16 Actually Cool Things to Do in Charleston this Fall
Spooky ghost tours, boozy brewery crawls, and more.
Charleston is arguably the South’s most charming city—deeply rooted in regional history, it’s rife with jaw-dropping architecture, a dialed-up food scene, stunning boutique hotels, buzzy nightlife, windswept beaches, outdoorsy adventures, breweries galore, a vibrant art scene, and so much more. Here’s a complete list of Charleston’s coolest experiences and most enticing outings, all perfect for fall weather enjoyment. Not to worry—there’s something for everyone in this mix.
See the city from a different perspective by way of an intimate boat tour with Captain Cris Miller of Burnt and Sandy, who boasts credentials from the U.S. Coast Guard and knows the local waterways like the back of her hand. Unlike other boat tours, Miller’s company focuses on small groups, making for a unique, personalized voyage. Book a custom charter and set out to treasure hunt for shark’s teeth, arrowheads, and shells—or opt for the popular sunset tour and sit back, relax, and sip on an ice-cold cocktail or craft beer while taking in the technicolor panorama. Miller and crew will be on hand to point out interesting landmarks and frolicking dolphins, along the way.
Bring on the meat sweats by chowing your way through the Holy City’s top barbecue joints. Each establishment has its own personality, so loosen your belt and get ready to sample as many as you can possibly fit. Start at Rodney Scott’s BBQ for award-winning whole hog barbecue before meandering over to Lewis Barbecue for Texas-style smoked meats (don’t sleep on the turkey). Home Team BBQ is a must for the wings and pork sandwiches, and Swig & Swine has the pulled pork and sides on lock. And if you’re in town on November 13, you’re in luck—Holy Smokes, a Lowcountry barbecue fest featuring a slew of the country's most prized pitmasters, will be taking over the city. You know what to do.
The easiest (and safest) way to check out Charleston’s Brewery District is to hop on the free beer trolley, which runs Saturdays from 1 to 9 pm. The trolley runs between ten different breweries, starting at Tradesman, ending at Munkle Brewing, and hitting Edmund’s Oast, BrewLab, Cooper River,Palmetto Brewing Co., Baker & Brewer, Revelry Brewing, Fatty’s Beer Works, and Lo-Fi Brewing in between. Hop on and off at your leisure to get a true taste of Charleston’s suds scene. Pro tip: Take a beer break and cleanse your palate with a stop into High Wire Distilling Co—the city’s first distillery since Prohibition—and taste through their lineup of small-batch gins, whiskies, and amari.
There’s no shortage of standout eateries and watering holes in the Holy City, and it’s near-impossible to tackle it all in a month, far less a single weekend. But planning a progressive dining crawl is a great way to see multiple spots in one outing. Kick things off by fueling up on breakfast at Miller’s All Day or snag a biscuit and coffee from Handy & Hot. For lunch, go healthy-ish at Basic Kitchen (hint: there’s nothing basic about this spot) or swing by Jackrabbit Filly for a Chirashi Bowl. For dinner, don’t miss out on the raw selection at the Darling Oyster Bar, split a few shared plates at FIG or Lenoir, Vivian Howard’s latest entry, and grab a few after-dinner drinks at the Dewberry’s Living Room before calling it a night. And if booze isn’t your bag, cap things off with a scoop or five from Jeni’s Ice Cream.
On Saturday afternoons, Firefly Distillery hosts live musical acts on their breezy front porch, featuring local and regional bands. BYOB (bring your own blanket) or post up at a picnic table outside to enjoy free tunes with friends, alongside Fireside cocktails, local food trucks, and other enticements. Distillery tours are on a first-come, first-served basis, so feel free to pop in and learn the history of the brand before you dive on in.
Head out on a haunted ghost tour or check out a historic cemetery
Now that fall is setting in, it’s the perfect time to lean into Spooky Season’s inherent creepiness by delving into Charleston’s storied past on a haunted tour. Go the free route and stay away from crowds with a self-guided tour from Lowcountry Walking Tours, or opt for a small group tour courtesy of some of Charleston’s most popular tour companies like Bulldog Tours or Old Charleston Tours.
Charleston’s network of cemeteries date back to before the US was even a thing, and serve as the final resting place for many prominent American figures, so they’re actually pretty cool to explore (in addition to being a bit ghoulish). Plus, The Unitarian Church graveyard features a relaxing, tree-lined path between King Street and Archdale that’s super picturesque.
Boone Hall Fright Nights is celebrating “15 years of fear” this fall, and there’s still no better way to get in the Halloween spirit. Choose between three different attractions, including Fallen Oaks Motel (a terror-filled hotel), Tiny’s Toy Factory (a spooky, clown-filled experience), and Sinister Cinema Haunted Hayride (where scary movie scenes transform into a real-life horror show). Dare devils can even score a ScreamPass for access to all three attractions. Make sure to order tickets in advance, and if you hate waiting in long lines, VIP tickets are the way to go.
