When locals open their doors and garden gates, take them up on the invitation.

Tour Charleston by Candlelight (PROMO)
Candles light the way to charming historic homes open for tours this fall.

This South Carolina city's charm and grace abound year-round, but spring and fall may be the best times to visit. That's when many of her most gorgeous homes and gardens invite you to share in the splendor.

That will be the case September 19 through October 26, when The Preservation Society of Charleston presents its 26th Annual Fall Candlelight Tours of Homes and Gardens. The society presents a six-weekend banquet of rich offerings that leaves you fully satisfied.

Each evening's tour highlights about 10 homes, gardens, churches, or other properties clustered in the same neighborhood, so it's easily walkable. Going at your own pace, you're welcomed at each site by candlelight and colorful hosts. Most of the properties are privately owned, so it's really a rare privilege to visit them. Which locations are our favorites? Without being too noncommittal, they all are--and for different reasons.

Here's why. Take, for example, the first weekend's tour, September 19 through 21. Thursday night, you can walk down bustling Broad Street, with busy shops and boutiques on the east end and distinguished homes on the west end. Or stroll along Queen Street Friday night, and view the quaint pre-Revolutionary houses snuggled next to each other. Then it's off to Church Street on Saturday. Spanish moss drapes like silvery veils off huge crepe myrtles in the adjacent cemetery. Colonial- and Georgian-style homes flank this beautiful street.

Other tours beckon you to Legare Street, just south of Broad, featuring some of the city's finest examples of narrow-fronted single houses. Thursday of the last weekend (October 24-26) spotlights gorgeous homes on East Battery/Lower Tradd.

Actually, Charleston could host a tour every day of the year and not run out of places to show off. But even that wouldn't do justice to the amazing homes and gardens tucked along the narrow streets and alleys that make this city so appealing.

The Preservation Society of Charleston's 26th Annual Fall Candlelight Tours of Homes and Gardens: 7-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday September 19-October 26. Admission: $35 per person per night; $90 package tours are available on three nights of the same weekend. Tours are not appropriate for children ages 8 and under. Call (843) 722-4630 or 1-800-968-8175 for more information.

This article is from the September 2002 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.