There are few places in the US as magical, beautiful, and seeped in history as Charleston. There is no other city like it. Those of us that live in Charleston cherish our city and the work to preserve it done by the Historic Charleston Foundation while also holding onto hope that the city planners will strop prioritizing new over old. While all of this is true, we also love sharing our beloved city with fresh faces. Charleston is an old city and that’s what makes it so special. Charleston has a way of making people fall in love with her so, while a quick visit is totally doable, I guarantee you’ll leave wanting more with visions of your next visit playing out in your mind. And Charleston has so much history you could spend a lifetime studying in – many people do!
The colorful neighborhoods, welcoming locals, world class cuisine, delicious watering holes, stunning parks, seaside location and beaches, and endless amounts of things to do make it the perfect city to get lost in. All of these reasons are why Travel + Leisure ranks Charleston the best city in the United States year after year. Many people will travel to Charleston for quick visits while visiting other Southern cities in the Carolinas and Georgia (Charleston + Savannah is a very popular trip combo!) so I thought I’d create a guide for how to spend 36 hours in Charleston. Believe me, after your get a taste of our city, you’ll be dreaming of moving to Charleston!
36 Hours in Charleston
Grab Coffees at Harken Café
If you arrive in Charleston in the morning, then I suggest immediately seizing the day by fueling up with a divine cup of coffee and delicious baked goods from my favorite coffee shop + eatery, Harken. The minute Harken Café opened in the fall of 2019, it became an instant classic! Harken is a neighborhood coffee shop filled with character, delicious food + drink, and a warm atmosphere (I always see a familiar face). I’d recommend Harken to anyone visiting Charleston! Menu must-haves: avocado toast, daily slab pie, daily baguette sandwich, and the ever-changing mind-blowing baked goods. Get directions.
Do a Storytelling Walking Tour with Walk & Talk Charleston
Walk & Talk Charleston is my favorite tour of the city for so many reasons. The amazing tour guide, Tyler, focuses on the city’s character and characters. History and historic gossip unfolds as she dive into the stories of Charleston’s past and present inhabitants and the architectural fabric of the historic district of downtown Charleston. It is a great way to learn about Charleston’s past (good and bad!) and a wonderful way to get the lay of the land since you will walk and see so much. On the tour, you’ll walk major must-see streets like King Street, Tradd Street, and Meeting Street and learn about everything from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the very colorful residences of our beloved city. Get Directions.
Lunch at Leon’s Oyster Shop
After talking in Charleston by foot, you’ll probably be ready for a Lowcountry Charleston lunch. I suggest dining outside on the patio at Leon’s Oyster Shop for a meal of fried chicken, oysters, peel n’ eat shrimp, avocado toast, hush puppies, fish fry, and the siam salad (the best salad in town!). The atmosphere is top notch and just an all around Charleston favorite! Get Directions.
Rent Holy Spokes Bikes
With a full belly, you’ll probably want to get moving a bit. I suggest renting bikes from Holy Spokes Bikes so you can really cover some ground and see a lot of the peninsula. Holy Spokes has bike pick-up locations all over downtown Charleston so they are super convenient. You can bike down Rainbow Row and all along The Battery for views of the harbor, Fort Sumter, and the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. Bike around Colonial Lake and through beautiful neighborhoods including South of Broad, the French Quarter, Ansonborough, and Harleston Village.
Shop Charleston’s Boutiques & Small Businesses
Charleston has so many unique boutiques and small business shops that make our city special. There are a few shops I can’t recommend enough: Hampden (get directions), Amanda Lindroth (get directions), Lake Pajamas (get directions), Beckett Boutique (get directions), Candlefish (get directions), Croghan’s Jewel Box (get directions), Madison Mathews (get directions), The Tiny Tassel (get directions), and Acquisitions (get directions).
Candle Making Class at Candlefish
As an alternate afternoon activity to bike riding or shopping, I suggest a candle making class at Candlefish. You can create your own candles with a very Charleston scent that will serve as beautiful tokens from your trip to take home with you. This is one of my favorite things to do when friends are in town! Get directions.
Sunset Drinks at Citrus Club
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better spot in town to watch the sunset than at the Citrus Club on the roof of The Dewberry Hotel. The views of Charleston from the Citrus Club are unparalleled and the atmosphere both inside and outside is top notch. Did I mention that the cocktail menu is full of flavor and color!? Get directions.
Dinner at 167 Raw
My favorite restaurant in town is (and probably aways will be!) 167 Raw. There is no place better! The seafood will be some of the very best you’ve ever had. The spicy margs are amazing. The atmosphere and service is laid back but lively. It’s perfect! The only caveat is that you can’t make reservations so consider putting your name in before sunset drinks or expect a wait (Bin 152 is right down the street if you fancy another drink while you wait). If you prefer to dine somewhere you can make a dinner reservation, then I suggest Melfi’s, The Ordinary, Chez Nous, or Malagon. Get directions.
Nightcap at Bin 152 or Vintage Lounge
Depending on who you are traveling with, you might be up for a nightcap. If so, then I suggest walking a block down from 167 Raw to the wine bar Bin 152 or walking a bit up King Street to Vintage Lounge. Both have a fun atmosphere for grabbing a drink on the weekends that isn’t too crazy. Get directions to Bin 152 and get directions to Vintage Lounge.
Sleep at Zero George
After your big day, the time has come to rest your head! To soak up all of Charleston’s charm, book your one night stay at Zero George. Zero George is a little slice of heaven nestled away on George Street (hence its name). Known for its distinct personality, charming rooms, delicious food, and impeccable service, Zero George is simply divine. A true gem! P.S. If you stay at Zero George, they have complimentary bikes for guests so you don’t have to rent Holy Spokes bikes. Get directions.
Sunrise on Sullivan’s Island
I know, I know, you’re on vacation so you might want to sleep in. However, if you’re up for an early morning outing, then I suggest getting into the car bright and early to drive out to Sullivan’s Island to watch the beach light up with the sunrise. Sullivan’s Island is my favorite beach in the Charleston area so I can’t recommend it enough. Get directions.
Brunch at Basic Kitchen
After watching the sunrise on Sullivan’s Island, head back downtown and pack up your belongings at Zero George. Before heading out of town, enjoy a delicious brunch outside on the lush patio at Basic Kitchen. The cauliflower wings are an absolute must! Get directions.
Plan Your Next Visit
I dare you to leave Charleston and not dream of coming back. There is just so much to see and enjoy! So, when your 36 hours in Charleston SC is up, be sure to plan your next trip!