11 fun things to do in Charleston, South Carolina

Last summer, Charleston, South Carolina was ranked as the no. 1 city in the US by Travel + Leisure and it's obvious why. The city is paved with history, but it's also home to good eats, shopping, beaches and more! 

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11 things to do in Charleston, South Carolina
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11 things to do in Charleston, South Carolina

Learn the history of Charleston

Charleston is packed with history — you're bound to see plaques and sculptures with stories of the engraved into them. Learn from an expert and take a walking, bus or bike tour of the city. You can also take a tour by horse carriage, but beware that the locals aren't huge fans. 

We recommend:

Historic Charleston Walking Tour

Ghosts of Charleston Tour

Charleston's Alleys and Hidden Passages

Charleston's Old South Carriage Historic Tour

Visit the Charleston City Market

The Charleston City Market is one of the oldest public markets in the US. It houses over 300 vendors selling everything from art and kitchenware to jewelry and edible treats. The market is open every day (excluding Christmas) during the day and on the weekends, at night.

Check out the market 

Take a stroll along the Joe Riley Waterfront Park

Near the market you'll find the Joe Riley Waterfront Park. It's dotted with benches for watching boats in the Charleston Harbor, family-sized swing sets and two fountains, including the famous pineapple fountain. On a hot day, children and adults are encouraged to take a dip in the fountain! 

Walk down Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row is a series of 13 brightly-painted houses along the Charleston waterfront.

These homes weren't always so colorful and cheery, however. The historic homes were first built around 1740 with merchants running stores on the bottom floor and living on the top. Post-Civil War, the area was run down, but that all changed nearly six decades later. 

In 1931, a woman and her husband purchased a section of the homes and decided to paint them a shade of pastel pink, hoping to brighten things up. Soon after, other residents followed suit. 

There are a few speculations behind why she started the colorful trend, however. Some say it was for the aesthetics only, some said it helped drunk sailors find their way home at night and others said the colors indicated the types of goods sold there.

No matter the reason, today people flock to Rainbow Row to take pictures, making it one of the most photographed places in Charleston. 

We recommend: 

Historic Charleston Walking Tour: Rainbow Row, Churches, and More

Charleston's Most Beautiful Walk
 

Go to the beach

While Charleston might be better known for its history, food and culture, beautiful beaches are only a short drive away. Each beach is located on its own barrier island, each one unique in its own way.

Take a trip to Folly's Beach to surf or to Sullivan's Island for a more peaceful swim and see some of our other favorite beaches below:

Isle of Palms

Morris Island

Kiawah Island

Go out to eat! 

There are dozens of great restaurants in Charleston and you should try as many as you can. Seafood is a must — start your meal off with oysters (they're available almost everywhere) or a cup of she-crab soup.

Other food recommendations are the burger (there's bacon ground into the patty) and cheesy grits at Husk, the Brussels sprouts and pan roasted sumac day boat catch at Parcel 32 (one of Charleston's best new restaurants), fried chicken at Bertha's Kitchen and wine and cheese at Goat Sheep Cow

We recommend: 

Visit the Angel Oak

The Angel Oak tree on John's Island (close to Charleston) is one of the oldest trees in the US. However, just how old it is has been debated; most guess somewhere between 300-500 years old, while others believe it can be up to 1500 years old. 

The tree used to belong to Abraham Waight, who reportedly received the land as part of a grant in 1717. He was extremely wealthy and owned several plantations. Today, the tree is part of a public park owned by the City of Charleston and is a free attraction. 

Visit the Charleston Tea Plantation

The Tea Plantation, located on Wadmalaw Island, is the largest and oldest tea farm in the growing domestic tea farming industry at 127 acres. Actually, Charleston is the only place in all of North America that tea is even grown. It's located only a short 30-minute drive from downtown and has plenty of ways to sample tea: at a gift shop, through a factory tour or a trolley tour. 

Do yoga at a brewery

When you're in Charleston, there's a lot of walking, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking. Give yourself a healthy(ish) break and take a yoga class at a beer brewery. Several breweries offer yoga classes for around $20 followed by a cold brew. It's a different but fun way to try new beers and get your stretch on.

Where to go:

Frothy Beard

Tradesman Brewing Co.

Palmetto Brewing Co.

Ghost Monkey

Holy City Brewing

Go shopping

King Street in downtown Charleston is a major shopping destination filled with everything from mom-and-pop shops and preppy boutiques to mainstays like H&M and Sephora to high-end brands like Louis Vuitton. Shop 'til you drop, or at least until you hit another restaurant. 

Go for a boat ride

Take a ride around the Charleston Harbor! Go for a dinner and jazz cruise, a historical tour or venture out to see marine life.

We recommend: 

Sunset Blues and BBQ Cruise

Charleston Harbor History Tour

Morris Island Lighthouse Eco-Cruise

Schooner Sailing Cruise on Charleston Harbor

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Marvel in its charm as you take a walk down the palm tree-lined King Street and stop in a local boutique to shop. Learn about the history behind the brightly-colored houses on Rainbow Row as you make your way to the waterfront. Then start with oysters and a good cocktail before having dinner on a rooftop overlooking downtown.

Go for a week or go for a weekend, but check out these 11 fun things you should do in Charleston.

Looking for more island vibes? Check out 10 reasons to visit San Juan, Puerto Rico below!

