What’s the best time to visit Charleston?

©iStock/sgregponosian

The Lowcountry is blessed with a sub-tropical climate, meaning Charleston has mild winters and hot summers. Tourist season peaks in May, for good reason — although the midday air temperature is still comfortably in the 80s, the water is warm enough for swimming and the evenings are cool.

Charleston’s beaches stay busy through September, despite sweltering and sticky July and August days. If you visit in mid-summer, allow time for afternoon rests and trips to the beaches. Fortunately, the long days allow for pleasant evening activities, from sipping drinks by the water to walks downtown.

Winter nights rarely freeze in Charleston, although February and March bring their share of frost. Those who make the trip this time of year are rewarded with major attractions virtually free of crowds. The flowers may not be in bloom yet, but having Middleton Place or Magnolia Gardens all to yourself is priceless.

  • On October 11, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best kid-friendly restaurants in Charleston?

    ©sam/Coast Charleston may be carving its national niche as a progressive Southern food beacon, but it’s not without its share of kid-friendly restaurants as well.

    1. Sticky Fingers. Regional BBQ chain Sticky Fingers claims Charleston as its base and the Meeting Street location boasts a wide range of celebrity guests over the years, including former President George W. Bush, Jessica Simpson, Jay Leno and Jimmy Buffett.

    2. Kickin' Chicken. Although it turns into a bar at night, the Kickin’ Chicken on King Street has enough varieties on the chicken tender menu to please most kids’ lunch appetites.

    3. Coast. For a slightly more upscale choice, Coast serves up fresh seafood that includes a “minnow menu,” priced at $5 for each item. It doubles as a coloring book and word find to occupy kids while the parents wine and dine (including half-price wine on Sundays).

    4. Jack’s Cosmic Dogs. On either ends of the greater Charleston area (locations on Highway 17 North in Mt. Pleasant and on Folly Road on James Island), the kooky Jack’s Cosmic Dogs will thrill children before their food is even served with its giant rockets and quirky retro décor. Kids of all ages can choose between specialty franks with names like the Rocket Corn Dog and the Galactic Dog.

    5. Food trucks. Finally, food trucks have exploded in popularity around Charleston. Look out for Diggity Donuts, Roti Rolls, Happy Camper SnoBalls, and Hi, My Name is BBQ to be parked around downtown for an easy, kid-pleasing meal. You can follow the Charleston Food Truck Federation to track down their locations each day.
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    Where can I go to watch sports in Charleston?

    ©Kiawah For a city without any major league sports teams, Charleston still boasts an impressive lineup of minor league franchises and venues. Baseball fans needn’t leave the peninsula, with the Charleston RiverDogs competing at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park along the Ashley River. The team is more famous for its zany promotions than its record, with publicity stunts that include Whoopee Cushion Night, Propeller Hat Night and a Greased Pig Chase. Of course, as a New York Yankees affiliate, the level of play isn’t too bad, either.

    During football season, the Citadel Bulldogs’ Johnson Hagood Stadium sits near the RiverDogs. When the recently rebuilt stadium fills with excited cadets from the military college on fall Saturdays, it’s an exciting scene. Also downtown, the College of Charleston Cougars consistently compete to win the Southern Conference’s basketball title. Recent graduate Andrew Goudelock drew national attention to the school after being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011.

    Farther afield, the Charleston Battery, a USL First Division soccer team, competes at Blackbaud Stadium on Daniel Island, the first privately funded soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. The complex includes a children’s interactive soccer park and an English-styled pub, the Three Lions. Around the corner, also on Daniel Island, is the Family Circle Tennis Center, home of the Family Circle Cup, a major professional women’s tennis tournament each March.

    In North Charleston, the minor league hockey team, South Carolina Stingrays, plays at the North Charleston Coliseum. Three-time Kelly Cup champions, the Stingrays are a consistent draw and an inexpensive family outing.
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    Where are the best places to hear live music in Charleston?

    ©CharlestonMusicHall Live music is a constant in Charleston and the best places to hear it are often in walking distance of each other. The Music Farm, on Ann Street, draws mid-level touring acts from bluegrass to rock. The schedule varies, but weekends are almost always booked with a quality act.

    On Market Street, Mercato Italian Restaurant hosts live jazz every night of the week from 6 to 10 p.m., free of charge. For more rock ‘n’ roll and jam band scenes, O’Malley’s Grille and Midtown Bar and Grill on King Street both book bands on a near-nightly basis.

    If you’re lucky enough to come in town when the Charleston Music Hall has a show booked, the underutilized theater offers the best concert experience in town. Recent performers include Gillian Welch, Keb’ Mo, and Doc Watson.

