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The Best of Charleston

Outdoor Recreation for All
The Best of Charleston
A premier example of the "New South,” Charleston is an evolving cultural hub. Beneath its celebrated dining and arts scenes, however, the city holds tight to tradition, especially its reputation for unparalleled hospitality.

By Stratton Lawrence, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Outdoor Recreation for All
    Outdoor Recreation for All
    Charleston’s leisurely lifestyle quickly rubs off on visitors, with golf, sailing, fishing, and surfing all popular tourist activities. Nearby Kiawah Island is home to one of the country’s premier golf courses, while the city’s surrounding marshes, rivers, and ocean offer diverse boating options. Take a scenic run over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, or play a game of Frisbee before an outdoor concert at Awendaw Green.
    Photo courtesy of Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    History Through Architecture
    History Through Architecture
    Ranging from soaring steeples to elegant homes and grand public buildings, Charleston’s architecture provides a window into the city’s history. Get a feel for antebellum life by touring the stately columns and multitiered piazzas of the Edmondston-Alston House or the furnishings and gardens of Boone Hall Plantation. The city also has a history of religious tolerance, housing both an active French Huguenot congregation and historic Anglican parishes like St. Philip’s Church.
    Photo by Laura Jenkins
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    An Eclectic Music Scene
    An Eclectic Music Scene
    Walk Charleston’s streets any night of the week and you’ll hear live music spilling from the windows of restaurants and bars like the Charleston Grill, Halls Chophouse, High Cotton, and Prohibition. The music scene here reflects an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, bluegrass, and even jam bands, with something for every taste. Perfect for a classy night out, the elegant Charleston Music Hall showcases the best local, regional, and national artists. The Music Farm books some of the coolest indie and rock bands in the country, while the Charleston Pour House and The Windjammer, a beachside venue, cater to a carefree crowd with funk, reggae, and country acts.
    Photo courtesy of Landon Neil Phillips/Charleston Music Hall
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    Art Beat
    Art Beat
    Home to a thriving art scene, Charleston has a number of notable museums and galleries as well as impressive street art. The Gibbes Museum of Art reopened in 2016 after a complete renovation, launching the city’s most significant collections into the national spotlight. Equally impressive works can be found on Broad Street and in the surrounding French Quarter district, where established galleries feature portraits and Lowcountry landscapes, as well as downtown, where a new wave of galleries (Robert Lange, Redux, and the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art) is leading the contemporary charge. There is also a burgeoning street art scene to be discovered, made famous by Charleston native Shepard Fairey, who created the Obama Hope poster, and the lesser-known Doug “The Sheepman” Panzone, whose graffiti wall behind a shopping center near Folly Beach is a local secret.
    Photo courtesy of Robert Lange Studios
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    Classic and Contemporary Theater
    Classic and Contemporary Theater
    Home to the first dedicated theater building in America, Charleston has always had an affinity for the stage. Today, the city is packed with companies that entertain and enlighten audiences with everything from musicals to mystery theater. At the intimate Dock Street Theatre, built in 1736, the Charleston Stage Company mounts classic plays and contemporary favorites. For a more niche experience, try the Threshold Repertory Theatre, the Footlight Players, or an improv comedy show at Theatre 99.
    Photo courtesy of the City of Charleston
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    The Art of Cooking
    The Art of Cooking
    In a city where cooking is considered an art form, restaurants are of paramount importance and local chefs like Sean Brock and Mike Lata are major celebrities. Farm-to-table is the presiding food philosophy here (as it has been for centuries, way before it was a national trend), and local ingredients such as corn, collard greens, field peas, and green tomatoes play central roles in the cuisine. At hot spots like FIG, McCrady’s, and Bar Normandy, chefs adhere to these tenets while adding their own modern twists to Lowcountry fare. For a prime example, try Husk’s catfish, which comes with summer squash, fennel, shishito peppers, sweet pepper, homemade chowchow, and dill.
    Photo courtesy of Andrew Cebulka/Husk
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    City of History
    City of History
    Charleston is first and foremost a historic city. From wealthy times of trade to damaging years of war, this town has seen it all. Antebellum mansions like the Edmondston-Alston House and plantations such as Middleton Place are extremely grand, while war sites like Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, are humbling. A walk through the city will take you past the Charleston City Market and other historic landmarks, and nighttime ghost tours visit haunted sites including graveyards, the Old City Jail, and the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.
    Photo courtesy of Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Escape to the Beach
    Escape to the Beach
    If downtown’s salty harbor breezes aren’t cutting it, head to the beach and pure ocean air. Each of Charleston’s nearby destinations has its own draw, from Kiawah Island’s upscale resort life to Folly Beach Pier’s casual surf scene. Sullivan’s Island feels private and pristine, while Isle of Palms features a family-friend vibe and lively beachfront dining. In much the same way that Charleston is focused on historic preservation, these locales are committed to protecting their ecosystems of sand dunes, marshes, maritime forests, and thriving wildlife.
    Photo by Gary Carter/age fotostock