How to choose your Charleston home base 

Beyond the Dorm

If you're a college student in Charleston, chances are you'll be living off-campus. Housing options are limited at the College of Charleston and non-existent for commuter schools like the Art Institute and Trident Tech. While you'll find plenty of affordable apartment complexes and condos in the 'burbs, most students choose to live downtown, both for convenience and because, let's face it, it's where the action is.

While downtown is small, there are lots of different neighborhoods, each with their own distinct personalities. Before apartment searching, figure out your priorities. Are you on a strict budget, or are mom and dad still padding your wallet? Is safety a concern, or are you comfortable with a slightly seedier neighborhood? Do you own a car? Answering these questions will make narrowing your search that much easier.

Partying and Popularity. King Street is the primo location for anyone who wants to be right in the thick of things. Apartments are generally situated above the street's popular shops, restaurants, and bars, and they're within walking distance of most downtown campuses. Your late-night stumble home may be nothing more than a trek up the stairs, but that convenience comes at a price: noisy neighbors, non-existent parking, and high rental rates. Cost: $$$ ($1,000-$2,500)*

Cost and convenience. On the fringes of downtown's historic district, the up-and-coming Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhoods are becoming increasingly popular with college students. Centered around the Cannon and Spring street corridors, the area is still rough in spot but brightened by neighborhood favorites like D'Allesandro's, Hope and Union, Five Loaves Café, and Eye Level Art. Cost: $ ($800-$1,200)

Price and proximity. Located in the central part of the peninsula, historic neighborhoods like Mazyck-Wraggborough and Radcliffeborough are generally safe, fairly quiet, and close enough to campuses like CofC and MUSC for students to be able to walk to class. Slightly shabby apartments and split-up single homes stand alongside expensive real estate, giving you a chance to live in a high-class 'hood for a fairly low price. Local stops include great corner stores like Bull Street Gourmet, Wentworth Station, and Queen Street Grocery. Cost: $$ ($1,000-$1,800)

Security and scenery. If money isn't a concern, you'll find a few rentals tucked in among the mansions south of Broad Street. Between the well-kept million-dollar homes and famous nearby sites like White Point Gardens and Rainbow Row, you'll be smack dab in the middle of Pat Conroy's wet dream — which can be a good or bad thing depending on your taste. Broad Street businesses like Fast & French and the Blind Tiger will be your neighborhood haunts, and the bars and cafés of East Bay and Market streets are just a short walk away. Cost: $$$ ($1,000-$2,500)

Silence and space. Maybe you've grown out of your wild-child phase, or maybe you just never had one. If having a driveway, a yard, and friendly neighbors are higher up on your priority list, extend your search above the Crosstown to the Hampton Park, North Central, and Wagener Terrace neighborhoods (keep an eye out for the rare waterfront gem). There you'll find roomy duplexes and houses for the same price you'd pay for a small apartment farther south. Plus, you're still technically downtown — getting home from an evening out is a bike ride or a short cab ride away. Or just stop by Moe's for some $2.50 bourbon and call it a night. Cost: $ ($800-$1,300)

Once you've decided on your area, Craiglist, City Paper classifieds, and Padmapper.com are valuable resources for finding available properties. But sometimes you'll discover the best deals by hitting the streets and looking for signs. Welcome to Charleston, and happy hunting.

*Rental prices are estimates.

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