5 Great Neighborhoods in Charleston

Charleston's neighborhoods offer something for everyone, from million-dollar antebellum mansions to quaint beach shacks.

By: Stephanie Hunt

Charleston is known as a top tourist destination with world-class restaurants, compelling history and fabulous beaches, but to locals it's simply a vibrant place to live, work and raise a family.

DOWNTOWN

Although only a compact 17 square miles, the Charleston peninsula (between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers) scores big with off-the-charts charm. Church steeples, hidden alleyways and cobblestone streets lend a European feel. Easily walkable and bikeable in size, the peninsula is home to a diverse population, from blue-blood Charlestonians to tattooed college students and everyone in between.

Notable Neighborhood: South of Broad

South of Broad (southern tip of peninsula, below Broad Street) is preservation central, home of the nation's first historic zoning ordinance and an architectural wonderland complete with fine gardens and an endless bounty of cheerful window boxes. Elegant mansions along the Battery aren't cheap, but cozy carriage houses and high-end condos abound for those who don't want the upkeep of an 18th-century abode.

The Neighbors: Typically well-heeled and green-thumbed. Many SOB homes are second homes, so neighbors might well be in New York or D.C.

Also Consider: Hampton Park/Wagener Terrace

On the peninsula's northwest corner along the Ashley, Wagener Terrace is a hip, racially and economically diverse neighborhood, offering a mix of Craftsman cottages, classic brick Georgians and fixer-uppers. Its centerpiece, Hampton Park, is a favorite for walkers, runners, cyclists and Sunday picnics.

The Neighbors: The whole gamut, from young families to professors at The Citadel to yoga teachers and tech professionals. 

EAST COOPER

Just over the breathtaking Ravenel Bridge from Charleston, Mount Pleasant is convenient to both downtown and the beaches and offers a range of older established neighborhoods and new subdivisions. Its excellent public schools and the town's robust recreation program make it a desirable place to raise a family; however, fast growth means sprawl and traffic are hot-button issues.

Notable Neighborhood: The Old Village

An old shrimping village and summer retreat for Charleston's wealthy planters, the Old Village has beautiful old homes shaded by moss-draped oaks and cooled by the harbor breeze -- what's not to love? Real estate here is coveted and pricey, but the payoff is that kids can ride bikes to neighborhood schools, to the Village library, to go fishing at the Old Bridge, or to get an old-fashioned milkshake at the Pitt Street Pharmacy (and put it on their tab).

The Neighbors: Healthy mix of young families and old-timers, many with local generational roots. Slants conservative but genteel.

Also Consider: I'On

An award-winning "New Urbanism" development, I'On (named for statesman Jacob I'On) offers handsome old-style Charlestonesque homes with new-development amenities (pool, tennis courts, public dock, etc). Porches, sidewalks, lakes and a marsh-front nature trail emphasize the public realm.

The Neighbors: Families, professionals, retirees. Upper middle class to upper-upper class, with homes ranging from $300K to $2 million.

WEST ASHLEY

On the other side of Charleston across the Ashley River, West Ashley and James Island are the old standbys -- established communities in close proximity to Charleston but without the rapid growth/new sheen of Mount Pleasant. Bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway, West Ashley/James Island neighborhoods offer a mix of architectural styles and price points. Generally affordable and family friendly, this neck of the woods and waterways is content to be homey and just a tad eclectic.

Notable Neighborhood: Byrnes Down

Location, location, location. Just a hop and a skip from downtown, Byrnes Down is World War II-era brick-house heaven. Solid construction, quaint and manageable sizes (two-to-three bedrooms), tree-canopied streets and access to the West Ashley Greenway add up to high desirability and a boon for DIY-ers or renovation contractors. Walking proximity to bars/restaurants in Avondale or to a bakery or antique shop in South Windermere is a bonus.

The Neighbors: Total mix -- young families, young professionals, blue-collar workers, medical students, older folks.

Also Consider: Riverland Terrace

Built in the 1940s on what was once a thriving indigo plantation, Riverland Terrace inherited the plantation's stately Avenue of Oaks, now framing Riverland Drive. The neighborhood boasts a waterfront playground, municipal golf course and mix of home sizes and styles, many with curb appeal.

The Neighbors: Healthy range of young and old. Tend to be a little more politically progressive. 

NORTH AREA

Once a booming military and industrial powerhouse, the North area (North Charleston and surrounding communities) is regaining steam following the closing of the Charleston Navy Base in the early 1990s. The lure of affordable property, however, is a boon to "creative industries," tech start-ups and others, broadening both its residential and commercial profile.

Notable Neighborhood: Daniel Island

OK, so Daniel Island is north of Charleston, but not exactly "North Charleston." This planned island community, however, is a bustling new neighborhood, with bike paths, public docks, golf courses, shopping, dining and the Family Circle Cup Tennis Center. There's also a full menu of housing options including apartments and condos/townhomes, sprawling waterfront mansions, subsidized affordable housing and starter homes.

The Neighbors: Families, families, families in the thick of DI. Along the golf courses and waterfronts, more retirees and Boeing execs. Fairly homogenous.

Also Consider: Park Circle

The antithesis of "homogenous," Park Circle is a perky, diverse neighborhood, drawing folks who can't afford Charleston and prefer a little adventure. Lots of ranch-style homes are getting re-dos, and proximity to North Charleston's quaint Main Street and Riverfront Park ensures investment here is solid.

The Neighbors: Young and old, gay and straight, artsy, working class, Tea Party, lefties -- you name it. 

THE ISLANDS

Charleston's barrier islands and beaches are more than just vacation havens. Sure they're rockin' in the summer, but Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms and Folly Beach are predominantly year-round residential communities, complete with kids' lemonade stands and neighborhood barbecues.

Notable Neighborhood: Sullivan's Island

Edgar Allen Poe loved it here, as does part-time islander Stephen Colbert. Forbes claims Sullivan's ZIP code is one of the priciest per capita in the nation, but the community has a casual, salty feel, far from pretentious. Some small beach cottages remain, but Hurricane Hugo wiped most out and newer homes tend to be upwards of 3,000 square feet. Fort Moultrie anchors the southern tip, and Sullivan's likely has one of the only oceanfront public elementary schools anywhere.

The Neighbors: They know they're lucky -- a friendly, well-to-do, dog-loving, golf cart-driving, relaxed bunch.

Also Consider: Kiawah/Seabrook

About 50 minutes outside of town, Kiawah and Seabrook are resort islands, exclusive neighborhoods where golf courses rule.

The Neighbors: Retired CEOs from Fortune 500 companies.  

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