3 Charleston

PopulationMetro: 775,831
The Holy City continues to draw pilgrims from all over the world, propelled by global travel media and the promise of legendary Southern hospitality from another time.

Charleston is at once an easy yet kinetic seaside American treasure, punctuated by European elegance and macaroon-colored antebellum mansions by day and all kinds of revelry after sunset.

More than two centuries ago, the Marquis de Lafayette—the French general and political leader who enthusiastically supported the American Revolution—concluded that “Charleston is one of the best built, handsomest and most agreeable cities” that he had ever seen. The sentiment is shared by the millions who visited in 2018.

A beguiling fusion of built environment and coastal transition landscapes—golden islands, channels and swamps—Charleston is one of North America’s most architecturally significant destinations. Wander the streets and you’ll catch glimpses of another time: flickering copper gas carriage lanterns, ornate hand-wrought ironwork and hitching posts for carriage horses. The city comes in at #2 for Place—just behind Honolulu—including a #3 ranking for Neighborhoods and #3 for Parks & Outdoors.

Place 74
Product 73
Programming 79
People 54
Prosperity 43
Promotion 82

A city rich in cultural, natural and military heritage, Charleston nabs the top spot in our Museums category. A visit to “America’s First Museum” here is a chance to explore hundreds of artifacts that give insight into the city’s colonial, agricultural and wartime past.

Set to break ground in 2019 and open its doors in 2021 is the International African American Museum, which will illuminate the influential, under-reported histories of Africans and their descendants in South Carolina, highlighting their diasporic connections throughout the nation and the world. The museum’s defining feature will be its location at the historic site of Gadsden’s Wharf. Nearly half of enslaved Africans forced to North America arrived through Charleston and today millions of Americans can trace their ancestors here.

According to new census estimates, the Charleston MSA (called the Tri-County Area) was the 12th-fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. Want proof of the talent torrent to Charleston? Just check its year-over-year ascent up our People category—a jump of 33 spots.