With its cobblestone walkways, incredible historic sites and miles of stunning beaches, hundreds of residents are moving to Charleston, SC—and for very good reason. Charleston was recently named Travel & Leisure’s top city in the entire U.S. for the fifth year running. You’ll soon find out why.
We promise you’ll immediately be drawn to its charm, slow pace of life and welcoming locals. But before you pack your bags and hit the road, we put together everything you need to know about moving to the South’s favorite city.
1. It’s the friendliest city in the U.S.
Living in Charleston is something you have to experience to understand. And with some of the nicest neighbors in the country, why wait any longer to experience it?
It’s welcoming. Southern hospitality reigns supreme in Charleston—so much that it was recently been ranked the friendliest city in the U.S. If you’re moving to Charleston from other parts of the U.S., prepare for a change in pace. Don’t be surprised if strangers go out of their way to help you, smile at you or strike up some friendly conversation. It’s just a way of life.
It’s not just the locals that love it. People around the world have grown an appreciation for Charleston. It was recently voted the No. 2 city in the entire world—and it’s the first domestic destination to earn the No. 1 ranking the year prior!
“Charleston is a remarkably dynamic place, so it’s no surprise that it has achieved its highest ranking ever in our survey as this year’s best city in the world,” notes Travel + Leisure Editor-in-Chief Nathan Lump. “The city has managed to preserve all the qualities for which it is widely known: a prime coastal setting, historic architecture, friendly locals—while also nurturing a creative culture that is making it one of the most notable destinations for those who seek out interesting restaurants, bars, and shops that highlight a dedication to distinctive craft.”
Judging by the number of accolades the city has received over the last two decades, we would have to agree with the experts.
2. Charleston is a historical haven.
As the oldest city in South Carolina, Charleston is a fascinating town stemming from the beginning of the Civil War. The nearly 350-year-old city is the cultural capital of the south and continues to honor its deep-rooted history today.
Welcome to the Holy City. Charleston gets its nickname as “The Holy City” because of the religious freedom that was founded on the peninsula several hundred years ago. The church steeples that tower over the city’s skyline were a useful landmark in guiding ship captains into the city, which was one of the most important ports on the eastern seaboard.
Travel back in time. In Charleston, everything from the churches and cobblestones to the iron gates has a story to tell. No matter how long you’ve lived in Charleston, you’ll never get sick of learning the history behind some of the city’s famous landmarks. Take a ferry to Fort Sumter and stand where the Civil War began, visit some of Charleston’s largest and oldest mansions, and check out America’s oldest preserved plantation house still open to the public.
Appreciate a preservation city. Charleston landed the top spot for 10 best cities for historic preservation. The city prides itself on having the oldest community-based historic preservation group, The Preservation Society of Charleston. In 1931, Charleston also became the first city in the U.S. to establish a board of architectural review.
3. The weather in Charleston is pretty much perfect.
When it comes to weather, Charleston hits the sweet spot by avoiding harsh winters and brutally hot summers. The average low temperature on the coldest day of the year is 38 degrees, and the summer month temperatures rarely climb above the 90s. You can still enjoy outdoor activities even in the middle of winter.
If you’re moving to Charleston, SC and you’d do anything to spend a day outside, you’re in luck. Located on the coast of the Atlantic, the area takes full advantage of its seaside location and offers every kind of land and water activity you can imagine. Whether it’s boating, golfing, kayaking, paddle boarding or just relaxing in the sun and sand, it’s an outdoor lover’s dream.
Find your beach. Charleston is a peninsula, so you’ll soon get used to being surrounded by water. There are three beaches within a 20-minute drive from downtown, offering plenty of water activities and boat storage in Charleston. Sullivan’s Island is a great destination if you’re looking for a less-crowded getaway, and Isle of Palms is a popular family destination. Folly Beach is also a popular destination among locals and offers great surfing, locally owned restaurants and shops along the Pier. Charleston was also recently named to the top 10 best cities for water activities!
