4-Day Travel Guide to Explore Charleston Like a Local
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit one of my best friends (we actually met in middle school!) in Charleston, South Carolina. I had never been to Charleston, so I jumped on the chance, and I jumped on a plane. We stayed in her house, where she was living when she went to medical school. We had four days to explore like tourists, even though she was a local. It was great having a friend showing me around! I put together a 4-day Charleston travel guide for a long weekend for taking in the city – complete with all of our experiences and my friend’s tips on how to get around the city. Spoiler alert: there are a lot of beach days here.
Day 1: Arrive in Charleston & Explore Downtown
A great way to get your first taste of Charleston is to wander the streets downtown. A great place to start is on King Street. Here, there are many shops, galleries, and local restaurants and cafés. We stopped in Black Bean Co. for an afternoon snack – smoothies and açai bowls. We also had dinner at Tasty Thai & Sushi on King Street, a great local spot with an extensive menu. The sushi was delicious! I had a tempura asparagus roll. Another notable spot is the Mitchell Hill gallery, which has a variety of bright artwork and interior design pieces.
Next, running parallel to King Street is East Bay Street, where you can visit Rainbow Row. Walk these streets to take in the Southern charm of the city. Don’t miss one of the picturesque and iconic views in the city.
During your walk, you can pop over to the waterfront park and sit by the famous pineapple fountain. Walk on the pier, too, and sit in one of the swings they have there. It’s beautiful at sunset – a great time to have deep conversations about the universe with your best friend (at least that’s what I did).
Day 2: Sullivan’s Island and Mt. Pleasant
If you are in Charleston for the summer, do not miss the opportunity to visit the beaches here. Start at Sullivan’s Island, which is along the entrance of Charleston Harbor. The beaches of Sullivan’s Island – 3.3 miles in total – are preserved by the town, which means it has such a pleasant natural beauty. It was really quiet when we visited on a weekday, even during the summer. It’s a good spot to lay in the sun, go in the water or go for a run. Also, you can learn more about its part in Revolutionary War history.
For lunch, we visited a vegan restaurant called Sprout Cafe in Mt. Pleasant. It has a wonderful menu with great variety. I had the walnut hamburger burrito. Yes, a burrito and burger in one. My friend had really good tacos, and we both left with smoothies.
Because the weather is usually moody in Charleston, we had a period of downpour. This is a good time to visit some of the boutiques and/or visit a spa or nail salon. This is a good rainy morning or afternoon activity, especially if you are on vacation!
For dinner, we drove to another great local spot for pasta and Italian food – Mondos on Folly Road. They have a variety of pastas and a great drink menu as well. The restaurant was entirely full when we went, but they still had seats. We got a nice spot outside on their patio and had a very nice time dining there.
Day 3: Isle of Palms & Tacos
The next day, we woke up ready for some brunch. To continue our “vegan tour of Charleston,” we found a wonderful place that serves a variety of Southern classic dishes, all vegan — Gnome Café. Needless to say, I had the best pancakes of my life, plus home fries and “cheesy” grits. The café was also really popular both times we went. (We went for brunch the next day too!)
After brunch, we headed to the beach! Every day was virtually a beach day for us. We went to Isle of Palms, which neighbors Sullivan’s Island. It was a small beach town with a tiny strip of tourist shops and a couple of beach restaurants. We paid to park along the street and then headed to the beach. Right next to Coconut Joe’s restaurant (which has a great rooftop terrace!) is a good beach entrance, with public restrooms and showers to rinse off sand. While the beach was crowded, we walked down the beach a little ways and found a less crowded area. The water was great and even though it was a cloudy day, we still got some sun, and the weather was really nice.
On our way back, we stopped at another section of Sullivan’s Island off of Middle Street. This secluded beach had stellar views of the lighthouse and scenery all around. There were only a couple fishermen and two other people on this portion of the beach. There are warnings to not swim in the water due to the current and higher tides. There is also a section of historical signs and information about the Revolutionary War.
After a long beach day, we went back home to freshen up and then found a great place, Taco Boy, for dinner. Their guac and salsa trio were incredible. There was a long wait and for good reason. The atmosphere was really lively and would make for a great evening out.
Day 4: Folly Beach & Melton Peter Demetre Park
First piece of advice, if you are going to go to Folly beach in Charleston, one of the most popular beach spots in the area, go very early if it is a holiday week or a weekend in the summer. EVERYONE was going to Folly beach when we went — and we even got there before traffic got really bad. There was absolutely no parking, and it wasn’t worth it at all. We drove around and saw the cute shops along the way and that was fun. Folly is something to see, but not worth the crowds in the summer.
Instead, make your way to Melton Peter Demetre Park. This is a great spot in James Island, SC, with great views of Charleston Harbor and the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. There were barely any people there, compared to the crowds at the major beach sites. To get there, you drive through a nice neighborhood, so it is a little secluded, which makes for a great getaway for the afternoon. Walk on the pier, read the informational signs that document all of Charleston and sit on the beach. This park offers a great view of downtown Charleston in the distance.
The beach itself is rocky, but has many nice shells. We found a good area to lay on the sand, and we went in the water to cool off. While there are better ocean spots, this park along the harbor is what you need to escape the crowds.
For meals that day, we went to White Duck Taco Shop for lunch (more tacos, yes) and then to D’Allesandro’s Pizza for dinner. The pizza place was amazing – great food and a very chill spot, if you are in the mood for a casual and breezy atmosphere. It is located on a corner in Elliotborough. Worth a trip!
We ended the trip by visiting a beautiful park by my friend’s house – Hampton Park, one of the largest parks in the area. It was a great place to walk around, with beautiful landscaping and a lot of ducks and birds (my favorite!). Go for a stroll there after dinner one night – I recommend!
Overall, Charleston is a great place to see the historic architecture, take in the southern charm of downtown and experience the beach! A great vacation all around – from history to nature, beautiful people and beautiful sites. This is a must-see in the states, on the East Coast and the South!