An Insider's Guide to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival

Photo by Andrew Cebulka for Charleston Wine + Food

In just a few weeks, we’ll be packing our bags and heading South for five days of fun and fantastic fare in one of our favorite locations. A celebration of the city’s rich culinary heritage and culture, Charleston Wine + Food is an ideal early March getaway for anyone who appreciates great food, delicious wine and cocktails, and the incomparable style and flavor of the Holy City.

Last year was our first time attending the fest, and while we had a blast sampling food and beverages in the Culinary Village, attending events all over the city, and popping over to some of our favorite Scouted King Street shops, we left feeling like we could have benefitted from some insider’s advice on how to maximize our time at the fest. Therefore, as we prepare to head back, we asked a few of our TSG Charleston members for some tips on how to enjoy Charleston Wine + Food like a local.

Planning Your Trip

Photo by Andrew Cebulka for Charleston Wine + Food

First, we turned to Laura Kate Whitney, Marketing and Communications Director for Charleston Wine + Food, for advice on how best to plan our trip. Starting with a Cheers to Charleston! kickoff party on Wednesday, March 2 “The ultimate celebration of local flavor,” says Laura Kate), followed by four full days of activities to choose from, we wanted to know how to make the most of our time at the festival.

“There are plenty of unforgettable—and tasty!—experiences to enjoy throughout all five days,” Laura Kate says. However, if you’re thinking of making a long weekend out of the trip, aim to arrive early enough on Friday to catch the Official Opening Ceremonies at Marion Square (Friday, March 4 at 11 a.m.), and don’t plan on leaving before the end of the fest. “Our finale event, Toasted: Up in Smoke (Sunday, March 6, 6 – 8:30 p.m.) always provides the perfect cap to an incredible weekend,” she notes before adding a pro tip: Consider leaving on Monday afternoon to give yourself a day to recover from feasting.

As for how to decide between all of the delicious options presented by the fest, Laura Kate lists an afternoon spent in the Culinary Village as an absolute must. “This year we have lots of new sights, sounds, and flavors added to the menu,” she says, including The Hub, an open-air tasting experience. “The $100 ticket offers five full hours of tastings, demos, chef sightings, schmoozing, spirits samplings, shopping, and more.” See the full Culinary Village schedule here. 

In addition to an afternoon in Marion Square, Laura Kate recommends planning a festival menu that includes a class that will send you home with new skills, an excursion that will let you experience even more of the Lowcountry, a beverage workshop (“Our lineup is really outstanding this year, it includes both rare experiences and tastings as well as small-batch gems,” she says), a signature dinner one evening, a signature event another evening, and some Charleston sight-seeing. [Editor’s note: Be sure to sign up for The Scouted Life newsletter to read about some of the festival schedule highlights!]

Where to Stay

Once you’ve settled on your dates, it’s time to book your accommodations. Luckily, Charleston has a variety of beautiful and comfortable options that will ensure your stay is nothing short of extraordinary. We asked TSG Charleston’s Susan Hull Walker, owner of the global textile design and retail boutique ibu, for recommendations on where to make a reservation; here are her picks:

Zero George (above). With 18 studios and suites surrounded by charming Charleston residences and two brick carriage houses, this boutique hotel is the epitome of Southern chic. Less than a 10-minute walk from Marion Square, it’s conveniently located for trips to the Culinary Village, and boasts its own foodie-approved destination: Zero Café + Bar.

The Spectator Hotel. Located a block from the Historic Charleston City Market in the center of the French Quarter and Market Street districts (and a 15-minute walk to Marion Square), this sophisticated, 1920s-inspired hotel has style to spare.

The Restoration. Situated a stone’s throw from some of our favorite King Street shopping destinations—and just a 10-minute walk to Marion Square—The Restoration is a casually elegant option complete with charming Southern touches.

Planters Inn. A Relais & Chateau boutique hotel in the Historic District, the gorgeous 64-room Planters Inn is a Charleston institution. Home to the lauded Peninsula Grill, the hotel is just a 10-minute walk to Marion Square.

Wentworth Mansion. Wonderfully gracious and bearing luxurious amenities, the 21-room Wentworth Mansion is a great choice for someone seeking a smaller hotel in the Historic District. A 15-minute walk from Marion Square, it is home to Circa 1886, a seasonally-inspired restaurant that will host Life of the Party: All Things Entertaining with Tara Guérard, one of our TSG-sponsored lunch events!

Where to Dine and Shop

Next, we tapped the stylish ladies behind Croghan’s Jewel Box, a charming King Street jewelry store with beautiful new and antique pieces that’s been family-owned for more than 100 years, for some shopping and dining recommendations. Sisters (and third-generation owners) Rhett Outten and Mariana Hay, along with fourth-generation sisters Mini and Kathleen Hay, graciously shared some of their must-visit destinations, though they admitted it was tough to narrow down their list. “We’re so lucky to live in a city that has outstanding shopping and terrific restaurants. We have a hard time keeping up with all the openings!” Rhett says.

Below are a few of their favorites at the moment that Rhett says is in no way comprehensive. “While we have many different opinions on what our favorites are, we all agree that we haven’t even scratched the surface. We didn’t even get to tell you about our favorite spots for cocktails!”

