The Ultimate Charleston Packing List
Now that the Biebers have officially put Palmetto Bluff on the map, why not pack your bags and scope out Charleston for yourself? From exploring the city's historic architecture by way of horse-drawn carriage to sunning on the beach on Sullivan’s Island, your itinerary will require at least a few wardrobe changes. And because Charleston has lost not a drop of its southern charm, your trip is a great opportunity to break out any preppy or dressier pieces you may keep out of your everyday outfit rotation. (Though heeled boots and a Band of Horses T-shirt would work just fine for strolling East Montague Avenue.) So open your favorite Vera Bradley bag—more on that later—and follow our guide below to easily fill it with everything you need to visit Charleston any time of the year.
Your suitcase packing checklist
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THE PERFECT LUGGAGE
There’s no bag as synonymous with Carolina fashion as Vera Bradley. (You can even buy its bags in the University of South Carolina print.) Vera Bradley’s vibrant patterns and comfy quilted textures are held dearly throughout the south, and carrying any piece of the brand’s luggage is sure to get approving nods from locals. We recommend a solid color—Vera Bradley’s dark, monochrome bags look expensive and will seamlessly fit in with luggage you already own. The company is known for their weekender bags, made with plenty of pockets so you can organize all your must-have travel items. Weekenders come in medium and large sizes, so you can choose depending on your needs and length of trip. Bradley bags are durable as all get out, but light and foldable enough to store in a shoebox when not in use. Gor travelers wanting more space than a carry bag can provide, Vera Bradley offers great spinner options with four wheels and inside compression straps. And at under nine pounds, the Iconic Large Spinner weighs about one to three pounds less than most checked luggage.
THE THREE PAIRS OF SHOES YOU’LL NEED FOR EXPLORING CHARLESTON
You’ll get more mileage out of a comfortable pair of dress boots than any other shoe in Charleston. With styles that are both sturdy and fashionable, Frye is a solid bet. Their leather boots and booties work for either casual daytime or dressier nighttime looks. (A subtle cowboy-boot vibe is never out of place in the south.) For an additional pair of daytime walking shoes, pack a pair of sneakers with ladylike or gentlemanly flair, like the Keds x Rifle Paper Co. and Cole Haan options below. And no matter the season, make sure to squeeze a pair of low-profile beach sandals in your suitcase, because you just never know when you’ll end up oceanside.
STYLE FOR CHARLESTON
Bright colors, subdued pastels, florals, feminine silhouettes, and tailored-seeming menswear are all staples of Charleston style. (As exemplified by influencers like @juliahengel, @chelsieravenell, @hillheady, and @blacksouthernbelle_bsb, if you’d like a visual.) When in outfit doubt, dress up instead of down before heading out. For women, dresses, blazers, and big bags never go out of style. Give traditional Charleston style a modern twist by pairing a buttoned-up cardigan with a midi skirt or tailored slacks. On men, you might see an outfit combination dubbed the “Charleston Tuxedo”—a blazer, khakis, white shirt, and a bow tie. And more casual menswear in Charleston still means nicely fitting and polished-looking, whether it’s a polo and pants combo or a T-shirt and jeans.
Women’s Style for Charleston
Men’s Style for Charleston
FIVE FOOLPROOF OUTFITS FOR CHARLESTON
1. WHAT TO WEAR TO CHARLESTON’S PARKS, GARDENS, AND PLANTATIONS
No matter where you are in Charleston, there’s something beautiful to see outside, from Historic Downtown District’s Battery & White Point Gardens to Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island, a live Southern oak thought to be around 400 years old (or older). Many of Charleston’s favorite outdoor destinations are close to dressier dining options, so make sure to wear an outfit that can transition from daytime activities to dinner if you’re not planning a hotel break in between.
Women’s Parks and Gardens Outfit for Charleston
Men’s Parks and Gardens Outfit for Charleston
2. WHAT TO WEAR TO CHARLESTON’S BEACHES
South Carolina is known for its 200 miles of must-visit beaches. While Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head are the most famous, the greater Charleston area has its own fair share of laid-back beaches. Family- and fishermen-friendly Folly Beach, across-the-harbor Sullivan’s Island, and Isle of Palms (of Windjammer fame) make wonderful day trip destinations. Remember to pack a beach bag and towel in your suitcase if you know you’ll be spending substantial time at the shore. Casual swimwear, attire, and sandals work most everywhere during the day, but you’ll need to take tennis shoes for some restaurants and certain land activities, like bike-riding.
