Charleston prides itself on not only being the nation's most historic city but also a living city. It's not Disney or Colonial Williamsburg. It's a real place where people live and work and play.
Sometimes residents complain about tourists peering in their windows, the increasing traffic congestion and rising property values that make it harder to live downtown. But residents as well as visitors benefit from Charleston’s increasing popularity.
It’s not hard to come up with five reasons to live downtown.
You see people from all over the world walking the streets, as travel magazines have consistently ranked Charleston as one of the top destinations.
Charleston is the No. 1 U.S. city for the sixth year in a row, as judged by 2018 readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.
Charleston also made the publication’s list of the World’s Top 15 Cities. At No. 10, it’s the only U.S. city to make the cut this year. In 2016, Charleston was voted the world’s top city in that category.
Also in 2016, Conde Nast Traveler picked Charleston, where the Civil War started, as the nation’s friendliest city. Ditto for Business Insider in 2014.
The city has been a world class destination for awhile.
No matter where you go, tell people you live in Charleston, and you get envious looks.
As Charleston has increased in popularity, the food scene has mushroomed, with more restaurants and bars within walking distance than you could patronize in a year. The city’s cuisine has become as much of a drawing card for visitors as its history and art, and locals also are getting the benefits.
Of course, some of the prices are more for special occasions than regular dining for most residents. But there’s certainly something for everyone in every price range. For instance, Rodney Scott's BBQ is on Conde Nast Traveler's list of the the best restaurants in Charleston, and those prices are aimed at the average diner.
You don't have to live in the center of the peninsula to be within walking distance of a restaurant worth checking out. Cannon Street, which is north of Calhoun, is undergoing a dramatic revitalization, as is the area along Morrison Drive, even farther to north.
For nightlife, King Street north of Calhoun has become the hot spot. The sidewalks are crowded on weekends with people walking between scores of bars and restaurants.
There’s no other place in the Lowcountry with more to do and see on foot. Whether you’re walking to your favorite eatery or just strolling through neighborhoods looking at the houses, it’s a city that’s meant to be enjoyed outside a car.
If you get tired of walking, the CARTA bus system runs a free downtown shuttle service called DASH.
You can rent a bike from several shops around town, and the city has a bike rental program called Holy Spokes. Or you can shell out a few dollars and hop in one of the bicycle-drawn carts.
And of course there are the horse carriages. They’re not meant as a mode of transportation for residents, but they appeal to those looking for a reminder of the city’s history as they go around looking at the old houses.
Charleston is full of art galleries, and if you can’t afford to buy anything, you can still look around. Charleston may be historic, but its art scene is cutting edge, with more contemporary galleries opening each year. That’s actually consistent with its history as a cosmopolitan seaport. Solomon Guggenheim unveiled his controversial collection of modern art at the Gibbes Museum in 1936, putting the city in the center of a national debate over its worth.
The City Gallery at Waterfront Park, with its big windows overlooking the harbor, is a great space for art, and the exhibits are usually contemporary and thought-provoking.
The College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art almost always has something thought-provoking on display, although it's not open on Sundays. Curator Mark Sloan seems to have some sort of inner divining rod for finding unusual talent.
Several of the new hotels on the peninsula also have impressive art displays. You don’t have to be a visitor to browse the Grand Bohemian, Vendue and Renaissance Charleston.
There are so many great places to relax by the water on the Charleston peninsula.
There’s The Battery at the southern end, with its seawalls, cannons and big oak trees.
Just a short walk to the north, you can stroll down to Waterfront Park and sit by the harbor and watch the ships and waves. If you can’t find an empty swing, the concrete benches near the water are a good vantage point.
If you prefer the shade, the wooden benches under the trees on the other side are great. The city’s gardeners always do a good job of keeping the flowers and other plants interesting as well.
If you’re closer to the center of the peninsula, the Maritime Center is another great place to sit and relax by the water. You can climb the steps to look from on high, walk out on the floating docks to be closer to the water, or chill out on the concrete benches.
It’s just a few more minutes north to the Fort Sumter Visitor Center, which also has steps for an elevated view of the water. It’s beside the great grassy expanse of Liberty Square and the South Carolina Aquarium.
If you want some good views of the city itself, some of the new hotels offer the best vantage points. The rooftop of The Restoration is arguably the best, with unimpeded visibility in every direction.