9 Lesser-Known—and Absolutely Charming—Ways to Experience the Outdoors in Charleston
From kayaking with wild dolphins to wandering cobblestone streets in search of secret gardens and alleyways, get outside in South Carolina’s Holy City for an abundance of distinctly immersive activities.
Bordered by two rivers and the Charleston Harbor, the Charleston peninsula boasts a seemingly endless array of stunning landscapes—and the opportunities for adventure that come with them. In the Lowcountry, visit a sustainable oyster farm or chart your own course while stand-up paddleboarding through the winding salt marsh. Perhaps the best way to enjoy Charleston’s wide open spaces are its extraordinary beaches. Take your pick of five barrier islands—each more spectacular than the next with highlights like historic lighthouses and surfing hotspots.
You’ll find just as much excitement back on land. Looking for something a little different? Venture beyond the expected sites and check out Park Circle, a vibrant local neighborhood bursting with Southern charm, or book a walking tour that will show you the hidden side of the city. Here’s how to go off the beaten path and make the most of your next trip to Charleston.
- Get up close with wild dolphins. Charleston’s Folly Creek and surrounding, untouched waterways are home to 70,000 different species, including Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, wading birds, sea turtles, and pelicans. Make your way through a maze of salt water creeks and tidal flats with Charleston Outdoor Adventures, whose guided wildlife tours with experienced naturalists are the type of deeper experiences you’ll treasure. Board a Carolina Skiff bay boat for an in-depth lesson on local ecology, fossil hunt on Morris Island, and marvel at the wonders of Lowcountry.
- Discover a North Charleston gem. Less than ten miles from downtown, Park Circle has become a top destination with a distinct local vibe. Anchored by a central circular park, this lively, walkable community is full of whimsical shops and restaurants. While you’re there, join a game at the public disc golf course, grab a brew at Commonhouse Aleworks, and wander over to Riverfront Park, a favorite of residents and visitors alike that’s set on the banks of the Cooper River and surrounded by graceful oak trees.
- Find your dream beach. Boasting five different barrier island beaches, Charleston offers all sorts of dreamy seaside experiences. Explore the lighthouse and soak up Revolutionary War history at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. Hang ten at the Washout on Folly Beach. Golf and chill at Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms. Rent bicycles at Freshfields Village and cruise your way around Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island.
- Tour the city by boat. Think Charleston is beautiful? Wait until you see it from the water. To better appreciate the Holy City’s steepled skyline, book a cruise around Charleston Harbor on the 84-foot, three-mast Schooner Pride, modeled after a classic 18th-century trading vessel. During the two-hour trip you’ll see many of the city’s most important historic buildings, including Fort Sumter and the Battery, and gain a new perspective on how Charleston’s position on a narrow peninsula led to its significance as a military stronghold.
- Relive your favorite movie or show. As one of the country’s most scenic cities, it comes as no surprise that Charleston often stands in for beautiful, fictional locations in Hollywood’s top blockbusters. For example, within a short drive from downtown, you can step inside the swan scene in The Notebook or the secret island headquarters in The Patriot at Cypress Gardens. The Netflix series Outer Banks was also filmed in Charleston—go on a treasure hunt for all of these breathtaking spots from the popular show.
- Catch the big one. Surrounded by salt marshes, tidal creeks, reefs, and more, Charleston has it all when it comes to fishing. While it’s possible to fish solo from the shore or piers, you’ll have the best experience with an eco-minded guide like RedFin Charters that knows the lay of the land—or water, as it were. Depending on the season, you can head out to the Lowcountry for inshore fish like Redfish, Speckled Sea Trout, and Flounder. Search for Black Sea Bass, Porgies, and Spade Fish at nearby reefs, and even angle for sharks.
- Hunt for postcard-worthy sites. From antebellum homes and cobblestone streets to lush gardens and renowned architecture, Charleston is full of photogenic (and fascinating) locations. Take a stroll with Bulldog Tours and discover some of the city’s highlights, including Charles Towne Landing, the wharf where English settlers landed in 1670. Maybe you’ll even find some of Charleston’s secret alleyways.
- Taste a regional delicacy. For many travelers, a trip to Charleston isn’t complete without a meal (or two) featuring a table piled high with steaming oysters. Experience the full journey “from tide to table” at Lowcountry Oyster Company, where you’ll visit an eco-friendly oyster farm by land and boat, learn how to properly shuck an oyster, and of course, enjoy a tasting of the briny treats. If you happen to be in town, don’t miss the Lowcountry Oyster Festival—the world’s largest oyster festival—on February 6, 2022.
- Kayak through Greater Charleston. Join Nature Adventures for a kayak tour and float along Mount Pleasant’s picturesque Shem Creek at sunrise. Your journey will begin in a saltwater marsh area among the creek’s many shrimp boats and restaurants before you paddle out to a bird sanctuary on Crab Bank Island. Along the way, keep an eye out for Charleston’s manatees and 300 resident dolphins. Independent spirits can rent kayaks (single or doubles) or standup paddleboards and explore on their own.