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How to Spend 2 Days in Charleston | a Local's Itinerary

Welcome to the enchanting city of Charleston, SC, where cobblestone streets echo the footsteps of history, and Southern charm whispers through the swaying palmettos. This isn't just any ol' visit; this is your all-access, sun-drenched, culinary adventure-pass to experiencing Charleston like someone who calls it home. Over the next two days, you're about to sip, savor, and saunter your way through the hidden gems and beloved local spots that bring this city to life. So, embrace your curiosity as we delve into a curated guide to make the most of 48 unforgettable hours in the heart of the Lowcountry.


A view looking down Broad Street in Charleston SC toward st Michaels church on a 2 day itinerary
2 Days in Charleston seeing the architecture, tasting the Southern Coastal cuisine, visiting historic sites, shopping, sunrises, sunsets, coffee stops and so much more.




Day 1 in Charleston (and if you only have one day to spend)



1. Watching the Charleston Sunrise

If you have a full day, start with watching the Charleston sunrise at Waterfront Park. Plan to arrive about 30 minutes prior to see the colors unfold across the sky. You are likely to see plenty of sea birds, perhaps a few dolphins, locals walking and sail boats. What you will not see are large crowds. Sunrise is my favorite time here as the golden morning light makes the park ethereal.


Getting there: From Broad Street, turn right on East Bay Street, then an immediate left onto Exchange Street. You will see the water from there. Follow this street to the steps and lookout point beyond.



2. Waterfront Park and Pineapple Fountain

After watching the sunrise, meander around Waterfront Park, taking in the harbor views, the famous Pineapple Fountain. Take a walk through the tree covered park and then a stroll out to the end of the pier—you’ll find plenty of seating along the way if you need to sit a spell.


Local’s Tip: At the southern end of the park is a smaller wooden pier that extends out into the harbor. This is a quiet spot most times of the day to take in the water views, see dolphins, sea birds, Ravenel Bridge, and historic points of interest in the Harbor. I like to take a sandwich or coffee and sit a spell.



3. Breakfast in Downtown Charleston and Sight Seeing Along the Way

Time for breakfast in Charleston. From Waterfront Park, head out on E Elliott Street and pass over East Bay to Elliott Street (notice the architecture, homes, window boxes, and gas lanterns along the way) and continue to Church Street. Turn right on Church St (you will pass several art galleries, quaint eateries, and several landmarks—Dock Street Theatre, the US's first theatre; the "pink church," French Huguenot Church; St Phillips in the distance and you will cross over Chalmers, the cobblestone street) and continue to a left on Queen Street.


This route, a favorite of my morning walks, will take you by Harkin Cafe on Queen Street (opens 7-8 am) for a coffee and a quicker breakfast option or continue further on Queen St to Poogan’s Porch (opens at 9am) for a wonderful Southern brunch inspired breakfast. Or continue on to King St and turn left to reach Miller’s All Day or turn right and head further north on King to Virginia’s on King.


Note: Millers can amass a lengthy line early so plan accordingly—they open at 8am, allowing plenty of time to be there at opening.



4. Sightseeing (with Options for When it is Hot Outside)

Depending on the time of year, and the temperature outside, this step could be swapped, timing wise, with number 6. On hotter days, I like to do my outside activities first and then save indoor activities for the afternoon when the sun is the hottest. Let’s go with a hotter day: for fantastic sightseeing pick a walking tour around town (most of your iconic must-sees will be included) plus a synopsis of the history of Charleston. These tours are normally about an hour.


Local's Tip: It gets hot and humid in the afternoons most days of the year. A walking tour or even a horse drawn carriage tour (opt for a private carriage tour if your budget allows) will be much more pleasant and tolerable in the mornings.


AND / OR: Still have a little time left before lunch or want to explore on your own? Cross over to East Bay Street, turn right and walk down to The Battery. On your way you will pass “Rainbow Row” on your right and several of the older Battery homes you have likely seen in pictures. (Note: most tours will have toured this area as well). If you have already seen this area, take a stroll down Church Street all the way to The Battery. The last block is paved with bricks.



5. Where to Head for Lunch in Charleston

Charleston is packed with a diverse and burgeoning food scene.  Choosing where to eat is quite the debate as myriad quality choices abound. If you have 1 or 2 days in Charleston, I’m sending you to the famous and classic spots that really speak to the foods Charleston is known for. (Note: numerous restaurants are open for dinner only during the week). My choice for lunch would be Magnolia’s, Poogan’s Porch or 82 Queen for a taste of Charleston.


