7 Tips to Avoid Tourist Crowds in Charleston, South Carolina

Sunrise over Charleston, South Carolina
Sunrise over Charleston, South Carolina | © Ron Cogswell / Flickr
Samantha Connors

Charleston, South Carolina has become an increasingly popular travel destination over the last decade, earning accolades such as the 2016 Best City in the World from readers of Travel + Leisure and Best City in the US for the last five consecutive years. The city is filled with history, unique architecture, beautiful beaches, and some of the best restaurants in the South. Because of its notoriety as a top place to visit, it can be difficult to uncover unusual things to do and avoid tourist traps. To help you figure out how to see the best of the Holy City, we’ve compiled a guide of tips on how to avoid tourist crowds in Charleston.

Avoid Market Street

While the Market Street district is brimming with history, this area of town is tourist central. Here, you’ll find the city’s outdoor/indoor market with street vendors and tour guides lining the road. It’s worth perusing the shops if you’re looking for an interesting, locally made souvenir, but to avoid the tourist crowds, it’s best to cruise this area midday during the week. Weekends can be extremely busy, particularly during the high season from May to September.

Market Street in Charleston

Try Something Different than Carriage Tours

Many visitors take carriage tours through the streets on a traditional horse and buggy. Though it may seem like a quintessential Charleston activity, these tours are often packed with people and can be uncomfortable during the summer when the average temperature is often 100 °F (37 °C). Locals often get stuck behind these buggies while driving. If you’re going to take your car through the city, be aware that you may also end up behind a carriage in the historic district. A better way to tour Charleston is to ride a bike through popular areas to help you easily escape the masses, or try a different kind of tour like the many ghost tours available.

Head to the End of Folly Beach

If you’re looking to spend the day lounging on the shore without being packed next to other beachgoers, Folly Beach is your best bet, with more than six miles of sand. The area right next to the pier is the most populated. Locals tend to frequent the lower end of the beach near 13th, 14th, or 15th streets.

Bike Past Rainbow Row

Another popular tourist spot is Rainbow Row, a series of beautiful, brightly colored homes on East Bay Street near the Battery, which is the tip of the downtown peninsula. Easily one of the most photographed areas of the city, you’ll find tourists walking the streets in front of these homes throughout the day. If you want to snap a quick picture of this beautiful area, try renting bikes and passing by briefly. Walking through this area is a sure way to get stuck among the masses.

Rainbow Row in Charleston

Dine at the Restaurants on Upper King Street

Because Market Street is such a frequented area, the restaurants here typically accumulate long lines of people waiting for a table. You can easily spot which establishments are tourist traps in this part of town, as people are usually waiting on the sidewalks. With a nearly endless number of restaurants in Charleston, you can find many notable eateries without having to wait hours to sit. Head to the Upper King Street district, the section of the street from Calhoun up to Spring Street, to explore the best restaurants without dealing with the tourist crowds. Some favorites include The Ordinary, O-Ku, and Indaco amongst dozens of other phenomenal establishments.

Try to Walk King Street During Second Sunday

King Street runs through the center of the city and is a top spot for shopping. The narrow sidewalks, combined with a high volume of people, create a lot of traffic in this area. If you can, try to walk the street during Second Sunday. Every second Sunday of the month, the city closes the shopping district of King Street to cars, allowing pedestrians to walk through the street. Many shops and restaurants bring merchandise and place tables outside, making for a unique King Street experience.

Kayak on Bowens Island

Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant is a beautiful place to try kayaking or paddleboarding, but in the spring and summer this waterway, which is lined on either side by restaurants and bars, can be congested with boats, other kayakers, and a lot of drunk people. If you want to try a water sport without the hassle, try Coastal Expeditions on Bowens Island. Heading off the downtown peninsula towards Folly Beach on James Island, you’ll spot a small, green island announcing Bowens Island on the right. This small, remote area is a peaceful setting to explore the unique surrounding marshland. After your adventure, dine at Bowens Island Restaurant, a no-frills fish shack with fresh seafood.

Bowens Island

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