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.
Dolphins Under My Feet
One of my favorite days of travel ever was spent sitting on a floating dock along the Shem Creek Boardwalk in Mount Pleasant. It was a typically hot and humid summer day, so I decided to toss my flip flops aside and dunk my feet into the cool water.
A small fishing boat was returning with a trail of hungry seagulls following behind. I watched as a deckhand tossed some scraps overboard, and a hundred seagulls eagerly fought for a nibble. But I was so preoccupied watching the seagulls I never saw the dolphins.
Suddenly my feet were pushed up from the water by one of the dolphins! He snorted at me, flipped his tail in the water, and just as quickly as he arrived, he disappeared. But that brief encounter was enough to plaster a smile on my face for the rest of the week.
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.
Parking at Shem Creek can be frustrating during peak times. In 2019 it became easier when a new parking garage was completed behind Tavern & Table. Despite the new garage, I still prefer to leave my car at Shem Creek Park and cross the creek on a new pedestrian bridge along Coleman Boulevard.
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.
How Long Will You Spend at Patriots Point?
There aren’t enough business hours in the day to see everything Patriots Point has to offer. Between all three vessels, there are about a dozen self-guided tour routes; plan one hour for each tour you want to take. Add an hour to enjoy a snack on the carrier’s hangar deck, visit the Medal of Honor Museum, and walk through the Vietnam Experience.
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.
The best view on the boat ride is on the second level at the very front. Get in line for the boat as early as possible to guarantee you get that spot before someone else does! You’ll have the best view of Fort Sumter as you approach. For the return trip, head inside the climate-controlled lounge and enjoy snacks, beer, and wine.
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.
How Long Will You Spend at Boone Hall?
Boone Hall is one of the most popular attractions in the Charleston area. Expect large crowds and long lines. If you do both of the guided tours, expect to spend about 2-4 hours on the plantation and add an hour to walk the grounds.
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.
My favorite time of day to hike Wonders Way is to begin about an hour before sunset in Mount Pleasant. It takes about thirty minutes to reach the overlook at a leisure pace. Watch the sunset across the Cooper River from the bridge, then walk back in the cooler air.
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’sand 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
Even when I’m writing about Charleston, I recommend people stay on the Mount Pleasant side of the bridge. There are plenty of high-quality hotels that are much more budget-friendly. Here are some of my favorite places to recommend in Mount Pleasant.
My top recommendation for a hotel in Mount Pleasant is the Best Western. This hotel is conveniently located less than five minutes from the Ravenel Bridge between Johnnie Dodds Boulevard and Coleman Boulevard, the two main roads through town, making it easy to get to anything on this list.
The Hotel Indigo is another great place to stay near the Best Western. It’s one of the newer hotels in the city and has a range of rooms, including a room with a king bed and a sleeper sofa for traveling families. I also recommend the Holiday Inn Express is also located in the same area and has a larger variety of rooms to choose from. Go all out with their Presidential Suite with two king beds and a sleeper sofa for the ultimate comfort for large traveling families.