LGBTQ+ Travel Guide to Charleston, SC

LGBTQ+ Friendly Charleston SC Travel Guide
Photo by 1778011 from Pixabay

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Charleston, South Carolina may have a reputation for its rich history and Southern charm, but it also welcomes LGBTQ+ travelers with open arms. Whether you’re exploring the historic district, enjoying its restaurants, experiencing the nightlife, or simply unwinding on the sandy shores of its LGBTQ+ friendly beaches, Charleston has something for every LGBTQ+ traveler. 

Part of the “Lowcountry,” Charleston is a historic city known for its cultural heritage, waterfront views, and well-preserved architecture. It offers lots of attractions, including historic sites, musical venues, art galleries, and  an eclectic dining scene, to name a few. Visitors can stroll the city’s cobblestone streets, visit museums, and enjoy recreational activities along its scenic coastline. Charleston’s laid back style and irresistible charm make it a popular destination for LGBTQ+ tourists seeking a taste of Southern hospitality and history.

The city’s historic district, known for its pastel-colored houses and charming gardens, is a focal point for those interested in history and architecture. Charleston is also home to numerous plantations, each with its own unique history and beauty. The city’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean provides opportunities for water-based activities, including beach outings, sailing, and fishing. Overall, Charleston offers a blend of culture, history, and natural beauty, making it a diverse and engaging destination for LGBTQ+ travelers as well as travelers of all interests. 

Check out our guide to find some of the welcoming places and LGBTQ+ experiences in this oldest and largest South Carolina city.

How to Get There: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

When traveling to Charleston there are several transportation options to suit your preferences and needs.

Planes: When traveling to Charleston, SC, by air, Charleston International Airport (CHS), is your landing spot, conveniently located near the city. This well-connected airport offers flights  from major cities in the United States, making it a convenient option for travelers.

Trains: While Charleston doesn’t have a direct Amtrak route, you can take an Amtrak train to Charleston’s neighboring cities, such as North Charleston or Savannah, Georgia, and then use ground transportation to reach the city. The scenic train ride can be a great way to experience the region’s beauty.

Automobiles: If you’re traveling from nearby cities, or if Charleston is a stopping point along the way to places north or south, you may choose to drive. The city is accessible via several major highways and a road trip can be a fun adventure. 

How LGBTQ+ Welcoming Is Charleston

Charleston has been making notable strides in fostering LGBTQ+ inclusivity. While lacking comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, the city has hosted Pride events, promoting visibility and acceptance within and for the LGBTQ+ community. Supportive organizations provide crucial resources for LGBTQ+ youth, and LGBTQ+ friendly establishments offer spaces for socializing. Public opinion is shifting towards greater openness and support for LGBTQ+ rights showing a commitment to progress and acceptance.

One significant step forward was the election of the city’s first openly gay mayor, John Tecklenburg, in 2016 and his re-election in 2020. Tecklenburg’s tenure has seen a focus on inclusivity and diversity, and he’s been a staunch advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in Charleston.

In addition to political representation, Charleston has several LGBTQ+ support groups that provide resources, safe spaces, and advocacy for the community. These organizations work tirelessly to raise awareness, promote equality, and ensure that Charleston continues to evolve as an LGBTQ+ friendly city. The combination of supportive leadership and active community engagement suggests a positive trajectory for LGBTQ+ inclusivity in Charleston.

Charleston Pride

Charleston Pride is a non-profit organization promoting LGBTQ visibility, education, cultural advocacy, and heritage honoring. The organization hosts various events throughout the year, focusing on highlighting the diversity and uniqueness of the LGBTQ community, including the annual Charleston Pride Parade and Festival.

Charleston Black Pride 

Established in 2019, Charleston Black Pride (CHSBP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ people of color in Charleston. CHSBP’s mission is to create awareness, visibility, and safe spaces through events and forums while fostering empowerment and collaboration with other organizations for the benefit of the LGBTQ+ people of color in the Charleston area.