Immerse yourself in local art
Charleston is home to a plethora of artists, displaying their works throughout more than 40 galleries in downtown Charleston. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the recently remodeled Gibbes Museum of Art, there’s no better time to stroll through the museum’s many exhibits, and the same goes for the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art, which reopened last fall. Carve out ample time to peruse the many finds at Helena Fox Fine Art, where creations from Lowcountry icons like West Fraser dot the walls. Most independent galleries showcase art for purchase, should you want to take a little piece of Charleston home. Or go all out and stay at The Vendue, Charleston’s premiere art hotel boasting over 300 original pieces for guests to enjoy and conveniently located within walking distance of the French Quarter.
Beach it up
There’s no denying that one of Charleston’s major attractions, especially during the warmer months, are all the pristine beaches that await just a short drive away. Avoid the masses with an autumnal visit to secluded gems like Morris Island at the mouth of Charleston harbor or Edisto Island, located about an hour south of the city. And you simply can’t go wrong with a day spent on Sullivan’s Island. Scarf down the ultimate feast at the Obstinate Daughter, followed by gelato at Beardcat’s, prior to finding the perfect spot in the sandy. No matter the season, don’t forget to bring along the SPF—and cop a proper glass of frosé at The Co-Op, of course.
Believe it or not, the fascinating SC Aquarium is home to more than 5,000 animals. From the Piedmont to the Salt Marshes to the Sea Turtle Recovery center and a two-story Great Ocean Tank stocked with 220-pound loggerhead turtles, there’s always something new to discover. If you plan on showing up and showing off on the regular, consider signing up for a yearly membership to save some serious dough. After-hours events for the 21 and up set, complete with booze and food, also aim to please. New for 2021, Aquarium Glow showcases a slice of aquatic life beneath tens of thousands of lights displayed throughout the aquarium for the duration of the holiday season. Advance ticket purchases or member reservations are required, so get on it.
Perched on the edge of Charleston’s downtown peninsula, the Battery features a pedestrian promenade fashioned from the former walls of the city that stretches roughly from Tradd Street to Water Street. Traverse the urban expanse for fresh air and fabulous harbor views (if you squint, you can even see Fort Sumter), as well as prime access to White Point Gardens, a popular city park with a gazebo and old cannons scattered throughout.
One of Charleston’s most iconic sites is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (AKA the Cooper River Bridge), North America’s longest cable-stayed bridge and the tallest structure in South Carolina when it debuted in 2005. The iconic spires sport everything from clothing to local business logos, and serve as the star of the Cooper River Bridge Run every year. Make sure to bring some good walking shoes and set aside an hour or so for your trek, which takes you from downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant. Going early in the morning is one strategy for avoiding the often big crowds—not to mention soaking up the sun’s dazzling ascent over the water.
Charleston isn’t necessarily the most cycle-friendly city in the world, but we’re working on it. A bike ride just so happens to be an ideal way to see some of the city’s iconic architecture, while giving you a chance to stretch your legs and revel in the crisp fall weather. It’s a totally free adventure if you’ve got enough rigs for your group, and if not, don’t worry about it—you can easily rent a shiny new ride from Holy Spokes for just $8 an hour or $20 a day.
Stock up on local produce at a farmers market
Fall weather means harvest time for a whole new crop of fruits and veggies, and you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to incorporate all this farm-fresh goodness into your diet. The Sunday Brunch Farmers’ Market on James Island operates every Sunday with a rotating list of vendors, food trucks, and entertainment, while the Charleston Farmers’ Market, with operations in Marion Square (Saturdays) and West Ashley (Wednesdays), brings forth a cornucopia of seasonal favorites.
Kick back to the calming sounds of live jazz and support local musicians while you're at it by dropping into Forte Jazz Lounge for a state-of-the-art performance. Modeled after the New York jazz clubs of yore, the spot features talented acts both big and small, all presented with a side of Southern hospitality. No matter how you slice it, it’s a perfect date night destination or a fun evening out with friends.
Scope out free murals around town
Between the Shepard Fairey murals, David Boatwright’s restorations, and Patch Whiskey’s many colorful acid monsters, a ton of street artists have left their mark on Charleston. Find colorful street art everywhere from downtown to West Ashley to Mount Pleasant (and even on the trains running through the port). Taking a drive to explore the various murals is a great excuse to get out of the house for a couple of hours, and the unique artistry makes for a stellar backdrop for your next Instagram post.