Whether you’re planning on visiting Charleston, S.C. or you’ve made the decision to move here permanently, you should be prepared to spend a lot of time outside. Located along the coast of South Carolina, Charleston is a quaint and charming city that experiences sunshine almost every day of the year, making it the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts. Though the area is relatively free of mountains, there are dozens of other great outdoor activities visitors and locals can participate in all year long, especially water-related sports. Find out more about everything you need to know to enjoy the Lowcountry outdoors.
Charleston Has the Ideal Climate
In the last decade, Charleston has experienced a huge influx of people moving to the area from more northern states. Aside from the world-class cuisine, great bar scene and beautiful landscape, the most enticing aspect of the city to these newcomers is most likely the climate. Charleston’s location on the coast can mean an increased chance of humidity, but it also provides some relief from the summer heat as an occasional breeze from the ocean can cool things down.
July and August are the hottest months of the year with temperatures regularly surpassing 90 degrees F. Though the summers can be sweltering, there are plenty of ways to seek relief from the heat, and the rest of the year offers beautiful temperatures allowing you to take advantage of the outdoors. In the winter, the average temperatures fall between the mid-40s and 60 degrees F. These winter temperatures are very mild compared to other parts of the country and many Charlestonians take advantage of the warm winters by heading out on the harbor in boats or even making a December trip to the beach, though you will still want to throw a sweatshirt on for this activity.
Take Advantage of Lowcountry Outdoor Living
With such beautiful year-round weather and gorgeous Lowcountry scenery, it would be crazy not to indulge in all of the exciting outdoor activities Charleston has to offer. If you’re coming to the area for a vacation, you can find beachfront rentals throughout the area to stay close to the water. For visitors, the spring is the most popular time of the year to visit as the summer heat hasn’t quite set in yet, but the flowers are all in bloom. If you don’t want to visit during a time when a lot of other travelers are in the area, try booking a trip for fall or winter and get a more authentic feel for Charleston. Summer brings in a lot of travelers as well, but some people avoid the area during this season because of the hotter temperatures. During your stay, here are the top outdoor activities you should plan to participate in.
Golf Courses Galore
Charleston is a hotspot for those who love golf. Not only are there several nearby golf courses, but Charleston is also less than two hours away from Hilton Head Island, where you’ll find even more world-class courses. In Charleston, you can spend a day on the green at the public City of Charleston Municipal Golf Course or frequent one of the private courses like Patriots Point Links or Shadowmoss Plantation Golf Club. Many of the most serious golfers will take the 40-minute drive to Kiawah Island for access to some of the best courses in the entire country. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers five beautiful courses that have been designed by top professionals like Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye. Each course integrates the natural landscape of the nearby ocean and marshes.
Hit the Beach All Year Long
With winter temperatures rarely dipping below the 50s and 60s, it’s possible to enjoy the beach during every season. Charleston is surrounded by three fantastic beaches—Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. When you drive about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston to James Island, you’ll reach Folly Beach. This area has a bohemian vibe with great restaurants like Jack of Cups Saloon, which offers a killer red curry mac and cheese, and Rita’s, where you need to order the surprisingly refreshing watermelon tuna nachos. You can enjoy a drink on the back deck of the Tides hotel while overlooking the ocean or grab a seat on the pier and take in the view.
If you head all the way to the end of Folly, you’ll find the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve. To get to this hidden part of the beach, you’ll have to park your car and walk down a stretch of deserted road covered in unique graffiti. After about half a mile, you’ll see the beach, which is covered by large pieces of driftwood that people use to hang hammocks. In the not-so-far distance, you’ll also be able to see the old Morris Island Lighthouse, which is no longer in operation but still makes for a unique landmark.
If you head in the opposite direction of James Island from downtown, you’ll discover two more beaches in Mount Pleasant. Sullivan’s Island has a more upscale vibe with fancy restaurants like The Obstinate Daughter and more casual eateries like Hometeam BBQ or Mex-1. After a filling meal, hit the beach and find a spot near the lighthouse. Traveling a bit further into Mount Pleasant, you’ll reach Isle of Palms, which tends to have a bit more of a family vibe. For young people, there’s still plenty to do like catch some live music at the Windjammer beach bar or round up people to play a game of beach volleyball on the bar’s courts. Isle of Palms is also the perfect location if you’re looking for beachfront vacation rentals.
A Fishing Enthusiast’s Dream
There are plenty of areas throughout the Lowcountry for fishers to spend the day trying to reel in a big catch. For shoreline fishing, you can cast a line off one of the fishing piers in Mount Pleasant or Folly Beach. Many fishers will also head to specific areas of the beach to participate in some shark fishing, which often turns up small sharks that can be as large at three feet long. As a visitor, you can charter a boat and take it out to some of the best spots in the marshes or out on the ocean to catch some local fish species. Before heading out on the water, be sure to educate yourself on local fishing laws to ensure that you’re not breaking any guidelines or disturbing the natural ecosystem.
