While Charleston is known for its history, its museums and beautiful architecture, it also is home to some of the most naturally beautiful places in South Carolina from its beaches to its inland gardens. The city is surrounded by water, and as the old brag goes: Charleston is where the Ashley and Cooper rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.
The best way to get outdoors in Charleston is the beaches. North of the city are: the Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island. South of the city are: Folly Beach, Kiawah and Seabrook islands. These beaches are wide and welcoming for swimming, boating and all types of watersports. Folly is renowned for its surfing at the Washout. They also are great places to ride a bike, go for a walk or fly a kite. Kiawah's Beachwalker Park is frequently listed among the top beaches in the world.
The rivers tie Charleston to its past as a rice producer and to its present and future as a major port. Charleston's rivers also welcome recreational boaters of all kinds, for fishing, touring, kayaking and other watersports. Try the Reel Deal Charters for fishing, ecotours or just a fun day on the water with family and friends. Red Fin Charters specializes in fishing.
For a unique boating experience, try booking passage on The Schooner Pride, a classic tall ship that sails daily for two-hour tours of the harbor. For a more intimate sail, visit Charleston Sailing Adventures for a ride on a catamaran. If you want to learn to sail, visit the Charleston Sailing School.
For an easier to maneuver boat and to see manatees and dolphins up close and personal, try a guided kayak tour by Coastal Expeditions. This crew has been around Charleston for more than 20 years and offer everything from small group paddle trips to kayak and paddleboard rentals with longer excursions including charters and overnight paddling trips. These folks go where the water is and take off from several locations, including Shem Creek, Folly Creek and the Isle of Palms.
See all that Folly has to offer from the water with Charleston Outdoor Adventures. Set your own course with daily boat and paddleboard rentals, two-hour guided tours or charters out to the famed Morris Island Lighthouse. Nature Adventures Outfitters also offer guided tours, paddleboard instruction, hiking tours, overnight expeditions and adventure camps for the youngsters.
Also along the Ashley River are Charleston's old rice plantations; Magnolia, Middleton and Drayton Hall, each with beautiful grounds and gardens open for visitors. Magnolia's gardens, designed by owner the Rev. John Drayton and the plantation overseer Adam Bennett, opened to the public soon after being rebuilt following the Civil War. Other things to do on the plantation include a petting zoo, nature tram ride, boat ride, slave cabin tour and the Audubon swamp garden. At Middleton, you can actually stay on the grounds at the Inn at Middleton and enjoy biking and walking around the grounds as well as kayak in the river or rides horses. Drayton Hall is the oldest of the plantations and a National Trust Historic Site.
Downtown Charleston offers some outdoor opportunities itself with plenty of walking or biking opportunities. Rent a bike and explore downtown Charleston on your own for $25 a day or $55 a week at Affordabike.
For an extraordinary trip that takes you all around Charleston by bike, check out Charleston Bicycle Tours for one, three or six-day tours (including accommodations and meals) of Charleston and surrounding areas. The plantation and quaint town tour is a three-day riding adventure that includes downtown, across the Ravenel Bridge to Patriots Point, Johns Island, Wadmalaw Island and the Charleston Tea Plantation.
White Point Gardens and the Charleston Battery are wonderful places to walk, have a picnic or just enjoy some sunshine and fresh air. Other Charleston parks include James Island County Park, an outdoors lover's dream: You can camp here, enjoy miles of paved trails for walking, biking and skating. If you are traveling with your dog, this is the ideal spot to help Fido burn off some energy at the dog park. Play horseshoes, climb a rock wall, play disc golf or enjoy Splash Zone Waterpark with tube slides, open slides, lazy river and slides and sprays for the little ones. There also is Whirlin' Waters Adventure Waterpark in North Charleston with a six-lane slide, three tubular slides and a splash pad for the little ones.
If the kids get tired of natural beauty, head over to Blackbeard's Cove for Go-Karts, miniature golf, inflatable jumping area and climbing wall. You can also pan for gold on the water flume. If the weather turns on you, move indoors to another climbing wall and the arcade.