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 my friends and family.
Over the last several years, I’ve watched it become one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and a staple on lists of must-visit US destinations. I love that so many people are flocking to Charleston, both to visit the city and to live in it.
However, I’ve found that a lot of the newcomers’ itineraries skip what I consider to be the most important parts of the city.
These are the 10 biggest missteps I see tourists make when they visit Charleston.
Be respectful and thoughtful when you explore the city’s complex history.
A lot of visitors admire Rainbow Row‘s historic homes and tour supposedly haunted areas, but those popular activities only scratch the surface of Charleston’s past.
There are so many historic sites where tourists can learn more about the city’s story, 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’s also important to be considerate and learn some history if you choose to visit these places.
For example, I’ve seen tourists explore plantations without acknowledging the land and the estates’ ties to slavery, even though about 40% of all enslaved Africans in the US passed through Charleston’s port, and about 10% of them lived in South Carolina until slavery was abolished.
Make sure to try the cuisine at a local restaurant for the full experience.
Charleston’s dining scene gets plenty of recognition, and rightfully so. From crab rice to Frogmore stew, the local dishes are starkly different from the ones you’ll find on a traditional Southern menu.
Many tourists arrive ready to order the unique cuisine. However, I wish more of them would make sure they were trying the foods at locally owned, authentic restaurants, like Poogan’s Porch or Charleston Crab House.
When tourists are in doubt about where to eat, they should ask locals. Most Charlestonians are incredibly friendly and excited to show off their city.
Charleston has so much more to offer beyond the downtown area.
Charleston is a lot larger than a lot of visitors think. It’s the biggest city in South Carolina.
If tourists have the time, I encourage them to go beyond city limits.
From kayaking in Shem Creek to taking a day trip to Sullivan’s Island or Isle of Palms, there’s so much to do outside of the downtown area.
You don’t have to visit during peak times to get the most out of Charleston.
The majority of tourists come to Charleston from September through November, leading to crowds and longer wait times at restaurants, bars, and other attractions.
Plus, it’s also hurricane season, so there’s an increased chance of running into inclement weather.
I wish more people would consider booking their trips for other times.
Charleston is a year-round destination. Spring is great for seeing a plethora of flora, summer has perfect beach weather, and winter is fantastic for nabbing hard-to-book dining reservations 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 town. The city streets are old, narrow, and made of cobblestones. They aren’t built for busy traffic, and cars often go around 20 mph down one-lane roads.
Because many tourists aren’t accustomed to the slower speeds, I’ve seen them drive too fast and cause dangerous situations. If someone is going slower than you, it’s important to follow their lead rather than make risky moves or drive aggressively.
As long as you’re staying within the metro area and not going to a neighboring island, walking or taking a pedicab are your best modes of transportation.
Be alert for alligator sightings. If you do spot one, keep a safe distance.
Visitors may come across alligators in Charleston. Their popular sunbathing spots include ponds, marshes, and golf courses.
If you do spot one of the wild animals, keep your distance and leave them alone. People who have gotten too close to alligators or tried to photograph them have been seriously injured or killed.
You can spot 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 don’t know where to go to spot them.
Some people opt to go on dolphin cruises, but tourists shouldn’t feel like they have to shell out extra cash to catch a glimpse of the animals.
Instead, I recommend looking for them by kayaking in Shem Creek, taking the Daniel Island Ferry to the city, or walking down an empty, quiet waterway.
You never know when you’re going to stumble upon a pod.
The sunsets in Charleston are tough to beat, so make sure to carve out time for them.
The sunset isn’t a priority for many tourists, which is an oversight.
As someone who knows Charleston like the back of her hand, I can say that there’s no bad vantage point to watch the sun go down in the city.
Some of my go-to, easy-to-access spots include the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and Sullivan’s Beach.