I was born and raised in Charleston. Here are the 10 biggest mistakes I see tourists make when they visit.

Tory Lysik on the left, charleston on the right
I was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. In recent years, I've watched my hometown turn into one of the country's most-visited cities.Tory Lysik; Shutterstock
  • I'm a Charlestonian, and I've seen tourists repeat the same mistakes during visits to my hometown.

  • Most people stay in the downtown area, but there are nearby islands worth exploring, too.

  • If travelers want to visit a plantation, they should make sure they're doing so respectfully.

I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and I've seen tourists miss out on some of the best parts of my hometown.

A bridge over the river leading into Charleston, South Carolina.
I've watched Charleston become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Charleston will always be home to me.

I was born and raised in the Southern city. Even though I left for college, I still go back regularly to visit my friends and family.

Over the last several years, I've watched it become one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and a staple on lists of must-visit US destinations. I love that so many people are flocking to Charleston, both to visit the city and to live in it.

However, I've found that a lot of the newcomers' itineraries skip what I consider to be the most important parts of the city.

These are the 10 biggest missteps I see tourists make when they visit Charleston.

Be respectful and thoughtful when you explore the city's complex history.

Charleston, South Carolina, USA tree lined plantation entrance.
If tourists visit plantations in Charleston, they should take a tour to learn about the land's history.Shutterstock

A lot of visitors admire Rainbow Row's historic homes and tour supposedly haunted areas, but those popular activities only scratch the surface of Charleston's past.

There are so many historic sites where tourists can learn more about the city's story, from its association with pirates to its role in the American Civil War.

Two of my favorites are the Sewee Shell Ring Boardwalk, a 1-mile walk through prehistoric shell mounds, and Gene's Haufbrau, one of the city's oldest and most storied bars.

It's also important to be considerate and learn some history if you choose to visit these places.

For example, I've seen tourists explore plantations without acknowledging the land and the estates' ties to slavery, even though about 40% of all enslaved Africans in the US passed through Charleston's port, and about 10% of them lived in South Carolina until slavery was abolished.

Make sure to try the cuisine at a local restaurant for the full experience.

food in charleston, white plated dish with egg on top
The food in Charleston is one of my favorite parts of the city.Tory Lysik

Charleston's dining scene gets plenty of recognition, and rightfully so. From crab rice to Frogmore stew, the local dishes are starkly different from the ones you'll find on a traditional Southern menu.

Many tourists arrive ready to order the unique cuisine. However, I wish more of them would make sure they were trying the foods at locally owned, authentic restaurants, like Poogan's Porch or Charleston Crab House.

When tourists are in doubt about where to eat, they should ask locals. Most Charlestonians are incredibly friendly and excited to show off their city.

Charleston has so much more to offer beyond the downtown area.

Charleston, South Carolina, USA town skyline.
Most tourists spend their entire trip in the downtown area.Shutterstock

Charleston is a lot larger than a lot of visitors think. It's the biggest city in South Carolina.

If tourists have the time, I encourage them to go beyond city limits.

From kayaking in Shem Creek to taking a day trip to Sullivan's Island or Isle of Palms, there's so much to do outside of the downtown area.

Be mindful of the ecological footprint you leave on the port city.

white dog standing on beach in charleston, south carolina
In recent years, sea levels in Charleston have risen.Tory Lysik

In recent years, the sea levels in Charleston have risen, and flooding has become more common in the city.

Tourists forget that even the smallest of ecological footprints have an impact, and they should do their best to be mindful of the environment when they're here.

Visitors should carry reusable water bottles to avoid drinking out of plastic, which I've seen strewn around the city. And if a destination is a short distance away, they should consider walking or biking instead of driving to reduce air pollution.

You don't have to visit during peak times to get the most out of Charleston.

water with boats in charleston
Visitors tend to come between September and November, which is also when hurricanes are most likely to hit the region.Tory Lysik

The majority of tourists come to Charleston from September through November, leading to crowds and longer wait times at restaurants, bars, and other attractions.

Plus, it's also hurricane season, so there's an increased chance of running into inclement weather.

I wish more people would consider booking their trips for other times.

Charleston is a year-round destination. Spring is great for seeing a plethora of flora, summer has perfect beach weather, and winter is fantastic for nabbing hard-to-book dining reservations and exploring museums.


When it comes to footwear, prioritize comfort over fashion.

USA, South Carolina, Charleston, Church Street, Dock Street Theater, St. Philip's Church
Charleston is a walkable, pedestrian-friendly city.Tetra Images/Getty Images

Charleston isn't the place to break in your new stilettos.

Comfort and walkability are key when it comes to selecting your footwear for Charleston. After all, a rainstorm can hit at any moment, and many of the streets are lined with uneven cobblestones.

If you're headed to a fancier venue and do want to dress up, play it safe and pack a spare pair of walking shoes in your bag.

Unless you have a specific need for a car, stick to walking.

A Charleston DASH trolley, part of the CARTA Transit System, driving on the historic Broad street in Downtown Charleston.
The Charleston streets are narrow and cobblestone, so they aren't ideal for heavy traffic.Sean Xu/Shutterstock

Many tourists make the mistake of using a car to get around town. The city streets are old, narrow, and made of cobblestones. They aren't built for busy traffic, and cars often go around 20 mph down one-lane roads.

Because many tourists aren't accustomed to the slower speeds, I've seen them drive too fast and cause dangerous situations. If someone is going slower than you, it's important to follow their lead rather than make risky moves or drive aggressively.

As long as you're staying within the metro area and not going to a neighboring island, walking or taking a pedicab are your best modes of transportation.

Be alert for alligator sightings. If you do spot one, keep a safe distance.

sign of alligators in charleston
People should keep a safe distance from alligators.Tory Lysik

Visitors may come across alligators in Charleston. Their popular sunbathing spots include ponds, marshes, and golf courses.

If you do spot one of the wild animals, keep your distance and leave them alone. People who have gotten too close to alligators or tried to photograph them have been seriously injured or killed.

You can spot dolphins right from the city — you don't always need a fancy tour to do it.

boats in charleston
Tourists should keep an eye out for dolphins in Charleston.Tory Lysik

The port city is surrounded by hundreds of dolphins. However, many tourists don't know where to go to spot them.

Some people opt to go on dolphin cruises, but tourists shouldn't feel like they have to shell out extra cash to catch a glimpse of the animals.

Instead, I recommend looking for them by kayaking in Shem Creek, taking the Daniel Island Ferry to the city, or walking down an empty, quiet waterway.

You never know when you're going to stumble upon a pod.

The sunsets in Charleston are tough to beat, so make sure to carve out time for them.

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in charleston
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is one of my favorite places to watch the sun go down.Tory Lysik

The sunset isn't a priority for many tourists, which is an oversight.

As someone who knows Charleston like the back of her hand, I can say that there's no bad vantage point to watch the sun go down in the city.

Some of my go-to, easy-to-access spots include the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and Sullivan's Beach.

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