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Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!
Since Charleston’s founding in 1680, the area south of Broad Street has been known for opulent homes where the city’s elite have lived. In fact, South of Broad has been lovingly nicknamed SOB by the locals for precisely the reason you’re thinking. The neighborhood is one of the most historic and beautiful in the city, but it’s also one of the most difficult to explore.
Most of the parking south of Broad Street is residential only. This makes it equal parts challenging and thrilling to explore because there is very little traffic compared to other parts of the city. But once you start walking the quiet streets, passing cobblestone alleys, and stopping in front of gorgeous homes, you’ll be glad you visited South of Broad.
How to Get to South of Broad
Driving through South of Broad is easy; finding a place to park so you can get out to explore on foot is something else entirely. With few exceptions, all the street parking south of Broad Street is residential only. Parking there without a valid residential placard hanging on your mirror is likely to get your car towed.
The best place to park to explore South of Broad is on Murray Boulevard at the very end of the peninsula. It’s the only free parking in the city and not limited by any time restrictions. However, the parking usually goes pretty fast, so arrive early if you want to guarantee yourself a place to park.
READ MORE: First Timer’s Guide to Charleston, SC
There is additional free parking on South Battery Street, however, this area is limited to just one hour at a time and is mostly meant to provide parking for visitors to White Point Garden.
The Prioleau Street Parking Garage on East Bay Street is another option for parking to explore South of Broad. It’s just a block north of Broad Street, and it’s the closest public parking to Rainbow Row.
There are no public restrooms in the South of Broad neighborhood. The closest restrooms are located at City Hall at Broad Street and Meeting Street. That’s about a thirty-minute walk from White Point Garden and a twenty-minute walk from Rainbow Row.
A one-block section of East Bay Street, known as Rainbow Row, is one of the most iconic and visited destinations in Charleston. The row houses were built between 1740-1792 for the bustling merchant business at the wharves just across the street. The bottom floors were used as office space supporting the merchants while the upper floors were residences for the business owners.
The Civil War caused a great deal of damage to the city and ended the economy of the South. The houses along Rainbow Row were left to ruins, falling into further disrepair into the early 1900s. The city announced plans to demolish the entire row of houses. Susan Pringle Frost, with an eye for historic architectural preservation, took out a personal loan and purchased several of the homes to save them from demolition.
Several years later, Dorothy Porcher Legge purchased 97-101 East Bay Street and began a renovation. She restored the double house into the original single homes and kept 99-101 for her own residence. Legge chose to paint the homes shades of a Colonial Caribbean scheme, and a legend was born in Charleston.
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When Daniel Heyward purchased this lot in 1771, it already had a two-story brick house, kitchen dependency, and stable. Daniel, along with his son Thomas, removed the house and built the three-story house that exists today. Set back from the street, the house includes a stepping stone and bollard posts on the street, one of the only complete sets left in Charleston.
In 1775, Thomas Heyward Jr. was elected to the Continental Congress, and in 1776 he was one of four Charlestonians to sign the Declaration of Independence. Heyward served in the local militia to defend Charleston. When the city was captured in 1780, Heyward was sent to prison in St. Augustine.
In 1929, The Charleston Museum hired local architect Albert Simons to restore the house to the original floorplan. Once the restoration was complete, it was opened as the city’s first house museum. Visitors can take a guided tour, learn about the history of the Heywards, and hear the story about that time President George Washington spent a few nights in the house.
87 Church Street, Charleston, SC | 843-722-0354 | www.charlestonmuseum.org/historic-houses/heyward-washington-house
Did You Know?
The South of Broad neighborhood has always been a place for opulent homes for the wealthy. In the early decades of Charleston, it was where prosperous merchants and plantation owners lived, or maybe had their second home.
Today, it is one of the most dreamed about neighborhoods for a home in Charleston. In 2019, nearly 600 properties were sold south of Broad Street. The median price of those homes was a whopping $1.35 million.
In 1829, Scottish-born merchant Charles Edmonston built a three-story brick Greek Revival style house. It was the first house built along the newly created High Seawall, and without any houses to the south, it had an uninterrupted view of the harbor. In 1838, Charles Alston bought the house from Edmonston to settle his debt.
In 1974, the Historic Charleston Foundation converted the first two floors of the house into a museum. About fifteen years later, the Middleton Place Foundation took over the house museum and still offers guided tours and special events throughout the year. The Alston family still owns the house and uses the third floor when they travel to Charleston.
21 East Battery, Charleston, SC | 843-722-7171 | www.edmondstonalston.org
Did You Know?
The original carriage house still stands behind the Edmonston-Alston House. Today, it is operated as the 21 East Battery Bed & Breakfast. The carriage house is a single-unit property with two bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs, and a living room with fireplace and fully stocked kitchen downstairs.
