Located about midway on the South Carolina coast, the city of Charleston lies on a peninsula flanked by the Cooper and Ashley Rivers, which flow into the Atlantic. The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, which still stands as a national monument open to the public. Sometimes referred to as the “Holy City”—either for its numerous spires or early tolerance for religion, depending which local you ask—Charleston still brims with the old-time charm and character that has made it one of the most celebrated destinations for visitors around the world. Winters are practically nonexistent and summers more tolerable than in other southern cities, although the humidity seems ever present.
Known for both its Southern sophistication and slow-paced lifestyle, Charleston has received accolades from several major publications for being one of the country’s friendliest cities. The many pineapples depicted around town—most famously as the fountain in Waterfront Park—are traditional symbols of the city’s hospitality. Theater plays a key role in local culture, and residents are proud to tell visitors that George Gershwin worked on his folk opera Porgy and Bess, set in Charleston, while staying on nearby Folly Island. A vibrant restaurant and bar scene makes this a foodie’s paradise, particularly for those looking for gourmet burgers, top-shelf cocktails, and lowcountry cuisine.
The unspoiled shores of Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms offer two of the more popular beaches in the area, and year-round warm weather means golf and tennis season never have to end. Within town, horse-drawn carriages offer a quaint way to explore the city’s cobblestoned streets. Civil War buffs could spend hours at the Fort Sumter monument, which consists of the eponymous fort, an education center, and Fort Moultrie, located on Sullivan’s Island. The annual Spoleto Festival USA, a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mundi in Italy, is one of the country’s most prominent performing arts events, lasting more than two weeks each spring.
The French Quarter contains the historic Dock Street Theatre—built on the site of the original building of the same name, which was the first theater in the entire country—as well as a variety of art galleries and some of the city’s best-preserved architecture. More than 700 historic buildings, including numerous Victorian homes, dot the map of downtown Summerville, which each spring lives up to its nickname of the “Flower Town in the Pines” when thousands of blossoms burst forth with color. Folly Beach is known as one of the best surfing spots on the East Coast, while nearby Kiawah Island offers additional golfing options and family-friendly beaches.