Weekend in Charleston, SC: 2-3 Day Itinerary

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Charleston, South Carolina is a classic vacation destination in the Southeast. With colorful architecture, nearby beaches, historic sites, and local shopping, there’s plenty to do for all kinds of travelers.

I’m a travel blogger, and I recently spent a few days in Charleston with my family. Here’s the itinerary we followed.

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Is 2-3 Nights Enough to See Charleston?

With a population of around 152,000 people, Charleston isn’t a huge city. You can easily explore the city itself in a day, but you’ll want at least another day or two for the surrounding attractions.

I spent three nights and 2.5 days in Charleston area, and it felt like the perfect amount of time to visit the major sites in the area.

Keep in mind that I tend to be more of a “slow” traveler, and I prefer to keep my late afternoons and evenings open. If you prefer to have more of a packed schedule, you could probably do everything I listed here in 2 days.

Charleston Weekend Itinerary Map

Here’s a map of the itinerary, which is color-coded by day. You can click the top left icon to see a breakdown of the different days.

And here’s a summary of each day:

Day 1: Explore the City

  • City Market
  • Charleston Waterfront Park
  • Rainbow Row
  • The Battery and White Point Garden
  • Fort Sumter or a dolphin tour

Day 2: Visit Historic Sites

  • Angel Oak Tree
  • Charleston Tea Garden
  • McLeod Plantation Historic Site

Day 3: Lounge at the Beach

  • Folly Beach or Kiawah Island

Charleston, South Carolina Weekend Itinerary

Day 1: Explore the City

On your first day, take the time to enjoy Charleston itself.

Start your day at City Market, a historic market that stretches four blocks blog. It features art, food, and souvenirs, including several sweetgrass basket stands, which are a local specialty.

If you like biscuits, stop by the famous Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits in City Market, which has buttery and bite-sized biscuits in a variety of flavors (the blackberry was particularly good!).

A variety of small biscuits displayed on a marble countertop

From there, wander over to Charleston Waterfront Park. Walk along the pier, sit on a swinging bench, and take photos at the Pineapple Fountain. The rows of trees in the park also make for a lovely photo backdrop or shaded place to rest.

Pineapple fountain

Your next stop is the nearby Rainbow Row. This photo-worthy street is lined with pastel-colored houses from the 1700s.

Rainbow Row with colorful houses and someone biking by

Keep admiring the beautiful historic homes as you walk down The Battery, a fortified seawall and promenade. You’ll eventually make it to White Point Garden, which has rows of live oaks, Civil war cannons, and a sweeping view of the harbor.

View on The Battery
Gazebo in White Point Garden under a canopy of oak trees

At this point, you’ll probably want to stop for lunch (or you can stop for lunch right after Rainbow Row, which is closer to restaurants).

If you want something quick, Brown Dog Deli on Broad Street is a good option. It has sandwiches, hot dogs, and salads in a retro setting (plus, there are vegan options). My brother had the veggie dog and I had the Chic Feel Ay (love the name haha). Neither was particularly memorable, but it was a quick, reasonably-priced lunch right in the historic city center.

Brown Dog Deli retro counter and decor

If we could do it again, I’d want to try Basic Kitchen, though it’s pricier and further North in the city.

To finish the rest of your afternoon, consider going on a tour of Fort Sumter, an island off the cost of Charleston where the Civil War began. Tickets include the 30-minute ferry ride over and entry to Fort Sumter, where you can explore the grounds on your own and hear stories from park rangers.

If you’re more into wildlife than Civil War history, you can go on a dolphin tour. My family went on one with Charleston Outdoor Adventures and spotted several dolphins. The guide was very knowledgeable, and we stayed a safe distance away from the dolphins. The tour we went on is around a 20-minute drive away, so if you want something closer to the city, try this well-rated schooner harbor tour and dolphin watch.

Dolphin sighting by a pier
See the dolphin fin? This is at 2x zoom; we were further away

Round out your evening with dinner in the city. If you’re looking for a bar-type joint, Xiao Bao Biscuit serves drinks and Asian small plates in a converted gas station. The food is quite pricey for the portion sizes, but the fat noodles were really savory and well-spiced.

