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How to Visit Charleston’s Iconic Rainbow Row + The Intriguing History

Parking, walking directions, and the intriguing history of the women who created Rainbow Row.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

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Explore Charleston, SC Series

This article is part of the Charleston, South Carolina series. Click the button to read more articles, itineraries, and travel guides in the series.

Rainbow Row is one of Charleston’s most iconic attractions. A row of thirteen pastel-colored houses attracts visitors from around the world. How did a block of rowhouses become one of Charleston’s most popular places to visit?

Hint: Because two women saw an opportunity to preserve part of Charleston’s history and started a trend of pastel-colored paints.

The funny thing about Rainbow Row is that the homes are not architecturally or historically significant. There are some interesting stories about the homes. But Rainbow Row has grown into infamy because of Colonial Caribbean colors.

But as the infamy grows, so has the number of people crammed into the sidewalks to see the colorful homes. Here’s a travel guide to help you find Rainbow Row, where to park, and the best times to see this icon without the crowds.

But first, read the intriguing history of how Rainbow Row was created.

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Map of Rainbow Row

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.


Susan Pringle Frost

The Union bombardment of Charleston during the Civil War was the longest shelling of a city in the world at the time. Almost every structure south of Broad Street was damaged or destroyed. After the War Between the States ended, the South’s economy was in shambles – leaving the city broken and unable to rebuild.

Susan Pringle Frost was born in 1873. She grew up watching glorious residences and beautiful architecture fall into disrepair. Somewhere during her early life, she developed a passion for preserving houses.


In 1909, Frost borrowed money from a friend and bought two small houses on Tradd Street. After restoring the houses, she sold them for a modest profit and became Charleston’s first female realtor.

In 1920, Standard Oil Company announced plans to buy the historic Joseph Manigault House at 350 Meeting Street. The company planned to demolish the historic home to make way for a gas station. But Susan Pringle Frost wouldn’t let that happen.

Thirty-two concerned citizens met at Pringle’s home and discussed plans to save the Manigault House. They founded the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings. Today, it’s known as the Preservation Society of Charleston.

Pro Travel Tip | The Preservation Society of Charleston’s retail store at 147 King Street is a great place to shop for local history books, arts and crafts, and memorabilia.

The newly formed society raised the funds to buy the Manigault House. They restored the house and eventually sold it to The Charleston Museum. The house is now open for public tours.


The Beginning of Rainbow Row

The earliest houses on East Bay Street were destroyed by the Great Fire of 1740. The current homes were built when the embers faded and the smoke cleared. In Charleston’s early days, the street was along the wharves on the waterfront. The first floor of the rowhouses were offices for the local merchants, and the upper floors were their residences.

After the Civil War, East Bay Street became one of the worst slums in the city. Buildings were frequently abandoned by their owners and left to squatters. Eventually, the city of Charleston announced plans to demolish the entire block.

Susan Pringle Frost sprang into action. She borrowed money from a friend and purchased six houses in 1920. But she lacked the money to restore the homes; instead, she saved them from demolition. It would take another pioneering woman to create today’s Rainbow Row.


Dorothy Porcher Legge

In 1895, Dorothy Haskell Porcher was born in Osceola, Florida. In 1920, she moved to Charleston to marry Judge Lionel Legge. Shortly after her arrival, she heard about the work of the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings.

In 1931, Legge purchased the Othniel Beale House at 97-101 East Bay Street from Frost. The two homes were initially built as separate dwellings by Othniel Beale in the 1740s. Legge restored the house, separated it into two, and kept one as her new home.

Legge’s lasting legacy is the Rainbow Row we see today. Her restoration of the Othniel Beale House inspired a dozen others. By the late 1940s, all the houses on this stretch of East Bay Street were restored. And they all featured a new color palette that would propel the homes into infamy.


The Colonial Caribbean Colors

During the restoration of the houses, Legge made a choice that would profoundly impact the rowhouses. When considering an exterior color for the Othniel Beale House, she chose a pastel color from the Colonial Caribbean color palette.

Legge painted her house a pastel pink and the one next door a pastel blue.

The style quickly caught on. As the other houses on East Bay Street were restored, each owner continued the Colonial Caribbean colors. Soon, a street of pastel pink, blue, and yellow houses lined the west side of East Bay Street for a block.

Built for merchants, ravaged by the Civil War, and descended into slums, the rowhouses were reborn as Rainbow Row – one of Charleston’s most photographed and iconic attractions.

