Discovering Charleston, South Carolina: A Local Gallery’s Guide to the Essential Experiences

Posted by Robert Lange on

Many of us know The Holy City has rich history but the current cultural significance of Charleston is often overlooked. This city has exploded in the last 20 years with world class restaurants and must-see galleries nestled between historic houses and along beautiful cobblestone streets. We’ve lived and had a modern contemporary gallery in the heart of Charleston for over 20 years. In that time, we’ve watched Charleston become one of the top destinations to visit in the Country from both Conde Nast and TripAdvisor (with good reason) below you’ll find an insiders guide of what to do if you are a culture enthusiast visiting Charleston, South Carolina.


  • There are must see photo opportunities like Rainbow Row and the view of The Holy City from a rooftop bar (and you should do both) but because it is such a beautiful backdrop Charleston has become known for hosting international events, festivals, and happenings, so before you even come to town, check to see what is happening and for that I’d say visit the Charleston Visitor’s Center online. Almost every weekend of the spring and fall is a big event including the Food + Wine Festival, the Bridge Run, Spoleto Festival, Southeastern Wildlife Expo, Jazz Fest, Antique Week, just to list a few. We’d recommend joining in the fun or avoiding the additional crowds depending on how you like to travel. Charleston Visitors Center


  • Charleston's reputation for southern charm, historic sites, and a vibrant culinary scene is just the beginning. With direct flights from New York, Los Angelas, Washington DC, Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore and more it is an easy getaway destination. For a complete list of flights take a look HERE 


  • Once you’ve checked for events and found a great flight, make food reservations, we can’t stress this enough. Currently the city has a population of 150,000 people, so it’s relatively small but because it is built on a peninsula, the land mass is very small as well. This means when events like The Bridge Run are happening, an additional 50,000 people flood the city and things get tight. We would recommend at the very least plan out your dinner reservations well in advance or if you want to do a culinary tour, Undiscovered Charleston is our favorite, check to see if there are spots available.


What Makes Charleston Unforgettable


Art, Music, Wine and The Culinary Scene all within Walking Distance

  • I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Charleston is so amazing because it is small. You can safely walk anywhere on the peninsula from East Bay Street to King Street and up around Marion Square. All of the Charleston Museums are near each other, all the Churches are near each other (most on Church Street), and over on Charleston Harbor, which is along the Cooper River Bridge side of the city, is the Aquarium, The African American Museum and Waterfront Park. Since we own an art gallery lets start with our favorite cultural things to do. Some of the best art galleries in the southern United States are found in Charleston, SC. Here are our favorites, all within a few blocks of each other. 

    • Robert Lange Studios Fine Art Gallery, right off East Bay Street is a great place to start. We are bias but our gallery is home to over 20 unmistakable artists from around the country, including many locals. With two working studio spaces, a swing and a piano, it is unlike any gallery you’ve been to. When you visit, we can make you a map that suits your collecting style and send you on your way. We’ve been voted the best gallery in the Holy City countless times over the last 20 years.

    • Principle Gallery, located right next to the Gibbes Museum, is similar to our gallery and is focused on contemporary realism and boast a large collection of sculptures in their Meeting Street location. They focus on featuring international artists and new works in downtown Charleston bringing in mid career painters to elevate Charleston’s art scene.

    • Corrigan Gallery is the definition of whimsy and we would consider the essence of lowcountry fine art, with a more eclectic mixture of southern painters and found object sculptors. As an artist owned gallery like our own, we consider it a very well curated small space filled with hidden gems. The space is perfect for showcasing Charleston artists and contemporary gallery exhibitions in a fanciful way.

    • Hagan Fine Art  is a blend of American and European fine art on Church Street, Hagan gallery, like Corrigan and us, is artist owned. Many of the painters focus on bold brushstrokes in a classic painterly style, who create still lives and landscapes that we would describe as feel-good brighten-your-life kind of art.

    • Broad Street and King Street are where many of the galleries are clustered and I’m not going to list them all but there is something for everyone, from hand blown glass and pottery to acrylic, pastel and oil paintings. 

