From atop one of Charleston’s many rooftop eateries, a 360-degree sweep takes in a striking panorama: historic neighborhoods throughout — home to majestic Civil War–era mansions — with more than a dozen steeples downtown and the Atlantic Ocean on the outskirts. In the middle of all of this? A booming job market, a thriving cultural and dining scene, and mild weather — which makes living in Charleston, South Carolina, a year-round pleasure.
If you’re considering a move to Charleston, here’s a look at some facts you need to know, from the best neighborhoods and schools to the Lowcountry’s favorite beaches.
1. People are moving to Charleston every day.
You can’t deny the fact that Charleston is in close proximity to some pretty sweet places. It’s only about a two hours’ drive from South Carolina’s capital, Columbia, and two hours north of Savannah, Georgia. Atlanta is not too far, either, at four hours by car. And did we mention the ninety miles of coastline that stretches along Charleston’s Atlantic Ocean border — one of the many reasons the city is a top vacation destination?
Spread across about 110 square miles and with a population just over 150,000, Charleston is the largest city in its state. Regionally, however, the Charleston metro area now has more than 800,000 residents, with 33 people moving in every day. The average age in Charleston, SC? That’s 38, with nearly 40% of the population in the 20-39 range.
|Q: Is Charleston, SC, a good place to live?|
A: If rich cultural history, award-winning dining, gorgeous beaches, and vibrant nightlife are your definition of “good,” then the answer is absolutely yes! Part of the city’s charm is its eclecticism: There’s truly something for everyone, from families to young professionals to retirees (golf, anyone?).
2. Charleston, South Carolina, weather is fantastic — until the tropics heat up.
Who wouldn’t want 230 days of sunshine every year? And with temperatures averaging at about 50°F in the winter to 80°F in the summer, the subtropical climate makes it a dreamy destination for outdoor lovers.
But when the tropics get steamy from June to September, as with any Southeastern state, Charleston can find itself in the path of a hurricane. For instance, the monster known as Hugo hit in 1989, and its remains still linger in certain parts of the city. Fortunately, Hugo was the last major hurricane to make landfall in the state — though it has been impacted by other hurricanes and tropical storms over the years.
Even without giant tropical storms, the summer is active weather-wise in Charleston. Afternoon storms are a regular occurance, with seriously intense lightning and torrential rains. Looking on the bright side, though, the “thunderboomers” are good for cooling off the sometimes sweltering summer days. Just don’t get caught outside in one!
3. You’ll never run out of things to do in Charleston, SC.
New residents are flocking to Charleston for lots of reasons. For starters, the rich history of the city is well preserved and available in museums, on guided tours, and merely walking down the street. In the historic district, for example, you’ll find narrow, cobblestone streets lined with upscale shops and restaurants. Wind your way to the neighborhood known as the Battery and you’ll also find Civil War–era mansions that tower above the waterfront on the stunning Rainbow Row — named for the homes’ vibrant colors.
Want more options? Here’s a quick look at our favorite must-do activities for people new to living in Charleston, South Carolina:
In a city with as many churches (and cemeteries) as Charleston, there are bound to be spirits — or at least that’s what the tour guides tell us. Believer or not, you’ll get a tour of the city — on foot, by carriage, or by bus — and an enlightening history lesson. Who knows? You might also get spooked.
Downtown history tour
Same as above but with fewer ghost stories.
Parks and recreation
Outdoor living is at the heart of Charleston’s charm — and a big reason so many people pick the city as their new home. Be sure to visit the Charleston aquarium (formally the South Carolina Aquarium), home to more than 5,000 creatures and host of special events and classes for sea-critter lovers. Another favorite destination is the 10-acre Waterfront Park, overlooking the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor. There you’ll find the famed Pineapple Fountain, Charleston’s treasured monument symbolizing the southern hospitality Charlestonians are famous for.
|Insider Tip: Not totally sold on Charleston? Southern cities are some of the fastest growing destinations in the country. Check out the PODS blog to find out what you need to know about other potential destinations, such as living in intown Atlanta, moving to (and from) Dallas, and Nashville neighborhoods of note.|
The Charleston Wine and Food festival is world-class, and it draws thousands of guests annually in March. But every day of the year, Charleston’s dining scene attracts foodies — and hungry newbies! — for some of the best cuisine in the country. In fact, locals insist visitors can’t leave town without sampling the Charleston-bred she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and Planters Punch (created at downtown’s historic Planters Inn).