With so many bodies of water surrounding Charleston, there’s plenty of opportunities to go boating, whether you want to spend the day fishing or cruising through the harbor. Drive beneath the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge for one of the best views from the water and cruise past the Battery to get a unique look at the mansions that line this street. Throughout the area, you’ll discover many sand bar areas where other boaters anchor to spend some time drinking, chatting and taking a dip in the Atlantic. If you’re moving to Charleston, you may want to consider investing in your own boat as there’s ample opportunities to get out on the water. Some locals even head out on a Christmas Day ride. For those visiting, you can look into one of the many charter options available.
Other Water Activities
Charlestonians love their water activities. From kayaking and paddleboarding to surfing and parasailing, you’ll find it all here. Maybe you want to explore the ocean atop a jet ski or learn how to balance on a standup paddleboard. If you head to Bowen’s Island and rent kayaks from this location, you can explore the waterways surrounded by gorgeous marshlands. Then, after turning in your kayaks, head to the Bowen’s Island Restaurant for a taste of the freshest fish in the city. Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant is another great area for water activities as you can paddle through the waterway, which is surrounded on either side by popular outdoor bars. Afterwards, be sure to stop at Saltwater Cowboys or Red’s Ice House for a drink and an appetizer.
Though there are traditional malls in Charleston, outdoor shopping is definitely the more popular option. Both locals and visitors tend to prefer spending as much time outside as possible in Charleston because of the beautiful weather. The downtown shopping district runs from the intersection of King Street and Calhoun Street until King hits Market Street. Explore the many local boutiques or pop into bigger name stores like Urban Outfitters and H&M. You can also check out the open-air market on Market Street, which offers unique, handmade products from local artisans.
For even more outdoor shopping, you can explore the Tanger Outlets in North Charleston. Here, you’ll find great prices from major brands like Nike and Lucky Brand. The entire outlet area is set up like an outdoor mall so you can enjoy the mild temperatures while walking from shop to shop. Mount Pleasant’s Town Center is another outdoor mall with a combination of small boutique shops and big-name department stores like Belk.
Angel Oak on Johns Island
The Angel Oak tree on Johns Island is undoubtedly one of the top outdoor attractions in the Holy City. When visiting Charleston, S.C., a trip out to one of the oldest trees in the world is well worth the drive. This live oak is so large that many of its limbs need to be supported by thick wooden stakes. When you arrive at the Angel Oak, you’ll be in awe of the tree’s sheer size and beauty, and you may even notice an almost mystical ambiance that surrounds the entire area. While out on Johns Island, check out one of the area’s best restaurants before heading back into the city. The Wild Olive is a highly praised Italian restaurant run by chef Jacques Larson of Sullivan’s Island’s The Obstinate Daughter. The Fat Hen is another great option on Johns Island for either brunch or dinner.
Drinking, eating and being outside are three of Charlestonians’ favorite pastimes, and locals will try to combine these activities into one as often as possible, which is why so many rooftop bars dot the downtown area. The Watch, a bar atop The Restoration Hotel, may offer one of the best views of the sunset along with craft cocktails and light plates. The rooftop bar at the new Hotel Bennet overlooks Marion Square and faces out towards the harbor. From here, you can spot several of the dozens of churches that make up the Charleston skyline. Stars is another popular restaurant and bar on King Street that offers a rooftop experience and delicious dishes like Truffle Lobster Fettuccine.
If you’re looking for more ways to enjoy the Lowcountry while also learning more about the area, try taking a trip to one of the many historical sites. From Fort Sumter and Patriot’s Point to Waterfront Park and Rainbow Row, the entire city is entrenched in an intriguing history. Learn about the city’s role in the Revolutionary and Civil wars or head to the Patriot’s Point Maritime Museum atop the USS Yorktown, where you can explore this retired aircraft carrier and even climb aboard some old military planes on the hangar deck. Head out to Fort Sumter to witness the location where the Civil War began or spend the day hanging out in one of the many historical parks in the area. You can sign up for a walking historical tour or hear legends of the city’s past on a late-night ghost tour.
Whether you’re just visiting Charleston, S.C. or relocating to the area permanently, you’ll quickly realize how much outdoor living is a part of the city’s culture. You can spend your days on one of the nearby professionally designed golf courses, hit the beach any day of the year or simply enjoy the many outdoor spaces and historical areas. No matter what outdoor activities you choose to participate in, you’ll be amazed by the unparalleled natural beauty of the Lowcountry.