Charleston’s 12 best outdoor dining setups

Maya's lush covered patio could be miles from busy King Street, even though it's just a few steps away. | Credit: Andrew Cebulka
The patio at Maya in Charleston is decorated with wicker furniture, hanging lights, and plants

Thanks to Charleston’s temperate climate, dining outdoors can be a year-round affair. With creeks and rivers defining the city’s borders, plus ample rooftop vantages, opportunities for leisurely alfresco meals abound.

Plants and wicker furniture fuel tropical vibes on the patio at a well-loved Mexican spot downtown. An oyster joint near Folly Beach draws crowds for sunset views from its wraparound porch. On King Street, an open-air rooftop at a buzzy American restaurant is an ideal perch to sip a drink after a hearty wood-fired meal.

From Shem Creek to tucked away downtown courtyards, Charleston brims with charming outdoor restaurants. Read on for a guide to the 12 best places to take in the city’s blue skies and starry nights.

Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar (Downtown Charleston)

Despite its peninsular geography, downtown Charleston has surprisingly few waterfront dining options—most of it is residential or controlled by the port or the Coast Guard. Fleet Landing, set in a 1942 Navy building once used to offload ships, is one of the few that claims real estate on the harbor, and its patio puts you directly over the water. Gaze up at the Ravenel Bridge and watch birds and boats cruise by as you dine on local seafood gumbo or a hearty fried platter of flounder, oysters, and shrimp.

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Bowens Island (James Island)

This homey oyster joint, in the marsh near Folly Beach, doesn’t look exactly like it did in 1946—a 2006 fire required a rebuild—but it’s pretty darn close. A grand ramp switches back several times, helping to organize the counter-serve line that builds up by 5 pm. But that’s part of the fun—send an emissary for beers, then enjoy the view while waiting to order platters of oysters steamed over an open fire, buckets of Frogmore stew (what the locals call Lowcountry boil), and generous platters of fried shrimp, fish, and oysters. The crab cakes, heavy on crumbled crackers, are divine, as are the sunset views from the wraparound porch.

Stars Restaurant – Rooftop & Grill Room (Downtown Charleston)

The buzzy bar at Stars Restaurant is one of Charleston’s hottest outdoor spots. | Credit: Andrew Cebulka

Ambitious from the get-go, this three-story King Street space became a hotspot when it opened in 2013—and it’s held that status since. The ground-floor dining room is heavy on wood and leather and makes an elegant place for dinner. But it’s the open-air rooftop that gives the restaurant its appeal. Due to the rooftop’s popularity, food is only served downstairs, so plan on drinks upstairs before—and after—your 16-ounce wood-grilled tomahawk pork chop.

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Peninsula Grill (Downtown Charleston)

Peninsula Grill helped fuel Charleston’s international culinary cred just before the turn of the century. The kitchen has trained many of Charleston’s favorite toques, including current Peninsula Grill chef Kalen Fortuna. Everything here is luxurious, including the tranquil courtyard just steps from Market Street. A historic brick path, illuminated by hand-lit gas lanterns, winds along and makes you feel like you’re in a secret garden. Embrace the enchanting experience and indulge by adding seared foie gras or a lobster tail to your already decadent rack of lamb with poached pears and sweet potato puree, and finish your meal with a giant slice of the restaurant’s epic 12-layer coconut cake.

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Zero Restaurant + Bar (Downtown Charleston)

You don’t have to be a guest at the Zero George hotel to dine at its charming courtyard restaurant. | Credit: Zero Restaurant + Bar

Two former carriage houses and three historic residences surround a gorgeous courtyard restaurant in the center of Zero George, a boutique hotel that houses one of the city’s best restaurants. But you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the wonders of chef Vinson Petrillo’s creative multi-course tasting menu. The offerings shift each night to make way for the season’s best ingredients. You might encounter oysters and beef Wellington, or a cigar of beef or a foie gras “peanut.” No matter what appears on your plate, you’ll be immersed in a serene alfresco dining experience you won’t soon forget.

