Beautiful and charming Charleston, SC is a worthy vacation destination, but staying downtown on the peninsula in the historic district can get a bit pricey. Enter Mount Pleasant, SC! Mount Pleasant is Charleston’s closest suburb, a 10 minute drive across the Cooper River, and is home to some of the Charleston area’s most popular tourist sights, like Boone Hall Plantation and Patriot’s Point. Mount Pleasant is also the gateway to both Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island if you’re looking for some of Charleston’s best beaches.
There are enough fun and free things to do in Mount Pleasant that you could spend your whole vacation here, but we still recommend you save a day or two for historic downtown Charleston. 😉
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Why Should I Care About Mount Pleasant?
Do you like to save money? Of course you do. Who doesn’t?
That’s why you should care about Mount Pleasant.
Charleston, with much of downtown being a Nationally Registered Historic District, has restrictions on what can and can’t be built, including how tall buildings are allowed to be.
Fun Fact: City of Charleston building codes restrict any building downtown from being taller than the tallest church steeple which belongs to St Matthew’s Lutheran Church. That’s roughly 4-5 stories tall.
Shorter buildings mean fewer rooms and higher prices to cover hotel operating costs. The downtown boutique hotels are fabulous, and there are nationwide hotel chains downtown as well, but you will get a better price by simply crossing the river and staying in a (larger) hotel across from downtown.
This is worth it if you intend to explore beyond the downtown peninsula. Note: there are no plantations and no beaches downtown, so it’s not a bad idea to expand your adventure zone for your Charleston vacation.
There are A LOT of different things to do in the Charleston area, but staying in Mount Pleasant and renting a car for excursions is the best way to see the most sights.
How to Get to Mount Pleasant
Mount Pleasant is so close to Charleston, the only reason they’re considered different places is because the Cooper River separates them.
In colonial times that river was a much bigger deal to cross, but today it’s only a 10 minute drive across the Arthur Ravenel bridge, the huge white cable-stayed bridge that you literally cannot miss from downtown.
From the airport, there are two options to get to Mount Pleasant:
- If you’re staying on Isle of Palms or in the Mount Pleasant Town Centre area, take I-526.
- If you’re staying on Sullivan’s Island or in the Patriot’s Point area, take I-26.
Either route can access all of the destinations listed, if traffic happens to be backed up on one or the other. It’s always a good idea to check traffic before you leave. Charleston is the second fastest growing area in the state of South Carolina, and the infrastructure is not keeping up with it yet.
Interesting Things to Do in Mount Pleasant
Many of these sights are the most popular things to do when in Charleston, but there are a few hidden gems that will give you a local’s view into life in Mount Pleasant.
Don’t underestimate the little guys, like the Pitt Street Bridge or the Mount Pleasant Pier. Mount Pleasant’s Cooper River and Charleston Harbor waterfronts have unbelievable views! You do not want to miss the sunset from these vantage points!
1. Boone Hall Plantation
What’s a visit to Charleston without a visit to a historical plantation? Boone Hall is one of the top 5 best plantations in the Charleston area, and the only one on the Mount Pleasant side.
You’ll be blown away by Boone Hall’s beauty before you even step foot out of your car! Enter the property down the famous Avenue of Oaks, the driveway lined by towering live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.
Tour the House and stroll through its small garden. Take a tractor tour of the farm and learn the past and present history and challenges of maintaining a farm in the Lowcountry.
Explore the very well-preserved slave quarters out in front of the main house, unusual in that they’re made of brick. The Slave History presentation will explain more about the buildings and the enslaved families that inhabited them, or you can take a self-guided tour of the Black History in America exhibits.
Don’t miss a Gullah culture presentation for insights into the lives of the enslaved. Charleston can’t escape its past but they’re getting better about representing all facets of plantation life, not just the owner’s perspective. This presentation examines the culture of the oppressed people, often overlooked in the past.
All tours are included in admission, and tickets are not limited to a specific date if you get rained out.
2. Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
Charles Pinckney was one of South Carolina’s signers of the US Constitution, a prominent Southern politician during the colonial era. He lived in Mount Pleasant (before it was called that), almost right across the street from the Boone Hall Plantation.
If you’re already in the area to see Boone Hall, this is a quick and worthwhile stop to learn about a forgotten founding father.
Start in the main house, the only historic building left on the property, which also serves as the gift shop and museum. The Pinckneys were once household names in Charleston, and Charles spent much of his life in public service.
A self-guided tour of the nature trail around the property provides more detail of what the plantation would have once looked like.
3. Fort Sumter National Monument
The first shots of the American Civil War were fired here in Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter is in the middle of the harbor, so while it is not technically in Mount Pleasant, you can still access it from Mount Pleasant.
