We spent three full days and four nights in Charleston, South Carolina, and were able to visit ten affordable and impressive places. I wish we had more time because we left the area with dozens of more free or low-cost places to visit– including the 20 I list at the bottom of this post.
Affordable & Impressive Places In Charleston, SC You Need To Explore
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Angel Oak Tree
We made it to John’s Island Monday afternoon with an hour or two to kill before we could check in at our Airbnb. We decided to fill that time by seeing the Angel Oak Tree. We were surprised at how full the parking lot was on an early Monday afternoon in February.
There is no hike to see the tree; it is visible from the parking lot. The ground around the tree is uneven in spots, so you do have to watch your step.
The Angel Oak Tree is estimated to be between 400 to 500 years old, and they are hoping that it survives to be 800 to 900 years old. It is over 66 feet tall, and its longest branch is 187 feet long. It is a sight well worth seeing.
However, I feel the need to warn parents of young children that the caretakers of this tree do not allow the tree to be touched in all but the gentlest of ways. In the bottom picture, the sign that my husband is reading is one of many posted around the tree that tells a little information about the tree and a lot of rules about what you can and can’t do around the tree, and they are strictly enforced.
Francis Marion National Forest: Palmetto Trail
In this picture, Jack is wearing one of the sling backpacks we use for day hiking and exploring. They fit everything you could need for a day trip, plus are comfortable to wear and keep your hands free for taking pictures, etc. I have one in black and bought the add on water bottle holder and love how easy it makes it to grab a drink of water when I need it.
After a good night’s sleep, we headed out to Francis Marion National Forest to do some hiking. We chose the trail that begins at the Awendaw Canoe dock and ends at a campground. This trail is part of the Palmetto Trail, which is 425 miles long, but we did just a four-mile stretch out and back, meaning we completed an 8-mile hike before lunch. We took full advantage of that workout later with a late, but big lunch in downtown Charleston.
This hike was filled with Palmetto and oak trees. We crossed over several marshy areas with the aid of wooden boardwalks. The views of the marshland were both peaceful and breathtaking.
The Francis Marion National Forest is roughly an hour out of Charleston, but I think it is well worth the drive. Our 8-mile hike covered just a tiny portion of the forest, and if we are ever in the area again, we plan to return and hike another part of it.
My husband Jack and I love old homes. We live in one that is over 100 years old in our hometown of Marion, Indiana. Because of this shared love, one of our favorite things to do in cities rich in age is to check out their old homes–and Charleston is a gold mine for this.
We stopped every few feet while in the Charleston downtown center to ooh and aah at the architecture of the homes, churches, and businesses.
Admission: free (except for parking, plan to spend a few dollars on parking)
We returned to our car when the parking meter was running low to add more change to it and then head towards Waterfront Park and stroll along its path. It was a stormy day (stormy week actually), but we zipped our coats up and pulled out our winter hats so that we could stroll the waterfront park despite the cooler temps. After all, one does not come to Charleston and not see the water.
I wish it were a warmer day because if it were, we would have spent some time swinging on the swing chairs found on the pier connected to the park. We did, however, pause a few moments to soak up the view of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. If it had been nicer weather the week we visited, we might have walked across the bridge at sunset as we heard that the views from it at that time of day are spectacular.
Admission: free (except for parking)
The Pineapple Fountain is a central focal point within Waterfront Park. On hot days children of all ages can splash in this fountain–I know I would in the summertime.
Admission: free (except for parking)
Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center
In this picture, Jack is wearing his favorite pants for hiking, he finds them super comfy, fast-drying, and they are affordable too!
On the second full day of our trip, we had intended to take the ferry across to Fort Sumter, but the water was choppy and it doesn’t take much for my husband and me to get seasick, so we decided to just stroll around the visitor center.
In the end, we spent over an hour reading all the different information on the history of Fort Sumter and Charleston. The visitor center is a wealth of information that was enjoyed by my history-buff husband and me (a person who enjoys learning about history, but doesn’t soak up every detail like my husband).
Admission: Free for the museum area if you take the ferry to the Fort there will be a cost (plus cost for parking)
White Point Garden
The umbrella Jack is holding is a must for exploring downtown areas on rainy days. We find this style of umbrella to withstand wind better than the compact type.
With the whole morning now open to explore due to our seasick selves not wanting to risk a choppy voyage to the Fort, we decided to do a few things that we had planned to do early the next day. And we were glad we did because that allowed us to go and explore Caw Caw Interpretive Center, which was the highlight of the trip for me–more on Caw Caw and why I loved it so much later.
