Any visit to Charleston will almost inevitably involve a trip across the Cooper River into Mount Pleasant. It might be as simple as a drive across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, or maybe a day spent at Patriots Point. But one thing is sure: a visit to Charleston without a trip into Mount Pleasant would mean missing all the thrilling things to do there.
Go for a Walk at the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park
You’ve probably seen pictures of the iconic cable-stayed bridge spanning the river between Mount Pleasant and Charleston. When Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge opened in 2005, it replaced the dilapidated Cooper River Bridge. The Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park was built where the old bridge once connected to Mount Pleasant.
The Visitor Center at the park is a great place to begin any adventure in the area. Events are frequently held at the Sweetgrass Pavilion next door. Behind the Visitor Center, the River Watch Café and Gift Shop has a small assortment of clothing, souvenirs, and a made-to-order deli with some good food.
One of my favorite places to visit in Mount Pleasant is the 0.3-mile long fishing pier. The pier stretches out over the river beside the massive Ravenel Bridge. Three covered seating areas, including one at the end of the pier, have benches, tables, and chairs just waiting for you to sit and enjoy.
Explore the Old Village
As Charleston expanded on the narrow peninsula throughout the 1700s, several English villages were established across the river. In 1803 James Hibben laid out the village of Mount Pleasant along the riverfront just south of Shem Creek. Today that area is known as the Old Village, and it’s the oldest neighborhood in the city of Mount Pleasant.
A massive oak tree the size of the house beneath it spreads across the corner of Pitt and Venning Streets. This is the beginning of the one-block shopping district that, even at its busiest, is still a peaceful escape. Quaint shops line one side of the “main street” while private homes with white picket fences line the other.
Studio Shoppe is a great place to browse local artwork while Out of Hand is chocked full of eclectic items for your home. Hop inside Rudi’s Old Village Wine Shop to discover a perfect pairing of wine and cheese to take home with you.
Every trip to the Old Village must include a stop at the Pitt Street Pharmacy. Since 1937, pharmacists have compounded drugs while visitors enjoyed the old-fashioned soda fountain. Grilled cheeses, cheeseburgers, and hotdogs are just a few of the delicious items on the menu.
Just a few blocks down, Pitt Street is Patjens Post Office. Built-in 1899, this one-room post office was the only way for residents of the town to send and receive mail for decades. In 1971 the Alhambra Garden Club purchased the old building, moved it to Edwards Park, and restored it. Visitors today can park beside the old post office and take a walk around.
Walk the Pitt Street Bridge
In 1898, the first bridge was built connecting Sullivan’s Island to Mount Pleasant. At first, a trolley car ran across the wooden bridge, but then it was widened to allow for personal vehicles. The bridge was abandoned in 1945 when the Ben Sawyer Bridge, the current route to the island, was completed.
When Charleston County gave the bridge to Mount Pleasant in 1950, the city built Pitt Street Bridge Park. The bridge was used as a fishing pier until it was destroyed by fire. After the fire, the city rebuilt a shorter pier along a portion of the former bridge’s supports, leaving the rest unused but still standing.
Today the park is lined by palm trees with a narrow grassy field along the water. Benches offer a chance to take in the view across the water with the Charleston skyline in the distance. It’s a great place to watch the Carnival cruise ship and massive cargo ships coming and going as the sun sets behind Charleston.
Spend a Day at Shem Creek
I think I could spend every evening for a lifetime at Shem Creek and never get bored. The small creek flows through much of Mount Pleasant, eventually passing beneath Coleman Boulevard and dumping into the Cooper River. The short stretch between the highway and the end of the creek is one of the best places in the city for outdoor dining, recreation, and viewing wildlife.
The Shem Creek Boardwalk is a 0.4-mile wooden boardwalk leading from a parking area to the end of the creek. A covered shelter at the end is the perfect place to spend a day fishing, watching the wildlife, or waiting for the fishing boats to return with a trail of dolphins behind.
