A LOCAL’S GUIDE TO CHARLESTON, SC
Updated: May 17, 2021
Jeff McKee exploring Battery Park from a different side.
Adventure IO co-founder and professional wakeboarder, Jeff McKee, moved to Charleston (his wife’s hometown) in 2016. For him, it’s got all the right ingredients – access to the ocean and all the Adventures it facilitates, plus the culture and buzz of one of the south’s coolest cities.
“Where I grew up in Orlando, Florida, you would never say ‘let’s go downtown and walk around,’” says McKee, “but in downtown Charleston you can spend the weekend cruising around the historic district and wondering what time is too early to have cocktails.”
McKee’s recommendations cover everything from off-menu secret dishes and hidden bars, to boating day trip spots and unexpected family activities. Read on for a true local’s guide to Charleston, South Carolina.
WHERE TO STAY
The Dewberry, a stylish hotel near Marion Square, is perfectly located with nightlife to the north and shopping and historic homes to the south. It’s a blast to jump in a pedicab and have them peddle you around the area, giving you insights into the best bars and restaurants.
Hotel Bennett is a refined, luxurious kind of property that appeals to an older crowd, but if something small and boutique is more your thing check out The Market St Pavilion and the Vendue Inn, both of which have awesome rooftops with views of the bridge.
Honestly, wherever you base yourself during your Charleston trip you can’t go wrong – the whole city is really walkable.
THE UNMISSABLE FOOD SCENE
For that big splurge vacation meal I recommend Husk, the original Charleston farm-to-table restaurant. The shrimp and grits are a staple of course, but try ordering the secret fried chicken – it’s not on the menu, but if you put in a special request when you call for a reservation the chefs might make it for you.
In the Upper King neighborhood there’s a spot called Leon’s Oyster Shop with outdoor seating and a classic old town Charleston feel. Afterwards, pop next door to Little Jack’s Tavern for the best cheeseburger in the city.
Pizza fans should head to Bakers Bar, on the corner of Broad Street and East Bay, next to the Old Exchange Building. It’s a really small, hidden bar with space to seat about 20, and the pizza is amazing. Bakers Bar is such a local’s spot that I only learned about it after three years of living here.
For a grab-and-go coffee and breakfast head to One Broad Street. It’s walking distance to The battery waterfront park and Rainbow Row – a street full of historic multicolored homes – is right out the door.
Folly Beach is a surf lover's, and surf learner's, paradise.
Being in, on or around the water is a way of life here in Charleston. Whether you’re spending the day surfing at Folly Beach, taking a boat out to Shem Creek – a go-to lunch spot that’s great for dolphin spotting – or paddleboarding along the Edisto or Cooper Rivers, make sure you take full advantage of the water.
For a family-friendly adventure that’s definitely different from the typical tourist activities, try shark tooth hunting on Charleston’s sandy beaches and barrier islands. You’ll get to explore the quiet, wildlife-filled waterways of the city while finding ancient artifacts to take home as souvenirs.
Ready for action? Join me for an afternoon on the water learning to wakeboard, wakesurf, or my latest obsession, surf foiling (don’t know what it is? Check out this video).
BEST-KEPT LOCAL SECRET
A paddleboard Adventure to pick your own oysters is one way to do Charleston right!
If you’re traveling with your dog (or you're just a fan of canines in general) grab a craft beer at The Barrel, a local bar with a dog park attached.
If I have friends visit I always take them to a quintessential low country boil or oyster roast. They’re harder to find during the pandemic but if you contact me I can organize a COVID-safe private boil or roast for your group.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Most summertime visitors to Charleston plan for at least one beach day, and with good reason – the coastline here is beautiful. But be warned – everybody, local or tourist, will have the same idea on the weekend. Go before 11am if you want to avoid sitting in traffic. Oh, and remember to bring bug spray! Occasionally in the fall/winter months when you get a warmer day with light wind, the no see-ums are insane.
See Jeff in action in Charleston here!