Widely considered the Friendliest City in the United States, Charleston’s booming economy, beautiful climate, and historic charm make it one of America’s most livable cities.
This port city on Charleston Harbor was one of the earliest population centers in the United States. Founded in 1670, it was the fifth-largest city in North America by the start of the 18th century, largely thanks to its importance in the Atlantic slave trade. Though it still grapples with that history, the city recovered faster than many places in the south, pivoting to an economy driven by commercial shipping and tourism. Recently, it’s been touted as a growing IT hub, with organizations like the Charleston Digital Corridor and many IT companies headquartered in the city. Modern Charleston is one of the friendliest cities in the United States--and you don’t have to take our word for it. It topped Travel + Leisure’s list of Most Friendly US Cities 3 of the last 10 years and was dubbed the most hospitable city in America by Southern Living Magazine in 2016. It’s a creative city, too, with a unique local culture that blends French, English, and West African traditions with good old Southern charm. Its vibrant theater scene and renowned local cuisine draw in as many visitors as its museums and historical attractions.
Where to live in Charleston
Downtown Charleston is located on a peninsula created by the Ashley River to the west and the Cooper River to the east. This central part of the city is very pedestrian-friendly and the best place to live if you want to walk or bike as your main form of transportation. The local bus system, CARTA, also has broad coverage throughout the peninsula, but there aren’t many routes in neighborhoods across the rivers. These areas are still quite close distance-wise to downtown for drivers and commute times are reasonable from the inner suburbs, especially compared to other large cities, but you’ll likely want to own a car if you live there.
Best Neighborhoods in Charleston
The peninsula neighborhoods each have their own distinct feel, ranging from lively and urban to laid-back and residential. If you want to live in the action, areas like the French Quarter, NoMo, and Harleston Village are where you’ll find the most restaurants and shops, along with the most active nightlife. These are also the best neighborhoods to enjoy the local art and music scenes. On the other end of the spectrum, Hampton Park Terrance and North-Central are quiet and residential, while still being well-connected to the more commercial downtown areas. Once you cross either the Ashely or Cooper Rivers, the vibe veers more toward small town or suburban. Areas like West Ashley and I’On showcase the friendliness Charleston is known for, and are particularly popular with families for their abundant green space and quiet, safe environment.
Quick Facts About CharlestonWith a population of around 140,000, Charleston feels more like a large town than a city, with more open space (and friendlier people) than you might expect from an urban center. Here are some more facts to help you get to know Charleston a little better:
It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.It’s no surprise that a city consistently ranked among the most livable is attracting new residents. Charleston’s population increased by about 8% from 2014-2018, a growth rate about 3 times faster than the US average.
The pineapple is the city’s unofficial symbol.In the 17th century, returning sea captains would put a pineapple on their porch to let their neighbors know they’d come back and welcome them in for a chat. The pineapple became a symbol of hospitality, and today you’ll see it all over the city, most notably on the fountain in Waterfront Park.
It’s a fashionable city.Charleston is relatively laid-back on a day-to-day level, so you won’t stand out walking down the street in jeans and a polo shirt. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if you see people dressed to the nines at theaters and restaurants, especially around the time of Fashion Week.
Billy Murray is a part-owner of Charleston’s minor league baseball team.Murray’s official title with the Charleston RiverDogs is “Director of Fun” and he can often be spotted at games (or around town, as a resident). The RiverDogs play in downtown Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, and are an affiliate of the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.
Pirates are part of its history.As a large and wealthy Atlantic port, Charleston was an attractive target for pirates in its early years. Its most famous aggressor was Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, who blockaded the entire Charleston Harbor in 1718.
It’s home to a surprising number of US firsts.In Charleston, you can tour America’s first museum (Charleston Museum), see a play at its first playhouse (Dock Street Theatre), or play golf on its oldest course, which was established in 1787 and is now part of Charleston & Resort Islands Golf.
It has its own shade of green.According to legend, locals added yellow to the black paint sent to them by the Union to restore damage caused during the Civil War. This created the distinctive shade of dark green, now known as Charleston Green, that you’ll see on historic buildings around town.
The Charleston was invented in a local orphanage.The lively ‘20s-era dance called the Charleston is synonymous with the jazz age. It was inspired by the dancing of the Jenkins Orphanage Band, which is exactly what it sounds like: a band formed by residents of the Jenkins Orphanage. Their swinging style and Geechie-influenced dancing inspired composer James P. Johnson, sparking the national dance craze.
Work in Charleston
Charleston is a good place to look for work, with a low unemployment rate and a projected future job growth of higher than the US average. No one industry dominates the local economy. Health care, education, and the services sector are the main employers, together accounting for about 38% of the workforce, but there are also jobs available in the arts, IT, transportation, retail, and construction, along with numerous other industries. The tech sector (specifically IT) has seen the most growth in recent years of any industry in Charleston. Notable IT companies in Charleston include BoomTown, Blackbaud, and SPARC. It’s also home to manufacturing plants for companies like Mercedes-Benz and Boeing and has a thriving public sector, with the Joint Base Charleston military installation and Medical University of South Carolina among the city’s main employers.
