During my first few visits to Charleston, the number of shutter actuations on my camera nearly matched the steps I walked through the historic southern city. In subsequent visits, I captured fewer photos – but not because of a lack of gorgeous subject begging to be photographed. It was because my eyes could no longer handle the strain of sifting through thousands of photos from a single visit.
Charleston – and the greater area including Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach, and North Charleston – is a travel photographer’s dream assignment. The reason I fell in love with travel photography so long ago was that it afforded me the opportunity to capture all types of photography. Food, portraits, sports, landscapes. Anything but weddings.
Browse through my collection of favorite travel photos I’ve captured in Charleston, South Carolina. Then, leave me a comment below and tell me which of these is your favorite!
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An appropriate sign, even if not entirely needed. This water fountain in Waterfront Park is a popular spot for children to splash around on hot summer days. This was the first photo I captured of Charleston.
Waterfront Park Entrance
If you walk down Vendue Range, this is the entrance to the north end of Waterfront Park. This magnificent water fountain is a summer splash pad and year-round spectacle.
Public parks are frequently a beehive of activity. But in Waterfront Park, several alcoves with park benches and shaded by trees provide a peaceful place to sit and enjoy the view. It’s one of my favorite places in Charleston.
The Pineapple Fountain
The Pineapple Fountain is perhaps the most recognizable landmark in Charleston. The water began flowing in 1990. In recent years, the fountain has gained a reputation as a stellar backdrop for photography. Capturing this photo was no easy feat because of its popularity. I had to wait nearly an hour before I had five minutes of solitude for this photo.
A fleet of fishing boats sail out of Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant daily. Most head out to sea, but some stay closer to home in Charleston Harbor. Here, the massive Ravenel Bridge towers over a fishing boat.
Sunsets on the Ravenel Bridge
Although a pedestrian path was not part of the original plans for the Ravenel Bridge, I’m glad it was added. It’s about a fifteen minute walk from the Mount Pleasant end of the bridge to this scenic overlook where I watched a container ship depart at sunset.
The pedestrian path on the Ravenel Bridge is named after Garrett Wonders, a local Navy sailor who died on the bridge’s predecessor while training for the 2004 Olympics.
Bridge of the U.S.S. Yorktown
The World War II-era U.S.S. Yorktown is the star attraction at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. Visitors can see the nearby Ravenel Bridge from the bridge of the aircraft carrier.
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
The view of the naval museum from the scenic overlook on the Ravenel Bridge.
East Bay Street
Charleston doesn’t have a Main Street, but East Bay Street is a close substitute. It’s the easiest route into the heart of the historic city and a popular place for restaurants, museums, and shopping.
The Holy City
Charleston’s city skyline is dotted with towering church steeples, earning it the moniker “The Holy City.” The brilliant blooms appear throughout Charleston in mid-summer.
St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church
The St. Phillip’s congregation was founded in 1680, the same year the Charles Towne colony moved from its original location to the peninsula. The church’s steeple isn’t the tallest in the city, but it’s one of the grandest and my personal favorite.
Morris Island Lighthouse
Decades of erosion has left the Morris Island Lighthouse surrounded by the ocean. The only way to view it from land is on the north end of Folly Beach. To capture this photo, I had to begin the journey an hour before sunrise – a journey well worth the effort.
Fishing on Folly Beach
A man enjoys a day fishing from the rocky jetty on Folly Beach as a fishing boat patrols the water off shore.
Angel Oak Tree
The Angel Oak Tree is thought to be about 500 years old. Whatever its age, there is no denying its a massive oak tree. Capturing a photo that revealed its size was a challenge. If I used a wide-angle lens, everything seemed too small. But using a wide-angle lens and framing the tree with its own sprawling limbs was the answer.
Magnolia Cemetery is one of the oldest and largest burial grounds in Charleston. Hundreds are buried throughout the grounds, including the crew of the USS Hunley, the Civil War-era submarine that sank near Sullivans Island. It’s also a splendid place for scenic photos of landscapes and wildlife.
Shem Creek is a popular hangout place in Mount Pleasant. The outlet of a small creek is lined with restaurants and boat docks for fishing vessels like the Capt. Tang. I have a giant print of this photo hanging on my bedroom wall.
Recreation on Shem Creek
Shem Creek is also a popular place for outdoor recreation. Outfitters rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks.
Rainbow Row is one of the most iconic spots in Charleston. In the early 1900s, Susan Pringle Frost purchased one of the dilapidated houses on East Bay Street, restored it, sold it, and then bought another. She was later joined by Dorothy Porcher Legge who purchased some of the homes for restoration. She chose to paint them in a Colonial Caribbean scheme – and Rainbow Row was born.