Left: Goat. Sheep. Cow. image by Holger Obenhaus. Right: Leon’s Oyster Shop image by Hong Thaimee

Where to Dine:

Breakfast: Mini and Kathleen both love to stop at Mercantile and Mash for breakfast on their way to work, and Kathleen’s favorite neighborhood haunt for breakfast, lunch, or dinner is The Park Café. Rhett recommends Christophe on Society Street for melt-in-your-mouth almond croissants, burnt-edged canelés, and baguettes filled with brie and turkey or chicken and pesto.

Lunch: Mariana is hooked on Butcher & Bee. She recommends following them on Instagram for delicious insights into their daily menu. For a quick lunch, Rhett says caviar & bananas on George Street cannot be beat.“Their kale salad, lobster Cobb salad, and daily sushi selection are absolutely delish,” she says. And, she adds, Goat. Sheep. Cow. on Church Street is a treat. “Their fresh cheeses, charcuterie, and limited daily sandwiches wrapped in butcher paper and tied up with twine are out of this world—and sell out early,” she says.

Dinner: Mini adores meeting friends for supper at Indaco. “Their pizzas and pastas are perfect for sharing,” she says.  Meanwhile, the cozy and crowded Italian phenomenon Fulton Five is Kathleen’s “must try” for dinner. And according to Mariana, Leon’s has become a fun, low-key supper spot for the whole family. “Try the baked oysters and fried chicken,” Mariana recommends.

Photo by Peter Frank Edwards

Where to Shop:

Hampden Clothing , which is only two doors down from Croghan’s, is Mini’s go-to store for designer shopping. She recommends Shoes on King (above) for fabulous boots and shoes, and notes that they have really great sales. (We took advantage of one such occasion during last year’s fest and came home with two pairs of boots.)

Mariana’s good friend owns Worthwhile on King Street and tempts her with unique clothing and housewares like a handmade blue and gold quilt of Charleston’s coastline as well as Paris flea market finds. She also recommends Birlant’s, which has been their family’s go-to spot for antiquing for generations. “We have great memories of auctions on their cavernous 2nd floor back in the day, and we can always find what we are looking for in their well stocked shop on King Street,” she says.

“For retail therapy, ibu is an upstairs, out of the way shopping experience on King Street not to be missed,” Rhett says. “And The Hidden Countship is like a spur-of-the-moment trip to Italy. Its rustic stucco townhouse complete with tiny glass solarium peeks out from under a huge festively decorated oak tree on Burns Lane.”

Kathleen is a fan of Gwynn’s, a locally owned department store she says is worth the trip across the bridge to Mt. Pleasant for everything from formal dresses to great shoes. She also notes that Cynthia Rowley’s store on King Street always has a great selection (and good sales).

Of course no shopping itinerary would be complete without a stop at the ladies’ King Street gem. “You must stop by the Jude Frances trunk show at Croghan’s!” Rhett says. The jewelry artist’s rings and bracelets, which are perfect for stacking, will be on display and available Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5. (Having attended a trunk show at Croghan’s during last year’s Charleston Wine + Food, we can attest that it will be a lovely affair.)

What to Wear

While it’s first and foremost about the food, Charleston Wine + Food is undoubtedly a stylish event, and you’ll want to look sharp while sightseeing throughout the charming city as well. To help make sure our attire is on point, we asked Stacy Smallwood of the impeccably curated (aforementioned) boutique, Hampden, to share her picks for a successful fest wardrobe. Here are her recommendations:

Daytime Festival: (Note: This would be the perfect outfit to wear to the TSG-sponsored lunch, Fried Chicken for the Southern Soul, which will be presented by Veuve Clicquot and hosted by Cannon Green, and take place on Saturday, March 5 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.)

Acne Studios Odette Linen Pant / T by Alexander Wang Sky Cotton Poplin Cropped Shirt / Acne Studios Swift Leather Jacket in Dark Red / Loeffler Randall Pia Silver Platform Sandal / Anya Hindmarch Crossbody Smiley in Mustard / Karen Walker Super Duper Strength Sunglasses

Stella McCartney Shereen Dress / Proenza Schouler Large Lunch Bag in Black Python /  Tibi  Milla Sandals / Proenza Schouler PS11 Double Bracelet in Ultramarine

Self-Portrait Lace Peplum Midi Dress /  Rupert Sanderson Cassandra Sandal / Edie Parker Flavia Happy clutch / Dana Rebecca Designs Sarah Leah Diamond Huggies

What to See

Photo by Peter Frank Edwards

In addition to shopping, dining, and festing, sightseeing in the city of Charleston is an absolute must. With so much beauty and history, you could spend endless hours walking around taking it all in, so we asked Sandi Clerici of the Preservation Society of Charleston, an organization dedicated to preserving and saving Charleston’s historic places, to recommend a couple of tours during Charleston Wine + Food that would appeal to visitors.

Clerici’s first suggestion is for a tour called “Doin’ the Charleston Renaissance,” which is designed around the movement that roared into the 1920s as artists, writers, musicians, poets, and preservationists revitalized the city’s social, cultural, and artistic identity. Her second recommendation will appeal to the literary inclined: an excursion designed around The Invention of Wings, a novel by Sue Monk Kidd. The tour will invite people to walk in the path of the sisters at the center of the book and hear how life in Charleston was for both the privileged elite and the enslaved masses, and it will complete the tale of how the two women shaped future generations.

With so much to taste and take in, there’s likely little room left in the schedule for additional exploring. However, for additional recommendations on where to go and what to do, browse TSG Charleston here, and look for the new volume of the guide, which will arrive just in time for the festival!

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