Adjustment: If you need a quicker bite, check out my list of quick local favorites here.



6. Charleston Architecture, History, Art and Water Tours

Option 1: For architecture and history go with a Charleston historic house tour (or two or three). My favorites are the Heyward-Washington House and Nathaniel Russel House. If you still have time, the Aiken-Rhett House and Edmondston-Alston House. The first three of these museum-houses also provide an in-depth look at the life of the enslaved that would have lived on site. Allow about an hour per house for the first three (the 4th is a 30 minute guided tour).


Option 2: If art is of interest, you can not miss the Gibbes Museum of Art on Meeting Street. You will find a large collection, spanning four centuries, of primarily American art with ties to Charleston and the South. The museum also hosts rotating special exhibits from artists and museums around the world. (The building itself was opened in 1905 and the association that lead to the museum began in 1858). In the permeant collections on display you will see paintings dating back to the Colonial period, examples of period Charleston-made furniture, a large collection of “miniatures” and much more. (Allow a minimum of 1 hour)


AND / OR: The Charleston Museum, located in the same vicinity as the Aiken-Rhett House, was founded in 1773 and is the oldest museum in the nation (the museum, not the building is the oldest). One could easily spend an entire afternoon browsing the permeant collections which range from materials relating to Native Americans, the colonists, and the enslaved to historic weaponry, Charleston silver and textiles to Charleston’s role in the American Revolution and the Civil War as well as a look at natural history of the Low Country.



Or, spend your afternoon with any one of myriad water tours or activities.



7. Dinner time in Charleston on Day 1

For dinner it’s Hank’s Seafood, The Darling Oyster Bar, Husk, Chubby Fish or FIG.



Adjustment: If you are a foodie and want to skip some of the tours for a tasting tour, do just that. For lunch: make it an “and” instead of an “or” and pop in to Magnoila’s & to 82 Queen. For Dinner: Start the night at 4pm at The Darling Oyster Bar for their happy hour, then head to Hank’s for a 5pm reservation, then make your way down to Husk Bar to finish the night (the Bar at Husk now serves its entire menu).


Note: Husk is no longer manned by Chef Sean Brock, who made it famous and left in 2019)


Local's Tip: As you are making your way through town, keep an eye out for these coffee / bakery / sandwich shops for a quick little something in between: Harken, Le Pasterie, Sorelle's Mercato, Clerk’s, Black Door, or if you happen to be further north, Harbinger or Welton’s Tiny Bakeshop.




8. Ending Day 1 in Charleston with a Stroll, Sunset and / or Cocktail and Rooftop Bars

You have now had a full day and it is time to bring it to a close. Depending on your preferences, you can stroll King Street in search of cocktail or rooftop bars to close out your day and see the sunset.


Or my favorite, take a stroll down Church St to The Battery for the sunset. The further south you walk toward The Battery, the quieter Church Street grows—it’s otherworldly. And, the sun setting over The Battery is breath taking.


If you walk down Church Street to The Battery you pass through Battery Park (White Point Gardens) on your way to the promenade. Meander through a bit and take in the serenity created by the canopy of trees.


(Note: depending on the season you may be privy to the nesting of the Night Herons in the trees above you). If you are a history buff, take a moment to read a few of the historic markers placed around the park. Extra points if you sit a spell on one of the benches and simply experience the peaceful nature.


Local’s Tip: Long before I lived in Charleston, I was a routine visitor. The Battery was always my first and final stop in town. And walking down Church St remains my favorite walk.


 

How to Spend Day 2 in Charleston

For day 2 you could easily take day one and simply plug in the places you did not get to on for this second day itinerary.



Exploring Just Outside of Downtown

If you are looking, however, to experience a few things just outside Downtown Charleston this is the 2nd day itinerary for you.


1. The Beach and Sunrise

Get an early start to make the most of your second day. Cross over Ravenel Bridge and head to Sullivan’s Island (my favorite Charleston beach for a quieter morning and beach experience). If you arrive early you will find street parking as you near the end of Ben Sawyer Blvd (the road that brings you in from Mt Pleasant and Ravenel Bridge) and will be in line with station 22 1/2 for public access to the beach. This walkway to the beach is a favorite walk in the early mornings. Take in the views and listen for the ocean as soon as you begin.


After watching the sunrise walk the beach and enjoy the cool morning air and breeze coming off the ocean. On your walk back make sure to look down and treasure hunt along the way back to station 22 1/2. Now, sit a spell and soak in a little sun (while the temps are still bearable, depending on the season). When you’re ready, head back to your car and head to breakfast.



