The Ultimate Charleston Packing List

·15 min read

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Everything you’ll need for your visit to the Holy City.

<p>Travel &amp; Leisure / David Hattan</p>

Travel & Leisure / David Hattan

History, design, and Southern charm coalesce beautifully in Charleston, South Carolina, a coastal city where past and present merge on every street corner. One of the South’s most exciting destinations, Charleston is a popular one-and-done weekend destination for travelers from the East Coast, but it’s also the kind of place you could return to many times over to keep peeling back the layers.

While there are typically very few rights and wrongs for what you should pack for a trip anywhere, there are a few special considerations for a complex place like Charleston. This is a city with a deeply-rooted sense of style, so you may want to pack a few elevated pieces you might not bring to other more relaxed destinations. And because of its southern — often sticky — climate, you’ll want to pack smart for the warm weather, too.

We spoke to a couple of experts to help understand what a visitor should pack for their next trip to Charleston. Use this guide to properly curate your suitcase, and you won’t miss a beat.

Packing Checklist for Charleston

Here’s what we suggest packing for a trip to Charleston, with our top pick for each item. Use this checklist to get a head start on your packing, and read more about each of our specific recommendations below.







T+L's Top Picks and Tips

Charleston has a typical subtropical southern climate that can get pretty sticky during the day, and can easily feel overwhelming for those not used to the combination of heat and humidity. If you’re visiting in the cooler winter months, you’re likely to find a reprieve from the oppressive heat.

“Comfy sandals and cool, lightweight clothing are a must for Charleston in the spring,  summer and fall,” said travel agent Beth Simms, founder of The Hello Agency, a Virtuoso Agency. “Most of the time you’ll see ladies in sundresses and men in shorts and polos — truthfully, year round!”

The winter months can cool down slightly, but even when the rest of the country is buried in snow in January and February, Charleston is likely to have sunny, beautiful days. “We have a few days of cold in the early parts of the year, but for the most part we tend to wear shorts and sandals throughout the year,” said Simms. “Being surrounded by water and several beaches, oftentimes you’ll see people around town in their swimsuits and coverups — headed out on the boat or to the beach.”

For daytime, focus on comfort and pieces that won’t hold you back while sightseeing. For the evening, you’ll want to dress up a bit more. Here are some of the best pieces we think work for any trip to Charleston.

Everlane Men's Classic Straight Jean

Best Jeans

When selecting a pair of jeans for everyday wear on your travels, it’s important to select a style that goes with a wide range of other pieces in your wardrobe. The classic straight leg bestsellers from Everlane — the Cheeky Jean for women and the Classic Straight Jean for men — are versatile, long-lasting, and have just a hint of stretch to them, so they can be worn over and over again without losing their fit.

Price at time of publish: $98

Charles Henry Off the Shoulder Dress

Best Dress

An off-the-shoulder dress is a great way to wear something casual and breezy (read: breathable for those hot and sticky Charleston days), but also feel like you’re wearing something that’s just elevated enough. We love how this one is styled with the perfect amount of ruffle, so it will catch the wind beautifully as you’re strolling down Charleston’s streets.

Price at time of publish: $79

Vuori Women’s Energy Tee

Best Tee

Vuori is a category leader when it comes to athleisure basics, and the men’s Tuvalu Tee and women’s Energy Tee are the kind of comfy, well-made, streamlined basics you’ll want to buy in multiples at a time. Both styles are made from material with just enough weight so they drape and resist wrinkles, but are still lightweight enough so as not to weigh you down on your adventures. They come in neutrals, whites, and a range of other fun colors to suit any look.

Price at time of publish: $58

Related:The 12 Best Packable Jackets for Women and Men of 2023

J. Crew Secret Wash Cotton Poplin Shirt

Best Button-down Shirt

While the J.Crew Secret Wash Shirt is technically a men’s style, it’s such a reliable, go-to piece that the women in your life might find themselves borrowing it, too. It’s made from durable two-ply cotton poplin, and a top-secret multistep wash process that makes it feel like you’ve had this shirt forever.

Price at time of publish: $80

“Charleston is a relaxed coastal city, but residents can often be seen dressing up for a night on the town,” said Catherine Woods, Director of Special Programming at The Charleston Place. “At night, grab a colorful or floral dress and you’ll fit right in.”

For evening plans, you’ll want to dress up a little bit more than what you wear while sightseeing during the day. Charlestonians have a solid appreciation for style, so this is a great city to take a (calculated) fashion risk. Go for the wide-leg or pleated pant. Indulge in a little color. Invest in a high-quality shirt that will be in your closet for years and years. These are the selects we think will serve you well come nightfall in Charleston.

