perspective of living in Charleston or visiting on vacation, you really can’t go wrong anywhere on the peninsula. Neighborhoods farther north like Wagener Terrace and Lowndes Point are nice as well, and of course King Street and the French Quarter attract visitors from around the world.
Is Charleston, SC a Walkable City?
Yes, Charleston is a very walkable city. Many residents walk to work, and walking is a common mode of transportation among students at The Citadel, College of Charleston, and MUSC as well. For visitors, staying in a hotel downtown will put you within easy walking distance of all of Charleston’s restaurants and main attractions.
Does Charleston, SC Have a Beach?
While Charleston, SC is surrounded by beaches (including Folly Beach and Sullivan’s Island, both of which are visible from across the Charleston harbor), there is not a beach on the peninsula. Instead, Charleston’s walkable waterfront primarily consists of the Battery (a historic park with sidewalks on the edge of the water), Waterfront Park on the Cooper River, and Brittlebank Park on the Ashley River.
How Far is It from Charleston, SC to the Beach?
From downtown Charleston, the closest beach is about seven miles away on Sullivan’s Island. Folly Beach is about 10 miles away. Other beaches in the Charleston area include Isle of Palms (about 11 miles), Kiawah Beachwalker Park (about 22 miles), and Edisto Beach (about 45 miles).
The Charleston area also has several beaches that are only accessible by boat. The closest of these is the beach on Morris Island, which is just about four miles from the tip of the Charleston peninsula.