I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and I’ve seen tourists miss out on some of the best parts of my hometown.
Charleston will always be home to me.
I was born and raised in the southern city. Even though I left for college, I still go back regularly to visit friends and family.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen it become one of the fastest growing cities in the country and a staple on the lists of must-see destinations in the United States. I love that so many people flock to Charleston, both to visit the city and to live in it.
However, I have found that many of the newcomers’ itineraries skip over what I consider to be the most important parts of the city.
These are the 10 biggest mistakes I see tourists make when visiting Charleston.
Be respectful and considerate as you explore the city’s complex history.
Many visitors admire Rainbow Row’s historic homes and visit supposedly haunted areas, but the popular activities only scratch the surface of Charleston’s past.
There are so many historical sites where tourists can learn more about the city’s history, from its association with pirates to its role in the American Civil War.
Two of my favorites are the Sewee Shell Ring Boardwalk, a 1-mile walk through prehistoric shell mounds, and Gene’s Haufbrau, one of the city’s oldest and most storied bars.
It is also important to be considerate and learn some history if you choose to visit these places.
For example, I have seen tourists explore plantations without acknowledging the land and properties’ ties to slavery, even though about 40% of all enslaved Africans in the United States passed through the port of Charleston, and about 10% of them lived in South Carolina until slavery was abolished.
Be sure to try the food at a local restaurant for the full experience.
Charleston’s dining scene is getting a lot of acclaim, and rightfully so. From crab rice to Frogmore stew, the local dishes are quite different from those you’d find on a traditional Southern menu.
Many tourists arrive ready to order the unique cuisine. But I wish more of them would make sure they tried the food at locally owned, authentic restaurants, like Poogan’s Porch or the Charleston Crab House.
When tourists are in doubt about where to eat, they should ask the locals. Most Charlestonians are incredibly friendly and happy to show off their city.
Charleston has so much more to offer beyond the downtown area.
Charleston is much larger than many visitors think. It is the largest city in South Carolina.
If the tourists have time, I encourage them to go beyond the city limits.
From kayaking in Shem Creek to taking a day trip to Sullivan’s Island or the Isle of Palms, there is so much to do outside of the downtown area.
You don’t have to visit during rush hour to get the most out of Charleston.
The majority of tourists come to Charleston from September to November, leading to crowds and longer wait times at restaurants, bars and other attractions.
In addition, it is also hurricane season, so there is an increased chance of ending up in bad weather.
I wish more people would consider booking their trips at other times.
Charleston is a year-round destination. Spring is great for seeing an abundance of flora, summer has perfect beach weather, and winter is great for finding hard-to-book eateries and exploring museums.
Unless you have a specific need for a car, stick to walking.
Many tourists make the mistake of using a car to get around the city. The city streets are old, narrow and made of cobblestones. They are not built for busy traffic, and cars often drive around 20 km/h down single lane roads.
Because many tourists are not used to the lower speeds, I have seen them speeding and causing dangerous situations. If someone is going slower than you, it is important to follow their lead rather than making risky moves or driving aggressively.
As long as you stay within the metro area and don’t go to a neighboring island, walking or taking a pedicab are your best modes of transportation.
Be alert for alligator sightings. If you spot one, keep a safe distance.
Visitors may encounter alligators in Charleston. Their popular sunbathing spots include ponds, marshes and golf courses.
If you see one of the wild animals, keep your distance and leave them alone. People who have gotten too close to alligators or attempted to photograph them have been seriously injured or killed.
You can see dolphins right from the city – you don’t always need a fancy tour to do it.
The port city is surrounded by hundreds of dolphins. However, many tourists do not know where to go to spot them.
Some choose to go on a dolphin cruise, but tourists should not feel that they have to shell out extra money to catch a glimpse of the animals.
Instead, I recommend looking for them by kayaking in Shem Creek, taking the Daniel Island Ferry into town, or walking down an empty, quiet waterway.
You never know when you’re going to stumble upon a pod.
The sunsets in Charleston are hard to beat, so make sure you make time for them.
The sunset is not a priority for many tourists, which is an oversight.
As someone who knows Charleston like the back of his hand, I can say that there is no bad vantage point to watch the sun set on the city.
Some of my places that are easily accessible are Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and Sullivan’s Beach.