  • Lets talk about live music. Charleston has a bunch of musical venues but the real music must is not a venue but a festival, Spoleto. What is the Spoleto Festival you ask? It’s the largest preforming arts festival in the country and happens at the end of May and beginning of June. You can happen upon opera in the park, find a violin trio playing on a corner, or attend a Cirque Du Soleil type performance at the Gilliard Center. There are hundreds of performances and plenty of art-centric things to attend. 

    • Charleston Music Hall, The Pour House, and The Music Farm all bring in live bands from across the country but our absolute favorite is not even listed when you search music venues in Charleston and that is FireFly Distillery. It’s a big barn with an intimate listening room nestled inside and a beautiful grassy yard where you can sip amazing local beer and fresh cocktails. 

    • Jazz lovers this is for you. Arguably one of the swankiest restaurants in Charleston also happens to be the backdrop for live Jazz. Charleston Grill Restaurant I would recommend for dinner but go when there’s a live Jazz trio and it will feel extra special. 

    • There is a live music Sunset Cruise in the Harbor that can check a few Charleston boxes. The captain gives you some history, points out Fort Sumter National Monument, this is where the Civil War was fought, as well as the USS York Town CV-10, a giant aircraft carrier in the Charleston harbor, and you listen to requested music by guitar while eating and drinking a picnic style dinner. 

    • And finally you MUST go to a Sunday Gospel brunch at Hall’s Chop House, just don’t sit too close to the singers and make a reservation well in advance. You enjoy pop-overs and mimosas while local gospel singers with bright smiles and welcoming voices serenade you.

Historical Significance and Southern Charm

  • Charleston played a big role in the Civil War and Revolutionary War and if you are a history buff you must visit the newly built African American Museum and the Charleston Museum, both will break your heart a bit as you learn about the history the english settlements and of slavery in America, so plan accordingly. If you want a lighter touch of history, visit the Exchange building where the Provost dungeons are located and learn briefly about Charleston’s roll in the history of the country and how the surrounding Charleston area was first settled and colonized.

  • Charleston's deep American heritage is on every corner of the city, from the oldest liquor store to the oldest art museum. There are places where George Washington had dinner and hidden tunnels where pirates hid. The more well know iconic locations like Fort Sumter, Rainbow Row, and The Battery all are waiting to be discovered for a first time visitor. Gold bars hidden in Church walls and eccentric millionaires building bowling alley’s in the attic are all fun local lure.

sea waves painting

Natural Beauty, Golf, and Outdoor Adventures

  • Charleston is between three beaches, each with a different vibe. Sullivan’s Island is private and picturesque with a mile of preserve along the shoreline, Isle of Palms has more of a mansions overlooking white sand feel, and Folly Beach is a surf, bonfire on the beach community. All three are great for beach lovers but we love Sullivan’s Island and one of our favorite restaurants and James Beard winner The Obstinate Daughter is a block off the beach.

  • If it’s your first time in the city there is plenty to discover on foot without leaving downtown but if you want to adventure out go to Magnolia Plantation with its lush gardens it’s a must-see for nature enthusiasts. Download the free Merlin Bird app and start collecting hundreds of bird songs on your phone. There are also a bunch of advertised spots, including Drayton Hall, Middleton Place, Boone Hall and the Angel Oak but Magnolia Plantation bundles all of these into one memorable experience (and there are wine events!).

  • For golf, and Charleston is the first place golf was played in America in 1788, you want to go out to Kiawah and play The Ocean Course. It is possibly the most beautiful 9 holes of golf on the planet. It’s challenging but only because it is located adjacent to the beach, so there is always a breeze to factor into your swing.

  • You can swim or kayak along side dolphins over the Cooper River Bridge in Mount Pleasant but you’ll probably get plenty of walking in when you explore the city, so I’m not going to write down all the outdoor adventures and trails that you can discover. Just know that with a quick search you can easily find trails through alligator swamps and places like The Woodlands Nature Preserve where you can ride horses through the forest. There is a trail along the water on Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant where you can look back and see the entire city and the Cooper River Bridge.