How good is Charleston for Digital Nomads or Remote Work
Remote work is changing how the global workspace operates. In a trend that is showing no signs of slowing down, remote work is rapidly on the increase all around the world—especially in a place like Charleston. And about 25% of remote workers describe themselves as digital nomads—those who like to travel or stay in cities around the world while they work. So, how good is Charleston for both of these growing movements?
Average Internet SpeedInternet speeds are high across South Carolina, and as one of the main metro areas that holds true in Charleston. The average download speed in the city is around 99Mbps, and you’ll find reliable high-speed public connections in all of the city’s neighborhoods.
Work-friendly Coffee ShopsThe cafe culture is strong in Charleston. The city has lots of students and a growing number of remote workers, so you won’t feel out of place pulling out your laptop. Here are the best spots to work out of: Mercantile & Mash: This Eastside cafe has a mix of seating options and ample table space, along with free Wi-Fi and a full, tasty menu. There’s a sister bar next door, Bar Mash, for unwinding when your work day’s over. Second State Coffee: Near the College of Charleston in Harleston Village, Second State has some of the best coffee in Charleston. While it’s not the largest cafe, you can usually find a spot at the windows even when it’s busy, and the Wi-Fi is always strong. Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer: This hip spot has an outdoor courtyard along with indoor seating, giving you a variety of workspace options. Their long hours (7am-9pm) make this a great option for both early risers and night owls.
Coworking SpacesCharleston has more than a dozen coworking spaces, ranging from general open workspaces to more targeted small business and innovation incubators. Here are the three top-rated coworking spaces: Local Works: One of the newest coworking spaces in Charleston, Local Works is spacious and flexible, with a choice of renting open desk space or a private office. Members get 24/7 access to the space and the community is friendly and welcoming to newcomers. Holy City Collective: Flexible indoor and outdoor workspaces and super-fast Wi-Fi are the top perks of this space. They offer day passes as well as monthly memberships for those who only need a part-time workspace. The Exchange: This upscale spot has an elegant and refined workspace designed to inspire productivity. Their networking events and focus on collaboration give members lots of resources to build their careers. Along with local independent spots, international coworking chains have locations in Charleston, such as Regus, which has locations both on the peninsula and in the suburb of Mt. Pleasant.
Suitable Level for Digital NomadsCharleston packs a lot of punch into a relatively small city. That makes it the perfect city for nomads who want the culture and entertainment options of a city but don’t want to contend with crowds and traffic. With a mild climate, excellent restaurants, and a thriving art scene, it checks all the boxes on most people’s “ideal city” list. The growing economy makes it a good place to find work, as well, with a culture and infrastructure to support remote workers from a variety of industries.
Visa RequirementsThrough the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), citizens of 39 countries can stay in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. This includes citizens of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and nations of the EU, among others. Citizens of Canada can also enter the US visa-free and can stay up to 6 months. For longer stays, or citizens of nations not included in the VWP, the process can be more difficult. The most common type of temporary work visa is the H1-B, but these are limited in number and the approval process can take a long time. Other visa categories, like B-2 tourism visas or specialized J, O, or P work visas, may be a faster and better option. Consult with the US embassy or consulate in your country well in advance of your travels to find out which visa is best for you and how to apply.
Food and Drink in Charleston
Charleston likely has more James Beard Award winners per capita than any other US city. Rodney Scott is the city’s most recent winner, and you can eat his low-and-slow smoked pork at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ. Another local winner, Sean Brock, is the executive chef at Husk, an authentic southern restaurant that uses traditional ingredients in innovative ways. For coastal cuisine, check out Wild Olive and its sister restaurant, The Obstinate Daughter. Both serve delightful seafood with an Italian flair. You’ll find more casual eateries in Charleston, too. Daps Breakfast & Imbibe has an indulgent all-day breakfast menu (their chorizo gravy alone is worth a visit). You’ll also find a number of delectable Asian eateries, from the delicate flavors of Xiao Bao Biscuit to the spicy Sichuan cuisine at Kwei Fei. The local craft beer scene is also surprisingly robust considering the city’s size. There are more than a dozen breweries with taprooms in Charleston. Holy City Brewing has more than 20 options on tap, along with a delicious menu of elevated bar food. Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. serves wood-fired pizza with their roughly 2 dozen in-house brews. If you want to check out some local food trucks, head to Cooper River Brewing Company--you’ll usually find some parked out front (and their beer is tasty, too).
Top 6 Things To Do in Charleston
The Charleston Historic District should be your first stop if you want to explore the city’s landmarks. Established in 1931, it was the first historic district in the United States and where you’ll find notable buildings like the Exchange and Provost and the Charleston Museum, which is the oldest still-operating museum in the United States. Live theater is another favorite activity in Charleston. You can see the Charleston Stage Company perform at the Dock Street Theatre or check out one of the city’s many performing arts festivals, like the Soleto Festival USA or the Charleston International Film Festival. For outdoor entertainment, you can head to the coast and spend a day at Isle of Palms County Park or Sullivan’s Island, or take a boat tour of the harbor to spot dolphins and other local sea life.
Saint Michael's Church
71 Broad St, Charleston
21 E Battery, Charleston
Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site
1500 Old Towne Rd, Charleston
McLeod Plantation Historic Site
325 Country Club Dr, Charleston
Old Slave Mart Museum
6 Chalmers St, Charleston