Charleston is growing. While some areas are growing faster than others, all of Charleston’s neighborhoods have experienced growth over the past five years. By all indications, this isn’t going to change anytime soon. Families, professionals, and retirees are moving to the Holy City, and Charleston continues to be recognized among the United States’ best small cities (and the world’s top tourist destinations) year after year.
So, you’re thinking about moving to Charleston. Or, maybe you already live here and are ready to try living somewhere new. Which one of the city’s (or county’s) neighborhoods is right for you?
Where Should You Move in Charleston, SC?
There are several factors to consider; and, to be clear, there are lots of different neighborhoods to choose from. Downtown Charleston (known to locals as “the peninsula”) has several neighborhoods of its own, and Charleston’s inhabited sea islands have several neighborhoods as well. In this article, we are not focusing on any individual neighborhoods specifically, but rather the 10 main areas where people live in Charleston:
- Downtown Charleston
- Daniel Island
- Folly Beach
- Isle of Palms
- Kiawah and Seabrook Islands
- James Island
- Johns Island
- Mount Pleasant
- Sullivan’s Island
- West Ashley
Exploring 10 of the Most Popular Places to Live in Charleston
Here is an overview of 10 of the most popular places to live in Charleston, along with a brief summary of why neighborhoods in each area might (or might not) be right for you:
1. Downtown Charleston
We’ll start with downtown Charleston. Even though this puts us slightly out of alphabetical order, it is a logical starting point for our journey around Charleston’s best places to live.
Downtown Charleston has several neighborhoods, many of which are very different from one another. For example, South of Broad is home to some of the city’s most historic—and most expensive—homes. While many of the homes South of Broad have undergone extensive renovations to bring them up to modern standards and add 21st-century luxuries, prices here are easily into the millions of dollars. On the opposite end of the city—and, to a large degree, the opposite end of the spectrum—neighborhoods farther north like Wagener Terrace and Hampton Park Terrace are much more affordable. Homes here are popular with young families as well as young professionals who work in the city.
In between, areas like Harleston Village offer a mix of older (but frequently renovated) homes, condos, and apartments. Price ranges here vary as well. But, this is just about the heart of the city, and Charlestonians who live here have easy access to all that the city has to offer in addition to having easy access to Folly Beach by taking the James Island Expressway across the Ashley River.
You Might Like Living in Downtown Charleston If:
You might like living in downtown Charleston if you are interested in being within walking distance of all that the Holy City has to offer. The peninsula is also right in the middle of the Charleston area’s beaches, so if you want to work downtown and surf on the weekends, living downtown might be your best option.
2. Daniel Island
Located northeast of the peninsula between the Cooper and Wando Rivers, Daniel Island is home to gated neighborhoods with luxury homes and water views. Many homes on Daniel Island (like many of the other areas on this list) also have their own private deepwater docks. For residents who don’t have their own dock, many neighborhoods have private community docks as well.
Daniel Island has some more affordable, family-friendly neighborhoods as well—particularly toward the island’s southern tip. The island also has golf courses, public parks, shopping, live sports venues, and various other amenities.
You Might Like Living on Daniel Island If:
You might like living on Daniel Island if you prefer to be a bit further away from the action. Living on Daniel Island, especially on the northern end in the island’s luxury neighborhoods, truly feels like an escape. Yet, it still has easy access to the beaches on Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. In contrast, however, getting downtown from Daniel Island can be a bit of a hassle since it involves first driving through North Charleston or Mount Pleasant.
3. Folly Island
Folly Island is one of the Charleston area’s sea islands, and it is most well-known for its vacation homes and public beach access. But, Folly Island has several full-time residents as well. Getting from Folly Island to downtown Charleston is fairly easy most days, though traffic can get backed up during the commuting hours and on summer weekend mornings.
But, for many Folly Island residents, the experience of living on the island is well worth it. Surfing is popular among Folly Island residents, as are kayaking and boating on the Folly River (and beyond). Residents who live close to Center Street can walk to the island’s many popular restaurants with open-air seating as well.
