After You Arrive: Getting Around
The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) operates local buses and the free DASH trolleys in downtown Charleston. For most visitors without cars, the best choice for accommodations and attractions is downtown Charleston.
CARTA buses serve the airport, Greyhound bus terminal, and AMTRAK rail station.
Route 11 stops right outside the front door of the airport. Route 11 southbound also serves the Greyhound terminal, approximately 2-3 minutes after the stop at Dorchester and Leeds. From the AMTRAK station, (4565 Gaynor St. in North Charleston), it’s a three-minute walk to Rivers and Gaynor Avenues. Take a southbound Route 10 bus to the Visitor Center at Meeting and Mary Streets. (The bus arrives at Rivers and Gaynor 2-3 minutes after the Rivers and Mall stop). The trip takes about 35 minutes.
If you are visiting for a weekend, your best choice is probably a one-day ($6) or three-day ($12) unlimited pass. Buy passes online. The clock starts ticking after the first time you use it. Otherwise, the one-way fare for CARTA buses is $1.75, senior citizens pay $.85 per ride (9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and after 6 p.m. on weekdays, all days weekends and holidays.
For more information about CARTA buses and the free DASH trolleys, visit http://www.ridecarta.com, or call (843-724-7420.
Before beginning your trip, visit http://www.charlestoncvb.com/visitors/index.html, or call the Charleston Visitors Center at (843) 853-8000 or toll-free at (800) 866-8118. When you arrive, visit the Visitor Center at Mary and Meeting Streets. The center is open daily from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (5 p.m. from November-February). Here, you can get information about attractions, tours, accommodations, and nearly anything else you need to know for your visit. You can even purchase tickets here. Ask about money-saving packages and combination tours or tickets.
If you are here for only two days, consider spending one day exploring downtown Charleston by foot (walking) and free DASH trolley. On the other day, consider a trip on the Low Country Loop Trolley to the nearby beaches at Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, and historic Boone Hall plantation. A boat trip to historic Fort Sumter is another possibility.
DAY 1: Downtown Charleston
Are you free the weekend of September 21-23? This is Museum Mile weekend. During this weekend, a single $25 pass ($10 for children 12 and younger) gets you into 13 museums and other attractions in downtown Charleston. (If you paid a separate admission for each museum, the total cost would be more than $100. For more information, visit http://charlestonsmuseummile.org/Home.html.
Regardless of when you visit, The Charleston Museum (www.charlestonmuseum.org, or call 843/722-2996) is a wonderful place to start. We especially enjoyed the exhibits showing the history of the lowcountry, and Charleston’s role in the Civil War.
Walk to Meeting and Mary Streets and take one of the free DASH Trolleys. For more information about the trolleys, and what attractions are served by each trolley route, visit http://www.ridecarta.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/CARTA_DASH_11x17_TrolleyMaps.pdf.
Two other highlights of your day should be The City Market, and a carriage tour. Start by taking the Route 211 Trolley (Meeting/King) to The City Market: 188 Meeting Street thecharlestoncitymarket.com. Extending several blocks, the market houses a multitude of vendors selling nearly anything you can imagine. Take special note of the sweet grass baskets, an indigenous art form and one of the most easily recognizable Gullah traditions. Originally made to winnow rice on the plantations, the baskets have become sought after souvenirs and are even on display at the Smithsonian Institution. The City Market is open 365 days a year.
A great way to experience Charleston is a one-hour carriage ride. Several companies offer carriage rides. We were very happy with Palmetto Carriage Tour: 8 Guignard Street, (www.palmettocarriage.com, or call Zerve at: (800)-979-3370 or (212) 209-3370). See antebellum mansions, historic landmarks and beautiful parks at the leisurely pace of a horse drawn carriage. A licensed guide will share entertaining stories and local lore over the course of this one-hour tour. Carriages depart approximately every 15 minutes until 6 p.m. Guignard Street is located one block off the City Market and tours begin at the Big Red Barn.
If you still have energy, take the Route 211 trolley back to Meeting and Mary Streets, and take the Route 210 Trolley (College of Charleston/Aquarium) to the South Carolina Aquarium, located at 100 Aquarium Wharf (scaquarium.org, or call 843-720-1990.) Explore the state’s distinct maritime zones, from mountain streams to the gulfstream. Check out life-size, aquatic themed play structure. You may even come face-to-face with a sea turtle nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. (Admission ranges from $24.95 to $29.95. If you plan to come back at least one more time, you may save money by purchasing a membership.