Fort Sumter National Monument
Hop on a ferry to the site of the first shots of the Civil War, and take a tour with park rangers who know everything there is to know about the battleground, the soldiers and sailors, and the fort.
Sugar-soft sand and ocean waves are just a quick drive from downtown — and there are so many to choose from. Want a laid-back beach town vibe? Folly Beach is popular with surfers, and you’ll find top-rated locally owned restaurants and bars within walking distance. For a more residential, less touristy environment, check out Sullivan’s Island. The Lowcountry favorite is home to the lighthouse known as “Charleston Light,” standing guard on the beach to guide ships into Charleston Harbor.
|Q: Is Charleston a good place to live in your 20s?|
A: Gen Z-ers and young Millennials abound in Charleston. Given the Charleston job market and entertainment scene, it’s no wonder. And downtown isn’t the only thriving sector for twenty-somethings. Coastal towns like Folly Beach and Sullivan’s Island also offer plenty of nightlife and affordable housing, with a relatively quick commute to most regional business centers.
4. The best places to live in Charleston, SC, include downtown, Johns Island, and Mount Pleasant.
It’s practically impossible to name all the best places to live in Charleston. But here are three of our faves:
Culturally rich with award-winning dining, art galleries, museums, and shopping within walking distance, downtown Charleston is a desirable — albeit pricey — neighborhood. Like most urban core areas, its eclecticism is what makes it vibrant, with College of Charleston students living on campus or in nearby apartments, affluent “Old Charleston” families on the upscale blocks near the waterfront, and young professionals flocking to the new rentals and condos sprouting up throughout the city. The Charleston Airport is also just 15 minutes west of downtown, making business trips easy as pie.
Check out downtown’s Upper King, where the Saturday Farmers Market takes over historic Marion Square with fresh produce, crafts, and other goodies. Other downtown neighborhoods to check out include South of Broad, Harleston Village, and the French Quarter.
|Pro Tip: Tourists and horse-drawn carriages are everywhere on downtown Charleston’s narrow, cobblestone streets, so leave your impatience behind, breathe, and go with the flow.|
Families love the vibe of this barrier island bedroom community, just 15 minutes from the business center of downtown. Newer neighborhoods are popping up to accommodate the need for young families eager for an active lifestyle, easy access to downtown, and a quick hop to the beaches. When you visit Johns Island, be sure to check out Angel Oak, one of the largest and oldest trees east of the Mississippi River at 66½ feet tall and 28 feet around — and thought to be between 400 and 500 years old!
This quaint town lives up to its name. With a charming, walkable center and some of the best-rated schools in the area, Mount Pleasant, SC, is one of the most desirable areas for families. Like most Charleston-area communities, it’s close enough to downtown for a decent commute — but beware of rush hours around the heavily trafficked tourist attractions — and it’s only about 15 minutes to Isle of Palms, SC, one of the area’s loveliest beach destinations. Needless to say, Mount Pleasant homes are a little pricey, with a typical home value of nearly $621,000, up almost 25% from 2020-2021.
Here are six more top-notch neighborhoods, half of which are Lowcountry islands:
- Kiawah Island
- Isle of Palms
- West Ashley
- James Island
|Q: Is Charleston, SC, an expensive place to live? |
A: Living in Charleston is a little more pricey than in the rest of the U.S. With a modest increase in prices of just 1.5% in the past year, the cost of living in Charleston, SC, is almost 2% higher than the national average.
The Charleston housing market, in particular, is a bit unusual right now (like most U.S. markets). Home prices in Charleston rose 23.2% from 2020-2021, with a typical home value of about $443,500 as of November 2021. Charleston, SC, real estate isn’t the only thing on fire; the rental market is equally volatile. A little under half of all residences in the city are rentals, and the average monthly rent is currently at $1,708 (think 1-bedroom, 963-square-foot apartment).