You Might Like Living on Folly Island If:
You might like living on Folly Island if you truly want the beach life experience and are willing to sacrifice some commute time for more time on the ocean. The island has several small bungalows that are popular with full-timers, and there other homes ranging from apartments to luxury beachfront and ocean-view houses as well.
4. Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms is another of the Charleston area’s sea islands. It is located north of the city, past Sullivan’s Island and on the ocean side of Mount Pleasant. Isle of Palms is a beach community that has a golf course and marina—in addition to miles of Atlantic oceanfront. Backing to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), Isle of Palms also has many homes with private deepwater docks. There are a handful of restaurants on the island, and residents have easy access to Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant as well.
Isle of Palms is among the areas furthest away from downtown Charleston on this list, and it definitely feels like a vacation-style beach community. As a result, many people have their second homes here, although there are certainly full-timers as well. Houses here range from older beach homes—many with unique architecture and details—to new luxury homes in the multi-million-dollar range.
You Might Like Living in Isle of Palms If:
You might like living in Isle of Palms if you want everyday to feel like a vacation. You are happy to stay relatively put, and you don’t mind taking a drive to the mainland now and then to stock up when necessary. If being near the beach is your top priority—and perhaps your only priority—then you should definitely check out Isle of Palms.
5. Kiawah and Seabrook Islands
Kiawah and Seabrook Islands are in the opposite direction from downtown Charleston of Isle of Palms. Getting here from the city involves driving the length of Maybank Highway or driving down Savannah Highway through West Ashley, and then taking Main Road across Johns Island. But, while these are both labeled as “highways,” they are Charleston highways, and they are four-lane roads at most (two lanes in either direction).
Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island are popular destinations for retirees, though they are becoming increasingly popular among individuals and couples who work from home as well. If you are considering a move to Kiawah or Seabrook Island, just bear in mind that you will be a good distance away from the mainland. But, there are restaurants and shops in nearby Freshfields Village, and Bohicket Marina and certain other areas have options as well.
You Might Like Living on Kiawah or Seabrook Island If:
You might like living on Kiawah or Seabrook Island if you really want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You will have access to private golf courses and uncrowded beaches, but your solitude will come at the expense of being close to everything else that Charleston has to offer.
6. James Island
If this list were a ranking of the most popular places to live in Charleston, James Island would be closer to the top. James Island has numerous neighborhoods with old homes, new homes, and amenities ranging from public playgrounds and duck bonds to kayak launches and deepwater docks. On the eastern edge of James Island, residents have waterfront lots with views of the Charleston peninsula. On the western edge of James Island, residents have waterfront lots with views of the Stono River. In between, residents have easy access to abundant restaurants and shopping, the popular James Island County Park, and Folly Beach—which for many residents is just a 5 to 10-minute drive away.
Living on James Island is what you make it. If you want to go to the beach or go boating every day, you can. If you want to live in a quiet neighborhood and commute to downtown Charleston, you can do that too. James Island is popular with lots of people for lots of reasons, and it is definitely an area to consider if you share most people’s view of Charleston living.
You Might Like Living on James Island If:
You might like living on James Island if you want to be close to everything but still have a nice home with a yard in a quiet neighborhood. Depending on whether you want to prioritize going to the beach or being closer to downtown, you can explore neighborhoods on one end of the island or the other.
7. Johns Island
Johns Island has earned a reputation as something of a hidden gem in the Charleston area. While many Charleston-area residents and visitors drive through Johns Island to get to Kiawah Island or to visit the Angel Oak or Charleston Tea Garden, relatively few take the time to slow down and consider Johns Island as a place to live. But, as more development comes to the island, its full-time population is growing as well, with popular areas including the neighborhoods along River Road, various pockets along Maybank Highway, and the new luxury neighborhoods closer to Kiawah Island.
