An Insider's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina
From the best shops to the greatest places to stay, The Scout Guide (TSG) Charleston editor Michele Johnson plans the perfect trip to her city.
Where to stay for a getaway as a couple: Between a bustling downtown and three gorgeous beaches, there’s a little something for everyone. Romantic escape? You can’t go wrong at ZERO GEORGE (THE hottest spot in Charleston), the FRENCH QUARTER INN (recently named the #2 Hotel in the U.S. by Trip Advisor!) or TWO MEETING STREET INN, the most charming bed and breakfast around.
Girls’ weekend? Check into the HARBOURVIEW INN for its convenience to restaurants, bars and shopping, or head over to THE COTTAGES ON CHARLESTON HARBOR for a relaxing retreat at Patriot’s Point. Family in tow? THE RESTORATION ON KING boasts full apartment style living with all the luxuries of home. Or hunker down in a beach house on Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Folly Beach or Kiawah Island.
Best brunch: You can’t visit Charleston without one trip to HOMINY GRILL for a real southern culinary experience, but be sure to wear your best stretchy pants. People flock to Charleston simply to eat at HUSK, but you’ll have to call ahead. Like, months ahead. Chef Sean Brock’s dedication to southern food makes Husk stand out in a crowd, and in Charleston, that’s hard to do. For an upscale experience, try the Gospel Sunday Brunch at HALLS CHOPHOUSE. A Charleston staple, this brunch serves up delicious food and spiritual entertainment courtesy of some pretty wonderful Gospel singers.
Lunch: For a unique, urban experience, pop up King Street to BUTCHER AND BEE. Be sure to try the kale slaw. Feeling adventurous? At BON BANH MI, the banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), tacos and salads are out of this world. Looking for authentic soul food? Martha Lou’s Kitchen is the place to be. Best fried chicken south of the Mason Dixon line. And we can’t forget CRU CAFE. Consistently great food served up in a charming converted home.
If you’re looking for a little local flavor, we highly recommend DELL’Z DELI. Very casual and a bit off the beaten path, Dell’z is healthy food on steroids. Giant heaps of delicious, good for you options that will leave you feeling full AND virtuous. Be sure to go to her uptown location where there is plenty of seating available. We recommend the Beach Bum!
Dinner: FIG. Period. Hands down our favorite restaurant in Charleston. Order the coddled egg; we can’t say enough about it. Other great choices include CIRCA 1886 or FULTON FIVE for romance, THE MACINTOSH for a hearty but creative culinary experience, or BOWENS ISLAND RESTAURANT for authentic Lowcountry seafood in your flip flops. Then there’s THE ORDINARY for fresh oysters and ambience, THE GROCERY for tasty sharing, XIAO BAO BISCUIT for the best Asian around and TRATTORIA LUCCA for an incredible Italian meal housed in a quaint corner restaurant that could have been torn from New York’s West Village.
Drinks: Charlestonians take their beverages seriously so there is no shortage of watering holes. For creative cocktails, step back in time at THE GIN JOINT. For impeccable wine and charcuterie, stroll down King Street to BIN 152 or head over the Ashley River to Avondale Wine and Cheese. Indulge your beer tastebuds at CLOSED FOR BUSINESS, BAY STREET BIERGARTEN or COLEMAN PUBLIC HOUSE in Mt Pleasant. Or check out one of the breweries in town, such as WESTBROOK, PALMETTO BREWING COMPANY and HOLY CITY BREWING.
Ideal place to celebrate a special occasion: To celebrate the most important of occasions, try the impeccable CHARLESTON GRILL at Charleston Place Hotel. Mickey Bakst, maitre d’ extraordinaire, is a Charleston treasure. He meets and greets his guests with an old school charm that makes you feel right at home. Try the 6-course tasting menu for an exquisite dining experience. And before your reservation, grab a drink at the Thoroughbred Club, a traditional piano bar adjacent to the Grill.
Where to shop: King Street is a must. Historic buildings lined with wonderful shops, King Street is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Be sure to hit Shoes on King and the Finicky Filly. Then hop across the street and pop into Croghan’s Jewelbox. The ladies at Croghan’s are southern hospitality at its finest. There are antiques, high fashion boutiques, quirky everything shops and tasty bites every step along the way. If your trip falls on the second Sunday of the month, set up shop at an outdoor table at Sermet’s and enjoy the people watching as the street is blocked off, street performers entertain and stores display their wares on the sidewalk.
Ideal Saturday afternoon: After a morning at the Farmer’s Market on Marion Square, head up King Street toward Cannonborough. Here you will find fun gifts and paper goods at Mac & Murphy, delicious treats at WildFlour Pastry and out of this world creations from Magar Hatworks. Or rent a boat from The City Marina and explore Charleston by water, docking at any of the local places along Shem Creek for a late lunch al fresco.
Best fests and other reasons to visit: Don’t miss the Southeastern Wildlife Expo, where you can do it all – shop, eat and learn at the hundreds of outdoor themed exhibits. Great fun for the whole family. For the over-21 crowd, the ever-growing Charleston Wine + Food Festival serves up mounds of food and bottle after bottle of wonderful libations. From late May to early June, the city is encompassed by the arts with Spoleto, a massive two week event that draws artists and entertainers from around the globe.
Where to get pampered: For downtown glam, check out Stella Nova. Don’t leave without visiting their boutique for the latest in beauty products. Need some crashing waves with your massage? Look no further than The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island. Quickie blowout? Tease offers 30-minute blowouts for $30. East Bay Nails is the place to see and be seen on Saturday mornings.
Secret gem: To get off the beaten path, head out to Wadmalaw Island for a visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation. A beautiful drive lined with moss and oaks, you’ll be visiting the only remaining tea plantation in the U.S. Stop by Irvin Vineyard and Firefly Distillery to grab a bottle of wine and some over-21 tea. And on your way back into town, be sure to see the Angel Oak. Well worth the stop, the oak tree boasts 17,000 square feet of shade and has a trunk that is close to 26 feet around!
One piece of insider information: Ever heard the expression “when it rains, it pours?” That is especially true in Charleston. The elevation of our city is 20 feet. That means we’re low – really, really low. This translates into flooded streets. If you’re here during a heavy storm, don’t let it ruin your time. Just sit back at a local watering hole and watch the kayakers paddle through downtown. It’s a sight to see!