A historic port city, Charleston has long been a Southeastern commercial hub. In addition to its stunning architecture, world-class dining, Southern hospitality, and natural beauty, the city's candy-colored homes and cobblestone streets are mixed with art galleries, boutiques, and stores selling paintings, fine jewelry, antiques, luxury clothing, and locally made goods, such as the city's famed sweetgrass baskets.
Whether you want to stay in the city and explore the bustling stretch of King Street, the luxury brands of the Shops at Belmond Charleston Place, or the historic Charleston City Market, or venture away from the crowds for traditional suburban shopping malls and outlet centers, the city has a variety of retail options for every budget, taste, and style. Here are the seven best places to go shopping in the Holy City for that perfect souvenir, locally made craft, rare book, a one-of-a-kind work of art, or latest high-end fashion.
Bisecting Charleston's main peninsula from north to south, King Street has long been one of the city's largest and most important commercial thoroughfares. Among the 2-mile stretch of historic storefronts, cobblestones streets, and fine restaurants, you'll find a mix of national and local retailers. Nestled among Saks Fifth Avenue, Apple, and Anthropologie are local gems like estate furniture shop George C. Birlant and Co., men's clothier M. Dumas & Sons, women's ready-to-wear designer collective Hampden Clothing, family-owned fine jewelry store Croghan's Jewel Box, and rare and used purveyors Blue Bicycle Books.
Pro tip: on the second Sunday of every month, the city shuts down traffic on the street so shoppers can enjoy patio dining, live music, and browsing through shops without dodging cars.
The Shops at Belmond Charleston Place
Some of the city's most high-end shops can be found in this two-story shopping center located inside the tony (and air conditioned!) Belmond Charleston Place hotel nestled between King and Meeting Streets downtown. Retailers include luxury brands Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Kate Spade New York, and St. John as well as other national clothing brands like Everything But Water, White House Black Market, Tommy Bahama, Chico's, and Sperry.
When you've wrapped up your shopping, stop by the Charleston Grill inside the hotel for a luxurious and leisurely dinner. With French-Southern fare, an extensive wine list, and regular live jazz music, the white tablecloth spot is one of the city's best restaurants. Or try the more casual companion eatery Palmetto Grill, which offers breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch featuring Low Country staples like shrimp and grits and has one of the city's prettiest outdoor patios.
Charleston City Market
Located inside a 19th-century building on Meeting Street downtown, this former meat and produce community marketplace is the best spot for purchasing locally made, authentic Charleston goods, foods, and souvenirs. The four-block market features more than 300 vendors in open-air stalls and an air-conditioned great hall. While crowded, especially in the height of tourist season, it's worth a visit to watch local Gullah artisans weave sweetgrass baskets, a 300-year-old West African tradition. Other products include fine art, pottery, leather goods, home decor, and jewelry. Highlights include hand-poured, locally made Element Candles and sweets from Charleston bakers Maria's Pink Box.
The market is open every day except for Christmas Day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday and Saturday evenings from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. year-round, plus Thursday evenings in the warmer months. Note that parking can be tricky but is available at three nearby garages as well as a large surface lot at Church and North Market Street. To avoid the hassle of paid parking, take the free Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH), which makes several stops in the neighborhood.
Bargain hunters will want to head to this shopping center in North Charleston, which offers more than 100 different discounted and outlets shops from name brand clothiers like Michael Kors, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF FIFTH, Coach, Forever 21, Ann Taylor, J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Brooks Brothers. Athletic companies Nike, Adidas, Under Armor, and New Balance have stores here as well, as do accessory brands like Vera Bradley, Sunglasses Hut, and Claire's.
The outlets are only about 2 miles from Charleston International Airport, so if you're driving or renting a car, it's worth your time to swing by on the way in or out of town.
Charleston Farmers Market
You'll find more than just food from local growers at this open-air market in historic Marion Square, consistently ranked one of the top farmers markets in the country. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday from April through November, more than 100 vendors selling flowers, handcrafted jewelry, textiles, original paintings, and furniture. With frequent live music, family-friendly activities, and food trucks dishing up breakfast sandwiches, Low Country boil, and pressed juices, you can easily spend hours shopping or just lounging in the park soaking up the energy and the views.
Get in your holiday shopping during the special Holiday Market on select Saturday and Sundays in December, when the park is decorated in lights and all the trimmings. Vendors offer seasonal food, crafts, artwork, and other goods.
French Quarter Art Galleries
While the city is home to several fine art galleries, many of them are clustered inside what's known as the "French Quarter," the original walled part of Charleston bordered by the Cooper River on the east, Broad Street to the south, Meeting Street on the west, and Market Street to the north. From the husband-and-wife-owned Robert Lange Studios with a wide selection of contemporary paintings, sculptures, and blown glass to the artist collective Lowcountry Artists' Gallery, which specializes in one-of-a kind pieces like handcrafted tables, pottery, and paintings from local artists, the galleries are popular with collectors seeking unique pieces and arts enthusiasts who are just browsing.
Don't miss the Charleston Gallery Association's monthly ArtWalk series, usually held the third Thursday of every month. The self-guided tour includes more than 40 downtown art galleries along Quarrier, Capitol, Hale, Lee, and Virginia Streets as well as neighborhood boutiques, restaurants, and other businesses that offer extended hours, wine and select refreshments, live music performances, and other engaging activities.
Mount Pleasant Towne Center
For a traditional shopping mall experience away from the business of downtown, head to Mount Pleasant, a suburb about 10 miles northeast of the city. This open-air shopping district has more than 65 stores, including national shops like Belk, Old Navy, Victoria's Secret, J. Jill, Loft, Ultra Beauty, and Barnes & Noble as well as local boutiques like Copper Penny and Millie Lynn, which sell women's clothing, shoes, and accessories.
The complex also has several fast casual and chain restaurants like Qdoba and P.F. Chang's, a Peloton showroom, Cyclebar spin studio, and a 16-screen movie theatre that offers reserved seating, beer and wine, select snacks, and shows the latest in both mainstream and independent films.