10 Can’t-Miss Events in Charleston
Experience Charleston's Best Festivals and Events
Andrew Stephen Cebulka
While Charleston, SC, is a favorite tourist destination it’s also home to some of the best festivals and events in the US. Here are 10 reasons to plan your next trip to the Lowcountry.
Spoleto/Piccolo Spoleto Festival
Spring brings the preeminent event that has become a verb (Do you Spoleto?), Spoleto Festival USA. Founded in 1977 by Gian Carlo Menotti (and others) as the companion to the Festival of the Two Worlds in Spoleto Italy, the event brings internationally renowned and emerging artists and performers to town beginning Memorial Day weekend through the first full week of June. Performances range from opera and theater to dance, chamber, symphonic and jazz music. For the budget-conscious or those looking for family-friendly entertainment, Piccolo Spoleto provides a full schedule of low- to no-cost activities that focus on regional artists.
MOJA Arts Festival
Just as the heat begins to wane, the second of Charleston’s arts festivals, MOJA, descends upon the city. MOJA, which means “one” in Swahili, is an African and Caribbean arts festival that takes place the last weekend in September through the first full week in October. It showcases performances in dance, theater, literary and visual arts, and music.
Charleston Fashion Week
For one week in March, the center of town in Marion Square becomes the runway to New York with Charleston Fashion Week. Presented by Charleston Magazine, the CFW showcases emerging designers and models, many of whom have gone on to find fame in the Big Apple and beyond, designing for celebrities like Khloe Kardashian and Toni Braxton or being featured on the hit TV show Project Runway.
Charleston International Film Festival
Now in its fifth year, the 5-day Charleston International Film Festival showcases over 80 new features, shorts, documentaries and animation films from some of the best national and international filmmakers today. The stories capture a range of emotions and take audiences from historic to current to future times. Films are shown at the historic Sottile Theater at the College of Charleston as well as Cinebarre, the independent theater in Mount Pleasant, SC. After-parties are held nightly at some of Charleston’s best venues, including the Music Farm.
Lowcountry Oyster Festival
If you like to shuck ’em and suck ’em, join the thousands who gather in January at the height of the season for the world’s largest oyster fest, the Lowcountry Oyster Festival. Held every year at Boone Hall Plantation, just outside of downtown Charleston, bivalve connoisseurs consume more than 80,000 pounds of oysters at this 1-day event filled with shucking and eating contests, plus live music, wine, beer and food from some of the area’s best restaurants.
BB&T Charleston Wine Food Festival
Nearly 100 of the country’s best wine and food purveyors can be found under the tents of Marion Square the first weekend in March during the BB&T Charleston Wine+Food Festival. The festival brings together samples of wine, spirits and food from across the nation, and attendees have an opportunity to learn techniques from culinary celebrities such as the Lee Bros., Husk Restaurant’s chef sensation Sean Brock and master sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson.
Charleston International Antiques Show
Antique dealers, collectors and enthusiasts from around the country gather here in March to explore the Charleston International Antiques Show. The 3-day event features fine 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century period furniture and art from America, Asia and Europe, as well as lectures and tours.
Fall Tours of Homes & Gardens
Instead of riding past the historic homes in Charleston’s South of Broad neighborhood on the carriage tours, take a stroll down the streets of the historic district in September and October, during the Fall Tours of Homes & Gardens presented by the Preservation Society of Charleston. For 5 weeks each year, tourist have an opportunity to glimpse inside some of Charleston’s oldest, most exquisite addresses and lush hidden gardens that highlight American architecture from the early 1700s through today.
Family Circle Cup
In late March/early April, it’s 9 days of game-set-match at the premier women’s tennis event in America, the Family Circle Cup. The tournament, the longest-running sponsored professional tennis tournament in the United States, brings the circuit’s top players such as Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Martina Hingis and the Williams sisters to Daniel Island, just 20 minutes outside of Charleston. In addition to watching the singles and doubles matches, spectators can enjoy demonstrations of the latest in tennis equipment, personalized video analysis of one’s game and even children’s courts for the next generation of tennis stars.
Southeastern Wildlife Exposition
If you love ducks, dogs and the great outdoors, join the thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who turn out every February for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE), the largest wildlife event in the nation. The 3-day event promotes conservation and preservation of wildlife as well as numerous outdoor sports through competitions, art, educational programs and more. Animal expert Jack Hanna is a regular presenter, and the Dock Dog competition draws record crowds annually who watch pro-, semi-pro and amateur canines of all breeds compete in the long jump, high jump and retrieval contests.