Pride Events in Charleston

Charleston Pride Week – Charleston Pride week is an annual September event organized by Charleston Pride featuring events including a comedy show, Trivia, a dance party, and “Dragaoke,” the LGBTQ+ spin on karaoke. 

  • Charleston Pride Festival – The highlight of Pride Week is the Charlestown Pride Festival at The Refinery. This family-friendly event features a non-stop stage of live entertainment, local food trucks, specialty drinks, and vendors.

Charleston Pride Pageant – The Charleston Pride Pageant is an annual event for local LGBTQ+ performers to showcase their talents and compete in various categories, including drag, singing, and dancing for the honor of being crowned to the Royal Court of Charleston Pride. 

Charleston Pride Parade – Hosted by Charleston Pride, but unlike September’s Pride Week festivities, the Charleston Pride Parade occurs on the first Saturday in the traditional pride month of June, in historic Downtown Charleston. The event welcomes individuals and organizations to participate by walking, riding in vehicles, or creating themed floats, as it makes its way along King Street in Charleston.

Charleston Black Pride Weekend – Black Pride Weekend is an annual LGBTQ+ event that celebrates and supports the Black LGBTQ+ community through workshops, panel discussions, and cultural performances. It serves as a platform for networking, education, and creating a sense of belonging within the Black LGBTQ+ community in Charleston.

Park Circle Pride – Park Circle Pride celebrates the LGBTQ+ community in North Charleston with a week of activities held at different venues, including bars, restaurants, and breweries. Park Circle Pride is one of the largest and most diverse Pride Festivals in the South, featuring drag brunches, trivia, workshops, an art walk, a poetry stage, restaurant specials, panels, karaoke, trivia, a vendor market, a youth fest, a cabaret show, bingo, dance parties, drag storytime, and a lot more.

History Of Charleston

In 1669, three ships, the Carolina, the Port Royal, and the Albemarle, set sail for America under the leadership of Captain Joseph West. A severe storm separated the vessels, resulting in the wreck of the Port Royal and the Carolina’s landing in Bermuda. In the spring of 1670, 150 English colonists, including indentured servants and slaves, arrived in Charleston. They first glimpsed their new colony in March 1670 at Bull’s Island and eventually settled at Albemarle Point, which they later renamed Charles Town in honor of King Charles II. Despite challenges such as conflicts with the French, Spanish, and indigenous tribes, as well as diseases and natural disasters, Charleston grew into a thriving seaport, exporting goods like rice, indigo, and cotton to England.

Religious tolerance and the presence of settlers from different backgrounds played a role in Charleston earning its nickname as “The Holy City.” However, the Revolutionary War disrupted the city’s golden age, and it was occupied by British forces for a time. The 19th century brought prosperity through agriculture and cultural development, but Charleston faced significant challenges, including the Civil War and a devastating earthquake in 1886. Despite these setbacks, Charleston persevered, and by the early 20th century, it was experiencing a cultural renaissance. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 posed a significant threat, but the city’s resilience and preservation efforts ensured its historical charm remained intact. Today, Charleston is one of America’s most beautifully preserved historical cities, with its history spanning over three centuries.

LGBTQ+ Friendly Places To Stay In Charleston

When planning your trip to Charleston, selecting the ideal accommodation for a comfortable and enjoyable stay is key, especially for the LGBTQ+ traveler. Charleston is known for its warm embrace of the LGBTQ+ community, offering plenty of options from which to choose.

Do you prefer being in the heart of the action?  Downtown hotels place you right in the middle of it all with so much to see and do within walking distance. Maybe you seek a cozier experience. Charleston’s B&Bs provide an opportunity to connect with fellow travelers while enjoying more personalized hospitality. For those in search of something unique and distinctive, boutique hotels offer smaller, more intimate settings and a commitment to ensuring all guests feel welcomed.

