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Waterfront Park borders the Cooper River in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photograph by John Norman/Alamy Stock Photo)

Travels on the Run: Charleston, South Carolina

I have to say, in steamy Charleston, an early morning run is not top on my list of things to do.

Nevertheless, I lace up my running shoes and strike out to discover Rainbow Row—the candy-colored cluster of romantic-era houses celebrated in this ever-so-romantic city, something I’ve always wanted to see.

Beginning at Waterfront Park, I shuffle along a lush extravaganza of fountains and flowers along the harbor, eyes barely open. Almost immediately, a quick movement startles me off to the left, in the water—a leaping dolphin! Now you’ve got my attention.

Fort Sumter hovers off in the distance, a little gray bump on the horizon, a subtle reminder of the fact that the Civil War started here.

The park drops me into a tony quarter of pastel-painted antebellum mansions festooned with bougainvillea. My pace is slow, as I admire the arched doorways, gambrel roofs, and colorful blooms all about.

At the end of the road, I spy cannon dating from the Civil War at White Point Garden. Nearby, towering waterfront mansions flaunt a mélange of fanciful architectural styles, Italian Renaissance Revival and art deco among them.

From columns on high, Charlestonians watched the dramatic firing on Fort Sumter. And, apparently, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, signer of the U.S. Constitution, once resided at No. 95.

In this most historic of cities, you can’t toss a pecan praline without hitting some story of the past.

Turning up Church Street, I admire more charming town houses, intermingling with graceful churches. Perhaps the most prevalent aspect of Charleston is its church spires—some 400 of them, rising above the skyline—giving credence to the nickname “Holy City.”

Indeed, a regulation mandates that no building in town be taller than St. Philip’s Episcopal Church—just one of the secrets of the city’s charm.

But where’s Rainbow Row? I had nearly forgotten my quest, immersed in so much residential charisma. Finally I spy a gentleman strolling along the street and, as much as I cringe at the thought of revealing my tourist status, have to ask: “Where’s Rainbow Row?”

“Over there, on East Bay Street,” he says with a smile. Though I’m a little perturbed—he was directing me to the same houses I had just admired upon exiting the park.

That’s okay. It’s remarkable how in this friendly, all-embracing city you can’t really get mad. I take a deep breath and continue on my way, admiring the famous neighborhood anew.

> Run Stats:

Mileage: 1.8-mile loop

Best time: Morning, when the streets are empty and the balmy temperature haven’t become too stifling.

Start and End: Vendue Range at Concord Street, at the northern end of Waterfront Park.

> The Route:

  • Run south through Waterfront Park, close to the harbor—watching for dolphins along the way.
  • When you come to N. Adgers Wharf, continue straight, to E. Bay Street.
  • Turn left (noting the colorful houses of Rainbow Row almost immediately), continuing all the way down to White Point Garden at S. Battery Street.
  • Proceed north on Church Street to Tradd Street and turn right.
  • Turn left on E. Bay Street (taking another look at Rainbow Row).
  • Turn right on E. Elliot Street.
  • Go left on Prioleau Street.
  • Take a right on Cordes Street, entering Waterfront Park.
  • Head north through the park, back to the start.

Barbara A. Noe is a freelance writer and the former senior editor at National Geographic Travel Books.