Day 1 Explore Downtown
Start your day with a walk along the Battery. Bonus points if you’re watching the sunrise on the Atlantic. Have a coffee and pastry for breakfast at Normandy Farms on Broad Street. Then walk over to see Rainbow Row on East Bay. Head to Waterfront Park for nice views of the harbor and the pineapple fountain (prime spot to take photos!). Continue your walk to Chalmers Street, the city’s longest cobblestone street. Rest and people watch at Washington Park. Go into St. Michael’s Church–Charleston’s oldest church building dating from 1761. Make sure to see the cemetery, where two signers of the Constitution are buried. Walk or drive to the Aquarium Wharf area. Eat lunch at East Bay Deli or Fleet Landing. Then take the afternoon ferry to Fort Sumter National Park–where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. After your harbor cruise, go for coffee at Kudu and browse Blue Bicycle Books. Make dinner reservations at Poogan’s Porch or Hominy Grill (order shrimp & grits!). Finish the evening with dessert and coffee at Kaminsky’s on Market Street.
Day 2 Historic Plantations
Head out of town to the suburb of West Ashley for one of Charleston’s best breakfasts at Early Bird Diner. Drive north on Highway 61 (Ashley River Road) to Charleston’s historic plantation district. You have the option of touring three sites, although it is difficult to see all three in a day. Drayton Hall is a must-see for architecture and history lovers. The house, dating from 1738, has changed very little over the centuries. It is a rare surviving example of Georgian Palladian architecture, and the only plantation house in the area from the 1700s. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens is a lovely place to take a picnic. Photographers will enjoy the picturesque gardens, and children will like the petting zoo and tram. Middleton Place has something for everyone including garden walks, house tours, and living history demonstrations. For dinner, try one of West Ashley’s popular restaurants including Mex 1 Coastal Cantina or Triangle Char & Bar. Both are budget- and kid-friendly.
Day 3 Shopping and Museums
Begin with a Southern breakfast at either Toast! or Another Broken Egg Cafe. Stroll the markets in search for a souvenir of Charleston, perhaps a bag of benne wafers or a sweetgrass basket. Next, head over to King Street for shopping. North of Calhoun Street (referred to as Upper King by locals) you’ll find trendy bars, day spas, and interior design stores. South of Calhoun, you’ll find antique shops, chain clothing stores, art galleries, restaurants, and local boutiques. Tasty Thai and Mama Kim’s offer lunch specials and a nice break from biscuits and fried green tomatoes. Plan to spend the afternoon exploring some of Charleston’s best museums. The Gibbes Museum of Art has a great collection of Southern art from the colonial period to present day. The Nathaniel Russell House is the city’s best restored house museum and offers a guided tour. An alternate is the Aiken-Rhett House, a preserved house from the mid-1800s with a fantastic audio guide. Finish off the evening under live oaks eating incredible brisket at Lewis BBQ. I promise you won’t be disappointed!