I still remember the first time I visited Charleston and feeling aesthetically overwhelmed as I wandered the residential streets of the lower peninsula with colorful homes, beautiful ironwork, and long side porches with swirling fans and perfectly manicured flower boxes. Then I moved here, and these streets grew less overwhelming and more familiar- downtown Charleston is incredibly walkable (or runable, just watch out for that cobblestone).
Here are step by step instructions on how to find and explore 7 hidden alleyways in downtown Charleston- all within a short walking distance of each other.
Our walking (wandering?) tour starts in the French Quarter of downtown Charleston, where you can conveniently park at Cumberland Street Parking Garage. Public parking garages and meters throughout downtown Charleston are all the same hourly rate, and those dollars go directly back into the local City’s budget to maintain the historic preservation and beauty of downtown Charleston.
Walk east (direction of Waterfront Park) on Cumberland and cross Church Street. Directly past St. Phillips Episcopal Church, you secret alleyway tour commences, as you turn right onto:
Take in the greenery and wrought iron fencing as you approach the side of Queen Street Playhouse. If you’re lucky, their side garage might be open and you can watch the crew build or trade out sets in the historic theatre.
Turn right onto Queen St. then left onto Church St. at the French Huguenot Church. The historic Dock Street Theatre will be on your right, and is publicly owned and maintained, so feel free to pop in to use the restrooms or take a breather at a table in their public courtyard. Turn right on the darling Chalmers Street- although not technically an alley, this cobblestone street will have you pulling out your camera just the same. Take Chalmers down to Meeting Street, turn left and walk past City Hall and cross over historic Broad Street. Once you pass St. Michaels Church, you next left is:
St. Michaels Alley
Located just below the cemetery of St. Michael’s Anglican church, this alley is a one-way road that connects Meeting St. to Church St. by the Charleston Renaissance Art Gallery.
Cross over Church St. by Magnolia Bride of Charleston and you will now be on Elliott St- one of the prettiest little side streets South of Broad. Your first right will put you on:
Tucked between the Middleton Family Bed & Breakfast and historic Rainbow Row, this alley links Elliott St. to Tradd St.
Turn right on Tradd St. then left onto Church St., where you will immediately pass Dubose Heyward’s former house, where he wrote Porgy. Your next left will be:
Just around the corner from Mrs. Whaley’s Garden, this beautiful alleyway will start out wide, then continue to narrow until you work your way over to E Bay St.
Turn right, then walk past Water St. and turn right on the upcoming Atlantic St. Your first right is:
Zig Zag Alley
Of all the secret alleys I’ve shared, this one is the smallest. A small stretch directly off Atlantic St., just west of the East Battery waterfront, this small alleyway feels full of old Charleston magic- but leads to a couple of private residences, so please make sure your exploration stops at their property line.
Continue on Atlantic St. until you hit Meeting, then turn right to walk northward, passing Ladson St. and then turning on:
This beautiful street links Meeting St. to King St. one block south of Tradd St., connecting the
properties of the historic James Brown House and neoclassical Nathaniel Russell House.
Once you’ve made it through to King Street, turn right and make your way north, leaving the residential stretch crossing back over Broad to the street-lined portion of King St. in order to discover one final, very special hidden path. Walk a couple blocks until the Charleston Library Society building is on your right. On your left you should see the brick wall and iron gate that leads to:
This is technically more of a hidden pathway that alley, but I know you won’t complain once you get there! Gateway Walk links King Street to Archdale Street by the shared space between St. John’s churchyard and the Unitarian Church graveyard, and while it may feel and look more like a secret garden or private entryway- all are welcome to walk through. The Charleston Garden Club designed this walkway in 1930, and have been maintaining it ever since. Take your time to stray from the main walkway to admire the many plant varieties, sit on a bench, or read some of the old tombstones.
*If the gate happens to be closed on the King Street side, you can always cross through the nearby Jacob’s Alley to Archdale Street and access the Gateway Walk from the Unitarian Church side instead.