Photo: Kayaking through former rice paddies

Kayaking through former rice paddies in Quimby Creek near Charleston, South Carolina

Photograph by Marianne Lee, Alamy

Pop. 111,978
GPS: 32°47'N 79°56'W

Think of Charleston as the jock in the Southern belle set. With new offshore ecotours and surfing at nearby Folly Beach, the pretty city’s outdoor action now matches its good looks. Locals kayak the Ashley River, horseback ride from the historic Inn at Middleton Place, or hike among cypresses.


Kayak the upper section of the Ashley River. The six-mile (ten-kilometer) float trail beginning at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site traces underwater archaeological and shipwreck sites, old river houses, and rice and indigo plantations. Or book a two-hour tour with PaddleFish for the highlight reel of Charleston’s waterfront ($45;


Slightly North of Broad (a restaurant lovingly referred to as "S.N.O.B.") serves Lowcountry organic fare like Carolina quail, Atlantic shrimp, and locally ground yellow grits ( For dessert, grab a warm praline from River Street Sweets (


You can take horseback-riding lessons on cypress trails right from The Inn at Middleton Place, an 18th-century landscaped garden on the bluffs of the Ashley River (doubles from $170;