Exploring Charleston’s Hidden Gems: A Retiree’s Guide

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Until you visit Charleston, you don’t truly appreciate how much this city offers. If you’re thinking about relocating here in retirement, there’s no doubt you’ll find plenty of fun activities to fill your days with. To help you get a taste of what Charleston has in store, here are some of our favorite hidden gems in and around the city.

The Serenity of White Point Garden

If you’re already visiting the Battery in Charleston (the famous seawall and promenade located downtown), just across the way, you’ll find the beautiful White Point Garden.

Boasting nearly six acres of public parkland, White Point Garden is a popular outdoor destination for tourists and residents all year round. Not only is it a picturesque park bordered by two of Charleston’s rivers, but it has quite a history as well.

White Point Garden was initially called Oyster Point after the oyster shells scattered all over the ground. In the 1700s and 1800s, Oyster Point was the place where residents hung dozens of pirates as a means to deter others from entering Charleston Harbor. But in 1837, the city bought the land and turned it into the waterfront park residents enjoy today.

As you stroll through the park, you’ll find many monuments, benches, gazebos, and cannons from both the Civil War and Revolutionary War eras. 

Shem Creek Park: A Nature Retreat

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Charleston, just across the water is Shem Creek Park—a local hub for fishing, birdwatching, hiking, and enjoying waterfront dining.

The heart of Shem Creek Park is a pedestrian boardwalk, which many locals enjoy walking their dogs on or taking a stroll with the family. You’ll find no shortage of nature amongst the marsh, including fish, birds, and plants, and views of the local shrimp boats in action. The locals recommend visiting around sunset, as Shem Creek Park has some of the best sunset views in the area. 

The Powder Magazine: A Lesser-Known Historic Site

If you want to immerse yourself in some Revolutionary War-era sites, look no further than the Powder Magazine. Finished in 1713, it’s considered the oldest public building in (what was formerly called) the Province of Carolina. During the Revolutionary War, this building was used to store gunpowder.

Throughout the 1800s, it served as a print shop, livery stable, wine cellar, and carriage house. In 1902, the building was bought by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, restored, and opened to the public.

Today, The Powder Magazine museum welcomes families to explore Charleston’s colonial past. Senior tickets are only $7 a piece, or you can purchase an annual ticket for $25, visit the museum, and attend its many events throughout the year.

The Aiken-Rhett House: An Architectural Gem

The Aiken-Rhett House promises to share a “compelling tale of urban life in antebellum Charleston through the eyes of the powerful and wealthy Governor and Mrs. William Aiken, Jr. and the enslaved Africans who maintained their house, property, and way of life.

Whether you are interested in history, architectural design, or antebellum-era designs and furnishings, the Aiken-Rhett House is a can’t-miss destination in Charleston.

The home was built in 1820 and is considered one of the best-preserved townhouse complexes in America today. Owned by the Aiken family for 142 years, the home was acquired by the Charleston Museum and opened for tours in 1975.

The Aiken-Rhett House offers 45-minute tours guided by a smartphone app. Tickets are $15 for adults, and the museum is open seven days a week.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Nestled along the Ashley River, the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is a quintessential piece of Charleston’s history and natural beauty. 

Established in the late 17th century, it’s one of the oldest plantations in the south and has remained under the ownership of the same family for over three centuries. 

What sets this location apart are it’s beautiful gardens that contain azaleas, camellias, and of course, magnolia blossoms. The plantation also boasts a fascinating history with guided tours shedding light on its role in Charleston’s past, and the lives of the enslaved people who once worked there.

For retirees seeking a connection to nature, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens offers a serene retreat. 

Redux Contemporary Art Center

Redux is a nonprofit supporting the local art scene by offering subsidized studio space for 45 artists. They offer several community events throughout the year, including concerts, lecture series, panel discussions, film screenings, and educational classes.

Community members are encouraged to visit the artists’ studio spaces throughout the year, and admission to the art center is free.

The Wells Gallery: Discovering Local Talent

The Wells Gallery celebrates life in the Lowcountry with carefully curated paintings and jewelry that exemplify the Southern experience. It includes pieces from both emerging artists and well-known creators.

The Wells Gallery is located on Kiawah Island, a barrier island about 25 miles from Charleston. 

Island Provisions Charleston

Located both on Johns Island and downtown Charleston, Island Provisions Charleston is one of the most delicious places in the area to grab a casual breakfast, lunch, or dinner. From a refreshing breakfast smoothie to cocktails and hearty sandwiches in the evening, this restaurant offers a delicious menu with a charming, quintessential Southern charm.

Charleston City Market

A bustling hub of activity and culture in downtown Charleston, the City Market is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the city’s hidden gems. Stretching over 4 city blocks, the historic market dates back to the early 19th century and is one of the oldest public markets in the United States. 

Here, retirees can browse through rows of vibrant stalls offering a wide array of goods, from handmade sweetgrass baskets, to locally crafted jewelry, artwork, and gourmet treats. It’s a treasure trove of unique finds, where each stall tells a story of Charleston’s rich heritage and artistic flair.

The market is also more than just a place to shop. Live music often fills the air, adding to the lively atmosphere as retirees mingle with artisans and fellow explorers. 

Leon’s Oyster Shop

Did you experience Charleston if you didn’t try oysters? If you’re looking for a great spot to grab some oysters and a good beer, head to Leon’s Oyster Shop. For over ten years, Leon’s has served classic Southern comfort food, including fried chicken, fish fry, black eye pea salad, and more.

If you want a more casual dining experience, head back to Leon’s Oyster Shed, an intimate patio space with a family-style environment.

Caw Caw Interpretive Center: A Nature Lover’s Paradise

Once part of a few rice plantations, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is now a wildlife preserve home to rare animals and over six miles of walking trails and exhibits. Enjoy a stroll on the boardwalks overlooking the wetlands as you search for deer, otters, alligators, bald eagles, and more. 

Because it’s considered a low-impact wildlife preserve, pets, and bikes aren’t permitted on the boardwalks. However, this is a great, serene place to stroll during the week as you connect with nature and history in one place.

Angel Oak Tree: Embracing Centuries of Serenity

The Angel Oak Tree is a fixture in Charleston lore. Standing over 66.5 feet tall and measuring 28 feet wide, the historic southern live oak has stood tall for nearly 500 years. Its shade covers an incredible 17,200 square feet and measures tip-to-tip 187 feet long. 

Not only is this tree one of the oldest in Charleston, but many believe it is one of the country’s oldest living things. The Angel Oak Tree is located on Johns Island, and there’s no admission fee to visit it. Bring a lunch and enjoy a picnic by this historic, must-see staple in Charleston. 

King Street’s Hidden Boutiques

Few streets have as far-reaching a reputation as Charleston’s King Street. An icon in and of itself, King Street is covered in Southern charm and boasts a classic Charleston elegance. The area has historic architecture, vibrant colors, and a lively shopping scene full of charming boutiques and hidden gems.

Along cobblestone streets and between well-preserved historic buildings, you’ll find many great places to shop for clothes, home goods, fragrances, jewelry, and more. Many of the shops are locally owned, and the owners are passionate about preserving Charleston’s culture and aesthetic.

Wrapping Up Your Day

Of course, what’s the point of living along the coast if you don’t check out the waterfront occasionally? In our opinion, any day spent visiting Joe Riley Waterfront Park, soaking in the sun on Folly Beach or grabbing a bite to eat while watching the sunset over the water is well spent.

If you’re thinking about moving to the Charleston area, we can’t say enough great things about our city. From charming local shops to nature preserves and historic sites, there is no shortage of activities in the Lowcountry. 

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