    Off the peninsula, the city’s most consistent live music venue is undoubtedly the Charleston Pour House. The attached El Bohio restaurant serves quality Cuban food and the expansive outside deck features free live music every day of the week from 6 to 9 p.m., before a headliner inside until 2 a.m.

    Farther afield, the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center draws most of the major touring acts that come to town. Prince, Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen have all put on memorable shows here in recent years.
  • On October 11, 2012
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    What is the best Charleston nightlife?

    With the College of Charleston centrally located in the heart of the downtown peninsula, Charleston’s nightlife is bubbling, often seven nights a week. King Street is the heart of nighttime socializing, with bars, restaurants and music venues dotting the way for nearly a mile, from Market Street all the way to Highway 17. A new favorite is the Cocktail Club, with its refined, handsome setting and location just far enough up King Street that it’s not packed with college students.

    For both a fun crowd and a chance to catch your breath in the open air, stop by the Rooftop at Vendue Inn. This spacious bar draws a weekend crowd and its views across Charleston while sipping a cool cocktail are unparalleled. Just across the street sits the Griffon, a locals’ favorite with a watering hole vibe and plenty of quality craft beers on tap.

    For dancing, check out Trio Club on Calhoun Street. The vibe is that of a city three times Charleston’s size and a dress code is enforced; guys, wear pants. A nice spot to end the night is Club Habana on Meeting Street. The ventilation system keeps the air clean for non-smokers in this cigar bar where classic and nouveau cocktails are crafted with care.
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    What are the best places to stay in Charleston?

    ©WentworthMansion Charleston has no shortage of hotels and bed and breakfast options, but one of the very finest, book a corner room at the Wentworth Mansion. This hotel was built as a residence in the 19th century and converted to accommodate guests in its 21 luxury rooms and suites in 1998. Rooms vary from 475 to 1,000 square feet, many with sunroom and spacious porches. For capturing the feel of historic Charleston, it’s an unparalleled hotel experience.

    Right in the heart of it all, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Charleston Place hotel is the city’s standard bearer. Elegant rooms and suites, a full service spa and the lauded Charleston Grill make this the go-to resting place for many notable visitors.

    On the other side of town, across the Cooper River, the Cottages on Charleston Harbor, formerly called the Belvidere Resort, are an amazingly close escape from the city’s bustle. Situated on the water at Patriots Point, these cottages feature screened porches with rocking chairs, hammocks and spacious indoor living areas.
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    What are the best Charleston museums?

    ©iStock/rivernorthphotography With its well-preserved historic homes and streets, locals might argue that all of Charleston is a museum. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in the official variety though. In fact, the country’s first museum, The Charleston Museum, is located on Meeting Street, across from the visitor’s center. A visit provides an informative overview of the city’s 450-year modern history, including a replica of the famous Civil War-era Hunley submarine on the outdoor sidewalk. Kids will be thrilled by the Atlantic Right whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling, and history buffs will enjoy the ongoing Civil War sesquicentennial exhibits.

    For art enthusiasts, Charleston’s best offering, apart from its countless galleries, is the Gibbes Museum of Art on Meeting Street. The collection includes over 10,000 works, most with a Southern or Charleston connection. For a more modern take, visit the newly expanded Halsey Gallery at the College of Charleston. Curator Mark Sloan attracts visionary artists from around the globe, hosting several marquee exhibitions each year.
    Nearby, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon excites visitors of all ages, with re-enactors ready to lead you into the dank, dark holding cells where prisoners were detained in colonial days.

    Across the Cooper River, the WWII-era aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown awaits exploration throughout its maze-like, 872-foot long body. Don’t miss the view from the flight deck or the chance to sit in the cockpit of a fighter plane and man the ship’s guns. There’s even the U.S.S. Clamagore, a half-submerged submarine whose interior visitors are welcome to walk the length of and experience life under the sea.
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    What should I pack for a trip to Charleston?

    ©iStock/rivernorthphotography Packing for a trip to Charleston depends on the time of year of your visit, but it’s always smart to bring a raincoat or umbrella. It never rains for long in the Lowcountry, but the sub-tropical climate means that quick showers can come at any time.

    In the summer, bring at least two bathing suits so you’ll always have one dry — that hotel pool or salty ocean will seem even more appealing after a few hot hours in the sun. Around downtown, typical attire for men includes khaki pants or shorts, a collared polo shirt, and loafers or flip-flops. Women stay comfortable in sundresses and hats with large brims for plenty of shade. With Charleston’s mixture of ancient alleys and cobblestone walkways, it’s not an ideal city to navigate in high heels, but you’ll find people do dress up for dinner, so make sure to look sharp.

