Top Sunset Viewing Locations
Including helpful tips from locals to maximize your experience
If someone were to ask when I last felt complete joy and happiness — the kind of utter joy that takes your breath away and fills up your soul — I would answer that it was while I was lost in a sunset.
My most recent such joys were watching the best sunsets in Charleston, South Carolina. Simply breathtaking! After a year of not traveling in 2020, it was time to plan a big trip. I immediately knew it would be Charleston. Many of my friends had traveled there, and after seeing their pictures, I fell in love with the history, the colorful houses, the charm, and the beaches. One day I knew I had to see it in person, and 2021 was going to be the year!
Combing travel blogs, local Charleston papers, and Instagram accounts, I read and researched in advance of my June trip. By the time I arrived in the Holy City, I’d planned an exciting, detailed itinerary.
The trip exceeded expectation in every way; the colors (Rainbow Row), the architecture (Battery homes), the food (shrimp and grits), and the people (southern hospitality is real) did not disappoint. And yet, surprisingly, of all the miles I walked around the city, incredible places I ate, and wonderful people I met, the most memorable and beautiful moments I experienced were the sunsets.
Sunsets are sunsets, right? Not in Charleston! They’re so much more than pretty golden hues painting the dusk sky. The big yellow ball descending on a Southern horizon not only takes your breath away, it steals your heart.
Add one, or all of these top viewing spots to your itinerary and see the best sunsets in Charleston; there’s more to the city than meets the traveling eye.
Best Sunsets in Charleston #1
The Rooftop Bar at The Vendue
After dining at Husk — a must for any foodie, more below — my traveling friend and I headed to The Rooftop Bar at the Vendue Inn to catch an after dinner sunset. Conveniently located near the Waterfront Park, it made for a pleasant walk through the French Quarter district.
The Vendue’s rooftop offers a magnificent westward facing view of the city and its famed steeples. I loved seeing the spires reflected against the changing rainbow sky. Since this was my first night in Charleston, scanning the skyline and taking in its beauty fueled my excitement to discover the city and all it’s nuances.
Tip: To access the roof, take the main elevator up to the top floor — no lobby check in is required. It opens directly onto a large bar area; immediately to the right is a wide staircase to the rooftop where a smaller bar awaits. It can get crowded so go early to snag the west-facing bar seats or a table.
Best Sunsets in Charleston #2
Shem Creek is the happening place to be in Mount Pleasant. Several restaurants sit at creek’s edge, giving you plenty of places to eat, grab a drink, and enjoy the water. I loved seeing the different boats coming in and out of the creek, and watching kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders (available from creekside rental companies.) There is truly something for everyone here.
My friend and I had heard great things about Saltwater Cowboys so we chose it for dinner. Though we were seated inside, the Manager, Mike, gave us a heads-up when it was prime time to get to the rooftop for the sunset. We were blown away by the panoramic harbor view with ribbons of color streaming as far as our eyes could see. It was the perfect place to capture some great photographs before returning to our table.
Tip: The people in Charleston love tourists! Truly, every local I talked to was sincerely kind, charming, and welcoming. Some even offered tips on things to see and do so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation.
Best Sunsets in Charleston #3
Pitt Street Bridge
Locals know this is not really a bridge, nor is it commonly known as Pitt Street Bridge. They simply call it, “Old Bridge” for the bridge that once existed there, connecting Mount Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island until a more modern swing bridge took its place further inland.
The area is now a beautiful park set amidst marshland where the tide changes nature’s landscape every 6 or so hours. If I lived in Charleston, I would likely spend most evenings here. This was a recommendation from a local and I will always feel special appreciation for them helping me find this gem. I entered the location into my GPS, but when I arrived, the street simply ended. There was no official park entrance, or parking lot, and cars were simply lined up along the side of the road.
My traveling friend and I quickly realized the Pitt Street Bridge was much more than just any old ‘bridge.’ It was a premiere sunset place to be. A broad paved walkway with grassy stretches and perfectly aligned rows of Palmetto trees stretched out several hundred feet, ending at the actual old bridge, now reached by a slightly narrower boardwalk. Benches dotted the walkway where couples and families sprawled on blankets awaiting the golden hour — the magical time when the sun’s show is as slow as the pace of Lowcountry living.
We enjoyed the cool breeze as we walked past the people and Palmettos. I was blown away by the simple beauty all around with the rustling marsh on our left, the Cooper River’s glimmering water to our right, and the elegant Ravenel Bridge far off in the distance.
Taking in our surroundings, we enjoyed every second of the sun’s descent, it’s first kiss upon the water, glorious reflections, then shyly disappearing as I snapped one radiant shot after another. Remembering those moments always bring a smile to my face.
Tip: Had I known about the expanse of gorgeous lawn space I’d have brought a blanket, beverage, and other creature comforts, claimed a spot of green and settled in for nature’s show.