Did You Know | Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review requires homeowners on Rainbow Row to keep the same Colonial Caribbean color.


Rainbow Row’s Unique Homes

One of the best things about exploring architecture in Charleston is the variety. No two homes are exactly alike. So, the rowhouses of Rainbow Row are each uniquely beautiful to admire.

But there are also the stories. If you take a guided tour with Bulldog Tours or a horse-drawn carriage ride with Old South Carriage Company or Palmetto Carriage Works, you’ll hear some of those stories.

Here are a few stories to get you interested in visiting Rainbow Row.


79-81 East Bay Street | Built in the mid-1900s, it’s the youngest house on Rainbow Row. Although the homes share a common façade, they were built as separate homes that have since been combined.

83 East Bay Street | The William Stone House was built in 1784 by a local merchant who supported the British during the Revolutionary War. After the war, he was forced to abandon the house and flee to England.

85 East Bay Street | Built in 1788 for the mercantile firm Smith, DeSaussure, and Darrell. After restoration in the 1940s, the commercial building was converted into a residence.

87 East Bay Street | The James Gordon House was built in 1792 after a fire destroyed a previous house. This was one of the six homes Frost bought.

89 East Bay Street | The Deas-Tunno House was built in 1787 by Tunno, one of Charleston’s wealthiest merchants at the time. He was locally known as the “King of the Scotch in Charleston.”

91 East Bay Street | The Inglis Arch House is named after an arch leading to an alleyway behind the original house destroyed by a fire. This house was initially built for the mercantile firm Leger and Greenwood – it was their tea that was seized during the Charles Town Tea Party in 1774.

Pro Travel Tip | Take a guided tour at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon to learn more about the tea party and famous prisoners in the danky dungeon.


93 East Bay Street | The James Cook House was built around 1778 by Cook, a local carpenter, as his private dwelling.

95 East Bay Street | The Beale-Pinckney House was built by Colonel Othniel Beale between 1740 and 1778. During the Revolutionary War, it was the home of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a Patriot officer and delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1790.

97-101 East Bay Street | The Othniel Beale House was built in the 1740s by Colonel Othniel Beale. He also helped build Charleston’s fortifications along the Cooper River during the early years of the Revolutionary War.

103 East Bay Street | The Joseph Dulles House was built around 1787, an ancestor of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles under President Eisenhower. Dulles International Airport is named after the secretary.

105 East Bay Street | The Dutarque-Guida House was built in 1778 by Lewis Dutarque and renovated into the current form by Italian immigrant Giovanni Domenico Guida.

107 East Bay Street | The John Blake Building was built in 1791 by Blake, a Revolutionary War Patriot and South Carolina state senator.


How to Get to Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row stretches one block from 79 to 107 East Bay Street between Elliot and Tradd Streets. It’s in the South of Broad neighborhood near the French Quarter.

There is no public parking on this section of East Bay Street. The nearest public parking is the East Bay/Prioleau Parking Garage, two blocks north on East Bay Street. The parking garage is accessible and typically has available parking.


Pro Travel Tip | The view from the top of the Prioleau Parking Garage is one of the best views in Charleston. From the northwest corner, the view includes a long stretch of East Bay Street, towering church steeples, the Ravenel Bridge, and the U.S.S. Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.

You might also find parallel parking along Broad Street. But I don’t recommend trying to park on the busy street.

Rainbow Row is on the west side of East Bay Street. With most of Charleston behind you, looking toward The Battery, Rainbow Row is on the right side of the street. Use the pedestrian crossings at Broad and Tradd Streets to get close to the colorful homes.


Best Time to Visit Rainbow Row

There isn’t a wrong time to visit Rainbow Row, but there are better times than others. Any day of the year is a good time to visit. Parking is always available, and the rowhouses don’t go anywhere.

The best time to visit Rainbow Row is early in the day in Spring and Summer and late in the day in Autumn and Winter.

But to capture the best photos of the beautiful pastel colors, you must choose a more precise time for your visit.

The best time to capture photos of Rainbow Row is May through July between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. This is when the Sun faces the rowhouse’s facades and casts wonderful light for capturing photos.

After about 2 p.m. at the latest, the Sun is always behind Rainbow Row. This can make it difficult to capture great photos because you’re competing against a significant backlight.

Another alternative, if you want to capture great photos, is to visit on a cloudy day when the sunlight is not a factor. The cloud cover acts like a softbox and brings out the vibrance of the pastel colors.

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