    Even if you don’t anticipate cold, bring a light jacket for the evenings, when the near constant breeze off the harbor can make even temperatures in the 70s feel nippy.

    Charleston’s Market District and King Street are famous for their local boutiques, so it’s likely that you’ll return home with your suitcase more full than when you arrived.
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    What is the best way to see Charleston in two days?

    ©iStock/rivernorthphotography If you have two days to see Charleston, take the chance to experience some of the city’s offerings outside of the peninsula. Golfers won’t want to miss the chance to play the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, home of the 2012 PGA Championship. Non-golfers can spend the morning perusing the City Market’s vast array of vendors and artisans.

    There’s no reason not to get on the water every day you’re in town. The ferry to Fort Sumter is the easiest way to go to sea and the experience standing inside the fort, which experienced plenty of drama during the Civil War, is a Charleston experience not to be missed.

    It’s worth spending an afternoon in the comfortable South Carolina Aquarium, tracing the state’s water cycle and animal life from the mountains to the sea. Look out for sharks and sea turtles, and save plenty of time for playing with the sea otters in the marsh exhibit.

    For a truly memorable adventure, schedule a kayak tour on Folly Beach. Tandem and solo boats can accommodate children of all ages on expeditions around the creeks and marsh behind Folly Island. Keep your eyes peeled — dolphin sightings are frequent.

    Of course, much of the real excitement lies in the memorable meals you’ll eat, a reason in itself to visit Charleston. Have brunch at Hominy Grill and dinner at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Peninsula Grill or just walk around the Meeting and East Bay Street areas reading menus until something catches your fancy. It’s hard to go wrong here.
  • On October 11, 2012
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    What is the best way to see Charleston in one day?

    ©iStock/alexanderfox If you only have one day to experience Charleston, park the car downtown and set out on foot. Visit the City Market early, beating the crowds for a chance to have conversations with the local artisan vendors and pick up a few authentic mementos.

    Stroll down Meeting Street to Liberty Square, where boat tours depart to Fort Sumter. Control of this historic fort weighed heavily on Charleston’s day-to-day fate during the Civil War, and its walls and interior have been meticulously preserved by the U.S. National Park Service. Enjoy the panoramic view of the Charleston peninsula on the ferry ride back, before walking next door to the South Carolina Aquarium, with its impressive mountains-to-sea marine life exhibits. Making your way around town, take advantage of the numerous pedicab services; it’s an affordable, fun, and quick way to get around — just don’t forget to tip your rider for the hard work.

    In the evening, take your pick from the city’s host of top tier restaurants, including Husk, Charleston Grill, and FIG (Food Is Good). End your night with a stroll around White Point Gardens, watching boat lights flicker across Charleston Harbor.
  • On October 11, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What’s the best time to visit Charleston?

    ©iStock/sgregponosian The Lowcountry is blessed with a sub-tropical climate, meaning Charleston has mild winters and hot summers. Tourist season peaks in May, for good reason — although the midday air temperature is still comfortably in the 80s, the water is warm enough for swimming and the evenings are cool.

    Charleston’s beaches stay busy through September, despite sweltering and sticky July and August days. If you visit in mid-summer, allow time for afternoon rests and trips to the beaches. Fortunately, the long days allow for pleasant evening activities, from sipping drinks by the water to walks downtown.

    Winter nights rarely freeze in Charleston, although February and March bring their share of frost. Those who make the trip this time of year are rewarded with major attractions virtually free of crowds. The flowers may not be in bloom yet, but having Middleton Place or Magnolia Gardens all to yourself is priceless.
  • On October 11, 2012
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    What is Charleston’s cultural scene like?

    ©iStock/pgiam Charlestonians joke that their city is an island of culture in an otherwise ho-hum state. In many ways, however, it’s true — Charleston’s cultural scene rivals that of the United State’s major cities, and certainly its peers in the South.

    Spoleto Festival USA is the city’s best arts event, drawing visitors from around the world every spring. The annual two week festival brings together many of the world’s best theater, dance, musical, and visual artists for a non-stop of cultural feast in May and June. Founded in 1977 as a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy, the event’s international appeal has inspired the formation of a regional event for South Carolina performers called Piccolo Spoleto which is held at the same time.

    Piccolo’s draw has helped to inspire many artists and performers to remain in Charleston, many of whose work can be viewed on the first Friday of March, May, October and December, when the casual French Quarter Art Walk takes place around the gallery-heavy Broad Street area. It’s even possible to attend the Art Walk, have a glass of wine and make it to a performance by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, whose Masterworks, Pops, and Chamber Orchestra series are a source of pride for local arts patrons.
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