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Greater Charleston, which includes the city’s suburban neighbor of Mount Pleasant as well as the nearby barrier islands, is the epitome of southern charm. Charleston has a place for every mood, with relaxed beach towns just across the water from historic neighborhoods boasting cobblestone streets and colorful row houses. The subtropical climate of the South Carolina Lowcountry is a heaven for plant lovers, with a distinct fragrance perfumed by the abundant jasmine and gardenia shrubs as well as the smell of the surrounding marshes’ pluff mud. To outsiders, the latter might seem like an odd thing to love—it’s made of decomposing swamp grass and sea life—but Charlestonians know that the oozy goo and its scent is as central to the city’s identity as the famously delicious oysters that live in it. That’s Charleston for you—a city where the locals are passionate about their idiosyncratic and layered history.

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Charleston History & Culture

One of the country’s oldest cities, Charleston was first established as Charles Town, named after King Charles II, in 1670. Located on a peninsula and surrounded by rivers and barrier islands, Charleston has been shaped by its geography. The harbor city’s confluence of cultures is directly tied to its location and history, with Gullah traditions from West Africa continuing to flourish today, as well as the still visible influence of the English-Caribbean settlers on Charleston’s architecture. The distinct Charleston Single House layout—a long narrow structure with the front door on its side—was brought from Barbados, where similar residences were built to keep the interiors cool. Rainbow Row’s brightly painted exteriors are also a nod to Charleston’s Caribbean heritage, while the city’s ubiquitous “haint blue” porch ceilings are a legacy of a Gullah belief that the blue paint would discourage “haints,” or ghosts, from entering the house.

Charleston Dine & Shop

Charleston’s restaurants are the city’s heart and soul. The rise of modern Southern cuisine—including the growing recognition of Gullah culture—can be traced directly to the chefs and restauranteurs of Charleston. Thanks to its location as a port city, Charleston has always been at the crossroads of global influences, with a mix of African, Native American, and European culinary traditions coming together. Locally sourced ingredients and an abundance of seafood create one of the best dining scenes around, with oyster roasts and she-crab soup as two of Charleston’s most iconic dishes. The city is no slouch in the shopping department either, boasting a couple of unusual commercial districts, in addition to the expected malls: King Street, Charleston’s main shopping corridor, is closed off one Sunday a month to traffic, letting pedestrians enjoy live music and dining in the streets, and Mount Pleasant’s Pitt Street is both quaint and convenient.