Unfortunately, with Johns Island’s recent development, traffic is beginning to become somewhat of an issue. While people from big cities will scoff at what Johns Islanders call “traffic,” getting onto or off of the island during the commuting hours can be time-consuming some days.
You Might Like Living on Johns Island If:
You might like living on Johns Island if you have considered other places to live in Charleston and none of them seem quite right. Mount Pleasant and James Island are too busy, but Kiawah Island is too far away. You like living in nature, and you don’t mind doing a bit of driving to get where you need to go.
8. Mount Pleasant
Mount Pleasant would likely top many people’s lists of the most-popular places to live in Charleston. From I’On to Old Village, Mount Pleasant has many unique and highly-desirable neighborhoods with home prices ranging from the mid to upper six figures to the low to mid sevens. You can find everything you need in Mount Pleasant, and downtown Charleston and the beach are both just a short drive away.
In Mount Pleasant, there are several attractions that are popular with residents as well as individuals and families who live in Charleston’s other areas. These include Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park, Patriots Point, Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, Palmetto Island County Park, and the Charleston Battery soccer stadium.
You Might Like Living in Mount Pleasant If:
You might like living in Mount Pleasant if you want to be close to everything and you are looking for a home more on the luxury end (if not at the top of the luxury end). You don’t mind driving, but you don’t want to drive too far on a day-to-day basis.
9. Sullivan’s Island
Sullivan’s Island is located across the ICW from Mount Pleasant, and the southern tip of the island has views of Morris Island Lighthouse, the Ravenel Bridge, and the Battery on the Charleston peninsula. Sullivan’s Island is known as the Charleston area’s quieter sea island, with far fewer vacationers than nearby Isle of Palms and Folly Beach. Several homes have deepwater docks on the ICW, and most residents prefer for Sullivan’s Island to keep its relatively low-profile stature.
You Might Like Living on Sullivan’s Island If:
You might like living on Sullivan’s Island if you want daily beach access but you also want peace and quiet. Perhaps you’d like a deepwater dock and an ocean view thrown in, too.
10. West Ashley
West Ashley is quickly becoming one of the most-popular places to live in Charleston as well. West Ashley has tons of neighborhoods, from historic Avondale with its walkable downtown to large planned communities like Carolina Bay and Shadowmoss. There are neighborhoods with luxury homes like Croghan Landing and The Settlement at Ashley Hall as well, and there are also plenty of apartments throughout the area.
If you are interested in West Ashley, a unique spot to check out is the area off of Wappoo Road bordering the Stono River. While not many homes in West Ashley have open water views, these do. Like many other parts of West Ashley, this area seems busy along the main roads (in this case Savannah Highway); but, once you get off of the main roads, you won’t know that they exist.
You Might Like Living in West Ashley If:
You might like living in West Ashley if you are looking for a family-friendly place to live with lots of amenities and easy access to just about everything that Charleston has to offer. The peninsula is just minutes away, and West Ashley residents have easy access to both Folly Beach and Kiawah Island.
How Do You Choose the Right Charleston Neighborhood for You?
So, that’s our summary. Now, how do you choose the right Charleston neighborhood for you? Whether you are interested in outdoor activities or other things to do, you will want to carefully consider your priorities and choose an area that makes sense for your personal and family wants, needs, and budget. You may very well find that multiple areas around Charleston are of interest—and that’s okay. Like we said, lots of people choose different areas for lots of reasons, and the reality is that you can’t go wrong with any area you choose.
Keep in mind, these are just 10 of Charleston’s most-popular places to live. From Dewees Island—which is only accessible by boat—to Ravenel, Hollywood, Edisto Island, and other areas farther south, there are many other options. Ultimately, if you are thinking about moving to Charleston, or relocating within the Charleston area, the best thing to do is plan some time to tour the area and get a feel for several neighborhoods that you think might be of interest to you. Then, when you’re ready, you can hire a real estate agent to show you some homes in each of the neighborhoods you are considering.
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