Just be cautious of flood zones. Charleston weather may be pleasant year round, but be prepared for water—and lots of it. Being a peninsula, the city is heavily affected by tides and localized flooding. Pay attention to the flood zones when you’re moving in and even if you’re not in a FEMA flood zone area, consider getting flood insurance anyway just for the peace of mind.
4. You can build a strong future in Charleston.
Between impressive schools, low cost of living and a great economy, Charleston is a great place to plant some roots and grow a career. Here’s what you need to know:
Charleston County School District (CCSD) is the second largest school system in South Carolina, representing a unique blend of urban, suburban, and rural schools that span 1,000 square miles. There are great colleges and universities in the area, including The College of Charleston, Trident Technical College and The Citadel—one of the most prestigious military colleges in the nation. If you have young children, there are several great elementary schools in the district: Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School, Orange Grove Elementary Charter School, Montessori Community School and more.
The Job Opportunities
Last year, the Charleston region’s economy grew at 3.1 percent, nearly double the national average. The largest industries in the Charleston region involve the medical field, military and the ports (Charleston harbor ranks as the fourth largest port in the entire U.S.). With companies like Boeing, Volvo and Medical University of South Carolina adding thousands of new jobs to the region, it’s no surprise that the area continues to grow.
“This confirms what we already know—more people are moving here, there’s more traffic congestion, there are more people working,” College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner notes. “We’ve seen years of good, solid growth. This report confirms that as a metro area, we’re pretty vibrant.”
Because of a strong local economy, excellent job opportunities and city investments creating new businesses, Charleston has become a sought-after place to live–especially for millennials. NerdWallet crunched the numbers for 66 cities and towns in South Carolina to determine the best places for job seekers, and half of those places are within 30 minutes of Charleston. The city’s economy has been on the upswing and attracting the kind of tech startups that hire large numbers of Millennials.
The military employs over 27,000 people in Charleston. Aside from the renowned Citadel, there are a number of active bases in the Charleston area including the Coast Guard Sector Charleston and Joint Base Charleston—host to over 60 Department of Defense and Federal agencies.
5. There are endless things to do in Charleston, SC.
From rich history to arts and culture, to activities on the Atlantic coast, Charleston is full of things to do for anyone and everyone. Here are some things you won’t want to miss:
No boat? No problem. From beaches and picnics to sports and parks, there are still plenty of outdoor activities in and around Charleston. Here are some of the top spots:
- Beautiful parks. If you’ve seen the movie The Notebook, you’re familiar with Charleston’s Cypress Gardens. Nestled within an enchanting swamp, the nature trails, antique roses and 3.5 miles of nature trails offer a breathtaking trip any day of the year. James Island County Park also offers nearly 650 acres of trails, bike paths and camping cabins.
- Sports scene. If you’re a golfer, you have endless courses to play near Charleston. Kiawah Island Golf Resort is a world-class beach with some of the best greens around. If you need your baseball fix, the minor-league Charleston Riverdogs have you covered. The atmosphere is always friendly, thanks in part to the River Dogs’ Director of Fun and local celebrity, actor Bill Murray. Tickets to these games make for an affordable, family-friendly outing and kids eat free on Sundays!
- Take a stroll. If crowded places aren’t for you, you have nothing to worry about. You don’t need a popular tourism spot to soak in Charleston’s beautiful scenery. Take a stroll through Charleston’s downtown historic district to check out the old neighborhoods, shady trees or all the City Market has to offer.
Learn About the City’s Roots
If you’re someone who appreciates learning about your city’s history, Charleston is the place for you. With beautiful neighborhoods, cobblestone streets and centuries-old mansions, one of the best ways to learn about Charleston’s history is simply by exploring.
You won’t want to miss The Battery, a landmark defensive seawall stretching along the city’s southern tip. This row of Southern-style mansions overlooking Charleston Harbor was once the heart and soul of the city’s maritime activity and one of Charleston’s most popular destinations. The Aiken-Rhett House Museum is the best example of antebellum life. Built in the early 1800s, much of the house’s original style has been preserved. Self-guided tours allow you to experience its antique furnishings, original wallpaper, slave quarters and stables which have all been preserved to give a taste of the Old South.
