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Charleston Travel Guide, South Carolina

Charleston has survived three centuries of epidemics, earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes, and it is today one of the South's loveliest and best-preserved cities. Many of its treasured double-galleried antebellum homes are authentically furnished house museums, just as many are home to Charlestonians and newcomers. Residents air their quilts over piazzas, walk their dogs down cobblestone streets, and tend their famous gardens in much the same way their ancestors did 300 years ago.

Renovation continues to expand to the far reaches of the downtown historic district, extending across the Cooper River Bridge and out of the town of Mount Pleasant into Awendaw and McClellanville. A visit to the city can easily include nearby towns, plantations and outstanding gardens, and historic sites, whether you're exploring Mount Pleasant or the area west of the Ashley River.

Despite the emphasis on preservation, this city is not a museum. Culturally vibrant, Charleston nurtures theater, dance, music, and visual arts, showcased each spring during the internationally acclaimed Spoleto Festival.

The heart of Charleston is on a peninsula, sometimes just called "downtown" by the nearly 100,000 residents who populate the area. Walking Charleston's peninsula is the best way to get to know the city. The main downtown historic district is roughly bounded by Calhoun Street to the north, the Cooper River to the east, the Battery to the south, and Lockwood Boulevard to the west. More than 2,000 historic homes and buildings occupy this fairly compact area divided into South of Broad (Street) and North of Broad.

King Street, the main shopping street in town, cuts through Broad Street, and the most trafficked tourist area ends a few blocks south of the Crosstown, where U.S. 17 cuts across Upper King. Downtown you can explore most areas by foot. Otherwise, bikes, pedicab rickshaws, and cabs are the best way to get around, as the bus and shuttle system has been in flux for years, street parking is irksome, and tickets are given freely.

Beyond downtown, the Ashley River hugs the west side of the peninsula, and the region on the far shore is called West Ashley.

The Cooper River runs along the east side of the peninsula, with Mount Pleasant on the opposite side and the Charleston Harbor in between. Last, there are outlying sea islands (James, Folly Beach, Johns, Kiawah, Isle of Palms, Sullivan's), with their own appealing attractions. Everything that entails crossing the bridges is best explored by car.

An international spotlight is trained on Charleston from late May to early June with the Spoleto Festival USA, one of the world's biggest arts festivals; Piccolo Spoleto, running concurrently, showcases local and regional talent. The city also offers other seasonal festivals, as well as concerts and recitals.

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