Scroll To Top

With Vibrant History & Culture, This Southern U.S. City Knows How to Welcome LGBTQ+ Travelers

With Vibrant History & Culture, This Southern U.S. City Knows How to Welcome LGBTQ+ Travelers

With Vibrant History & Culture, This Southern U.S. City Knows How to Welcome LGBTQ+ Travelers
Courtesy of Explore Charleston,

Read how Charleston, S.C. celebrates its rich LGBTQ+ history and find out about the events you must attend when visiting the Lowcountry.

When visiting historic Charleston, South Carolina, there is much to discover. Known as the most European American city, Charleston features unique sights and exciting spots where visitors can grab a bite to eat overlooking the harbor or ocean, shop in open-air markets, or attend live events featuring diverse cultures. However, an aspect often overlooked is the exploration of the LGBTQ+ community's rich 350-year history and vibrant culture that can inspire any traveler to feel pride in their identity. With activities like The Real Rainbow Row, a self-guided walking tour that celebrates Charleston’s LGBTQ+ life since the 1850s, and bars like Dudley’s, LGBTQ+ visitors will feel welcome when traveling to this Southern city.

LGBTQ+ history runs through Charleston’s veins. One of the first sex reassignment patients, trans woman Dawn Langley Simmons, called Charleston her home, and is a subject of a soon-to-be documentary. And beginning in 2018, the College of Charleston created a unique archival collection of the city’s LGBTQ+ history, documenting important sites that made up LGBTQ+ life. The initial collection has grown with a ton of community support since 2018, and the tour has evolved as new information has been discovered. Visitors can walk to the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, where a collection detailing the lives of Joseph Towles and Colin Turnbull, two scientists and romantic partners, is on display. There are over twenty sites on The Real Rainbow Row tour with unique LGBTQ+ history to discover.

Courtesy of Explore Charleston,

Besides LGBTQ+ history, there are numerous other historic spots to check out. Charleston’s history is best exemplified by Museum Mile on Meeting Street, which features six museums, five historic houses, multiple parks, and unique Charleston architecture. Civil War history buffs will want to explore Fort Sumter National Monument. And everyone will want to experience one of the many ghost tours and other notable sites along the area. Don’t miss the iconic King Street or The Shops at Charleston Place for those interested in shopping. And for time in the sun among the surf, don’t miss one of the many local beaches, such as Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island, and the gay favorite: Folly.

Charleston resident Marshall Morris has a lot of love for his city’s beautiful waterways. When asked where he’d recommend visitors check out, he said, “Anything that involves being on or near the water! After all, Charleston is a peninsula and surrounded by many islands, it's a great city to admire from the coast. There are boat rentals to explore, or get to know our locals and befriend someone with a boat. The Battery and White Point Garden are great attractions for all the history you can find and spectacular views. There are also kayak rentals and eco tours at Shem Creek, or spend a relaxing day at any one of our beautiful beaches.”

Courtesy of Explore Charleston,

When looking for special events in the city, plan to attend one of the annual Pride Festivals, which have been run with love and support by the community for over ten years. As the best-attended, but not the only, event during Pride Week, Charleston Pride Festival offers visitors a chance to celebrate who they are with all the locals who make up the friendly community. Local businesses, non-profits, and other LGBTQ+ organizations help make this a Pride event to remember where Charleston travelers can experience a joyous time touring the city and celebrating LGBTQ+ identity. Another event that can’t be missed is Spoleto Festival USA, a 17 day and night festival that celebrates performances by renowned artists and emerging talent in performing arts every Spring. Travelers who enjoy Spoleto will get to experience the historic architecture of Charleston’s historic theaters, churches, and outdoor spaces.

For longtime resident Beth Huntley, her list is without limits for why she and her wife, Linda Ketner, choose to stay in Charleston, saying, “There’s no doubt that Charleston is unrivaled in its beauty, the Lowcountry is extremely gorgeous. It’s also cosmopolitan, the best thing about this area is the variety in personality. Whether it’s the beach setting or the waterway setting, downtown with all its history, or events like Spoleto, there’s so much that this area has to offer.”

Anyone visiting Charleston will yearn for a comforting meal after all that walking, and Charleston is famous for its wide variety of restaurants. The culinary scene includes Native American, European, West African, and Gullah Geechee influences and locally sourced seafood and produce. The Grocery’s menu changes daily and focuses on the abundance of local produce. Charleston Grill offers a modern twist on Southern food accompanied by nightly live jazz performances. Stella’s exemplifies how European techniques can be adapted to an American application. And for the LGBTQ+ couple looking for a romantic evening, look no further than Peninsula Grill, with its dreamy vibes and an award-winning menu.

Beth and Linda agree that Charleston also offers incredible alternatives to meat-forward restaurants, with Beth chiming in that, “Charleston has a great selection of plant-based options. Places like Verde and Neon Tiger give back to our community while offering a nice variety of culinary fare in the Lowcountry.”

Courtesy of Explore Charleston,

After all that exploration and delicious food, the traveler will be ready to let loose and enjoy Charleston’s nightlife. The one spot that visitors have to check out is Dudley’s on Ann Street, the LGBTQ+ bar that has it all: Karaoke, billiards, themed dance nights, and lots and lots of drag shows. Every day of the week, Dudley’s is the LGBTQ+ space to visit. Also, don’t forget to experience all the nightlife on upper King Street, just steps from Dudley’s front door. For the best bars with a view, check out The Rooftop Bar at Vendue Inn, which offers beautiful views of Charleston Harbor and tasty cocktails. And if you’re looking for a premium wine bar, check out the wine and charcuterie at Bin 152, nestled on lower King Street among antique stores, art galleries, and other unique local shops.

Speaking of Dudley’s, When Marshall was asked about his favorite local business recommendations, he heaps praise on the LGBTQ+ bar, saying, “Dudley's, of course is the place to visit, and there are many supportive bars and restaurants all over town, as well as LGBTQ+ owned businesses such as Images Charleston, an art gallery on King Street. Park Circle is a fun neighborhood to check out, or have fun getting lost exploring the hidden alleyways of our Downtown.”

Regardless of how you plan your visit to Charleston, you’ll have memorable experiences no matter what you do. With historical sites filled with fascinating stories of the past, Pride events to celebrate LGBTQ+ culture, and some of the most unique restaurants and nightlife, you will want to experience Charleston again and again.

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Nic Austin