For a midsize city, Charleston has a surprisingly varied and sophisticated arts scene, though the city really shines during its major annual arts festival, Spoleto Festival USA. Still, throughout the year, there are ample opportunities to explore higher culture, from productions by the Footlight Players and PURE Theatre, to the concert schedule at the historic Charleston Music Hall.

The nightlife scene is similarly comprehensive, with nocturnal venues for all ages and tastes. If your image of Charleston is a buttoned-down town with men in seersucker suits and bow ties, think again. That may have been an image of Charlestonians in decades past—and light blue seersucker still makes frequent summer appearances—but that oldster can probably still out-dance his fraternity son and knock down his share of bourbon along the way.

Although some of the nightlife can be rowdy and more youth-oriented, there are options from jazz lounges to dance clubs. And here the nightlife begins at happy hour, which can start as early as 4 pm. Several bars and restaurants have incredible happy-hour deals, and a night of barhopping generally includes grazing on small plates. If you see long lines outside a place, you can usually assume that the crowd is young. Long lines can also mean that there is a popular band playing, like at the Music Farm.