An exciting way to get on the water is to rent a kayak or paddleboard from Coastal Expeditions. Rentals began at $45 for four hours in a kayak or $34 for two hours on a paddleboard. Paddle out to the end of Shem Creek, follow one of the narrow channels, and explore for hours.
Shem Creek is one of the most popular places in the area for dinner with several fantastic options. Tavern & Table, Saltwater Cowboys, and R.B.’s Seafood Restaurant feature outdoor seating. Still, my favorite place to eat in Shem Creek with a view is Red’s Ice House. On the other side of Coleman Boulevard, further up Shem Creek, The Mill Street Tavern and Shem Creek Bar and Grill offer great food with similar views of the creek.
Dolphins Under My Feet
It was a typically hot and humid summer day in the south when I visited Shem Creek Boardwalk. Eager for any kind of escape, I walked down the shiny metal ramp to the floating dock, slipped off my flip flops, and sank my feet into the cold water.
One of the best times to visit Shem Creek is when a fishing boat returns. The boats chug against the current with a trail of seagulls and pelicans and shorebirds behind. A deckhand tosses some scraps of fish overboard and suddenly every bird becomes a dive bomber for the food.
I was so preoccupied watching the aerial display that I never noticed the dolphins under my feet.
Two dolphins playfully pushed my feet up and out of the water. But they didn’t linger for long. They, too, were following the fishing boat. Every few seconds, they would return to the surface for air like a blip on a radar screen.
This is the kind of place I could spend an entire day. But next time, I’m bringing a chair and a cooler like all the other people fishing on the boardwalk.
Discover History at Patriots Point
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the USS Yorktown World War II-era aircraft carrier. I was a teenager on a family vacation, and I remember walking across the flight deck of the carrier thinking this thing was huge. As an adult, I have found I still have a similar reaction to exploring the massive vessel.
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum has long been the home of the USS Yorktown carrier, USS Laffey destroyer, and USS Clamagore submarine. Several self-guided tours explore the flight deck, combat center, and crew quarters across all three vessels. The Medal of Honor Museum on the hangar deck of the Yorktown is a must-see.
Take a Boat Ride to Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter was the federal fort captured by the South Carolina militia that began the Civil War in 1865. Today the fort is part of the Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie National Historical Park. Located at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, it is only accessible by boat tour. One of the boats to the fort leaves from Patriots Point.
The boat ride is a 40-minute narrated trip across the harbor to the fort. The journey is one of my favorite parts of visiting the fort with gorgeous views of Castle Pinckney, downtown Charleston, and the boat traffic on the way.
The adventure inside the fort begins with a 10-minute narration from the park ranger, and then you’re left to explore on your own. You only have 40 minutes, but it’s the perfect amount of time to make a loop through the two levels of the fort’s interior, visit the gift shop, and find the massive canons.
Take a Tour of Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall Plantation is the most popular plantation to visit in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The oak-lined entrance to the old plantation has been used in television and film products for years. It has become one of the most iconic destinations in the state.
The plantation was founded in 1681 by Major John Boone and has been producing crops continuously since then. Boone Hall Farms operates a nice grocery store on nearby U.S. Highway 17 where visitors can buy many of the items grown on the farm.
All tours are included in the price of general admission at Boone Hall, $26 for adults and $12 for children, including the 40-minute Plantation Tractor Tour and 30-minute House Tour. The tours are led by exciting docents in period clothing eager to recount the history of the plantation. If a guided tour isn’t your thing, you can wander the plantation grounds and find your own hidden nook to enjoy an afternoon.
Visit Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is dedicated to telling the story of the “Forgotten Founder,” Charles Pinckney, and his contribution to the United States Constitution.
The small site, located down the road from Boone Hall Plantation, was once part of Snee Farm Plantation. The farm was inherited by Pinckney in 1782, and in 1791 George Washington spent a night at the plantation during his Southern Tour. Eventually, the plantation was divided and sold off as residential properties before the National Park Service preserved what was left.