You’ll also want to visit White Point Gardens, a park located in the heart of the historic downtown district. You’ll find beautiful views of Fort Sumter and the Charleston Harbor along with lots of oak trees, monuments and Civil War displays.
Try Out the Local Fare
If there’s one thing you don’t want to miss out on, it’s Charleston’s culinary scene. From dockside seafood to high-end restaurants, there’s a classic dish for everyone to enjoy. Local favorites include:
- Middleton Place Restaurant: Southern culinary traditions including produce from the on-site organic farm.
- Charleston Crab House: Delicious family-friendly seafood with rooftop seating options.
- Charleston Grill: Modern fare at an elegant location. Top rated!
- Husk: Ever-changing menu of fried chicken, sandwiches and arguably the best burger in the South.
- Indaco: Rustic Italian fare including wood-fired pizza and pastas.
6. Charleston is a great place to raise a family.
Charleston may be referred to as a city, but it’s much more than that. If you’re looking to settle down (and not necessarily a fan of rushing from one place to the next), the southern hospitality life is for you. While residents moving to Raleigh or Charlotte may experience a similar small-town community vibe, nothing compares to Charleston’s charming and welcoming community. The marsh grass, salty air and soothing sounds of frogs create a slow-paced way of life known as lowcountry living. And there’s nothing like it.
When it comes to raising a family, Charleston is one of the best cities to live in America. There’s a wonderful public school system, low crime rates and endless activities for kids and families.
If you’re wondering where to live in Charleston, SC, here are some of the best neighborhoods:
- Summerville. Like many surrounding areas, Summerville is full of southern charm and rich history. With some of the best school districts around and its proximity to beaches, it’s a wonderful place to live, work and play. The average home price in the area is $235,000.
- The Islands. Charleston’s Barrier Islands and beaches aren’t just vacation destinations — they’re year-round residential communities. Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palm and Folly Beach offer a down-home family feel, including everything from neighborhood barbecues to kids’ lemonade stands. This area is one of the priciest per capita in the nation, however. The average home price can reach nearly $1 million.
- Downtown. Think church steeples, cobblestone streets and charming alleys. Downtown Charleston lends itself a European feel and it’s a highly sought-after place to live. The average home price in the area is $300,000.
- West Ashley. Located a few miles from downtown Charleston across the Ashley River, West Ashley offers older, historic homes with a mix of modern subdivisions. The average home price in the area is $240,000.
- Moncks Corner. Moncks Corner offers a small-town feel with a quaint Main Street shopping district. There are tons of waterside living options and housing is affordable–the average home price in the area is $200,000.
7. Getting around Charleston, SC is a breeze.
Like any popular city, Charleston comes with some traffic. But for being such a popular moving destination, commutes are much more tolerable than cities of similar size.
Loads of parking is available. While walking around this historic coastal city is definitely the best way to experience it, you can’t always avoid driving a vehicle to get to where you’re going. Charleston parking is rather easy (and accessible) as long as you know what to look for:
- Metered parking. There are over 1,000 metered street parking spots around Charleston. Keep in mind that most street parking is limited to 2 hours per day, so don’t plan on using this parking option if you need a full day of parking.
- Parking garages. Downtown Charleston offers several parking garages that are staffed 24/7. Rates run around $1/half hour with a $16 daily max.
Travel by sea. Conveniently surrounded by water, Charleston is an area where commutes can sometimes be quicker by boat than car—especially when it comes to traveling over crowded bridges during rush hour. Don’t have a boat? Keep an eye out for water taxis, which depart from several points in Charleston.
Biking is big in Charleston. With accessible streets and beautiful weather throughout the year, it would be wise to invest in a bike before moving to Charleston. If not, just look for Holy Spokes—Charleston’s bike share program with 27 locations downtown. Simply pick up a bike, place on hold at any location and return when you’re done.
Are you moving to Charleston, SC?
If you’re debating relocating to Charleston, debate no further. This charming city is overflowing with historic landmarks, sprawling plantations, beautiful homes and some of the friendliest neighbors in the world.
What are you looking forward to most about moving to South Carolina? What advice do you have for new residents? Let us know in the comments below!