A city rich with history, culture, and amazing food, Charleston is worthy of an extended trip. But, if you’ve only got one day to spare, there’s plenty to keep you busy from early morning through the late night hours. Read our curated guide on how to spend 24 hours in Charleston to discover the top things you just can’t miss.
Watch the sunrise
Early risers should plan to drive over to James Island while it’s still dark and await the sunrise at Melton Peter Demetre Park, known as Sunrise Park to locals. From here, you can get a truly stunning view of the mansions that line the Battery in downtown Charleston and the Ravenel Bridge in the distance. Catch the sunrise, then grab a breakfast sandwich from Baguette Magic, a quaint, authentic French cafe.
Go for a scenic run
People looking to fit some exercise into their morning should consider a run around Colonial Lake, located between Rutledge and Ashley avenues, or along the Battery, the street at the very tip of the downtown peninsula. To cool off, walk to the Waterfront Park where there are two fountains that permit wading. Run under the arches of the fountain at the entrance to the park’s pier, then wander further down to the famous Pineapple Fountain. Here, you can sit in the cool, filtered water that pools at the base of the pineapple while enjoying the oceanfront view.
When you spend 24 hours in Charleston, the best afternoon activity is exploring one of the three beaches in the area. Depending on the type of vibe you’re looking for, you can choose to visit Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, or Sullivan’s Island. But, if you’re going to pick just one, we suggest exploring Folly.
Surfing on Folly Beach
Dubbed by locals as “The Edge of America,” Folly Beach is located on James Island and exudes a bohemian atmosphere with surfers and college students often frequenting its sands. If you’re looking to surf, head to the area known as the Washout. Follow E. Ashley Ave. past the perpendicular number streets until you reach a section of the road with painted parking spots on the right. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the Washout because there will be very little beach to relax on and surfers will be riding the waves.
Explore the East End
If you’re just looking to relax on the beach, stay closer to the pier and park near 3rd or 5th streets. Don’t be fooled by the paid parking lots, you’re allowed to park anywhere on the street for free as long as all of your tires are off the pavement. To explore a lesser known part of Folly, drive to the end of E. Ashley Ave, then walk about half a mile down a concrete road with a sign for the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve. From this spot, you’ll get a fantastic view of the inactive Morris Island Lighthouse, and you can lounge beneath eerie driftwood trees.
Before heading back to downtown Charleston from Folly Beach, you’ll pass a hidden little piece of land called Bowen’s Island. The only marker announcing its presence is a green wooden sign on the side of Folly Read that beckons: “Bowen’s Island, Turn Here.” The turn will take you down a narrow, dirt road leading to a sleepy, 13-acre island. Bowen’s Island possesses a mystical ambience with a cluster of large mansions tucked beneath thick webs of Spanish moss dangling from the limbs of grand oaks.
At the end of the road, you’ll find Bowen’s Island Restaurant, a no-frills, family-owned fish shack that only offers seven items: shrimp & grits, Frogmore stew, fried fish, fried shrimp, crab cakes, and oysters (and chicken tenders for the landlubbers). If you’re only going to spend 24 hours in Charleston, this restaurant is where you must have dinner. Served on plastic cafeteria trays, the food may sound simple but it’s some of the freshest seafood in Charleston. Take your plate to the outdoor porch and enjoy a spectacular sunset over the creek.
The Vendue rooftop
Downtown Charleston is the center for nightlife. Though there are no traditional nightclubs in the city, the choice of bars is plentiful. When you spend 24 hours in Charleston a visit to one of the many rooftops on the peninsula is a must. Located near the Old Market area, The Vendue is an upscale, boutique art hotel with a beautiful rooftop bar. Ride the elevator to the top and get a photo with the life-sized version of the classic pin art toy. A cocktail here will cost you about $10-$12, but the view is worth the price tag.
If you plan to spend your time on upper King Street instead, pop into the rooftop bar Pour Taproom. Located atop the Hyatt Hotel, this bar’s unique concept and the stunning view will keep you entertained all night. The entire bar centers around three walls with more than 70 taps of beer, wine, and cocktails. Just pick a glass and scan a QR code that’s been linked to your credit or debit card and start pouring! Half of the bar is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that are open when the weather is warm and provide a beautiful view of the city. The other side of the bar is entirely outside and features a hightop bar counter that faces the Ravenel Bridge and Cooper River.