Women’s Outfit for Charleston’s Beaches
Men’s Outfit for Charleston’s Beaches
3. WHAT TO WEAR TO CHARLESTON’S MUSEUMS
Much like the former plantations mentioned above, many of Charleston’s traditional and house museums strike to provide visitors with a candid account of the city’s legacy of slavery. The Nathaniel Russell House, the Aiken-Rhett House, The Charleston Museum, and Fort Sumter National Monument are all great places to visit to better understand Charleston’s complicated history. For a lighter day with your little ones, we highly recommend the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry and the South Carolina Aquarium. None of these museums have set dress codes, but comfortable shoes are a must.
Women’s Outfit for Charleston’s Museums
Men’s Outfit for Charleston’s Museums
4. WHAT TO WEAR TO GO SHOPPING IN CHARLESTON
A shopping day in Charleston is your chance to wear your most vibrant, I’m-on-vacay ensemble. Women especially can have fun with this opportunity to shine in bright, exuberantly patterned dresses and accessories, like silk hair scarves, big sunnies, and ladylike bags. Strolling down King Street’s pastel-building-lined sidewalks is the perfect way to see some of Charleston’s historic architecture while window-shopping (through centuries-old windows) at one-of-a-kind boutiques and national chains (Madewell, Marine Layer). For pieces you can’t find anywhere else, visit Charleston City Market’s 300-plus daily vendors to purchase oyster shell candles, custom leather goods, locally made jams and hot sauces, and everything in between. The market is the place to buy sweetgrass baskets—handwoven works of art made by Gullah artisans, whose ancestors were brought to South Carolina as slaves.
Women’s Shopping Outfit for Charleston
Men’s Shopping Outfit for Charleston
5. WHAT TO WEAR TO CHARLESTON’S RESTAURANTS, BARS, AND BREWERIES
Pack your favorite pair of stretchy yoga pants for your journey home, because Charleston is a top-notch city for restaurants and bars—with an ever-expanding food and drink scene that rivals Portland and Austin. For brunching, we recommend Millers All Day (get the chicken biscuit!) and Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (get the sausage, egg, and pimento cheese biscuit!). Both spots offer delicious takes on southern staples and are supremely casual. Save room for dinner at Husk Restaurant, where you’ll want to break out your dressier ensembles. And be sure to conserve at least some of your energy during the day, because a night out in Charleston is not to be missed. Make sure to stop by High Wire Distilling Company or The Commodore for funky live jazz sets.
Women’s Night-Out Outfit for Charleston
Men’s Night-Out Outfit for Charleston
WHAT NOT TO PACK FOR CHARLESTON
Since Charleston is a city full of prints, pastels, and lively pattern pairings, leave your all-black looks at home. Same goes for more shapeless pieces, as this city loves flattering tailoring in both formal and casual looks. Since even in peak winter the temperatures are around the low 40s, there’s no need for your heavy down coat.
THE MOST FUN THING WTP EDITORS PUT IN OUR SUITCASE FOR CHARLESTON
You don’t have to start saying “over yonder” or “bless your heart” just because you’re in the south. But we highly recommend that you embrace the most beloved Southernism of all: y’all. South Carolinians use the contraction almost anytime they’re addressing two or more people. You’ll hear it drawled by bartenders, servers, shopkeepers, tour guides, front desk staff—just about anyone you encounter in Charleston. Even if you’re not ready to shout the word from the (historic) rooftops, locals will assume you’re one of them with this cotton canvas tote with “Go Y’all” in varsity lettering. For days at the beach or on a sightseeing day cruise, the tote makes the perfect carryall for your sunscreen, floppy hat, and blanket/sarong. Or use it for souvenir and food shopping at the historic Charleston City Market (you can then tote market-bought sandwiches and treats for a picnic at Joe Riley Waterfront Park—don’t forget the Cheerwine!).
CHARLESTON’S WEATHER AND SEASONS
Known for its humid, subtropical climate, Charleston gets brutally hot in the summer and stays hot as the seasons move into fall. The city’s proximity to the Atlantic keeps the air muggy, averaging 50% to 65% humidity throughout the year. Winters are mild, with temperatures on the coolest days of the year falling to the low 40s. Most of Charleston is positioned below sea level, and hurricanes can occur from June through November. The humidity can also yield thunderstorms, which are most common in the late spring and summer months.