Citrus Club (Downtown Charleston)

Make plans to arrive at the Citrus Club in time for sunset (and before the line to get in forms). The stylish restaurant sits atop the Dewberry Hotel overlooking Marion Square and boasts the highest rooftop in town at eight stories. Citrus Club’s sweeping views, from the harbor to the historic steeples, are breathtaking. The menu here is casual but chic, with dishes such as crispy piña colada shrimp and lobster rolls, but there’s enough to nibble on while you enjoy the scenic setting and a signature daiquiri made with pineapple rum.

Maya (Downtown Charleston)

White walls and wicker furniture lend a tropical vibe to Maya’s covered patio. | Credit: Andrew Cebulka

Maya’s covered patio could be miles from busy King Street, even though it’s just a few steps away. The indoor/outdoor space makes this a suitable spot when an early evening thunderstorm threatens. A ceiling protects you from the elements, but an open wall gives you an alfresco feeling on a cool spring evening. Take a seat on the swinging velvet couch and enjoy a watermelon margarita before heading undercover for dinner. Lush plants, white walls, and wicker furniture lend a tropical vibe that matches the sophisticated Mexican menu, full of  classics such as guacamole and pork carnitas tacos alongside short rib mole rojo and pozole verde (traditional hominy and braised pork stew).

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Élevé Restaurant & Rooftop (Downtown Charleston)

There’s an eclectic modernist vibe to the rooftop at the Grand Bohemian Hotel that makes Charleston feel like an even bigger city than it actually is. Neon lighting, synthetic turf, and futuristic furniture, (reminiscent of The Jetsons) create a fascinating atmosphere when contrasted with the historic buildings that surround the open-air seating. The coastal-inspired menu is inventive, with highlights including fresh spring pea risotto made with Carolina Gold rice and Faroe Island salmon filet. Élevé’s trendy backdrop attracts a fashionable crowd for killer cocktails with a view on weekends.

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The Kingstide (Daniel Island)

Two levels of wraparound porches contribute to this hot spot’s status as Daniel Island’s first true destination restaurant. An open kitchen and a central bar make the blue wood-lined space feel spacious and welcoming. Get one of the signature seafood towers and gather friends to feast on raw oysters, steamed clams, boiled shrimp, and crab for the full Kingstide experience. Or savor a bacon-forward oysters Rockefeller and a spiced rum cocktail as the Wando River turns a golden hue at sunset.

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Tavern & Table (Mount Pleasant)

Mount Pleasant’s Shem Creek offers Charleston’s highest concentration of outdoor dining spots, and Tavern & Table stands out with its local produce and seafood focus. Its covered patio offers constant shade with a clear view of the waterway. Although the menu has its share of seafood, including roasted oysters and fried shrimp with Calabrian chile honey, the kitchen also serves several flatbreads—the fig and prosciutto is a winner— and a mean bison burger grilled in the wood-fired oven. There’s also a popular brunch menu on Sundays, and a cocktail menu heavy on fruit-forward concoctions, such as a seasonal sangria that’s been known to feature local blueberry wine.

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Gabrielle Charleston in Hotel Bennett (Downtown Charleston)

Developer Michael Bennett set out to make his namesake hotel the most luxurious retreat in Charleston and that over-the-top elegance extends to Gabrielle, the lavish property’s signature restaurant. Its central location affords the opportunity to dine directly on Marion Square, the city’s most prominent green space. This is one of the best steakhouses in town, with options that include a 16-ounce boneless ribeye. As the sky’s light changes in the evening, pair the house caviar with a glass of Champagne to channel your inner King Charles.

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Boathouse at Breach Inlet (Isle of Palms)

Perched above the Intracoastal Waterway on Isle of Palms, the Boathouse at Breach Inlet is home to some of the area’s best water views. The laidback hangout has been a local favorite for its relaxed setting since it opened in 1997. The Boathouse’s rooftop bar opens every day at 3 pm, so you can get there early to stake out a spot to watch the spectacular sunset. Grab a cold beer or glass of wine and choose from a stellar snack menu of sweet corn hushpuppies and crab fritters.

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Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Stephanie Barna is a food writer based in Charleston, SC. As the former editor of Charleston City Paper, she has chronicled the Charleston food scene for two decades and has been to every single Charleston Wine + Food Festival since it started. You can follow her dining exploits (and—fair warning—her Weimaraner’s misadventures) on Instagram @stef_barna.

Stratton Lawrence contributed to this guide.

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