Although the house is not the original plantation house, it does stand on the site of the original. Inside you’ll find the visitor center and museum where the story of Pinckney’s draft of the Constitution is explained.
Hike Wonders Way Across the Ravenel Bridge
When the Ravenel Bridge opened in 2005, it included a 12’ wide pedestrian path on the east side facing the Atlantic Ocean. It was named Wonders Way after Garrett Wonders, a local Navy officer who was killed while bicycling across the Cooper River Bridge training for the Olympics.
On the Mount Pleasant end of the bridge, visitors to Wonders Way can park at the Mount Pleasant Waterfront Memorial Park or the gas station at the end of Patriots Point Road. If you park at the gas station, be sure to only use the parking spaces facing Coleman Boulevard. From either parking place, the adventure begins with a long and steady ascent up the bridge.
The entire length of Wonders Way stretches five miles to East Bay Street in Charleston, but it’s only about two miles from the parking area to a scenic overlook at the first towering bridge support. It’s a rigorous hike, and you’re sure to be surrounded by bicyclists and joggers, but the view from the top is worth the effort.
Eat All the Fantastic Local Food
It’s kinda hard to hear about the culinary experiences of anything outside Charleston when you visit the area. But I have found a few places in Mount Pleasant, other than the ones I already mentioned at Shem Creek, to have food on par with anything you’ll find across the river.
Vicious Biscuit is one of my favorite places to eat in the country. Just about everything on their menu involves one of their made from scratch buttermilk biscuits. My first meal at this local joint was The Vicious, a cheddar and jalapeno buttermilk biscuit topped with a crispy chicken breast, house-made maple sausage gravy, and drizzled with maple syrup. Tell me that didn’t just make your mouth water a little bit.
You’ll find some of the best barbeque in the area at Melvin’s BBQ. Chopped BBQ pork, brisket, burnt ends, they know how to make the food of the south at this small local joint. Grace & Grit is my favorite place for seafood meals in Mount Pleasant.
The first time I visited Boxcar Betty’s and saw they served “gourmet fried chicken,” I literally laughed out loud. The menu selections are few, but all are mouthwatering amazingness. The owners pride themselves on using local ingredients and making everything from scratch.
Where to Stay
If you want to explore Charleston, stay in Charleston. But if you want to explore Mount Pleasant, there are some excellent hotels on the east side of the Ravenel Bridge. Here are some of the best hotels in Mount Pleasant to spend a few nights.
Red Roof Inn PLUS+ is an excellent budget-friendly option. Located in the heart of town, its within easy driving distance of all the things to do. Choose from comfortable rooms with one or two beds with faux hardwood floors and new furnishings.
Best Western is another budget-friendly option that is a great choice. The comfortable hotel features free on-site parking, an outdoor swimming pool, and complimentary hot breakfast. Choose from rooms with one or two beds, or get a suite with sleeper sofa.
With free on-site parking, an outdoor swimming pool, and complimentary hot breakfast, Comfort Inn & Suites would be a great place to spend a few nights. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or a single king bed.
Hotel Indigo features one of the most gorgeous outdoor swimming pools at area hotels – towering palm trees and tables with umbrellas sets the scene. The comfortable hotel offers rooms with two queen beds or a single king bed.
Embassy Suites by Hilton is definitely one of the poshest places to stay in Mount Pleasant. The hotel features an on-site restaurant, fitness room, and stunning outdoor swimming pool. The new luxury hotel has rooms with one or two beds, or suites with a sleeper sofa, and some rooms offer a view of Charleston Harbor.
The Mount Pleasant/Charleston KOA is just about the only camping option in the area – fortunately, it’s a great option. It’s located about twenty minutes north along US Highway 17 on a peaceful antebellum plantation property. Cozy, shaded campsites, an outdoor swimming pool, and a few miles of hiking trails will make a great place to stay with your RV.