With its cobblestone walkways, incredible historic sites, world-class restaurants and miles of stunning beaches, hundreds of new residents are moving to Charleston, S.C.—and for very good reason. Charleston has been named Travel & Leisure’s top city in the entire U.S. for many years in a row. It has also been named the top city by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler. You’ll soon find out why.
We promise you’ll immediately be drawn to the Holy City’s charm, laidback lifestyle and welcoming locals. But before you pack your bags and hit the road, check out our guide to everything you need to know about moving to Charleston, S.C., the South’s favorite city.
1. It’s the friendliest city in the U.S.
To truly understand what it’s like to live in Charleston, you need to experience the city for yourself, so why not try it out firsthand?
In Charleston, Southern hospitality is a way of life—in fact, the city has even been ranked one of the friendliest cities in the U.S. If you’re moving to Charleston from other parts of the country, be prepared for a change in pace. Don’t be surprised if strangers go out of their way to help you. We’ll smile at you or strike up a friendly conversation. It’s just a normal part of living in the South.
Locals aren’t the only ones who love Charleston.
People around the world have a strong appreciation for Charleston. Visitors from across the globe make the trek to Charleston for a unique taste of Southern culture. Aside from all of its other accolades, Charleston was voted Best City in the World by the readers of Travel + Leisure.
“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,” said the editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure 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 awards 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 has retained some fascinating aspects of its history dating back to before the Civil War. The nearly 350-year-old city is the cultural capital of South Carolina and continues to honor and reflect on its deep-rooted history today.
Experience the Holy City
Charleston originally got its nickname as “The Holy City” because of the religious freedom that was founded on the peninsula several hundred years ago. But, today, locals use this name to refer to the countless number of church steeples that decorate the city’s skyline. In fact, it’s a local law that no buildings can exceed the height of the tallest church steeples. These landmarks were once used to guide 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 and front steps has a story to tell. No matter how long you’ve lived here, you’ll never grow tired of learning the history behind the city’s most famous and inconspicuous landmarks. Take a ferry to Fort Sumter and learn about the many Civil War battles that took place, visit some of Charleston’s largest and oldest mansions, and check out America’s oldest public gardens at the Magnolia Plantation.
Appreciate a Preservation City
It may come as no surprise that Charleston earned yet another accolade, landing 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 became the first city in the U.S. to establish a board of architectural review. When in the Holy City, you’ll notice a unique and historical type of architecture and love for preserving each and every part of the city’s history.
3. The weather in Charleston is pretty much perfect.
Charleston has what many consider to be the perfect year-round climate. Although the winter can get a bit chilly by local standards, the temps usually don’t dip below the 50s except for the very rare Southern snowstorm that blows through. But avoiding the harsh winters does mean that the city can get pretty hot in the middle of the summer. Thankfully, there are so many beaches and pools to cool you off. And, in the winter, you can still enjoy outdoor activities without battling the brutal cold.
If you’re moving to Charleston, S.C., and you’re the type of person who enjoys being outside as much as possible, 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 that you can imagine. Whether you enjoy boating, golfing, kayaking, paddle boarding or just relaxing in the sun and sand, Charleston is truly an outdoor lover’s dream.
You’ll soon get used to being surrounded by water.
Charleston is a peninsula. 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 high-end restaurants, while Isle of Palms is a popular family destination. Folly Beach is also a well-loved destination among locals and offers great surfing, locally-owned restaurants and shops along the pier.
It’s important to be cautious of flood zones. Charleston weather may be pleasant year-round, but prepare yourself 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. Pay attention even if you’re not in a FEMA flood zone area. Consider getting flood insurance anyway just for peace of mind. Because of the city’s lack of elevation above sea level, it’s difficult to build basements here. This means you may need to find somewhere else to stash your extra belongings like a local self-storage space.
4. You can build a strong future in Charleston.
Between impressive schools, low cost of living and a thriving economy, Charleston is a great place to plant some roots and grow a career. If you can believe it, Charleston is even home to yet another award-winning aspect—Most Beautiful Campus. Here’s everything you need to know about schools, jobs and the overall population:
Charleston schools: Public & Private Education
Charleston County School District (CCSD) is the second-largest school system in South Carolina. It represents 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, Charleston Southern and The Citadel—one of the most prestigious military colleges in the nation. The College of Charleston was named Most Beautiful Campus in the country by Travel + Leisure. It was also named Most Beautiful College Campus in South Carolina by Microsoft News. This liberal arts school is located in the heart of downtown. There, students have access to both a well-rounded education and the vibrant city itself.
