Now let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: I am far from an expert of all things Charleston, South Carolina. After a spontaneous trip in February 2017, I absolutely fell in love with this special city. So much so that I returned later that year without my dogs to explore a little more. Not that you can’t visit with dogs; it is a dog-friendly city and there are plenty of things to do with dogs. If you are planning on visiting this city, here are a few tips that may prove helpful:
- Downtown is beautiful: if you love history and architecture, this is where you want to be. Everything is within a fairly small area, from the shore to high end shopping. It also empties out after 10:00 pm so don’t be surprised if you finish a leisurely dinner and find there’s no one else outside.
- Downtown is expensive: if you want to be close to everything, be prepared to fork out some coin for it. There are plenty of homesharing options like Airbnb and those savings can add up, especially if you’re there for more than a few days. On my last trip I stayed at an Airbnb in North Charleston. I wasn’t close to downtown, but the cost of a 15 minute ride more than made up for it.
- Meeting Street is where you want to be: almost everything is on or connects to Meeting Street. Visitor Centre? Meeting Street. City Market? Meeting Street. Aquarium? Just off Meeting Street. Ferry docks? Next to aquarium. The Atlantic Ocean? Walk south on Meeting Street until you get wet. The point is that this is your major point of navigation.
- Ride sharing can be your friend: the majority of my time was spent downtown so the cost of a ride was still less than renting a car and worrying about gas and parking. Not only that, but it gave me the chance to really look at what was around me. I used both Uber and Lyft as they are similar in cost and wait time so it was easy to play them off each other. The drivers provided an invaluable source of information about places to eat and visit.
- Take a tour: I’ve done tours in Charleston, Savannah Georgia, and New Orleans Louisiana and just from wandering around during the day, I seemed to see so many more walking tours in Charleston. It could be the timing and location but I would often be down some little street in Charleston and bump into a small group. All three cities also offer after-dark tours for the ghost-hunting crowd. Most of these outdoor walking tours were dog-friendly. The culinary tour, dessert tour, and haunted jail tours that I did in Charleston were obviously not.
- Find a good tour operator: I went with Bulldog Tours in Charleston. First because they had a dessert tour but every other tour after that was 20% off. All of the guides were incredibly knowledgable and it made for an immensely pleasurable experience. I know some people are opposed to the horse-drawn carriage tours and I’ll admit that I am not particularly taken with them. The barns for the horses are on the same street at Bulldog Tours so I had a chance to see more of how the animals were treated. They seemed to be in good weight and received access to water which I had been concerned about. I did see one roll by with a small dog in the back so they may be dog-friendly up to a point. If I go back there, I may make follow-up inquiries but I’m still not sold on the idea.
- Take the Heel Toe Express: there is no better way to explore Charleston than on foot. Go for a tour and then wander. There are so many little gardens and alleyways tucked away that the only way you will find them is to get out there. When you’re tired of walking…
- Make a DASH for it: Charleston has two public transit systems: the DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) trolley and the the CARTA (Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority). The DASH is a free shuttle for the downtown area.
- Food glorious food: every restaurant will be awesome. The competition is so fierce that a subpar restaurant will not survive. Whatever you do, get the shrimp and grits.
- Go up to get down: there ins’t much of a bar scene in the downtown proper so you have to move farther north. I went up King Street and soon found myself in a bustling mass of partygoers. If that’s your thing, that’s where it is.
- A city by any other name: Charleston is also known as the “Holy City” as there was a time that they had the most churches of any city. There is some debate over who has that title now but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend the day looking at as many churches as you can and then spend the night watching the cemeteries.
- Hit the outskirts: don’t be afraid to venture outside of downtown. There are plenty of beaches and other attractions.
- Hit the sauce: I saw a pamphlet that listed 38 craft breweries and I passed at least two distilleries. Need I say more?
- To market to market: the Historic City Market is just off Meeting Street on (oddly enough) Market Street. Today it is a row of low squat buildings that, since 1841, have been used as a market place. The land had actually been ceded to the city of Charleston in 1788 with the stipulation that it be used as a market for perpetuity. This makes it the oldest public market in the United States. There are also farmers markets that operate throughout the city.
- Pack’s all here: Charleston seemed to be more friendly than a lot of other cities I have taken my companions to visit. There were ample poop bag dispensers all over the place and several stores and restaurants had large bowls of water outside. I will say that I did not see many dog parks downtown but I do know that there are more on the outskirts and even some off-leash beaches although the Isle of Palms beach we visited has set times and dates for when dogs are allowed to play off-leash.
- Step back in time: there are three historic plantations in Charleston: Middleton Place, Magnolia Planation and Gardens, and Boone Hall. Middleton and Magnolia are on the Ashley River on the west side of the city. Boone Hall is farther east and is closer to Mt. Pleasant. There are also several historic sites and preserved buildings. How to choose? Well you could go to all and solve that problem. Middleton Place has the oldest curated gardens, Magnolia Plantation is the most visited (and has very wild gardens which I can personally attest to), and Boone Hall is labeled as the “most photographed”.
Is there anything I forgot? If you have other suggestions I would love to hear them.
***Disclaimer: I’m actually going to come out and say it: I am not affiliated with the City of Charleston in any way. All of these views are my own and I have received no financial compensation or compensation of any kind. Yes I do love this city that much. Now, if anyone wants to send me down there to make sure that the other times weren’t a fluke, I’d be more than happy to go. You know, for research and such…