After taking the guided tour of Firefly Distillery’s new location in North Charleston, I stopped at the tasting room bar for a drink. Adam Graudin poured a shot of their famous sweet tea flavored vodka that put the locally owned distillery on the map. But I’ll let you in on a secret – my favorite product of theirs is the fresh lemonade vodka.
Spring at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Magnolia Plantation was established in 1676 by Thomas and Ann Drayton. In the 1840s, Reverend John Grimke Drayton inherited the property and began transforming the landscape into formal English gardens. Today, Magnolia Plantation & Gardens are widely considered the oldest botanical gardens in the country. And it’s a wonderful place to visit in the spring and early summer.
Wildlife at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
A large lake and swampland is home to dozens of wildlife like alligators, great blue herons, and turtles. It’s easy to see the wildlife while touring the property on a guided tram tour.
Audubon Swamp Rookery at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Each spring, dozens of blue herons guard their young in treetop nests around the Rookery. It’s a fascinating time to visit as the chirps of hungry teenage birds fills the air. Pictured here, a male blue heron stands guard with two younger herons shortly after the female flew off to hunt for food.
When trading vessels sailed across the sea in the 1700s and 1800s, their cargo holds were typically empty. To balance the ship, heavy stones were stored in the bowels of the ship and then unceremoniously dumped ashore after arriving in Charleston. Lodge Alley is an example of a cobblestone street that has remained unpaved throughout the centuries.
Christmas in Charleston
You won’t find any snow on the ground during Christmas in Charleston – and that’s exactly why so many people love it. Marion Square is lit up each year with a towering conical Christmas tree rivaling the height of nearby Citadel Baptist Church.
Angel Oak Restaurant
Food is just as vital to Charleston’s charm as the local attractions. After visiting the Angel Oak Tree, a sprawling oak tree casting shade the size of a grocery store, you’ll want to get something to eat at the restaurant of the same name.
The only thing better than cold craft beer at a local brewery is hot food from the kitchen. At Holy City Brewing in North Charleston, visitors come from all over for the Collision Fries – handcut fries topped with gooey cheeses and chili.
Seafood is King
Needless to say, the most popular dish in Charleston is seafood. Every restaurant has their own take on the popular dish, like this shrimp pasta at Vickery’s Bar & Grill in Mount Pleasant. The shrimp is less than three days old and never frozen.
Burgers are Good Food, Too
Seafood may be king, but that doesn’t mean Charleston is singular in the food category. Burgers, barbecue, and pizza are other offerings. At Dig in the Park in North Charleston’s popular Park Circle, their house burger is topped with homemade onions and served with crispy tots.
Arthur Middleton’s Gravesite
During the Revolutionary War, Arthur Middleton was instrumental as a politician in the fight for independence. After his death, he was buried in a tomb on his gorgeous plantation. But you’ll have to do some investigative exploring to find it hidden in a grove surrounded by the famous manicured gardens at Middleton Place.
Christ Episcopal Church
The churches in Charleston came before the civic halls and plantation houses and any other kind of historic site. In Mount Pleasant, Christ Episcopal Church was one of the first to serve the area. It is still used today for Sunday services.
Inside Christ Episcopal Church
The interior of the church has changed little over the centuries. Natural light from large windows is still the primary source for reading during the services. And the old pews have been replaced, but still sit exactly where they have always been.
Drayton Hall is considered the finest example of Georgian architecture in the country. When I noticed the small pond in front the house, I instantly knew that was where I wanted to capture “that” photo of the gorgeous plantation house.
Inside Drayton Hall
The interior of Drayton Hall is a study in colonial architecture. Very little has changed since it was originally built shortly before the American Revolution.
When George Washington visited Charleston in 1791, Thomas Heyward – a signer of the Declaration of Independence – offered his city house for Washington’s stay.
Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
Pirates and Patriots alike were held captive in the British jail beneath the Customs House. What started as a place for managing Charleston’s burgeoning trade industry became the central prison during the American Revolution. Guide tours offer tales of the prisoners who were held in the dank prison – and the gun powder hidden so well that no one ever found it.
South Carolina Aquarium
Capturing a great photo in an aquarium is difficult. Fortunately, the South Carolina Aquarium had a gorgeous lobby filled with natural light and a neat circular fish tank nearby.
Rear Courtyard at the Aiken-Rhett House
Even on a gloomy, overcast day, the Aiken-Rhett House was beautiful. But capturing great travel photography isn’t about the camera or the camera settings – it’s about where to stand. Left, right, or center? I couldn’t decide, so I captured a photo in several places in the rear courtyard. This was my favorite angle.
When the Historic Charleston Foundation took possession of the Aiken-Rhett House in 1995, they adopted a preserved-as-found preservation approach. Touring the interior, I was reminded of Buzz Aldrin’s first words from the surface of the moon. “Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation.”