Charleston provides LGBTQ+ friendly accommodations regardless of what’s your pleasure, to assure every traveler finds a comfortable place to stay. Here are a few of our favorites.

The Restoration Hotel CharlestonThe Restoration Charleston encourages authenticity and self-discovery, therefore its name “Restoration.” Offering two accommodation options of either boutique rooms and hotel suites or one and two-bedroom suites in The Residences, this historic downtown property with its city views, rooftop pool, and world-class restaurant has it all.

Market Pavilion HotelThe Market Pavilion Hotel offers upscale lodging with various room options, including luxurious suites and rooftop rooms. Located in the historic district, it provides convenient access to popular Charleston attractions, and is known for its elegant atmosphere, rooftop pool, fine dining options, and attentive service.

The LoutrelLocated in Charleston’s French Quarter and a short drive from the airport, this 4 star, upscale boutique hotel is a short 7-minute walk from King Street’s shopping and nightlife. Rooms feature smart TVs, minibars, and coffee makers, while suites offer living areas and pull-out sofas. There’s also a rooftop terrace, a bar/lounge, a social club and fitness center for your enjoyment..

Lavender and Lace Bed and BreakfastLavender and Lace, located on a quiet residential street in a historic South of Broad neighborhood. This 1870’s Victorian residence in Charleston’s Historic District, has been meticulously restored for a vintage feel. Guests can relax in antique-filled rooms or, for longer stays, the two-story carriage house, all featuring private baths and off-street parking. 

Recommended Restaurants In Charleston

Dining out in Charleston is an eclectic mix of traditional Southern cuisine, including dishes like shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, and fried chicken, as well as international flavors and contemporary cuisine. The city’s restaurants are known for their emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including seasonal produce, seafood, and meats from local farms and fishermen making every meal a palate-pleasing experience.

One of the unique features of Charleston’s dining scene is the charming historic settings, waterfront views, and cozy neighborhood eateries you get to enjoy while eating. Whether you’re looking for a sophisticated fine dining experience or a laid-back meal at a seafood shack, Charleston has plenty of options from which to choose. 

Charleston Grill – Located in the heart of the Historic District, the Charleston Grill is a sophisticated, elegant  and soulful dining experience, making it the perfect choice for any occasion. Its menu is a blend of traditional Southern flavors and contemporary cuisine, offering options to cater to everyone in your party.

Stella’s – Famous for some of the best authentic Greek food in town, gay-owned Stella’s, is a classy, throwback diner, offering indoor and outdoor seating . Be sure to save room for their house made desserts.

Grill 225 – Located in the Market Pavilion Hotel, Grill 225 is a classic steakhouse unlike any other, offering premium cuts of beef, aged in-house to enhance their flavor and tenderness, and expertly prepared and served in an upscale dining setting. Knowledgeable staff can assist with wine pairings from their extensive wine list.

El Jefe Voted Charleston’s Best Margarita spot, El Jefe doesn’t stop there. The restaurant has the city’s largest LED wall for watch parties and features a mechanical bull named “Luna.” The menu includes signature dishes and prides itself on providing authentic and fresh Texican cuisine.

Peninsula Grill –  Located in Charleston’s Historic District, this AAA, Four-Diamond restaurant is a favorite of both locals and tourists. The Peninsula Grill menu focuses on upscale Southern cuisine with a contemporary twist. Top off your meal with its world famous, award winning coconut cake. If you’re not in the mood for a big meal, then check out the Champagne Bar with a selection of champagnes by the glass and its own bar-style menu. 

The Grocery A farm-to-table restaurant, with a focus on seasonal and regional produce, is how The Grocery got its name. Diners can expect dishes that highlight the flavors of the Lowcountry, which includes an abundance of seafood, fresh vegetables, and locally raised meats.

