The Ultimate Guide to Charleston, West Virginia

As West Virginia’s capitol and the most populous city in the state, Charleston is robust in adventures, events and points of interest. Located in Kanawha County and just west of the state’s mountainous region, the city attracts visitors and passersby alike. The Kanawha River flows through Charleston as well as the major interstates of 64, 77 and 79 with large cities such as Richmond, Pittsburgh and Louisville within 250 miles. Charleston’s location and ease of access helps to bring in tourists from various areas to all its glory. 

Heading to Charleston West Virginia? Heres the ultimate guide telling you all the best things to do in Charleston including where to find the best street art.

Charleston boasts more than 51,000 residents within its 32.6 square miles. Although the population has declined in recent years – dropping from a peak of 85,000-plus in 1960 – the area remains strong and vibrant, including in its role as state capitol. Its temperate climate also is a sincere attraction with four full seasons, moderate winters with temperatures above other areas of the state, warm summers and rare snowstorms. This aids the thriving East Coast city as does Charleston’s history, its numerous annual events, its outdoor attractions and its economic and educational position.

Charleston’s history – particularly in the American Revolution and Civil War – is truly abundant, also discoverable across memorials and statues within the city. These are all significant points of interest for any history buff.


While there are a ton of great of hotel options, we recommend the Charleston Marriot Town Center since it’s located right within easy access to both downtown and Elk City.

Heading to Charleston West Virginia? Heres the ultimate guide telling you all the best things to do in Charleston including where to find the best street art.


The historic neighborhoods of Charleston radiate with liveliness in 2019. That includes a vibrant art scene across the city, from performances and art classes to theater and galleries. This focus on music, the visual arts, culture and more has grown significantly in recent decades, making the West Virginia capitol a true destination for the arts appreciators everywhere.

  • Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences:
    • This 240,000 square foot facility at 1 Clay Square is wholly dedicated to the promotion of the performing arts, visual arts and sciences and is home to  Avampato Discovery Museum, the Juliet Art Museum and the Maier Foundation Performance Hall, which serves as residence for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Guests to The Clay Center can take in concerts across musical genres, learn and grow through scientific endeavors or foster a love for creative works. They can also explore the vast galaxy and greater universe at the Caperton Planetarium and Theater, an addition to the center that allows for live presentations and 3D exploration alike.
  • ArtWalk:
    • A wonderful and whimsical free self-guided walking tour of Downtown Charleston’s shops, galleries and businesses featuring a variety of art – from paintings and sculptures to photography and music, and is typically held from 5-8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. We checked out the Halloween one, and were delightfully surprised by how invested the town really way.

But the Clay Center and the ArtWalk are just two of many, many artistic locations across Charleston. These range from live music venues to performance groups, art galleries big and small and others, which include:

  • Alban Arts Center
  • Apartment Earth Gallery
  • Boulevard Tavern
  • Charleston Ballet
  • Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center
  • Charleston Light Opera Guild
  • Erma Byrd Art Gallery
  • Gallery Eleven
  • Haddad Riverfront Park
  • Kanawha Players Theatre
  • LaBelle Theatre
  • Mountain Stage
  • River City Youth Ballet Ensemble

Performances regularly occur across Charleston. Live music – from Americana and alternative to bluegrass, blue, jazz and contemporary – is available every day of the week at venues of varying sizes.



Following the flurry of activity available in Charleston, that hungry belly also will need some attention. The city isn’t short on snack options or historical destinations for dining. The cuisine is also varied – American, Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean plus bakeries, breweries, fine dining, nightlife and scrumptious treats. There is no shortage of food and fun across Charleston.

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And the list doesn’t end here. Dozens of delectable restaurants welcome families, travelers and more every day across the streets of Charleston. We loved the quiet little cafes and ice cream shops that are sprinkled around the city.

A few of our favourites are:

  • Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream
    • Homemade ice cream, and really delicious brewed teas. You won’t be disappointed. We tried the black raspberry and are still talking about it.
  • Rock City Cake
    • A combination of a bakery/cafe with a stage and live music. Definitely worth checking out.
  • Book and Brews
    • Books and coffee? You can’t go wrong here.
  • The Peanut Shoppe
    • Not only will you find all sorts of peanuts here, but a huge assortment of candies and chocolates to satisfy all kinds of tastebuds.
  • Tidewater Grill
    • Head here if fresh and delicious seafood is your jam. They have fresh produce from Boston, the Pacific Coast,
      Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. We tried everything on the menu and have a hard time picking just one thing.
  • Capitol Market
    • The perfect combination of farmers’ market and a craft mall, the vibrant Capitol Market showcases the best of  West Virginia. You can pick everything from wine to cheese and produce, as well as a few handmade items that you won’t find in any department store.
  • Mea Cuppa Coffee Lounge
    • Delicious coffee, sweet treats and a relaxed atmosphere. What else can you really want?


