January through March is one of my favorite times of year in Charleston. When we moved here from Kentucky five years ago, we left icy roads and frost on the ground for sunny skies and mild temperatures. We didn’t wear a winter coat for the entire first winter we were here. Now we have acclimated to the climate and wear heavy coats when it’s 60 degrees out like everyone else here does!
I can’t help but love this time of year. The weather is mild, the crowds are low, and there are seasonal deals. Here are my 8 reasons why you should consider visiting Charleston in the winter months:
1) Low Crowds
If you hate crowds, then please by all means visit Charleston in the off-season. By April, there are so many tourists downtown that it’s hard to get around. The historic district of Charleston is a very small colonial city, and sometimes it feels like there’s not a lot of breathing room. Our southern charm wears off pretty quickly when we’re trying to make it to a meeting downtown and we’re stuck behind three carriages packing 20 tourists each. The beauty of the winter months is that the traffic is lighter, both on the roads and the sidewalks.
2) Museum Mile Deal
Offered every year only in January, the Museum Mile pass can save you a lot of money on downtown museums and tours. Adult tickets are $25 and get you admission into several historic and cultural sites. My favorite participating sites include the Aiken Rhett House, the Gibbes Museum of Art, and the Nathaniel Russell House.
3) Charleston Restaurant Week
Charleston is known for its fantastic restaurants and it seems like there’s a new place opening every week. However, restaurants here can be very expensive. Locals look forward to Restaurant Week every year—when for a couple of weeks in January Charleston’s top restaurants offer limited time deals. Many restaurants will offer prix fixe lunch and dinner menus.
4) Blooming Flowers
Are things grey and gloomy wear you live? Does everything look dead? I remember those days. One of the best things about Charleston is that there’s always something in bloom. In the winter months the city has an outbreak of Camellia blooms—pops of red, pink, and white seem to be everywhere. You’ll see them in gardens, city parks, and most notably at Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation & Gardens.
5) Southeastern Wildlife Expo
I have to admit this weekend is an exception to the generally low crowds in winter. The city is packed for the Southeastern Wildlife Expo (SEWE) every third weekend in February. In the past we have enjoyed the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary show, where they brought out everything from poisonous snakes to opossums. It’s always a treat (no pun intended) to watch the water jumping competitions, where dogs show off their retrieval skills (or sometimes get distracted by the crowd).
6) Good Weather
I don’t want to jinx it, but we typically have nice weather during winter. In the five years I’ve lived here I’ve only seen “snow” twice—a few flurries in the morning that melted before they hit the ground. It’s not unusual to have high temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Our average high is the lowest in January when it’s a cool 57 degrees.
7) No Mosquitos
Another one of my favorite things about this time of year is the absence of bugs. Once the weather heats up, the mosquitos and no-see-ums come out in a blaze of fury. It can get so bad in the spring that you’ll want to bathe in Deet. And especially for those worried about the Zika Virus (although I’ve read it’s a longshot that there would be an outbreak here) it will put your mind at ease to visit Charleston in the winter months.
8) You’ll Probably Have the Beach to Yourself
You can always tell who’s a local by how they dress at the beach in winter. Visitors wear shorts while locals (if we’re even at the beach) wear parkas, scarves, mittens, and hats. Unless it’s an exceptionally warm and sunny day on the weekend, you’ll probably have the beach virtually to yourself in January and February. March is the beginning of spring break here in the south, and the crowds start to pick up then.