21 East Battery, Charleston, SC | 843-722-6606 | www.21eastbattery.com
The Williams Mansion
George Williams was already a prosperous merchant before the start of the Civil War, but after the war, he walked away as one of the few wealthy southerners. During the war, Williams operated as a blockade runner. But instead of dealing in Confederate currency that was worthless after the war, he only dealt in British sterling.
In 1876, Williams used his fortune to build a three-story Victorian-style mansion. The 24,000 square foot home is one of the largest mansions in Charleston. The mansion includes 35 rooms, 14’ high ceilings, 35 fireplaces, and a ballroom with a glass skylight ceiling 45’ high.
In 1941, Charles Rauch purchased the mansion and converted it into a 16-room hotel. He named it The Calhoun Mansion to bank on the southern family’s name for marketing, but despite that, the hotel failed and by 1972 it was condemned.
A few years later, local attorney Gedney Howe III purchased the house and began a 25-year restoration. Today, visitors to the iconic Williams Mansion can take a thirty-minute guided tour of the sections open to the public.
16 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC | 843-722-8205 | www.williamsmansion.com
At the very southern tip of the Charleston Peninsula, The Battery offers a commanding view of the harbor where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers converge. In the distance, Fort Moultrie still stands like a centurion at the entrance to the harbor, and even closer is the often-forgotten Castle Pinckney on a tiny island.
The Battery consists of the High Battery Seawall and Low Battery Seawall. The high seawall, about five feet above the road, took over a hundred years to build. The final wall that has survived the times has a two-foot thick outer wall, three-foot thick inner wall, filled in between, and topped with flagstones.
The low seawall was started in 1836 when Mayor Robert Hayne announced an ambitious plan to build a public park to be called White Point Garden. The initial wall was nothing more than a stack of palmetto logs. By 1911, after several extensions and delays, the current low seawall was completed.
Walking The Battery in Charleston is one of the things every first-time visitor needs to do, and something any returning visitors is eager to do. It’s also the best place for beginning a day exploring South of Broad with just about the only free parking in the city located on Murray Boulevard along the low seawall.
White Point Garden
When Charleston was founded in 1680, the entire area of White Point Garden was underwater. During low tide, thousands of brilliant white oyster shells would sparkle in the sunlight, giving the area the name White Point.
In 1838, Mayor Robert Hayne announced an ambitious plan to build a public park the width of the Charleston Peninsula. Although that plan was never completed, White Point Garden, as it exists today, was finished in 1852. The park is known for the massive oak trees providing shade along the gravel paths and grassy areas. The Bandstand at the center, a gift from Martha Carrington of the Carrington-Carr House, is a frequent destination for portraits and selfies.
Take a walk along the crushed gravel paths to view several monuments, memorials, and artifacts in White Point Garden. The Little Dancer Girl Statue is a nonworking water fountain made by sculptor William Newman Hirsch in 1962. In one corner of the park, the Hobson Monument is a 20’ tall obelisk dedicated to the crew of the USS Hobson, a destroyer-minesweeper built in Charleston and sunk in 1958.
John F. Kennedy in Charleston
In 1942, the Porcher-Simonds House at 29 East Battery was leased by the United States Navy to serve as the local Office of Naval Intelligence. A very young Ensign John F. Kennedy was assigned to the office.
Kennedy was in the midst of an affair with suspected spy Inga Arvad. While stationed in Charleston, Kennedy and Arvad were frequently seen driving in a convertible along Murray Boulevard, spending afternoons at White Point Garden, and nights at the Fort Sumter Hotel beside the park.
During all these encounters, the FBI followed Arvad. She had several connections to Hitler, including being his guest at the 1936 Summer Olympics, and Hoover suspected she was trying to get Naval intelligence from the young ensign.
Where to Stay in Charleston
Hotels and bed & breakfasts are scattered throughout Charleston. Where you stay largely depends on your budget. Here are a few of my recommendations that cover the range from thirty to swanky.
Belmond Charleston Place is one of the best hotels in downtown Charleston. The hotel features exquisite rooms, in-house services, and valet parking for guests. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, and coffee shop on-site.
HarbourView Inn is one of my favorites in Charleston because of the location. The hotel is across the street from Waterfront Park, a fantastic place for sunrise views or late evening strolls. The hotel has a variety of rooms with one or two queen or king beds, but the best room in the building is the Grand Harbor View King Room.
Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn are both located in Upper King Street. It’s on the other end of downtown, but still within walking distance of shopping and dining on King Street. Both hotels offer a variety of rooms, on-site parking, and are more budget-friendly.