Church Street Charleston SC
Photo by Devin I from Unsplash

Things To Do & See In Charleston

There are unlimited choices of what to see and do in Charleston.You can explore historical sites, well-preserved homes, museums, and landmarks.There’s also ample opportunities for outdoor activities, with numerous parks, gardens, and waterfront areas. Known for its arts and culture scene, you can take in galleries, theaters, and performance venues that showcase both local and international talent. Cultural enthusiasts can discover the artistic heritage through various exhibitions and performances throughout the year.

Museum Mile – Museum Mile is a stretch of historic downtown that features six museums and historic houses open to the public. Visitors can explore them all to learn about the city’s history, art, and culture.

Waterfront Park – Located along the Cooper River, Waterfront Park is a scenic urban park. It features beautiful gardens, fountains, walking paths, and views of the Charleston Harbor and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, making it a popular destination spot.

Pineapple Fountain Charleston SC
Photo by Emmy Gaddy from Unsplash

Fort Sumter National Monument – Known for its significance in the American Civil War as the location where the first shots were fired, it now serves as a national monument and museum, providing visitors with insights into the events that led to the war.

Haunted Carriage Tour – Take a twilight tour of one of America’s most haunted cities, with tales of ghosts, pirates, and patriots. Led by a knowledgeable guide, you’ll explore haunted graveyards, churches, alleys, hotels, and notable sites like the Provost Dungeon and Old Exchange, all while hearing spooky stories of the city’s haunted history.

Rainbow Road Charleston
Photo by Leonel Heisenberg from Unsplash

The Real Rainbow Row Tour – Rainbow Row is a group of houses on East Bay Street. While these houses are iconic for their colorful facades, they also hold historical significance in Charleston’s LGBTQ+ history. A self-guided walking tour, The Real Rainbow Row Tour begins at Explore Charleston (375 Meeting Street) and lasts approximately two to two and a half hours, providing opportunities to explore, shop, visit museums, and take breaks along the way.

Charleston Music Hall – Originally serving as a passenger station for the South Carolina Railroad in 1850, it was later converted into a music venue. Today, the Charleston Music Hall hosts a variety of concerts and comedy events each year. With it’s flexible and reserved seating, “The Hall,” as it’s known to the locals, has the largest general admission capacity in the city

Where To Shop & Stroll In Charleston

Shopping and strolling in Charleston offer a  blend of history, charm, and contemporary style. The city’s historic district, with its cobblestone streets and centuries-old architecture, provides a picturesque backdrop for leisurely exploration. For the shopper in you, you can find everything from boutique stores and antique markets to exclusive shopping districts. Whether you’re searching for elegant fashion, one-of-a-kind antiques, or locally crafted treasures, shopping while strolling in Charleston is always an unforgettable experience.

King Street – Known as the city’s premier shopping destination, features a mix of upscale boutiques, national retailers, antique shops, and art galleries. It’s divided into three sections: Lower King (antiques), Middle King (fashion and home goods), and Upper King (trendy boutiques).

The Shops at The Charleston Place – Located within the luxurious Belmond Charleston Place Hotel, The Shops at the Charleston Place feature high-end boutiques such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and St. John. It’s perfect for upscale shopping. 

Charleston City Market – As one of the oldest markets in the US, Charleston City Market spans four city blocks. Shoppers can find home-made crafts, hand-painted artwork, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, and a lot more.

Historic Charleston Foundation Shops, including The Shops at 108 Meeting Street and 51 Meeting Street, Historic Charleston Foundation Shops have a selection of gifts, home décor, books, and accessories with a focus on Charleston’s history and culture.

Sugar Bakeshop – The Sugar Bakeshop is best known for its charming, small-town vibe and scrumptious cakes, tarts, cookies, muffins, and pies baked fresh every morning. Their rotating seasonal menu of flavors keep customers coming back for more.