Note: This data comes from our friends at Weather.com. We recommend using this together with a traditional forecast as you get closer to your departure date.
- Plan for day temps between 43 and 57
- Expect 2.94 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in January: Charleston’s winters are mild and precipitation is minimal. While it doesn’t get too cold, you’ll still want to pack a mid-weight coat, scarf, and hat.
- Plan for day temps between 46 and 60
- Expect 2.6 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in February: As in January, February sees mild temps (mostly in the 50s) and little rain. We recommend a mid-weight coat and winter accessories.
- Plan for day temps between 52 and 65
- Expect 3.3 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in March: Charleston springs are warm with little rain (compared to the summer months). Dress in layers to help transition from cooler mornings to warmer afternoons.
- Plan for day temps between 59 and 72
- Expect 2.53 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in April: April is a wonderful time to visit Charleston. Flowers, pants, and trees are in bloom this time of year, so travel prepared for many long strolls outside.
- Plan for day temps between 67 and 79
- Expect 2.16 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in May: Plan on days squarely in the 70s with little rain. We recommend more breezy dresses, lightweight shorts, and UV protection.
- Plan for day temps between 74 and 85
- Expect 4.65 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in June: June brings perfect beach days, though it’s not unheard of to get caught in a thunderstorm.
- Plan for day temps between 77 and 88
- Expect 5.4 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in July: If you’re visiting in the summer, pack everything you’ll need for your beach days, and also plan for heavy rains, just in case.
- Plan for day temps between 76 and 86
- Expect 6.71 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in August: Pack your airiest threads—think super-lightweight cotton tees and shorts—as well as a hat and rain gear.
- Plan for day temps between 72 and 82
- Expect 5.76 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in September: While September signals the beginning of fall elsewhere in the country, it’s still warm, if not downright hot, in Charleston. In addition to the late-summer heat, you’ll need to be prepared for rain.
- Plan for day temps between 62 and 75
- Expect 3.67 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in October: Warm ocean weather allows for swimming through October, and dry, bright days are perfect for Southern autumn walks. Pack light layers for your fall trip so you feel prepared for a little bit of everything.
- Plan for day temps between 54 and 57
- Expect 2.19 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in November: The chance of rain drops significantly from October, and temps hover in the 50s—perfect sweater weather.
- Plan for day temps between 46 and 60
- Expect 2.6 inches of precipitation
What to Wear in Charleston in December: Winter in Charleston is gentle: no sub-zero temps or freezing rain here. Still, you’d do best to bring a mid-weight coat, as well as a scarf and a hat.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHARLESTON
What are the best beaches in Charleston?
Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, and Isle of Palms are our three must-visit beaches in the greater Charleston area. If your trip allows for travel a little further from the city, Kiawah Island’s Beachwalker Park is well worth the 23-mile drive.
Where should I get lunch on Sullivan’s Island?
Sullivan’s Island’s best-kept brunch and lunch secret is High Thyme Cuisine—a fine-dining spot serving up straightforward Southern dishes in a house-turned-restaurant with front porch seating. If their tables are full, The Obstinate Daughter is a beloved hidden gem serving excellent Low Country fare and seafood, as well as pizza and pasta.
What is the best rooftop bar in Charleston?
There’s no shortage of great places to grab a drink in the open air in Charleston. Our top pick is Stars Restaurant – Rooftop & Grill Room for its sweeping 360-degree views, specialty cocktails, craft beers, and reclaimed wood galore. For a trendy vibe, Eleve Rooftop Restaurant & Lounge is a great choice. It features comfortable outdoor sofas, mood lighting, and specialty cocktails—we recommend the Pepper Mule, featuring Charleston-made Dixie pepper vodka, bitters, ginger beer, grapefruit, and lime.
Where should I get brunch in Charleston?
The Junction Kitchen and Provisions in North Charleston is a local favorite for their coffee-rubbed bacon and over-easy egg sandwich served on a donut (yes, on a donut), with a coffee dip and hash browns on the side. Harold’s Cabin on the Westside serves up a delicious fried chicken biscuit, and newcomer Parcel 32 is a must-try before a day spent shopping on King Street—past guests rave about the burger, hushpuppies, and short ribs over grits.