How to Not Look Like a Tourist in Charleston, S.C.

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Touring the historic area of Charleston, South Carolina, on a horse drawn carriage.

Charleston, S.C., may be one of the most touristy locations on the southeast coast. But we want to show you how to blend in and look like a local.

It all starts with attractions to avoid, followed by places to go with fewer out-of-towners and more locals. Ready to find out how to not look like a tourist in Charleston? Grab your GPS, and let’s go!

About Charleston, S.C.

Charleston, S.C., embraces the stories of its past and present. The saying, “if walls could talk,” is fitting for the city. It has a complicated and colorful past. And while the present also faces challenges, the city provides opportunities to learn and move forward into a new era. 

It was a port city founded in 1670. Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War took place, lies just across the water. The racial divides in this city run deep, as noted by the antebellum houses throughout its neighborhoods and reminders of slave quarters and burial grounds. 

Today, Charleston touts its history and beauty, restaurants, shopping, and waterfront vibe. You can find numerous cuisines throughout the city, including homemade southern cooking. The arts are an important part of the area as well. We highly recommend catching a jazz concert when you visit. You’ll also find museums, parks, nightlife, and more. 

Tourist Traps to Avoid in Charleston

Like many popular destinations, Charleston does have some tourist traps. We’ll happily warn you away from them. Here are five tourist traps to avoid.

Plantations (All of Them!)

It’s quite common to see historical plantations while in Charleston. But we recommend avoiding all of them. They tend to be tourist traps for the most part. 

You’ll have to pay a fee for a tour, and then you’ll be directed to the gift shop to spend more money afterward. There’s typically not a lot to see on the plantations in terms of structures. However, the grounds are beautiful, and there’s an educational component to the tours.

If you do go, be aware that they’ll likely be crowded. And keep an open mind on a tour since the history of the plantations is emotional for many.

A horse drawn carriage tour of the rainbow street in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tours (All of Them!)

Charleston offers a lot of tours. They include boat and harbor tours, walking tours, ghost and nighttime tours, plantation tours, and bus tours.

While some are educational, we recommend spending your money in different ways. Most of the tours are tourist traps and lack the reality of what it’s like to live in Charleston. Instead, you can do self-guided tours through the city. 

Market Street

The Charleston City Market has a day and night market. You can purchase artwork, homemade accessories, food, and more. There’s an energy at the market for those who like to shop but be warned that it’s extremely crowded. In our opinion, it’s a large flea market with a lot of cheap trinkets. 

Hyman’s Seafood

Hyman’s Seafood is a tourist trap, and the food isn’t anything to write home about. People either love or hate the restaurant. It’s popular and often very busy, which is another reason to avoid it. Instead, we recommend finding where the locals eat and going there. 

Carriage Rides

A carriage ride through a beautiful city may sound romantic, but we suggest avoiding them in Charleston. They’re overpriced, and you have to give a tip. In addition, we always wonder how the horses actually like their jobs.

10 Ways to Not Look Like a Tourist in Charleston

Enough of what to avoid. Let’s get to the good stuff! There’s a lot to see and do in Charleston if you want to look like a local. Here are 10 ways to blend in.

Don’t Use the Free Tourist Maps as Guides

Walking around with a paper map in your hands is a surefire way to look like a tourist. Instead, use the GPS on your phone to find where you’re going. And when you need to look down at your phone for directions, be courteous and step aside instead of standing in the middle of a sidewalk.

Young women take a selfie in the street while sight seeing.

Use Public Transportation to Get Around

Use public transportation to explore Charleston. And we don’t mean horse-drawn carriages! Instead, you can use the CARTA (Charleston Regional Transportation Authority), the city’s extensive bus system. It’s a great way to get around and explore the city off the beaten path.

Visit the Angel Oak Tree

Angel Oak Tree is a historical landmark in Charleston. The tree is 65 ft high with a circumference of 25.5 ft and a shading area of 17,000 sq ft. It’s the largest Live Oak east of the Mississippi and is estimated to be 300 to 400 years old. We highly recommend going to see this majestic living organism.

Angel Oak Tree in Charleston, S.C.

Traveler’s Tip: The Angel Oak Tree is a great spot for photos, along with these other most Instagrammable spots in South Carolina.

Follow the Bridge to Nowhere

A favorite thing to do in Charleston that few tourists know about is the Bridge to Nowhere. It’s a deserted bridge that was never completed or used due to bad groundwater. You can find the entrance to it on Petty Street near the Charleston Rifle Club. It’s a fun place to go for a stroll or to walk your dog.  

Hike in Francis Marion National Forest

The Francis Marion National Forest lies north of Charleston. There are numerous day hikes you can take throughout the beautiful protected lands. The Palmetto Trail is a popular route, and it goes to the intercoastal waterways.

Tour the Old Slave Mart Museum

The Old Slave Mart Museum is the first African-American slave museum. Often staffed by people who can trace their heritage to Charleston slaves, a visit to the museum is highly educational. It doesn’t have a lot of artifacts, and kids may get bored here. But the informative literature and historical significance of the building are worth a visit.

Walk or Bike the Arthur Ravenel Bridge

At 1,546 ft long, the Arthur Ravenel Bridge is one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the hemisphere. It connects downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant, a suburb of the city. You can walk or bike the bridge for some amazing views. The easiest place to park to access the pedestrian path is at Waterfront Park in Mount Pleasant near the visitor center.

Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston, S.C.

Dine at Upper King Street Restaurants

Upper King Street has some of Charleston’s best restaurants and nightlife. It’s a great place to mingle with locals and eat some of the best food in South Carolina. King Street is a historic shopping district.

Shop at the Saturday Farmers Market

Who doesn’t love a farmers’ market? The Charleston Farmers Market takes place every Saturday. You can pick up local produce and other foods or homemade goods.

A woman wearing sunglasses at a Sunday market with tents and customers.

Take Advantage of Happy Hour

There are many unique bars and restaurants in Charleston for happy hour. Make it a point to stop at some that locals recommend to you. And there’s a good chance you’ll meet more Charleston residents who can point you in the right direction.

Are you ready to not look like a tourist in Charleston? We hope you’re able to visit the city soon and soak up all of its history and entertainment. There’s so much to do in the city, you may want to plan a two- to four-day stay. Where will you head first?

Traveler’s Tip: Now that you know how to avoid sticking out in Charleston, learn how not to look like a tourist in Orlando!

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