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10 things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
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10 things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Go snorkeling 

Take advantage of San Juan's clear waters by putting on a snorkel and swimming with the wildlife. You can go for a snorkel and picnic cruise (tropical drinks included), swim with sea turtles or take a catamaran to a deserted island. And if you're up for it, go for a sunset swim in one of the bioluminescent bays

Recommended excursions:

San Juan Snorkel and Picnic Cruise

Paradise Scuba & Snorkeling Center

Vieques Snorkeling Tour from San Juan

Deserted Island Catamaran Day Sail from Fajardo

Visit the rainforest

The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the US national forest system. Although it's small by comparison (29,000 acres), it is one of the most biologically diverse and is home to hundreds of unique animal and plant species, like the endangered Puerto Rican parrot. 

Although many trails and facilities in the forest are closed off for repairs (especially post-Hurricane Maria), there are still plenty of places to visit and experience the forest.

Recommended excursions:

El Yunque Rainforest Half-Day Trip from San Juan

Big Waterfall Rainforest Rappelling Off The Beaten Path Adventure

Private Full Day Archaeological and Rainforest Tour in San Juan

Full-Day Rainforest and Waterfall Adventure from San Juan

Go to Perla 

Puerto Rican food is influenced by a combination of US, Spanish, African and native Taínos flavors. While there are more than enough great restaurants in San Juan, one with a view that's as good as its menu is Perla (pictured). Perla is located at the La Concha Renaissance Hotel and sits in a conch-shell like exterior that was designed by an Italian architect in 1958. The "shell" sits on an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean.

Perla's menu is appropriately seafood-focused with dishes like Baked Caribbean Lobster with Lobster Beurre Blanc and Seafood Ceviche and is rounded out with steak, chicken and an impressive dessert list. Just think of all the pics you'll get for your Instagram...

Some of our other favorite places to eat include:

Lote 23

Oceano

El Burén de LULA

Lechonera El Rancho de Apa

Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tour 

Puerto Rico Craft Cocktail Walk

Visit Old San Juan

Think of Old San Juan as the downtown area. There are no beaches or resort hotels, but it boasts bright colorful architecture, bustling streets and a rich history. 

Visit and see the old home of Ponce de León, check out the kiosks along Pase la Princesa, go shopping, dine on Fortaleza Street (tons of good spots to eat!) and stop by to see the forts (more on that next). 

Recommended excursions:

Old San Juan Deluxe Walking Tour

Old San Juan Walking Tour

Old San Juan Segway Tour

Old San Juan Food Tour

Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro

The castle, also known as El Morro, sits on the water at the entrance to the San Juan Harbor. The building of it began in the 1400s by the Spaniards and over the years was rebuilt and modified — it's over 475 years old! Today, the fort is a historical landmark and used for entertainment. 

El Morro is part of the National Park Service and upon entering, you'll be asked to pay an entrance fee. You'll receive a map that can guide you around the "park" or you can take any of the guided tours offered there. Check out more on visiting here

Another recommended excursion:

1-Hour Guided El Morro Jetski Tour

Shop for jewelry

Shopping for jewelry in San Juan is great because you can get quality high-end items at lower prices than you might find on the US mainland. And, there are so many jewelry stores! (In addition to diamonds, make sure you check out the local spots for handmade accessories, too.)

Recommended shops:

Portofino 

Argenta (in Old San Juan)

Bared (in Old San Juan)

Club Jibarito

Visit the Bacardi Rum Distillery

Take a ferry from Old San Juan and visit Casa Bacardi. While Bacardi rum was founded in 1862 in Cuba, its Puerto Rican distillery opened in 1936. Today, you can visit and go on a historical tour, a rum tasting tour, take a mixology class or even bottle your very own Bacardi — each experience comes with a strong drink or two (or more!). 

Plan your visit

Have a beach day

There are plenty of beaches in San Juan, so take a day to relax and enjoy the clear waters and sand. 

Recommended beaches:

Most pristine: Flamenco Beach

Good for snorkeling & scuba: El Escambron

Closest to resorts: Playa Condado

Best for playing sand sports: Ocean Park Beach 

Bioluminescent & wild horses: Mosquito Bay, Vieques 

Most secluded: Playa Borinquen

Explore a bioluminescent bay

The water of a bioluminescent bay glows in a blue-green color. The glow is created by teeny tiny micro-organisms called flagellates; they make their food through photosynthesis, which creates the glow. It's a sight to see, and a rare one — there are very few bioluminescent waters in the world. Luckily, you can find one near San Juan!

Recommended excursions:

La Parguera Bio Bay Boat Tour from San Juan

Bioluminescent Bay Kayak Adventure Tour from San Juan

Bioluminescent Bay Glass Bottom Kayak Tour from San Juan

Best Bioluminescent Bay Boat VIP Tour from San Juan (all inclusive)
 

Go on an adventure

There are plenty of ways to explore around San Juan that don't include walking or riding in a car. Take an ATV through the countryside, a jet ski around the islands, zipline through the rainforest or hike through the caves. There's a lot to see and not everywhere is accessible via automobile. 

Recommended excursions:

Hacienda ATV Adventure

Adventure Lovers Tour in Puerto Rico: Full-Day Zipline River Caving and Hike

Jet Ski Adventure from Fajardo

4-Hour Jet Ski Tour at Boqueron Beach

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