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He paved parking lots + put up a paradise

Waterfront Park in Charleston, SC

Waterfront Park | Image by @iputmynamehere

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The man behind Charleston’s most visited park

Waterfront Park is easily one of the most iconic places in downtown Charlestonbut that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1970s, the land was nothing more than a mass of burned out wharves + gravel parking lots that happened to be located on the waterfront.

Enter: former Mayor Joe Riley. Shortly after taking office in 1975, Mayor Riley made it his mission to transform the park. And transform it, he did. By 1980, the city had broken ground on the revitalization project. By 1990, the park was open to the public.

And this year, in 2018, officially renamed the park to Joe Riley Waterfront Park– in honor of the man who made it what it is.

The park has come a long way since the 70’s– and now, it’s set to receive another radical facelift. Later this year, the city will begin work on expanding its riverwalk by approximately 400 feet. By 2021, the dock will no longer house a drop-off area for a single water taxi, but an entire marina facility for the water taxi + the public. Eventually, a hotel will directly connect to the park.

In honor of the former mayor’s dedication to public parks, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite parks around Charleston.

🏞 Joe Riley Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park in Charleston, SC

Waterfront Park | Image by @iputmynamehere

📍 1 Vendue Range

💰 Admission: free


  • Waterfront views
  • Water taxi
  • Walkways
  • Splash fountains
  • Free WiFi

🏞 J. Marshall Stith Park

a child on a playhouse at j. marshall stith park

J. Marshall Stith Park | Image by @bethandthebears

📍 2050 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island

💰 Admission: free


  • Portable toilets
  • Tennis, volleyball, + basketball courts
  • Walking paths
  • Playground
  • Picnic tables + shelters

🏞 SK8 Charleston

A view of sk8 charleston skate park

SK8 Charleston | Image by @jay_calloway_nc

📍1549 Oceanic St., Downtown

💰Admission: $1 spectators, $3 skaters/BMX


  • Both a pro + an intermediate bowl
  • Street course spanning 315 ft.
  • Helmets (which are required) available for rent
  • Skate shop
  • Concessions
  • Covered + uncovered seating

🏞 Kiawah Beachwalker Park

kiawah beachwalker park

Kiawah Beachwalker Park | Image by @kellyeleo

📍 8 Beachwalker Dr., Kiawah Island

💰Admission: free, plus the cost of parking


  • Dressing area
  • Picnic area with grills
  • Restrooms
  • Seasonal: outdoor showers, umbrella + beach chair rentals, lifeguards on duty

🏞 Palmetto Islands County Park

Palmetto Islands County Park

Palmetto Islands County Park | Image by @betweenthesoundmachine + @charlestonscene

📍 444 Needlerush Pkwy., Mount Pleasant

💰 Admission: $2 per person


  • Nature island
  • 50-ft. observation tower with play area
  • Fishing + crabbing dock
  • Nature trails
  • Playground
  • Kayak launch
  • Sand volleyball court
  • Seasonal: Splash Island Waterpark, bike + pedal boat rentals, covered picnic shelters

🏞 Johns Island County Park

a tree at johns island county park

Johns Island County Park | @bridgem520

📍2662 Mullet Hall Rd., Johns Island

💰Admission: $1


  • Equestrian center
  • Archery range
  • Nature trails

🏞 James Island County Park

kayakers at james island county park

James Island County Park | Image by @brandonwilson88 + @katiemclellan96

📍871 Riverland Dr., James Island

💰Admission: $2


  • Saltwater fishing + crabbing
  • Paved trails
  • Picnic tables + grills
  • Dog park
  • Sand volleyball court
  • Campground
  • Disc golf
  • Bicycle, pedal boat, + kayak rentals
  • Covered shelters
  • Climbing wall
  • Seasonal: Splash Zone Waterpark

🏞 Azalea Park

Garden at Azalea Park

Azalea Park | Image by @beepositiveco

📍105 W. 5th S. St., Summerville

💰Admission: Free


  • Landscaped gardens
  • Paths
  • Amphitheater
  • Wetland
  • Picnic tables

🏞 North Charleston Wannamaker County Park

a playground at wannamaker county park

Wannamaker County Park | Image by @scout_in_the_lowcountry

📍8888 University Blvd., North Charleston

💰Admission: $2


  • Woodlands + wetlands
  • 2 playgrounds
  • Disc golf course
  • Dog park
  • Paved trails
  • Snack bar, shaded porch
  • Restrooms
  • Picnic tables + grills
  • Sand volleyball court
  • Seasonal: Whirlin’ Waters Adventure Waterpark

🏞 Hampton Park

the gazebo at hampton park

Hampton Park | Image by @chsphotonanny

📍30 Mary Murray Dr.

💰Admission: free


  • Restrooms
  • Picnic tables
  • Playground
  • Trails

🏞 Northbridge Park

sunset over the water at northbridge park

Northbridge Park | Image by @yankeeinsc

📍Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (at the base of the North Bridge)

💰Admission: free


  • Pier + dock
  • Canoe + kayak launch
  • Picnic area

In honor of National Arbor Day, here are a few more parks worth exploring:

🌳 Governor’s Park | Seven Farms Dr., Daniel Island

🌳 Riverland Terrace | Off Plymouth St., James Island

🌳 Dogwood Park | 460 Liberty Hall Rd., Goose Creek

🌳 Folly Beach County Park | 1100 W. Ashley Ave., Folly Beach

🌳 Isle of Palms County Park | 1- 14th Ave., Isle of Palms

🌳 Old Santee Canal Park | 900 Stony Landing Rd., Moncks Corner

🌳 Laurel Hill County Park | 1251 Park West Blvd., Mt. Pleasant

Want to learn more about all that our parks have to offer? Click here to browse our guide to Charleston’s best running trails, or head over here to read our guide on where to find public WiFi. Last but not least, click here to learn more about all of downtown Charleston’s pocket parks.

Jen, Multimedia Producer

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