Best Sunsets in Charleston #4
Y’all! I have saved the best for last. My favorite Charleston sunset was the least planned and most savored.
Odd how life throws curve balls then surprises with its silver-lined turn of events. If I hadn’t been stood up for dinner, the final and most memorable sunset experience wouldn’t have happened as it did. After waiting a respectable length of time at the wonderful High Thyme restaurant, I gave up my table, moved to the bar and took to chatting with two lovely locals seated next to me.
After wonderful conversation and a glass of pinot, it was time to head in search of a hopeful photo-worthy sunset. As I stood up, the two I’d been chatting with shared a crucial tip: park at Fort Moultrie on the southern end.
Sullivan’s Island, though tiny, can be very busy and the streets are a bit confusing — they’re referred to as “stations.” If you don’t know how to interpret stations, you can easily get lost. Parking is difficult to come by so finding a spot, especially one located near beach access, can be a shot in the proverbial dark.
The sun was making its descent, and I worried I wouldn’t find the fort it in time. Driving along I noticed a a sudden slew of cars parked in front of a large bunker type building, with people clutching chairs and little ones’ hands, all headed for the beach. I knew I was in the right place.
This was the only sunset I experienced solo on my trip, and also the only one I wish I had shared. It turned out to be the perfect spot to experience a Sullivan’s Island sunset like a local. I didn’t merely watch the sun slowly glide to the horizon and marvel at its colors, rather I was enveloped by it, surrounded in every direction by its beauty.
The rhythmic ocean waves, the sight and sound of children running and laughing along the beach, and the cry of the seagulls above the water were the soundtrack for a setting sun song I never wanted to end. A warm golden glow kissed my face and I felt something in my soul stir at the simple wonder of it all. Pictures can paint a thousand words — and I do love photography — but for me, no photo could truly capture that experience of joy and gratitude.
Here are 5 travel tips for your trip to Charleston:
Have a camera companion
When you’re back home from your trip, you’ll be glad to have a few special shots of you in your favorite places. If you’re with a friend or traveling companion, make sure they take more than a few of you. Don’t be afraid to ask them to shoot from different angles to get your good side — and if you’re traveling solo, many a local will happily accommodate. Vanity worries have no place in life time memorabilia! The more taken, the greater likelihood you’ll end up with one to cherish.
Talk to the locals
This may not be universal advice for wherever you travel, but in Charleston, talking to the locals is an essential part of the experience. Every person I spoke with was happy to talk to me, offer advice, and tips on where to go and what to do. Even if you have an itinerary, tell them your plans. They may have helpful suggestions like the best time to go, where to park, or how to experience where you’re going in the most ideal way. And you never know if you’ll hear of a better idea for you!
Sit at the bar
This goes in hand with the above, but it’s worth restating. Unless you’re dining where reservations place you at a table, sit at the bar. That’s where you’ll meet locals and have great conversations. This is also when you’ll hear all the insider tips; who knows, maybe you’ll make a new friend too.
Have an itinerary but be flexible for change
There is so much to see and do in Charleston that is becomes overwhelming on arrival to decide. Create an itinerary in advance. There are handy apps but I’m partial to Google Docs. However you generate it, make sure it’s easy to edit because once you’re in town, chances are good you’ll want to adjust things.
For example, we had a 6 p.m. dinner reservation on my itinerary, but morning sightseeing spilled into afternoon, and we grabbed a late lunch. At 5 I wasn’t the least bit hungry, I was tired from an exciting day, and I wasn’t up for dressing fancy for the upscale restaurant scene. So I cancelled the reservation and after a few hours resting in our hotel, we ended up with a completely different laid back evening over appetizers and late night cocktails. It turned out to be one of the best evenings!
I am a big fan of plan B, because sometimes plan B is the best option.
Get out of your comfort zone
As a single woman, it takes bravery to go somewhere alone, whether sitting solo at a bar, touring an attraction, or watching a sunset. Every time I push myself out of my comfort zone and chose adventure, I never regret it. The experiences tend to become the most special memories too.
A restaurant recommendation
The best meal I’ve had in years was at Husk. Seated in the main dining room on a weeknight, everything was incredible. I can’t imagine any other night or seating location would have brought a better experience. A lemon twist vodka martini was the perfect start and accompaniment to charcuterie — truly something from a dream. The perfect balance of flavor and texture with stellar cheese and meat combos. I wanted to bottle up the fresh berry jelly to take home. It was that good simply slathered on the sensational cheeses.
My next course, pork lettuce wraps, were fresh, tasty, and tender with a hint of spice and just the right amount of smoky infusion. But the blueberry tart dessert was the piece de resistance! Simultaneously sweet and tart, the bold fresh flavors were ever mingling.
From start to finish, it’s readily apparent Husk considers every sense, from the visual aesthetic and aroma, to flavor and texture with every dish. Advance reservations are a must!