Enjoy a cocktail from the Market Pavilion (225 East Bay Street) rooftop bar at sunset. It offers one of the best views of downtown.
To complete your day, stroll over to the Bulldog Tours office (Market Street) and sign up for a ghost tour. The old city jail tour is one of the most popular! The ghost and dungeon tour sounded interesting to me.
For more information about these tours, visit http://www.bulldogtours.com or call (843) 722-8687.
Day 2: Outings outside of Downtown Charleston
By now, you have probably had a great time exploring downtown Charleston. Today, we will explore attractions away from downtown Charleston. Walk over to the Visitor Center and catch the Lowcountry Loop Trolley (www.lowcountrylooptrolley.com. or call (843) 654-5199 for the schedule).
If you saw the movie Meet Me in St. Louis (starring Judy Garland), you may remember the Trolley Song. Well today, you can ride an actual trolley—with its clang-clang to several interesting places. The cost is $15 for a one-day unlimited ride pass and $7.50 for a 2nd day. (Call the Lowcountry Loop Trolley, and ask for a list of partner hotels where you can get a voucher for $5 off the regular fare.) Mention Steve Atlas’ column, “Car Free Journey,” and you will receive a $3 discount—available only to you, our readers.
Here are a few trolley stops worth a visit:
Coconut Joe’s on Isle of Palms. This is the best stop for Isle of Palms County Park. This beach is a great place for a swim in the ocean. The park has dressing rooms and showers.
Patriots Point Museum: Visit the Patriot’s Point Maritime Naval Museum (www.patriotspoint.org): home of the USS Yorktown–the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the United States Navy.
Shem Creek Park: this new waterfront park offers rental boats and kayaks, a wealth of restaurants, and is home to a large commercial fishing fleet.
Isle of Palms Marina: This is a good place to rent boats and kayaks.
Boone Plantation and Gardens: (www.booneplantation.com, or call (843) 884-4371 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, Eastern Time): This historic plantation has several unusual exhibits (described on its web site). Boone Hall is also one of America’s oldest working, living plantations.
It has been continuously growing and producing crops for over 320 years. Once known for cotton and pecans, it is still actively producing strawberries, tomatoes, and pumpkins, as well as many other fruits and vegetables for visitors to enjoy.
Another way to see Charleston is by boat.
The Charleston Water Taxi (www.charlestonwatertaxi.com, or call 843/330-2989). links Mt. Pleasant (Patriots Point or Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina) and historic Downtown Charleston (Aquarium Wharf). Relax and enjoy views of the new Ravenel Bridge, while dolphins and pelicans feed alongside the boat. The water taxi runs on a continuous loop around Charleston Harbor between Patriots Point and Downtown Charleston from 9am to 8pm. Use it to get to downtown Charleston, the South Carolina Aquarium, the USS Yorktown (aircraft carrier), or just for a relaxing, scenic harbor boat ride. You can get off the boat and take as long as you wish to tour any of the local attractions. The Taxi runs every hour so you catch any of the hourly boats back to your destination. An all-day pass costs $10.. No reservation are required.
If you are buying a museum ticket at Patriots Point, you can catch the Water Taxi there. Otherwise, catch it at downtown Charleston’s Aquarium Wharf (next door to the South Carolina Aquarium).
You may have heard about Fort Sumter—the fort that helped start the Civil War when the Confederate Army forced the Union Forces occupying the fort to surrender. Would you like to visit the fort? Now you can, by taking a boat from either Patriot’s Point or Aquarium Wharf in downtown Charleston. For details, visit http://www.spiritlinecruises.com/sumter_rates.asp or call toll-free (800) 7893678.
Do you enjoy bicycling? You can purchase several Charleston area Ride Maps. Visit http://www.coastalcyclists.org/ride_maps.htm. (A list of Coastal Cyclists officers and their phone numbers is included on this page.) A good place to rent bikes in downtown Charleston is Afford a Bike (www.affordabike.com, or call (843) 789-3281.
For More Information
For attractions, tickets, packages and where to stay:
Call the Charleston Visitors Center at (843) 853-8000 or toll-free at (800) 866-8118,
Or visit http://www.charlestoncvb.com/visitors/index.html.
For information about local buses and the FREE downtown DASH Trolleys:
Visit http://www.ridecarta.com, or call (843) 724-7420.
Steve Atlas enjoys hearing from readers. Would you like to share a personal car free vacation experience, or suggest a destination for a future column? E-mail Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.