The official Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center is on Liberty Square on the Charleston side of the Cooper River, where you can catch a ferry out to the fort and explore a small museum detailing the road leading up to the Civil War.
On the Mount Pleasant side, you can also catch a ferry from Patriot’s Point out to Fort Sumter. There is another museum in Fort Sumter that goes into more detail about the history of the fort specifically.
Hop the ferry, get great views of the USS Yorktown and downtown as you cruise out to the Fort, and then enjoy exploring one of America’s most famous forts.
4. Walk, Bike, or Jog on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
The giant white bridge with the cables that crosses the Cooper River that you can see from downtown? Yeah, that’s the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, opened in 2006 and a vast improvement on the old bridges.
The Ravenel bridge accommodates not only vehicles but also pedestrians! This is actually due to a tragic accident.
A local, Garrett Wonders, was training for the Olympic cycling team and was struck and killed by a car while cycling across the previous Cooper River Bridge. The public demanded a separated and safe way for pedestrians to use the new bridge, and Wonders’ Way, the pedestrian path, was added to the design for the Ravenel bridge.
Park under the bridge at the Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park. Use the lot furthest from the water, tucked up under the bridge, across the street from the park. Everyone is welcome: walkers, joggers, bikers, and strollers. Just be aware of your surroundings and allow faster users to pass.
Pro Tip: It gets very windy up on the bridge! Make sure hats and scarves are secure, and bring a jacket in the cooler months. It may not be cold enough for one at ground level, but you’ll be thankful to have it when you’re out over the water.
There are two viewing areas, one at each of the two center bridge towers, that provide amazing views of the area. Bring a zoom lens! Capture the downtown skyline, the USS Yorktown, Charleston Harbor, or an ocean freighter passing underneath you on its way to the Port.
5. Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park & Pier
This small park is underneath the east end of the Ravenel bridge, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a very safe area, many hotels are located nearby, and the views of the Cooper River are beautiful!
Have a picnic on the grass, photograph those awesome river views, or just let the little ones get their energy out on the playground.
In the summer, the town of Mount Pleasant hosts Waterfront Movies & Music on the lawn at Waterfront Park. Bring your lawn chairs, picnic blankets, and a cooler of snacks and beverages and enjoy an evening of entertainment!
The park also features a War Memorial, a bronze sculpture surrounded by pillars of the armed forces on one side and a low waterfall feature on the other. Charleston is home to both a naval base and an air force base. Memorials like these are common throughout the Charleston area.
At the back of the park, the Mount Pleasant Fishing Pier extends into the Cooper River. Come fish, or just watch others fish while you shoot the breeze on one of the many swinging benches along the pier.
The pier is also a great place for photography. The enormous Ravenel bridge looms overhead and almost equally enormous ocean freighters will pass by if you stay long enough.
Pro Tip: Stay after sunset and watch the pier and the bridge light up for the night!
6. Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum
A huge hit with adults and kids alike, visiting the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier at Patriot’s Point should be on your list of things to do in Mount Pleasant! These ships are like floating cities with an airport! See how the crew lived, worked, slept, and ate in this behemoth ship during World War II.
The flight deck is the best level of the ship. Airplane aficionados will love the cool planes on display, and everyone else will enjoy the views of Charleston and the Ravenel bridge from this unique vantage point.
If the aircraft carrier isn’t enough, hop on over to the USS Laffey (a destroyer) and USS Clamagore (a submarine). Compared to the enormous aircraft carrier, you’ll be able to explore these in much less time, and usually with fewer people.
Note: the submarine is a bit tight in places, and tall people should be extra careful. I have successfully explored the submarine with two tall gentlemen, topping out at 6’-5”, so it is possible to explore safely!
Pro Tip: Patriot’s Point also sells ferry tickets for Fort Sumter. Get a combo ticket and explore both the fort and the navy ships in one day.
7. Shem Creek: Dining, Shopping, & Activities
Eat fresh seafood brought in daily by the boats lining the creek! The Wreck and Red’s Icehouse are popular favorites for dinner on the creek, but be prepared to either pay to park or walk a bit for free parking.
Shopping (and even more restaurants) line Coleman Boulevard in both directions from Shem Creek.
And lastly, Shem Creek is home to Coastal Expeditions, your full-service water activities and rentals shop. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and glide along Shem Creek for a unique view of Mount Pleasant.
Dolphins love Shem Creek! You’re almost guaranteed to see dolphins in Shem Creek during your visit.
8. Shem Creek Park & Boardwalk
Everyone goes to Shem Creek for the dining, but the small boardwalk park next to the creek is one of Mount Pleasant’s hidden gems. The boardwalk follows a portion of the Shem Creek waterfront and then splits off, away from the boats and across the salt marsh to a small parking lot.