If you have young children, there are many great elementary schools in the district. These include Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School, Orange Grove Elementary Charter School, Montessori Community School and more. For older children, there are plenty of options for middle schools and high schools. Wando High School and West Ashley High are some of the top-ranked schools in the area. Magnet schools offer specialized education opportunities like the Academic Magnet High School and Charleston County School of the Arts.
The Job Opportunities
Charleston’s economy has been growing rapidly. We have an expansion of the Boeing production facility and the addition of a Volvo factory to thank for that. Year after year, the city’s economy has performed significantly better than the national average. For anyone thinking about moving to Charleston, this steady upward trend is an attractive reason to move to such a gorgeous city.
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.) Companies like Boeing, Volvo and Medical University of South Carolina add 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.”
Millennials Love Charleston
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. Many students move to the area to attend one of the nearby colleges and fall in love with the city but fear they won’t find jobs post-graduation. The booming economy has made it possible for so many millennials to make Charleston their permanent home even after they’ve hung that diploma on their wall.
The military employs over 90,000 people in Charleston including active duty, reserves, dependents and contractors. 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, S.C.
From a rich history and culture to a thriving arts scene and an abundance of water activities, Charleston is full of things to do. 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, you’ll discover 3.5 miles of nature trails. These trails offer a breathtaking look at more than 150 roses including a collection of antiques. James Island County Park also offers nearly 650 acres of trails, bike paths and camping cabins. Downtown, you can explore a handful of beautiful parks. These include Waterfront Park, White Point Gardens and Marion Square, which often hosts annual events like Charleston Wine + Food.
- Sports scene. If you’re a golfer, you’ll have access to a nearly endless number of places to play near Charleston. Kiawah Island Golf Resort has a world-class beach as well as championship courses that have been designed and played by PGA players. If you need your baseball fix, the minor-league Charleston Riverdogs have got 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, Rainbow Row, the Battery or the Old City Market.
Learn About the City’s Roots
If you’re a history buff, 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. It was also the location where the first shots of the Civil War rang.
Aiken-Rhett House Museum
The Aiken-Rhett House Museum is the best example of antebellum life. Built in the early 1800s, much of the home’s original style is preserved. Self-guided tours allow you to experience its antique furnishings, original wallpaper, slave quarters and stables. They’ve all been maintained to provide you with a sense of life in the Old South.
White Point Gardens
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.
If you make a trip out to John’s Island, you’ll discover the Angel Oak. Angel Oak is a live oak estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old. That makes it one of the oldest living trees in the country. It’s free to visit and worth the trip. The tree’s massive limbs are supported by thick wooden beams to help it continue to grow for centuries to come.
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.
- Hank’s Seafood: High-end restaurant with an elegant setting and top-notch seafood selection.
- 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.
- Bowen’s Island Restaurant: No-frills fish shack serving daily, fresh-caught oysters and Southern classics like Frogmore Stew.
- Cuban Gypsy Pantry: Authentic Cuban food in a quaint downtown location. Great for a quick bite.
- CO: Delicious Vietnamese food with a variety of noodle dishes, bahn mi sandwiches and pho options.
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 beautiful marshland, salty air and soothing sounds of crashing waves create a relaxed environment that locals like to call 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, S.C., here are some of the best neighborhoods:
- Mount Pleasant. Just over the beautiful and iconic Ravenel Bridge, Mount Pleasant is a growing community home to both Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island beaches. Wando High School in MP is known for its innovative, high-quality education and has one of the top-ranked marching bands in the country.
- 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 possess 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 is a highly sought-after place to live, making it more expensive than other areas. The average home price in the area is just over $700,000.
- 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 $300,000.
- Moncks Corner. Located about an hour from downtown Charleston, 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 $220,000.
7. Getting around Charleston, S.C., is a breeze.
Like any city, Charleston comes with traffic. But for being such a popular moving destination, commutes are much more tolerable than cities of similar size.
Plenty of parking is available.
Walking around this historic coastal city is definitely the best way to experience it. However, 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 2-3 hours per day. For that reason, don’t plan on using this parking option if you need a full day of parking. Meters can be paid with coins or credit cards.
- 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. This is especially true when it comes to traveling overcrowded 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, S.C.?
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.
If you’re moving from out of town, it’s understandable that the process can be stressful. Life Storage offers monthly self storage in Charleston as well as moving truck rentals to assist with your move. Many people move to the area and rent a home before buying their permanent residence. We can help store your extra belongings in the meantime, so you can worry less about your move and more about enjoying your new home.
Update: This post was originally published in February 9, 2018, and was revised on December 26, 2019, with new information from Charleston expert, Samantha Connors.