Madewell Harlow Wide-Leg Pant in 100% Linen

Best Pants for Women

Charleston is the kind of place where you can take a risk. Not that these pants are necessarily risky — on the contrary, we think you’ll find they’re incredibly versatile and will go with many pieces already in your closet. That being said, the wide-leg silhouette makes just the right amount of a statement, and they’re made from a positively breezy cotton/linen blend suited for the stickiest of southern evenings.

Price at time of publish: $88

Madewell Pleated Cotton-Linen Chino

Best Pants for Men

Charleston is the perfect place to show off some style, and these pleated cotton-linen chinos hit that perfect balance of fashion-forward with a classic vibe. The linen material is soft and breathable, so you can wear them with confidence all day and all night.

Price at time of publish: $110

Lilly Pulitzer Tamie Off-the-Shoulder Midi Dress

Best Dress

Color, color, color — if you’re looking to make a splash in Charleston, a classic Lilly Pulitzer dress is the way to do it. This flattering, easy midi fit has an off-the-shoulder neckline, puff sleeves, and a forgiving elastic waist so you can indulge freely — and remain comfortable — at any of Charleston’s fabulous restaurants. 

Price at time of publish: $298

Sunspel Lightweight Poplin Shirt

Best Button-down Shirt

When it comes to menswear, investing in quality makes a difference in your wardrobe. A classic white shirt can be worn pretty much anywhere in Charleston, and we love how lightweight and breathable this one is. Sunspot is known for their obsessive attention to detail, and this shirt is spun from some of the finest, most long-lasting cotton fibers on the market.

Price at time of publish: $225

Related:The 15 Best Travel Dresses of 2023

“Comfortable shoes for walking Charleston’s cobblestone streets are a must,” said Woods. With historic sites to visit, neighborhoods to explore, and long, scenic walks to take along the city’s stunning Battery sea wall, you’ll want to make sure you have some good, comfy shoes for walking. But come evening when it’s time to experience Charleston’s vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene, something a little dressier is in order. Here’s what we think you should pack.

Dolce Vita Paisley Braided Sandal

Best Dress Shoes for Women

Finding the right shoe for a dressed-up event can be more art than science, but this braided sandal from Dolce Vita is pretty foolproof. They feature a chunky braided strap, and come in a number of different colors to coordinate with your closet. A chunky block heel and rubber sole mean these are surprisingly comfortable.

Price at time of publish: $125

Cole Haan Men’s ZERØGRAND Wingtip Oxford

Best Dress Shoes for Men

Few brands come close to the combination of craftsmanship and comfort you’ll find with Cole Haan shoes, and this wingtip oxford combines a classic leather upper with a sneaker-like sole. The result? A dress shoe that has the appearance of something more formal, but wears much more like your favorite casual shoes.

Price at time of publish: $195

Allbirds Tree Runners

Best Versatile Shoes

This hip direct-to-consumer brand has built legions of fans around the world for their insanely comfortable, machine-washable, go-with-everything sneakers. They’re the kind of thing that can be smushed into the bottom of your luggage, then look good as new when you pull them out at your destination. We love that they come in men's and women's versions, too. Added bonus? Allbirds use several environmental measures to produce a shoe with a smaller carbon footprint.

Price at time of publish: $105

Birkenstock Arizona Leather Sandal

Best Sandals for Men and Women

When it comes to durable, versatile sandals you can wear pretty much anywhere, there’s Birkenstocks, and then there’s everything else. This variation on the classic unisex Arizona style comes with an extra soft footbed that is perfect for long, rambling walks down Charleston’s historic streets.

Price at time of publish: $145

There is a lot to do in Charleston — and we mean a lot. Museums, theaters, bars and restaurants abound, but this is also a city with fantastic outdoor attractions, as well. Go for a historic cruise around the harbor, or explore the stunning architecture of the homes south of Broad Street. Whatever you end up doing, you’ll want to make sure you’re packed and ready for all contingencies. While this isn’t a destination where you need a lot of specialized items (such as, say, on an African safari), you will want to make sure you have a few key items on hand so you’re prepped and ready for all Charleston adventures. 

Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack

Best Daypack

This is the backpack that even backpack skeptics can get behind. Despite its low profile and surprisingly light weight, it has a spacious main compartment, a 15-inch laptop or tablet sleeve, and dual side compression straps to keep your goods secure. For a long day of walking around Charleston and seeing the sights, it’s a reliable companion.

