I’m a New Yorker who visited Charleston, South Carolina, for the first time. Here are 5 things that surprised me.

I had never visited Charleston, South Carolina, before. Now I can’t wait to go back.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

  • I recently took a multi-city road trip in Charleston, South Carolina.

  • Despite the research I did beforehand, there were things about the historic city that surprised me.

  • I was shocked to see residents driving golf carts, and canned cocktails for sale in clothing stores.

I recently traveled from my home in New York City to Charleston, South Carolina where I embarked on a mini road trip.

Charleston road trip

I was excited to get some sun and explore the city.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

I flew from New York to Charleston, from where I set out for a two-state road trip. I spent three nights and a little more than two days in the city before driving to Savannah, Georgia, and ending in Atlanta.

It was my first time in the southern city, so I did lots of research before I left.

Charleston road trip

Houses along Charleston’s Rainbow Row (left), and a bowl of shrimp and grits (right), which is a signature dish.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Based on my research, I arrived expecting Charleston to be a foodie’s dream city with unique architecture.

Even still, there were a few things I observed that took me by surprise.

Charleston road trip

I was surprised by the little details, despite my research.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

While I did ample research ahead of my visit, there were still certain things I didn’t learn about until I visited and was on the ground in the city. While I was only in Charleston for a few days, here are some of the little details that I didn’t know about before.

One of the first things I noticed was how little outdoor seating there was for restaurants in the historic district.

Charleston road trip

I thought there would be more outdoor dining setups like this one.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

As a New Yorker, I’ve gotten very used to outdoor dining over the past two years. Though, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, I always preferred an outside table when given the option and when the weather allowed.

I visited Charleston at the beginning of December, and it was around 70 degrees each day — beautiful outdoor dining weather, in my opinion.

Since it’s such a nice-weather destination, I expected every restaurant to offer outdoor seating, especially given the warm temperatures and rising number of COVID-19 cases. However, I was shocked to see only a handful of restaurants in the historic downtown area with outdoor tables, and when I asked staff about it, was simply told they don’t offer it.

While shopping, I was surprised to see canned alcoholic beverages for sale in many retail and coffee shops. I don’t see that in New York.

canned alcohol charleston road trip

Canned alcohol sat next to a case of baked goods and a coffee menu.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

While browsing in a retail clothing boutique, I noticed a small refrigerator of canned cocktails, wine, and beer. Then, I started seeing a trend: the drinks seemed to be available in many stores and coffee shops.


I’m not used to seeing canned cocktails outside of bars or bodegas. The only time I’ve ever been able to sip and shop in New York is while browsing the floors of Bergdorf Goodman, a luxury department store that I sometimes treat like an interactive museum, where an employee often walks over with a tray of filled Champagne flutes.

But in Charleston, the readily available alcohol just served as a reminder that Charleston is a popular destination for bachelorette parties.

I didn’t think the reason for slow traffic would be so many horse and buggy tours.

charleston road trip

They were all over the streets.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Each time I drove, I wasn’t in normal gridlock. Rather, I always seemed to be stuck behind a horse-drawn carriage tour, which is a popular way for tourists to see the city and learn about its history.

And when I went out for a walk, I could smell whenever the horses were near — if you’ve ever been around a horse-led tour, you know the smell.

Even though carriage houses are a part of the architecture in historic downtown, many of which have been renovated and are now full homes, I was still surprised by the number of tours I saw happening each day.

In addition to horse-drawn buggies, I was also surprised to see so many people driving golf carts.

Charleston road trip

I saw at least five driving around each day.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

As much as I was shocked to see so many horse-drawn carriage tours, I was just as confused when I saw golf carts driving along the main roads.

The Post and Courier cites nice weather and small neighborhoods as reasons why golf carts have grown in popularity as alternate modes of transportation in the city.

I’ve seen the carts driving around gated communities in other warm-weather areas like Florida and Arizona, but I’ve never seen them on main streets like I did in Charleston. While it was puzzling to me to see them driving around and waiting at traffic lights, I was mostly surprised because there aren’t any golf courses in that downtown area of the peninsula.


Marquee theaters are a hallmark of historic towns, but I didn’t expect to see so many in such a small area.

Charleston road trip

There were beautifully lit marquees along some of the main streets in the historic downtown area.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Seeing the brightly lit marquees at night gave the streets a sense of liveliness. Some were marking event spaces and others welcomed people into movie theaters.

These Art Deco designs are common in historic towns and cities across the country. Once I saw them, it made sense to me, as Charleston is one of those cities, but it was a beautiful surprise to see them all along the streets of downtown.

While I only spent a few days in Charleston, I’d love to return and explore more of the city.

charleston road trip

I ate my way through the Charleston peninsula.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

I spent most of my Charleston trip in the historic downtown area, which is where I noticed all of these details. While the carriage tours and golf carts posed more of an annoyance on the road, and I was hesitant to eat at restaurants without outdoor options, the Art Deco marquees and cocktails for purchase were pleasant surprises.

Overall, I thought the food was delicious and the views and neighborhoods were beautiful, but I hope to get back to the city and explore areas off of the peninsula as well.

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