Day 2: Visit the Historic Sites

On your second day, explore the history and nature surrounding Charleston.

Drive 20-30 minutes to Angel Oak Tree, a massive live oak estimated to be 400-500 years old (though this is hotly debated; others say it’s closer to 1,500 years old!). The canopy of the tree is absolutely awe-inspiring, and you’ll have a hard time capturing it all in one frame without using a wide angle lens and stepping way back.

Angel Oak Tree
Me admiring Angel Oak tree

Because the tree is so old and the area is heavily-trafficked, there are a lot of rules you need to follow while visiting. You can’t sit or climb on the tree, and you can’t place anything on the ground near the tree, including tripods and blankets. Make sure the respect the tree and the area around it so it can thrive for years to come!

After admiring the Angel Oak, drive another 15 minutes to Charleston Tea Garden, the only commercial tea garden in North America. There are free samples and a free factory tour. You can also pay for a trolley tour of the grounds.

Charleston Tea Garden sign
Red trolley from the Charleston Tea Garden tour. Trolley is parked next to an old oak covered with Spanish moss
Charleston Tea Garden tour bus

This was a fun stop, and I learned some interesting facts. For example, did you know that all tea (green, black, jasmine, etc.) is made from the same type of leaf ? The leaves are just processed differently.

On your drive back towards Charleston, if anyone is craving seafood, stop at Charleston Crab House on James Island for lunch. They also have a veggie pasta, and were the only seafood place I found to have a veggie option. The pasta was nice and garlicky, though it was also really buttery and salty. My parents liked their fish though, and my dad really liked the flounder.

Food at Crab House in Charleston

Right across the street from the Crab House is McLeod Plantation Historic Site. There are many other plantations near Charleston, but this one is best-known for focusing on the history and not doing events like weddings. We took a tour and learned a lot about the plantation itself and the enslaved people who worked there. The guide was very knowledgeable and gave us ample opportunity to ask questions.

For dinner, if you’re looking for something lighter and plant-based, stop by Huriyali. They have hearty bowls, sandwiches, smoothie bowls, and cafe drinks.

Day 3: Lounge at the Beach

On your last day, visit on of the nearby beaches. We went to Folly Beach, about a 20-minute drive from Charleston, but you might also like Kiawah Island (45 minutes away).

Folly Beach is a classic beach town and the closest beach to Charleston. The pier is impressive, stretching longer than half a mile into the water. People fish, relax, and eat on the pier. The beach itself is clean, and there’s plenty of space.

For lunch, I recommend Jack of Cups Saloon, which is vegan-friendly and has an Impossible burger. My dad had seafood at The Crab Shacks and enjoyed it. I don’t recommend Chico Feo for veggie food—it has a cool outdoor bar setting, but the veggie options are basically unseasoned bean bowls.

Me in front of a colorful mural at Folly Beach

Kiawah Island is more upscale, known for its resorts, championship golf courses, and celebrity houses. There is public access to the beach only at Beachwalker County Park on the West end of the Island.

We chose Folly Beach because it was closer to Charleston, and more on the way to Savannah, our next stop.

Where to Stay in Charleston

Where I stayed: My family of four spent $480 for 3 nights in a 2-bed apartment about 2 miles from downtown Charleston. This was one of the cheapest Airbnbs I saw, and it’s now actually over three times more expensive than when we stayed there (it could be seasonality?).

It’s a nice, recently-renovated apartment about a mile from the town center. You can hear some highway noise though, and I’d actually recommend staying closer to the city center for more walkability (the walk back was super tiring).

Other options:

If you’re looking for another apartment, this 2- or 3-bed apartment is in a charming historic house about a mile from the city center.

For a hotel in the heart of the city, check out Market Pavilion Hotel, which is only a 3-minute walk from City Market and the Waterfront Park, and has a rooftop pool and restaurant.

You may also like French Quarter Inn, an upscale hotel with vintage-style rooms. You get offered champagne at check-in, and there’s a free gourmet breakfast. The location is also prime—only a few blocks from the Waterfront Park.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments! If you’re also considering Savannah for a trip, you may want to read my comparison of Charleston vs. Savannah.

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