Comparing Charleston and Savannah: A Southern Showdown

  • We live in Charleston so we are a bit bias when it comes to picking a favorite southern city, this is it! I was once told that Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans are three sisters. Charleston is the first born and most put together of the three, Savannah as the middle child is the easy going, creative and independent one, and then there’s New Orleans, the very wild third child. There are similarities between all three when it comes to architecture and from a historical point of view Charleston and Savannah have a lot of Civil War stories in common but each is a very different adventure for visitors. Since you are reading an Art Gallery’s Guide, I’m guessing you are interested in culture, so Charleston is really the best cobblestone laden place to be in the south.

  • I can’t emphasis enough how unique Charleston's offerings are for anyone that wants to feel a touch of southern hospitality with a European feel. Places like the Charleston City Market or Market Street, where you can grab a Charleston hat and a bag of southern grits, are tourist traps but even they are upscale in comparison to what you would expect. There was a revitalization project to make the city sidewalks wider and safer along upper-King Street a few years ago and now there are very few places on the peninsula that aren’t picturesque. The distinct southern charm of the city’s historic district is just really unmatched in America.

    • On either side of downtown are the suburbs but they are far from traditional southern strip mall roads with Walmarts and Targets. They are some of the most coveted zip codes in the good old USA. Both Mount Pleasant and James Island have exploded as places to raise children with soaring real estate prices. Both have historic southern plantations and wonderful restaurants and because of this they have become tourist destinations of their own. Sandwiched between downtown Charleston and either Sullivans Island Beach or Folly Beach both suburbs have a number of attractions that you can’t find downtown. Nestled in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant just past Shem Creek, is the Ocean Walk at Pitt Street Bridge, where you can see both Sullivans Island and downtown, the Marsh View trail has a beautiful 360’ unobstructed view of the marsh at the end, and the Mount Pleasant Pier, which is shaded under the bridge on a hot day, are my favorite short walks that all give you a touch of nature.

Planning Your Charleston Itinerary

Can You Capture Charleston in 3 Days?

  • You can’t cover all the city has to offer in 3 days but with the right shoes you can see a lot of it. We’ve been here for 20 years and are still finding things to discover. My suggested itinerary covering downtown Charleston would start with an art day, sticking to King Street and the French Quarter, visit galleries, shop a bit, and eat like kings and queens. Make sure to loop down around the Battery and White Point Garden to see the large antebellum plantation owner’s homes from Gone With the Wind. Here is a link to our “RLS recommendations” to all of our favorite restaurants (we update this list often).

  • I’d also suggest visiting during the fall and staying at Zero George Hotel, September and October are quiet and the temperature is perfection. Check for Home and Garden Tours because who doesn’t want to peek in a bunch of historic homes. We are big fans of these and other of the Preservation Society’s events. The next morning I’d have brunch at Magnolia’s Restaurant or if it’s Sunday, go to Gospel Brunch at Hall’s Chophouse and then explore Charleston on foot. Walk down to the battery and around historic Charleston, where you’ll be passed by horse-drawn carriage tours and wander past African American historical spots. The last morning, start your day with a sunrise trip out to Sullivan’s Beach for a walk near Fort Moultrie and a view of fort Sumter and lunch or brunch at The Obstinate Daughter Restaurant a few blocks off the beach. Alternately, head back towards Mount Pleasant and sit on Shem Creek and eat at Tavern and Table Restaurant for lunch where you will see dolphins swimming up the creek and there is a long boardwalk out into the marsh. Since you are already in Mount Peasant, I’d probably adventure to Boone Hall Plantation to see a working Southern Plantation. Check to see if they are hosting an event like the strawberry or pumpkin festival, which are large gatherings geared toward families. If you aren’t into plantations or want to skip Shem Creek, under the Cooper River Bridge is a beautiful long shaded boardwalk and a small cultural center with a lovely view of downtown and the USS YorkTown Aircraft-carrier. I’d have dinner downtown someplace amazing, either FIG Restaurant or 167 Raw Restaurant and finish the night with a walk along Riverfront Park or a drink on the Dewberry Hotel’s rooftop.