We started with White Point Garden. Even in the rain this park is stunning and the large homes that surround it are marvels. I think Jack and I spent more time staring at the homes that border the park than we did in the park and walking the nearby seawall.
Admission: Free (except for parking)
Not all these homes are one King Street; some were on the neighboring street of Legare, but all of the houses were terrific examples of the workmanship of days gone by.
I loved the plaques that explained the history of the homes and I could not help peaking at the gardens behind the fences of these homes. We walked several blocks up King Street and then down the neighboring street of Legare, strolling and snapping photos all the way. We had no hopes of blending in with the locals that morning.
John’s Island County Park
After dinner on Tuesday I said to Jack, “I feel like I have one more hike in me today,” and so we headed to John’s Island County Park to hike a loop around the park. But we neglected to look at what time the sun set and that turned out to be a BIG mistake. We were halfway around the loop trail when it started to get dark, fast. We ended up doing the last third of the trail with only the light from my iPhone to light our path–not good.
I would have loved to see what the last half of the path looked like in the daytime as the first half was an enjoyable wooded hike.
Admission: $1 per person
Caw Caw Interpretive Center
On the morning of our third day in the Charleston area, we decided on a whim to head to the Caw Caw Interpretive Center. Jack didn’t want to head back into the downtown area again and I wanted to get out and enjoy the sunny morning after days of overcast and mixed with periods of rain.
I went online to find something nearby to explore, and Caw Caw was the first to pop up on the screen. It had good reviews, and it offered me a chance to perhaps do something on my bucket list–see an alligator in its natural habitat.
After we parked the car, we went inside the visitor center for a map of their eight different hiking trails and to talk to the park worker about where we should watch out for alligators.
We hiked all eight trails for a total of 6 miles. Our favorite was the Habitat route where I got to see not one, but several alligators. Most of them were babies. The Marshland trail was a close second, although it did end with us seeing a poisonous snake–I was not a fan of that sighting.
Jack and I both agree that Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a history museum and nature hike all in one as each trail has several signs on it explaining the history of the rice and tea plantations that were once on the land. It took us several hours to complete all the trails as we were stopping along the way to read the signs and take in wildlife sitings and the views.
Admission: $2 per person (free for kids two and under)
Folly Beach And The Folly Beach Fishing Pier
After a quick stop at our Airbnb for lunch, we headed out to Folly Beach, where we stayed until past sunset–although this time we were not on a hiking trail when it hit–we were on the beach.
Although still warm, it was very foggy at the beach. It made my pictures look almost like black and white, so I had fun editing them to enhance the feeling of the day using the apps VSCO and Snapseed; both are editing apps that I found out about through various photography courses I have taken on Skillshare. (find out more about skillshare and how you can get a free two-month trial by using this link)
I loved our time at Folly Beach! I highly recommend spending some time there if you are in the Charleston area.
Admission: Free (even found free parking)
Sadly, three full days was all we had to explore the Charleston area and it wasn’t enough! Below I have listed some more inexpensive sites that I would have loved to check out if we had more time. Oh, well! I guess that means we will have to visit again
20 More Inexpensive Or Free Places To Explore In Or Around Charleston
Please note that the places themselves might be free, but expect to pay for parking, especially when visiting locations in downtown Charleston.
1. Riverfront Park (North Charleston): free
2. Mace Brown Museum Of Natural Science: by donation
3. Colonial Dorchester: $2 per adults, 15 and under free
4. Walk the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge: free
5. Charleston City Hall, Washington Square, Four Corners Of Law: free
6. Drive an hour out of the city and visit Summerville, the town that claims to be the birthplace of sweet tea: free
7. Watch the cadets at the Citadel perform a dress parade: free
8. Mount Pleasant Memorial Park: free
9. Pitt Street Bridge: free
10. Hampton Park: free
11. Rainbow Row: We did see this, but my pictures from this are missing for some reason
12. Sullivan’s Nature Trail: free
13. Shem Creek Boardwalk: free
14. North Charleston Fire Museum: $6 per adult, children 12 and under free
15. Charles Pinckney National Historic Site: free
16, Karpeles Manuscript Library: free
17. Charleston Tea Plantation: free factory tours, but other tours are at a cost
18. Postal Museum: free
19. Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art: free
20. The Best Friend Train Museum: free
This list of free and low-cost (under $10 each) things to do in and around Charleston South Carolina could be at least twice as long; there is so much in the area that is budget-friendly for travelers to explore. I hope my lists inspire you to visit Charleston.
Are you looking for an alternative to busy and expensive campgrounds and one-night Walmart stops on the way to your destination? Check out our post about our first time using Boondockers Welcome.