Price at time of publish: $75

Related:The 10 Best Daypacks for Hiking in 2023

Glamorstar Classic Unisex Baseball Cap

Best Hat

The sun is strong in Charleston, especially when you’re outdoors all day seeing the sights, or visiting nearby attractions such as the beaches at Sullivan’s Island. There’s something charming about a baseball cap that goes with both casual and more dressed-up outfits alike, and both men and women can pull off the all-American vibes of this classic, affordable style.

Price at time of publish: $13

YETI Rambler 26 oz Bottle with Chug Cap

Best Water Bottle

Hydration is key, especially in a warm climate like Charleston’s. Yeti makes some of the highest-quality, most reliable water bottles on the market — the Rambler model, for instance, comes with double-wall vacuum insulation to keep your water cool and refreshing down to the last drop.

Price at time of publish: $40

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare All-Physical Lightweight Wrinkle Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30

Best Sunscreen

Yes, we know this sunscreen will set you back marginally more than your basic drugstore stuff, but can you really put a price tag on protecting your face? This lightweight sunscreen blends in easily and efficiently, creating a barrier to prevent free radical damage to your skin and without ever leaving a chalky white cast behind.

Price at time of publish: $42

Ray-Ban RB2140 Original Wayfarer Sunglasses

Best Sunglasses

Charleston is a city that appreciates classic style, and there may be no American sunglasses more quintessential than a pair of classic Ray-Ban Original Wayfarers. Made with a high-quality acetate frame that gently molds to your face over time, they are fully polarized and finished with a protective coating to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Plus, they look super cool.

Price at time of publish: $163

Feetures Elite Max Cushion No Show Tab Block Socks

Best Socks

Investing in the right pair of socks can make or break your trip, especially in a city like Charleston where it’s easy to find yourself on your feet all day. Feetures produces stunning, high-performance socks that have an articulated, anatomical design for enhanced fit, and maximum cushioning to prevent hot spots and blisters. They come in a range of heights, colors, and styles, but this no-show style is a versatile option for any type of casual, all-day shoe.

Price at time of publish: $18

Related:The 13 Best Sunglasses for Travel of 2023

Given how popular Charleston has become and how many airlines offer direct flights there nowadays, you’re unlikely to run into any unusual baggage restrictions with either your carry-on or checked luggage. A reliable, spacious bag will do just the trick. Here are two that we suggest.

Amazon Basics Large Travel Luggage Duffel Bag

Best Duffel

It’s tough to beat a value proposition such as this Amazon Basics duffel bag — it’s made from a durable ripstop nylon, is extremely lightweight, can easily carry about fifty pounds, and features a zippered interior pocket so you can stow smaller items. Whether you’re flying to Charleston or arriving on land, this is a functional and cost-effective way to carry your stuff.

Price at time of publish: $33

Away The Bigger Carry-On Flex

Best Rolling Luggage

Away’s popular “Bigger Carry-On” has the functionality of a hard side suitcase, but also expands an additional 2.25 inches for extra storage on the go. Throw in that it comes in a wide range of different colors with various customization options, and you’ve got a suitcase that will last far beyond your Charleston trip.

Price at time of publish: $345

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I NOT pack for Charleston?

Skip anything that feels too formal. This isn’t New York City or London, where jackets and ties are the norm for men, or more formal dresses and shoes are the norm for women. And anything you think you’ll overheat in — wool pieces, long sleeves, and so forth — can stay at home. Prioritize comfortable clothes that have a sense of personality.

What do people wear in Charleston?

“Daytime tends to be more casual, and evenings are what we like to call ‘Charleston Chic,’” said Simms. That means a blend of bright, fun patterns and colors, but still comfy — and cool — enough to wear in Charleston’s warm climate. Some consider this city traditional and historic, but its propensity for color and climate-appropriate styles tends to skew Charleston’s fashion more towards the creative side.

“It isn’t often anymore that you’ll find men in a tie and suit,” said Simms. “You are more likely to see them in sport coats or blazers even pared down with a nice pair of jeans. Truly, everything goes here!”

Can you wear jeans in Charleston?

You can absolutely wear jeans in Charleston — just know that you might be a little warm if you plan to wear them on hotter days, and they might feel a little casual for some of the city’s nicer restaurants.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

Todd Plummer is a travel writer who has visited Charleston many times. He relied on his own experience and spoke with Charleston locals to determine the best things to pack for your trip.

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