With its second-to-none restaurant scene, beautiful oceanfront resorts and enduring cultural roots, Charleston is a haven for history buffs and beachgoers. As one of the country’s most beautifully preserved architectural treasures, Charleston’s historic downtown is lined with cobblestone streets, pastel mansions with lacy wrought-iron balconies, homes-turned-museums and grand hotels. Just outside downtown, award-winning golf courses overlook the Atlantic Ocean and the laid-back sea islands beckon with sandy beaches and dock-and-dine eateries.
Charleston’s rich history begins with its founding in 1670 at what is now the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site along the Ashley River. By 1770, Charleston was the fourth largest port city in the colonies and the hub of the Atlantic trade for the South. In June 1776, the first major Revolutionary War battle on South Carolina’s coast centered around British efforts to seize Charleston.
Over the course of the American Revolution, more battles were fought in South Carolina than in any other state. You could spend weeks taking in all the monuments, battlegrounds and forts in the area, this three-day itinerary helps you hit the highlights of the Revolutionary War in the Lowcountry.
Arrive the evening before and check into your hotel. Charleston and nearby Mount Pleasant have dozens of hotels in all price ranges. For an experience befitting a history-themed visit, it's hard to go wrong with the 1893 Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel or The Ryder Hotel, both located in Charleston's historic district.
If you’re looking for something a little more secluded, it doesn’t get more picturesque than The Cottages on Charleston Harbor in Mt. Pleasant, where you’ll find chic waterfront cottages perched on historic Patriots Point. These two-bedroom rentals offer spacious layouts, plus private, screened-in porches complete with rocking chairs and a hammock.
History and Local Flavors in Mt. Pleasant
Start your day with breakfast at Vicious Biscuit, where Southern biscuits become an experience all on their own. Try favorites like The Fat Boy (a buttermilk biscuit with crispy fried chicken breast, their signature pimento cheese and spicy honey drizzle) or Vicious Benny (a buttermilk biscuit with two sunny-up eggs over smoked ham, smothered in hollandaise sauce). For a more traditional Southern breakfast, head to Page's Okra Grill for steak and eggs, chicken and waffles, and their award-winning shrimp and grits.
After breakfast, the first stop of the day is at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. Named for the four-term South Carolina governor and one of the state's signatories of the Declaration of Independence, the historic site sits on 28-acres of the original 715-acre coastal estate known as Snee Farm and features a nature trail, park film, exhibits and archaeological displays.
From there, continue to Sullivan's Island and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park, a coastal fort that was strategically built to defend Charleston against British occupation. Originally constructed of palmetto logs and sand, the fort was incomplete when it was attacked by the British Army on June 28, 1776. Cannonballs blasted at the fort’s palmetto logs were either absorbed or bounced back, helping to turn back the British and earning the state its nickname.
Since you're already on the Mount Pleasant side of the city, don’t miss the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, which includes the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, the USS LEFFEY Destroyer and an extensive naval history museum with a WWII submarine and flight simulators.
Mount Pleasant may have a shorter list of eateries than Charleston, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hold its own when it comes to local flavor. For traditional seafood dishes, try Charleston Harbor Fish House. The restaurant's rooftop Bridge Bar offers unparalleled views of the historic Charleston skyline and is the perfect spot to enjoy a plate of their lobster ravioli. You can also dine on French cuisine at Bistro Toulouse, Japanese specialties at Kanpai Japanese Restaurant, or try the hearty, local fare at Five Loaves Café.
Nearby Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens is a must-see stop on any trip to the area. Their famous Avenue of Oaks, a breathtaking three-quarter mile drive lined with giant live oaks draped with Spanish-moss, has been featured in movies like “The Notebook” and “North and South.”
Tracing History’s Footsteps
After breakfast, head north to Summerville, site of the Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site, a fortified post once commanded by General Francis Marion. During the Revolutionary War, the town was an outpost for both American and British troops, though not at the same time. Although only a handful of original structures remain, archaeologists continue to unearth the settlement’s history.
Known as the Birthplace of Sweet Tea, Summerville doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its culinary options. Stop for lunch at Five Loaves Cafe for sandwiches and salads or try Swig & Swine if you’re craving barbecue.
The next stop is in Moncks Corner. In 2016, preservationists unearthed Fort Fair Lawn. Built by the British to help fortify the city and maintain their strategic position, For Fair Lawn is "the most pristine, intact, original American Revolutionary War fortification in South Carolina," ranking with Ninety Six National Historic Site for its well-preserved condition.
On the other side of Lake Moultrie, you’ll find the burial site of General Francis Marion. Known as “The Swamp Fox,” he used guerilla warfare tactics to hide his militia in the cypress swampland.
Whether you decide to swing back through Summerville for dinner, pick up something along the way, or head back to Charleston to enjoy one of the city’s popular restaurants, don’t forget to enjoy some entertainment in the Holy City. From live music and ghost tours to art walks and rooftop bars, Charleston’s nightlife has plenty of options to choose from.
Explore Charleston’s Revolutionary War History
Spend your last day in Charleston. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Caviar and Bananas, a foodie haven that offers artisanal coffees, teas and bakery selections made fresh daily by their in-house pastry chefs. Or check out the all-day breakfast menu at Mercantile & Mash, a gourmet food emporium located in the historic Cigar Factory.
Historic downtown Charleston offers a plethora of tourism options, including walks through the city's open-air market, horse-drawn carriage tours and the famed Rainbow Row of pastel-painted historic homes.
Delve deep into South Carolina’s American Revolution history with informative exhibits at The Charleston Museum. Founded in 1773 and commonly regarded as “America’s First Museum,” The Charleston Museum’s Becoming Americans: Charleston in the Revolution exhibit explores the events and battles that transpired in the city and surrounding area during the war.
The museum also offers tours of the Heyward-Washington House. Built in 1772, the Heyward-Washington House was the home of Thomas Heyward, Jr., one of four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence. The property features the only 1740s kitchen building open to the public in Charleston.
Next, it’s off to The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon. The site of some of the most critical events in South Carolina history, the Old Exchange Building has been a customs house, post office, city hall and military headquarters. During the American Revolution, the British used the bottom floor as a military prison that became known for its harsh conditions.
Just a short walk away is The Powder Magazine. South Carolina's oldest government building, it was used to store gunpowder during the American Revolution. It has also served as a print shop, livery stable, wine cellar, carriage house and, most recently, a colonial military history museum.
Dinner in Charleston is a culinary experience at any of its many award-winning restaurants, including Charleston Grill, Peninsula Grill, Husk, Fig or Slightly North of Broad. For some truly outstanding barbecue, try Rodney Scott's BBQ. In 2018, Scott became the second pitmaster to win a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest.
If time allows, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the South Carolina Aquarium. Located along the scenic Charleston Harbor, the aquarium features green moray eels, sea horses, river otters, tiger sharks and a 220-pound loggerhead turtle.