5. Charleston has some of the top schools in South Carolina.
From the No. 1 U.S. News and World Report–ranked Academic Magnet High School to Wando High and the Charleston School of the Arts, the city consistently earns top marks for good schools with highly dedicated teachers and administrators. Charleston County Schools is also the second-largest district in South Carolina, with a reported graduation rate of more than 84% in 2021 — slightly above the state average.
6. Tech and hospitality are among the hottest fields in the Charleston job market.
Job growth has increased in Charleston by almost 20% over the past 10 years, three times faster than similarly sized U.S. cities. Tech gigs, in particular, are booming with an influx of multinational corporations setting up headquarters in the immediate area. And hospitality jobs continue to increase as more tourists and new residents discover Charleston — thus the need for more hotels and restaurants. The median household income is $68,438, with Roper St. Francis Healthcare, The Boeing Company, and Trident Health System as the top private sector employers.
|Q: What salary do you need to live comfortably in Charleston, SC?|
A: For a family of four with two adults in the workforce full-time, $86,947 is the before-taxes salary you’ll need to live comfortably.
7. You definitely need a car to get around the greater Charleston region.
Public transportation is not one of Charleston’s charms. The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority offers a free shuttle around downtown (DASH) and bus service around the city and outbound to some of the beaches. But living outside the city requires a car or the ability to use rideshare services. Of course, urbanites in neighborhoods like Upper King or Harleston Village can walk practically everywhere. But for the outlying areas, motorcars are a must.
|Q: Living in Charleston, SC, pros and cons: What’s the crime rate? |
A: As much as the area has going for it, truth be told, crime is a bit higher here than in the rest of the state and nation, with a rating of 16, according to the Neighborhood Scout index. That means Charleston is safer than just 16% of other U.S. cities. Like any city, though, Charleston has plenty of areas that statistically experience less crime. Neighborhood Scout cites Rantowles, Harbor View Road, and the Citadel Military College region as areas with the fewest incidents.
8. Fun fact: Lowcountry love bugs honeymoon in Charleston twice a year.
Nope, we’re not joking. Once only found in the Sunshine State, these odd little critters (which are actually a type of fly) have migrated northward during the past few decades into the entire Southeastern region, including South Carolina. The insects appear in late spring and fall, swarming in the thousands — but if you look closely, you’ll see that they travel mostly in connected pairs. The amorous bugs are harmless but annoying as they splat onto cars during their biannual Lowcountry visits. And although love bugs aren’t poisonous in any way, bicyclists may want to keep their mouths closed during spring and fall rides along Charleston’s many scenic bike paths and trails. Yuck!
Ready to start living your best life in Charleston? Let’s get moving! From renting a truck to hiring a squad of professional movers, there are plenty of options to go with. If you’re looking for a flexible solution, PODS can help. PODS drops off a portable moving and storage container right in your driveway so you can pack and load at your own pace. Then, when you’re ready, they pick it up and deliver it straight to your new South Carolina home.
Shannon Jacobs is a Tampa-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to the PODS blog. She has lived in Atlanta, the Berkshires, and Nashville, but always returns to the warmth of Florida’s Gulf Coast.
- Charleston population and median household income – U.S. Census Bureau
- Crime stats – Neighborhood Scout
- Cost of living – Salary.com
- Live comfortably – MIT Living Wage Calculation
- Demographics – Charleston County Economic Development
- Employment stats – Charleston Regional Development Alliance
- Private sector employers – Charleston Regional Development Alliance
- School graduation rate – Charleston County School District
- Typical home value (Charleston, SC) as of November 2021 – Zillow
- Average rent (Charleston, SC) as of October 2021 – RENTCafe
- Typical home value (Mount Pleasant, SC) as of November 2021 – Zillow
- Charleston climate – Explore Charleston
- Angel Oak Tree – angeloaktree.com
- Population age – Census Reporter