AAA Travel Tips / Budget Friendly Charleston

Budget Friendly Charleston

AAA/Sherry Mims
By AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
November 20, 2019
Charleston’s historical sites, public art and parks are just some of the things to see during your trip to this historic South Carolina city, which can be affordable and easy to navigate on foot or bike. Though there are many free things to do, expect to pay more for transportation, food, souvenirs or hotels in Charleston.
This part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival (40th Annual Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition) took place in Marion Square at King and Calhoun sts. Free to browse, it highlighted local and regional artists.
AAA/Sherry Mims

Art in Charleston

Charleston is nicknamed “The Holy City” for its numerous religious congregations and is considered one of the best foodie destinations in the country, but the various art events and festivals are what to do in summer and reinforce its “Art Destination” reputation. With the weeks-long Piccolo-Spoleto Festival, you get a host of options for visual and performing arts; many painters also pitch exhibit tents in Marion Square during this time. The free City Gallery at Joe Riley Waterfront Park (34 Prioleau St.) displays contemporary and innovative artwork meant to encourage dialogue. To see a variety of art, join the Charleston Gallery Association ArtWalks from 5-8 on the first Friday of the month. Not only do more than 30 galleries participate, but the tour is also a fun thing for couples to do since all it takes is a map—available online—and a willingness to explore.
View of Ravenel bridge from Mount Pleasant, near Charleston, South Carolina
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Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge

An architectural marvel seen for miles around, this cable-stayed, towering bridge connects Charleston with Mount Pleasant over the Cooper River and contains a 2.7-mile lane for bicyclists and pedestrians. It starts at Bay Street and ends at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant. With observation spots and benches, this is where to go for a run in Charleston, especially if you like a challenge. The Cooper River Bridge Run, a 10K occurring annually in early April, starts from Simmons and Coleman boulevards on the Mount Pleasant side.
The Battery—once a coastal fortification during the Civil War—now contains statues, antebellum homes and cannons.
AAA/Sherry Mims

The Battery

Generally 40-44 East Bay St. and the intersection of Murray Boulevard and King Street
(843) 853-8000
Walk along the waterfront at this well-known seawall and promenade, a defensive Civil War remnant at the meeting place of both the Cooper and Ashley rivers. Now the area is a popular place to go to spot historic homes, and on clear days, Fort Sumter National Monument and the USS Yorktown, a historic World War II aircraft carrier at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. Adjacent to Murray and East Bay boulevards is White Point Gardens, which served as an early public garden in 1837 before becoming a coastal fortification. A number of antebellum homes, cannons, memorials and a bandstand are in this moss-draped destination.
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This is a 1928 replica of what's said to be the first fully constructed locomotive built in America (in Charleston) circa 1830. (It was destroyed in 1831.) It's now in this free museum next to the Charleston Visitor Center and the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry.
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Best Friend of Charleston Museum

23 Ann St.
(843) 724-7174
Admire a steam-powered railroad locomotive, reminiscent of the short-lived one built circa 1830 in Charleston, reputedly the first fully constructed locomotive built in the United States. This 1928 replica went on display in New York City, Chattanooga and Atlanta before its return to historic Charleston in 2013. Though the museum is small, stop in for a (free) glimpse of history in its convenient downtown location. It’s adjacent to the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Visitor Center, the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry and some of the best restaurants in Charleston.
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Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina
Courtesy of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter National Monument

Depart from 360 Concord St. or Patriots Point Naval Museum in Mount Pleasant
(843) 883-3123
The opening salvo of the Civil War started with Confederates bombarding the brick fortification for 34 hours before its surrender. Start at the complimentary visitor center at Freedom Square, learn about the events that led up to the Civil War, and then, if you don’t mind spending a little extra, take the boat to the fort. Once there, you can appreciate artifacts in the museum, see places in the wall with embedded projectiles and learn about history from a National Park Service ranger. Note: Admission to the visitor center and fort are free, but there’s a fee for boat tours; phone ahead.
Rainbow Row in historic Charleston.
AAA/Inspector 49

Rainbow Row

A baker’s dozen of vibrantly painted houses line East Bay Street, not far from The Battery. Stories about why they’re painted are just as colorful. Did the shade help merchants distinguish their wares, help drunken sailors find their way or keep houses cool? Or was it only a beautification effort by a local resident that inspired her neighbors to follow suit? Whatever you believe, this stretch is among the most scenic places in Charleston, and you’ll find everyone from Instagram influencers to families striking a pose. (These historic homes are still occupied, so try to be a good visitor by not trespassing or blocking driveways.)
Fleet Landing, though popular with tourists, is one of the best places in Charleston to eat with a waterfront view. It's a former Naval debarkation point. You can see Charleston Waterfront Park and the Cooper River from the restaurant. Seafood is a specialty.
AAA/Sherry Mims

Waterfront Park

1 Vendue Range
(843) 724-7321
Pack your bathing suit if you’re looking for fun things to do with kids because this 8-acre park features a splash pad and one of the most iconic things to see in Charleston—the pineapple fountain—where you can stick your feet in and cool off. Also on-site are riverside paths and a pier with swinging benches, where you can sit and take in some views of the Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge and ships on the Cooper River. If you plan to make a day of it, buy food from nearby Charleston City Market or get the lunch special to go from Fleet Landing, only a 5-minute walk north off Concord Street.
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