2. Breakfast or Lunch on Day 2 in Mount Pleasant or Sullivan's Island

After a couple of nice morning hours at the beach, it’s time for breakfast. On your way back toward downtown, while still in Mt Pleasant, Viscous Biscuit (and when they say vicious it is no understatement) or Page’s Okra Grill are the places to stop for breakfast. Southern all the way.


Adjustment: If you choose to skip sunrise and come to the beach a tad later, grab Viscous Biscuit on the way to the beach. Follow step 1 once you are there. And, then, as you depart in time for lunch, head to Downtown Sullivan’s Island (walking distance from where you park at the beach). Grab a bite at Mex 1 for lunch (my favorite), Home Team BBQ or Obstinate Daughter. Either of these is suitable to enter after a day at the beach (cover up needed of course).




Decision Time: Water, Land or History.

3.  Getting On or Near the Water in Charleston

Stop at Shem Creek (still on the Mt Pleasant side) after breakfast, a local favorite for water tours—kayak the river or bay, paddle board or by boat for sightseeing. From this location you can also depart for an island tour to hunt for shark’s teeth and fossils. If you opt to explore here, catch lunch along the pier afterward. There are numerous spots, my favorites are Tavern & Table and Wreck of the Richard & Charlene (the latter is only open for dinner).


Local’s Tip: Shem Creek is a fabulous spot to catch a sunset as well. If you opt, change the order and end here for dinner and a walk along the boardwalk to take in a gorgeous sunset with views of the Charleston Harbor and Ravenel Bridge.


OR


Land. Explore Charleston Plantations

An alternate is to head back to your room after breakfast to freshen up and then head out to tour some of the gorgeous gardens, formally Charleston plantations, along the Ashley River dating back to the 1600s. You will see spectacular hundreds-of-years-old towering live oaks with Spanish moss, formal and romantic style gardens, cypress and tupelo swamps as well as the historic homes and tours highlighting the role of the enslaved from this period and beyond. There are 3 sites along this route, Drayton Hall, Magnolia Gardens and Middleton Place. The latter has a restaurant on site and all three allow picnics.



OR


Military and War HistoryTours in Charleston

From Sullivan’s Island (Mt Pleasant) side of town you can also tour Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum, Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie and the USS Yorktown.



4. More Tours or Wander South of Broad

At this point on day 2 in Charleston, you have had a busy couple of days and can embark on another tour or simply wander around the downtown streets South of Broad to take in more of the Charleston charm and see hidden gardens, alleyways, shops and eateries.


Local’s Tip: The area South of Broad is where you will find most of the homes and architecture. It is also a quieter area as it is residential. Do remember as you explore, people actually live in these homes so please show courtesy.


Or, take a stroll along King Street for shopping and souvenir searching.



OR an Indoor Option with Local Coffee Shops and Bakeries

Seek respite of the heat if visiting in the warmer months—and sit a spell in one of these coffee shops or bakeries (or two or three). You may even choose a quick nap and freshen up before heading to dinner.



5. Winding Down Your Final Day of 2 Days in Charleston

Here I’ll refer you back to number 7 from Day 1 to pick one of the restaurants you did not visit from the day before. And then end this 2 day trip to Charleston with either a stroll down Church Street (or King or Meeting) to The Battery for the Sunset or a stroll along King Street in search of cocktail or rooftop bars to close out your day.


You could alternately take a sunset boat tour or Dinner Cruise to close out your last evening in town. It is a wonderful way to see the city from the water.


Local’s Tip: Touristy areas that are often quite crowded include City Market. It is, however, worth a venture through. And, you will also find King Street to be the busiest street and most packed with tourists due to the number of shops and restaurants. For a quieter visit to Charleston, spend plenty of time wandering South of Broad or close to Broad.


 

Rainbow Row in Charleston a stop on a 2 day itinerary to Charleston
Rainbow Row, one of the Iconic Stops along the way on this 2 day Charleston SC itinerary


Final Thoughts on 2 Days in Charleston from a Local

As a local who visited Charleston regularly for 25+ years before moving here, I can still say I still have not seen and experienced all Charleston has to offer. This itinerary to 2 days in Charleston includes some of my favorite stops, streets and experiences. Along these routes you will see or get a taste of most of the iconic and must-see areas of Charleston. I hope you enjoy your visit and return many times over. Please reach out on Instagram or via email with any questions.


And, don't forget to Grab my free Google Map with all of these locations saved.


 

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