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Explore North Charleston's Eclectic Arts Scene

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 360-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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Given that North Charleston was once considered the rough-edged, industrial cousin of historic Charleston, the city’s breadth of artistic and historic sites is truly astounding. You want to attend concerts, plays and shows, dig deeply into the area’s history or enjoy the outdoors while gazing at statuesque sculptures? You’ve come to the right place in North Charleston, where’s there’s so much to see and do.

Start your arts adventure at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, part of the North Charleston Coliseum’s large footprint. The hub of the PAC is its 2,300-seat proscenium theater, which opened to the public in 1999 and hosts a variety of major concerts, family shows, ballets, symphonies and festivals each year.

The city also offers the Lowcountry’s only Best of Broadway series, along with the North Charleston POPS! orchestra, specializing in popular music and artists. For live local theater, check out Midtown Productions (part of the art scene since 1989), offering cabaret and dinner theater performances, and South of Broadway Theatre Co., staging shows in the Olde Village since the early 2000s.

If visual arts are your passion, visit the City of North Charleston Public Art Collection on display in the atrium area of City Hall. Admission is free to view photographs, paintings, fiber art and mixed media with special exhibitions throughout the year. Or check out the North Charleston City Gallery, where local, national and international artists display 2-D artwork inside the city’s convention center.

You can also step outside to get your arts fix. At the city’s Riverfront Park, you'll see the National Outdoor Sculpture Competition and Exhibition, featuring the work of artists competing for prizes. A must-see outdoor event on the arts calendar is the North Charleston Arts Fest, a five-day exhibit held each May around the city, featuring visual art, performance art and sculptures.

Still, when most people think about the Charleston area, they’re thinking history. And North Charleston has more than its share of museums and permanent exhibits to satisfy any history fanatic.

Charles Towne Landing is where it all began. At this site, settlers landed in 1670 and began the first Carolina colony. The 80-acre property includes a visitor center, history trail, a replica of the 17th-century ship Adventure, plus vast gardens and a natural habitat zoo.

Even larger at 110 acres is Middleton Place, one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the U.S. It includes a restored estate, farm, restaurant and garden. Another example of the Colonial era is Drayton Hall, a 1738 estate with its original architecture preserved. Tours and special events are offered to the public.

Want more? Visit Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Founded in 1676, it is the oldest public gardens in America. The romantic-style gardens were opened to the public in 1870.

No one visits South Carolina without wanting to delve into the Civil War, which began at nearby Fort Sumter. One of the most significant events of the 1861-65 conflict was the February 17, 1864 attack on a Union naval blockade by the CSS H.L. Hunley, the first modern submarine used in warfare. The eight-man vessel sank the USS Housatonic, but was itself lost and not recovered from the Charleston Harbor floor until 2000.

Today, the restored submarine is on exhibit on the grounds of the former U.S. Navy Base, which closed in 1996 and is now home to the Naval Base Memorial. The Warren Lasch Conservation Center is a Clemson University-led lab that preserves historic artifacts, including the Hunley.

But perhaps the most unique of all the city’s historic sites is the North Charleston Fire Museum, where visitors can view historic firefighter apparatus and see exhibitions and educational films, along with 20 preserved historic firefighting vehicles. Kids and adults will enjoy visiting the massive museum lobby, built to resemble a classic firehouse, and exploring the hands-on interactive exhibits, including a functioning fire pole.

Whether your tastes run to music, art or history of all types, North Charleston has something—lots of something—to fit the bill.

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 360-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.