Is 2 Nights in Charleston Enough?

  • Two days is tight but doable! Just don’t leave downtown. I’d prioritizing doing just a few attractions for such a short visit, focusing on downtown Charleston and a small selection of historic sites. If you want a dose of history, I’d download an audio walking tour (maybe even hire a tour guide or do a carriage ride, so you can learn all of the history at once). I think most trips are planned around food these days anyway, so go ahead and start dream eating well before you come to Charleston and make precise reservations for your meals. That way you aren’t wasting time trying to figure anything out while you are here.

    Local Tip: The First Friday of each month is ArtWalk here in Charleston, which is a fun way to meet artists and look at art while strolling and sipping wine before dinner. The Second Sunday of each month we close down King Street and you can walk and shop without navigating traffic.

The Best Tours to Immerse Yourself in Charleston’s History and Culture

Walking and Carriage Tours

  • If you are planning a carriage tour go ahead a get a privet two seater. They are significantly better than the larger tours with ten or twelve people and you can interact with your driver. It is a lottery system to determine which route your horse will travel down and all of the carriages leave from the same place.

  • For an art tour, start with the Charleston Gallery Association website for a list of what shows are where and if you are adventurous, there are also guided art tours. We like “Bricks and Brushes” Art Tours with our previous gallery director Carri Schwab, who grew up in Charleston. We also love "Walk and Talk" Charleston with local artist West Frasher. After that we’d recommend picking up the phone and just calling (or emailing) us and asking what is a current must see in town. You will quickly discover that the reputation of hospitality is not over exaggerated in Charleston. Highlighting the charm of carriage tours through historic Charleston and walking tours that explore the city’s alleys and cobblestone streets

Specialty Tours: Ghosts, Gullah Culture, and More

  • Every city has a haunted ghost tour of some kind but our city is actually haunted and for some spooky insight into Charleston’s past they are really very fun. We like Palmetto Carriage Works,  they are a small company and have a reputation for treating their animals very well. Also, because it is the south and things get hot during the day, a night tour can be a great way to learn some history while staying cool, there are private haunted history carriage tours as well.

  • All of the history tours will focus some on Gullah culture and the African American history of the city and Gullah Geechee people, who were the decedents of slaves brought from Africa. Many walk or drive past the old Slave Mart or near the City Jail and there is a long list of houses and buildings that you can venture inside for a tour but really the most beautiful is the Heyward-Washington House. It was the first home in the city to become a museum and has been perfectly preserved for hundreds of years. It also has a gorgeous 18th century garden.


  • So, just a recap of why you want to come and explore Charleston SC and why it is considered an essential destination for those interested in American history, southern culture, and natural beauty. The Holy City is small and charming with all of your favorite big city elements like amazing food, art galleries and plenty of cultural events but it’s not overwhelming. You can whisk in for a few days or stay for weeks and never run out of places to explore. If you love history it is arguably the most historic city in America. If you are a food lover, it has inviting James Beard restaurants and world class rooftop bars. If you are an art lover there are not hundreds of galleries to sift through but instead a perfect cross section of incredible curated creations. If you love to walk it is safe and picturesque. If you love to ride, there are bus and carriage tours waiting to drive you down cobblestone streets.

  • In order to fully explore Charleston we encourage you to go beyond the typical tourist paths to fully experience its unique charm and history. When we first moved down south as northerners I remember not quite believing that people were being genuine, not quite excepting that a city could move at a slow pace. People slow down for yellow lights instead of speed-up. You rarely hear a car horn and if you do it’s usually a polite little toot-toot. It’s not easy to let yourself fully embrace the pace of southern culture but if you are on vacation in Charleston we really encourage you to do and plan less and just explore more. You will happen upon the most beautiful garden or house you’ve ever seen in a city and discover a hole in the wall coffee shop or record store without trying. Many of the places we’ve mentioned, from Rainbow Row to Waterfront Park you will just happen upon if you are walking around this magical city we call home. We look forward to you discovering our gallery as one of those places.

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