Pete the Plastic Pelican reminds you to keep track of your trash and not dump it in the ocean. Public restrooms are available at the parking lot.
The parking lot is often overcrowded. The lot is SUPPOSED to be for park users only, but plenty of people park here and go eat at one of the nearby restaurants. Don’t be one of those people.
9. The Old Mount Pleasant Historic District
Mount Pleasant dates back to the 1700’s. The town got its name from the plantation that once anchored the area. The Hibben House was once the main plantation home. Today, it’s still grand but has been modified quite a bit over the years.
The Historic District is nationally registered and covers 30 mostly residential blocks near the Cooper River waterfront. Check out the tiny post office, visit the Pitt Street Pharmacy, and stroll the streets before heading to the Pitt Street Bridge.
10. The Pitt Street Bridge
Known as “the old bridge” to Mount Pleasant locals, The Pitt Street Bridge has quite the history. Today it’s a relaxing park that extends into the salt marsh with excellent sunset views of the harbor. It’s not even a bridge anymore, but that wasn’t always the case.
The first two incarnations of the Pitt Street Bridge were for troop transport from Mount Pleasant to Fort Sullivan (later, Fort Moultrie) for the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. In 1898, an entrepreneur bought and marketed Isle of Palms as a resort town, and the first public transportation was provided.
By the 1930’s, the bridge was falling apart and had to be replaced, but now bridges had to accommodate boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway. The Ben Sawyer bridge was built a short distance away, and the Pitt Street Bridge was instead demolished and converted into a park.
11. Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park
On the end of Sullivan’s Island, Fort Moultrie stands sentinel over Charleston Harbor. This fort is actually older and was used for much longer than Fort Sumter.
However, Fort Sumter was made a national monument first, and it wasn’t until some years later that Fort Moultrie was also protected and the National Historical Park was created to preserve both forts.
Fort Moultrie saw action from the Revolutionary War through World War II and after, until the rise of nuclear weapons and ICBMs rendered coastal forts obsolete. See how the fort evolved through the centuries on a self-guided tour inside and around the exterior of the fort’s high brick walls.
The Fort Moultrie visitor center has a little museum packed to the gills with information about the fort. Don’t miss the short 20 minute video presentation, especially if you don’t want to read everything in the museum exhibits.
Caution: The visitor center parking lot is locked at closing time. You can continue to explore the grounds outside of the fort after hours, but move your car to free on-street parking first.
12. Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms was literally built to be a beach lover’s delight, and there’s no way to get to it except through Mount Pleasant. The resorts, the shops, and the restaurants are all there to accommodate beachgoers. And they deliver!
Downtown Charleston has no beach of its own. The barrier islands provide multiple options for beach trips, but Isle of Palms is one of the best beaches in Charleston.
Wide, white sand beaches are perfect for sunbathing or building sandcastles. Rent beach chairs and umbrellas and enjoy the convenience of free public restrooms, freshwater showers, and changing stalls, all provided by the Isle of Palms County Park.
13. Morris Island Lighthouse
The iconic lighthouse of Charleston Harbor. Cheating again a bit here, as this is clearly not in Mount Pleasant but is very close by.
There is no vehicle access to this island; you gotta take a boat. Sunset cruises in Charleston Harbor may get you a good photo or two, and some boat tours will drop you on Morris Island for the day.
14. Go to a Charleston Battery soccer game.
Charleston’s soccer team, the Charleston Battery, is part of the United Soccer League (USL), one step under the Men’s League Soccer (MLS) pro league.
The club recently changed stadiums in 2019 and are now playing at Patriots Point Soccer Stadium. As its name implies, it’s right next to the naval museum at Patriot’s Point and is easily walkable from the hotels in this area.
Enjoy a fun and cheap evening out cheering on the team to victory!
15. Bulls Island and the Cape Romain Nature Preserve
The furthest northeast barrier island that can be attributed to the Charleston area, Bulls Island is the southern end of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, one of the longest stretches of undeveloped and protected beach on the east coast.
It’s a stretch to call it Mount Pleasant (it’s not), but it is closest to Mount Pleasant of any of the Charleston area neighborhoods.
Take a Cape Romain Lighthouses tour, a guided paddle tour, or just get dropped off at Bulls Island for a day of secluded beachcombing and peace.
Sunrise can be equally amazing. Only a few days a year are offered for this tour. They time it for low tide to coincide with sunrise so you have the maximum amount of the Boneyard exposed for beautiful photographs. Don’t miss Boneyard Beach at sunrise!
Many of the best things to do in Mount Pleasant are must-see sights and activities for any great Charleston vacation. Pick your favorites and enjoy the beautiful Southern weather!