LGBTQ+ Bars, Clubs and Nightlife In Charleston

Charleston’s LGBTQ+ nightlife scene offers a lot in a small town for those seeking entertainment and socializing. Several bars in the city often host themed events, drag shows, and dance nights. And, while the exclusive LGBTQ+ nightlife scene may not be as extensive as in some other cities, the majority of bars and clubs are inclusive LGBTQ+ spots. 

Dudley’s on Anne – Affectionately known as “Charleston’s Everyone’s Bar,” Dudley’s on Anne is one of South Carolina’s oldest LGBT bars and has been honored by Yelp as one of the top 50 gay bars in the country and by the Charleston City Paper as the top LGBT bar in the state. Definitely the place to be if you’re LGBT, and even if you’re not as Dudley’s welcomes everyone.

Bin 152 – A combination wine and cheese bar, art gallery, and antique market Bin 152 is a trifecta of delights for travelers. With an impressive selection of over 30 wines available by the glass and more than 100 wines by the bottle, along with 35 cheese and charcuterie choices, LGBTQ+ friendly Bin 152 is a “must do” for wine and cheese lovers.

The Rooftop at Vendue – Recognized as the “Best Rooftop Bar” by Charleston City Paper each year since 2007,The Rooftop at Vendue provides breathtaking views that serve as the perfect setting to enjoy cocktails with friends or that special someone.. 

Annual Events and Festivals in Charleston

Charleston’s calendar is filled with annual events and festivals, ensuring there’s always something happening in the city. From jazz festivals to film festivals, Charleston’s cultural scene offers plenty of entertainment for residents and tourists alike. These events often feature live music, performances, interactive exhibits, food, drink, and just having fun. Whether you’re a food enthusiast, art lover, or music aficionado, you’ll find something to your liking during your stay in Charleston.

Charleston Wine & Food Festival – Featuring a variety of tastings, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and food-related events, the Charleston Wine & Food Festival draws both local and national culinary talents and enthusiasts.

Moja Arts Festival – A multicultural arts festival featuring artistic performances, exhibitions, and cultural events, Moja Arts Festival celebrates various art forms and traditions.

Charleston Bluegrass Festival – The Charleston Bluegrass Festival is a weekend-long event on the grounds of the Woodlands Nature Reserve. Festival-goers can anticipate top-notch bluegrass performances, along with comfortable camping facilities, a variety of local food and craft vendors, and outdoor recreational activities.

Charleston Jazz Festival –  Featuring a lineup of jazz musicians from around the world, the Charleston Jazz Festival is a four-day-long event for jazz lovers throughout the country to enjoy renowned international headliners and performances at multiple venues.

Charleston Greek Festival – As the oldest festival in the area, and the 3rd largest festival in the Lowcountry with more than 35,000 attendees annually, the Charleston Greek Festival is a celebration of fun, food and Greek culture. 

Holiday Festival of Lights – Featuring a spectacular three-mile drive through displays of millions of twinkling Christmas lights and decorations at James Island County Park, the Holiday Festival of Lights is truly a beloved seasonal tradition for the whole family.

Harbor Walk Overlooking Ravenel Bridge
Photo by Andrew Shelley from Unsplash

LGBTQ+ Friendly Charleston: A Diverse & Inclusive City

With its cobblestone streets and pre-Civil War  architecture, Charleston, South Carolina, proudly presents itself as a welcoming destination for LGBTQ+ travelers with a mix of history, charm, and inclusive experiences. The city has a growing LGBTQ+ community that frequently organizes events and gatherings, offering opportunities for LGBTQ+ travelers to connect with the community. The city’s reputation for Southern hospitality ensures that LGBTQ+ visitors are greeted openly, reflecting its warm and inviting nature. Whether as a romantic getaway or a cultural exploration, Charleston offers LGBTQ+ travelers a mix of experiences while embracing diversity and inclusion in this centuries-old historic setting.

**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).

Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.

Events are subject to change. Please check the events webpage for updates and schedules.

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may, 2024

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