The city of Charleston’s history dates to the 18th century. More than 1,200 acres of land was deeded in 1773 and soon grew into a permanent settlement known as Fort Lee, established in 1787.

By 1794, Charleston emerged, officially being established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1800. According to lore and legend, the well-populated western Virginia community began with only 35 residents and was named for Charles Clendenin, the father of Fort Lee founder Col. Savannah Clendenin. “Charles Town” was shorted to Charleston and the city began to grow into the 19th century. This included industrial and political growth – participation in the Civil War, prosperity and growth due to the first salt well and emergence as an official state.

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Nestled in Charleston, the West Virginia State Museum showcases the area’s history. Located at the State Capitol Complex on Kanawha Boulevard, the museum chronologically shares the city’s background. Details stretch as far back as early western settlement in the region and continue across pivotal West Virginia moments in its cultural, industrial and natural history. The diverse collection showcases archaeology, geology, paleontology, art, culture and history. It’s free to visit and open to the public, welcoming walks-ins, student groups and others who want to learn more about Charleston and the great state of West Virginia.

Scattered across the city are additional recognitions of Charleston’s past, including approximately 50 locations that have been designated on the National Register of Historic Places. An entire neighborhood along the East End has been deemed historical as well, preserving homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. A few other places rich in Charleston history exist, welcoming visitors regularly:


  • Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
    • Founded in 1866, this minor basilica is one of two historic cathedrals that comprise the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
  • Former Daniel Boone Hotel
    • 405 Capitol Street was formerly named for Daniel Boone who served as a member of the Kanawha County Assembly in 1791, following the American Revolution.
  • Living Memorial Park
    • Located at the corner of Second Avenue and 21st Street, this park space is dedicated to veterans of all wars. The city’s Wall of Fame is here as well as a large stage, making it a great venue for festivals and other special events.
  • South Charleston Museum
    • A city museum containing rare films, records and artifacts as well as displays of Belgian glass blowing.
  • Spring Hill Cemetery Park
    • High on a Charleston hill, the cemetery began in 1869 after a small plot along the Kanawha River grew full. The beautiful space spans 150 acres as the state’s largest cemetery and contains notable West Virginia figures, such as the Civil War’s Gen. Appleton and Thomas Brown, the man who sold Gen. Robert E. Lee his beloved horse. 
  • St. George Orthodox Cathedral
    • Founded in 1892, the cathedral serves more than 400 families within the Orthodox Christian faith – a faith that was brought to the Charleston area by immigrants from Lebanon and Syria.


Charleston’s history – particularly in the American Revolution and Civil War – is truly abundant, also discoverable across memorials and statues within the city. These are all significant points of interest for any history buff.


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  • Kinship Goods
    • The loveliest of shops selling Charleston branded items. You’ll find everything from jewelry to clothing and cute gift items here.
  • Base Camp Printing
    • One of our favourite stops in this wonderful city. Filled with wonderful letterpress posters, this unique printing house should be a stop for all art lovers.

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  • Winter floral
    • One of the more creative decor places in the city providing everything you need to glam up your home for the holiday season (or every day life).
  • Street Art
    • Would you surprised to know that Charleston has a thriving street art scene. We found so many gems in Elk City!
  • Taylor Books
    • Who doesn’t love a good bookstore? This charming one is located in downtown and is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

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The activities don’t end there in this East Coast area. Charleston draws guests to its city limits with annual events, family fun, free things to do, recreational destinations and various information or historical tours.

  • Charleston is bursting at its seams with exciting opportunities across food and fun, events and entertainment, music and memorials, the past and its present – and this creates an enticing and exciting environment for residents, tourists and passersby. Consider passing by this West Virginia city, this state capitol, today and diving into everything it has to offer.


This was sponsored by West Virginia Tourism Office, all opinions are my own as always. 


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One Comment

  1. I had no idea there were so many artsy things to do in Charleston! Will have to visit next time I’m out East. Thanks for sharing.

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