I have been to Charleston, South Carolina three times now, and with each visit I fall more in love with The Holy City. It lives up to its charming rap; seeped in history and filled to the brim with beautiful details. I am never not enamored with all of the colorful facades, flower-filled window boxes, and the Southern hospitality that the city itself seems to exude.
Below you’ll find my “hit list” of where to stay, eat, and shop, and some suggestions as to what else you can do while you are there.
affordable – King Charles Inn: This hotel is comfortable and clean, and centrally located. If having access to a pool is important to you too, then King Charles Inn is a sure bet!
splurge – Planters Inn: Planters Inn has my heart. I feel like I am home when I am here. The rooms are large with plush four poster beds, desks, and seating areas. In my opinion the best part about staying here though is the afternoon snack of mango tea and cheese crisps offered in the parlor. If you ask at the front desk, the staff will happily give you the recipe for said cheese crisps. Trust me, you will want it!
special occasion – The Spectator: Named the #1 hotel in the Continental US and the #2 hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure in 2016, The Spectator lives up to its reputation for both luxury and service. A stay here comes replete with a personal butler to deliver a complimentary breakfast each morning (Order the Grapefruit Brûlée!) and a nightcap each evening. The gratis minibar, stocked (and re-stocked each day) with hometown goodies is a super nice feature as well.
167 Raw: This is one of my favorite restaurants of all-time. Be prepared to wait outside for a seat inside of the tiny space. One of the very handsome servers will be happy to offer you a drink from their well-appointed menu while you do. Once in, I recommend ordering oysters and sharing either the Tuna Burger or a Fish Sandwich; the fish selection changes daily. In all honesty, everything here is outstanding though.
Stella’s: Arrive between 4 and 6 PM and saddle up to the beautifully designed counter for Meze Ora at Stella’s; sip on the Cocktail of the Evening, and choose from a nice assortment of small plates, all at reduced prices. Worth noting is that there are a lot of dining options here for the gluten-free and/or vegetarian visitors in the crowd. Off of the regular menu, try: Saganaki, Pastichio, Yia Yia’s Skillet.
Butcher & Bee: What originally started as a sandwich shop has now evolved into a full-fledged restaurant with a focus on serving only the best in fresh, local, and sustainable fare. I really like that the menu on their website is listed as “subject to freshness”. I have tried a lot of the fried chicken in Charleston but the preparation here is by far my favorite. I recommend ordering extra house-made pickles.
Xiao Bao Biscuit: Xiao Bao Biscuit is down the street from the popular Hominy Grill, set in a gas station turned hipster hideaway. They have an excellent beer selection, and while the food menu is small, it covers a diverse range of dishes. The showstopping Okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake) is not to be missed.
Halls Chophouse: Believe the hype regarding the Sunday Gospel Brunch at Halls. Sit back with a “Famous” Bloody Mary in hand and listen to the soulful sounds of the choir. Dining this way is truly as much an experience as it is a meal. Be sure to make a reservation here as brunch in particular is often booked out a month or more in advance. As for food, the Steak Sandwich is phenomenally filling and delicious.
Husk: It’s no secret that Sean Brock is a culinary genius with a James Beard award under his belt, and Husk having been named the “Best New Restaurant in America” in 2011 by Bon Appétit. The emphasis at Husk is on quality Southern ingredients. The menu changes daily, but the food is consistently thoughtful. Be sure to order any one of the dishes that contains Brock’s signature Pimento Cheese.
Minero, another Sean Brock establishment, is beloved for its casual Mexican vibe. If you happen to be in town when Esquites (off-the-cob Mexican street corn) is on the specials list, please do yourself a favor and get it immediately; swimming in a rich broth swirled with cheese and cream, this is the best and most flavorful version of the dish I have ever had. I like to enjoy it with an Estrellita cocktail.
SNOB: With an open kitchen and a consistently packed dining room, the energy in SNOB is on point. This is a great spot for a date night, or to bring a larger group of people. Where the cuisine is concerned, I am an especially big fan of the Grilled Peach Salad.
Other Standouts: Iced Lavender Honey Latte at City Lights Coffee. Peanut Butter & Jelly Beer at Edmund’s Oast. Blood Orangecello Spritz at Monza. Honey cupcake at Sugar Bakeshop. Cinnamon Biscuit at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit. Labneh Harra at Leyla. Crudites & Dip at Little Jack’s Tavern. Ricotta Gnocchi at FIG. Famous Fried Chicken Salad at Poogan’s Porch.
The shopping scene in Charleston is pretty spectacular, from King Street which is lined with big name retailers and small boutiques alike, to the more out-of-the-way gems dispersed throughout the city.
Curiosity: This shop is “open by chance” according to the website, so I am very glad that twice now, I have popped in at one of those times. The space is set up as a beautiful apothecary peppered with antique and vintage finds. I relish in digging through the displays for old hotel silverware and one-of-a-kind serving pieces.
The Commons: This store used to be situated in a tiny courtyard but has since moved to a larger outpost. The goods inside are all American made, for the home, and have a timeless feel. The pink glassware sets, hand thrown ceramics, and raw maple wood bowls are all lust-worthy.
The Skinny Dip: The Skinny Dip is “a collective concept store” that houses local brands (Southern Charm fans can find ShepGear here.) as well as new designers from around the country. Inside the two-story shop, you’ll also find a coffee and wine bar, and makeshift art gallery. If I had a place to put them, I would have purchased several of the beautiful pieces hanging on the wall.
Candlefish: This suggestion could fall in the category above because Candlesfish is technically a shop, however, they also offer an in-house Candle-Making Workshop. I took one on a Monday evening and had a fantastic experience. The class fee includes instruction, two scented candles, which you make yourself, the option to BYOB, and a 15% discount for any merchandise purchased immediately after the workshop.
Charleston Sole Walking Tour: I am usually not a tour person. I find a lot of them to be gimmicky and cover the same information you might find in any guidebook, but I decided to do this one on my first visit to Charleston, and it was a great decision. My guide Finn was super sweet and knowledgeable, and when he noticed that I was taking very angular photos, he made sure to point out architectural particulars and scenery that he thought I would find interesting.
The tour spans two hours and covers an area of about 1.5 miles. The group sizes are kept small, which makes for an excellent way to get your bearings in Charleston, in an intimate setting.
Wander!: Charleston is truly the perfect place to get lost. There are so many narrow alleyways to meander down, handsome historical homes to look at, and eateries to sample things in.
Head toward the water and take a stroll along the Battery. If riding is more your style, rent a bike from one of the many street-side vendors dotted around the downtown area. A good number of the hotels have bikes on hand for their guests to use free-of-charge, as well.
Pop in to the Calhoun Mansion or the Nathaniel Russell House Museum for a brief guided walk-through. At the latter, I loved learning about all of the decor choices in the home, including why certain paint colors were chosen for certain rooms (For example, colors like salmon and aqua were popular dining room options as they both beautifully reflect candlelight.), and inspecting all of the intricacies throughout the house, like the Blue Lapis floorboards, which were installed to signify the owners’ wealth.