Charleston, South Carolina is fast becoming not only the ultimate weekend vacation spot in the U.S., but also an international destination, drawing travelers from around the world thanks to its beautiful beaches, warm, balmy weather, world-class food scene, and quaint downtown, filled with shops, art galleries, and plenty of night life. We can even overlook the borderline oppressive summer humidity because it's just that charming.
You may feel like you've already been there thanks to photo after photo of pastel-colored row houses with a signature palm tree framed in the corner filling up your Insta feed, but there's more to the Southern seaside city than Rainbow Row, The Notebook, Blake Lively & Ryan Reynolds wedding, and a Bravo reality show. Here's our guide to what you absolutely you need to see, do, and eat while in Charleston.
Where To Stay
Zero George Street
If Charleston locals wanted a staycation, this historic small hotel would be the spot. It's understated luxury filled with Southern charm — think wide, lantern-lit white porches, period architectural details, Charleston contemporary art, and a private garden courtyard. The signature blue bikes are complimentary, but just make sure you're back in time for the nightly evening wine and cheese pairing.
This sprawling, 21-room property was built in 1886 and has maintained many of the homes original features. In addition to a spa, afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres, and rooms complete with original gas fireplaces and private porches, the hotel, located in the Historic District, is just a short stroll from King's streets shopping and dining.
Belmond Charleston Place
When you're in the mood for something large and luxurious, this is where you stay. Marble, grand chandeliers, antique furnishings, fine art — this hotel has got them all for days. The heated rooftop swimming pool offers a necessary break from sightseeing, and you can even catch live jazz at The Charleston Grill restaurant.
Where To Eat
Darling Oyster Bar
Whether you want to grab a stool at the raw bar for drinks and ceviche or sit in one of the booths in the airy, open-designed dining area and indulge in shrimp and grits, baked oysters, and fish fries, you can't go wrong with this seafood bar. Pro tip: Don't leave without trying the blue crab tagliatelle. It may change your life.
For some of the best cocktails in town, head to this restaurant, housed in a 1920s bank on Upper King street. It's simple and elegant, with white tile and sleek black wood, evocative almost of a Parisian brasserie. If you stay for dinner, the food doesn't disappoint. It serves up "fancy seafood," like oysters on the half shell, lobster rolls, and a seafood pot-au-feu.
Fresh and local drives the cuisine at this Charleston institution. It's an awesome mash-up of flavors, fusing South American, French, and Southern cuisine, with dishes like fish stew Provençal and ricotta gnocchi with lamb bolognese.
Charleston Farmers Market
If you're traveling between April and December, plan your trip so you'll be there on a Saturday. The market sets up in Marion Square, with tents filled with fresh, local produce, Southern staples like pimento cheese spread and homemade jams, Insta-worthy eats such as biscuit sandwiches and South Carolina BBQ, and products made from local artisans, like textiles, jewelry, and basket bags.
A trip to Charleston isn't complete without visiting a plantation. Though there's several to choose from (Boone Hall, Magnolia, Middleton Place), Drayton Hall is a good place to start. It's one of America's oldest preserved plantation houses, founded in 1738. You can tour the house, African American cemetery, walk along the massive, oak-tree lined driveway, and follow the history of slavery at the location. It's one of the most in-tact examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in America, so have your cameras ready.
Visit The Local Shops & Artisans
You could head to King street for more mainstream, well-known brands, but the local boutiques are reason enough on their own for a trip to Charleston. Head to Hampden Clothing for a curated selection of cool, ready-to-wear clothes. Visit John Pope Antiques for something super special — he has a degree in historic preservation, so this collection is legit — or head over the bridge into Mount Pleasant and visit Celadon Home if you want decor that's more contemporary, like micro cacti, rattan furniture, and geometric patterned lamps in bold colors. Finally, check out some of the local artists showrooms for one-of-a-kind prints, like Lulie Wallace, Blakely Little, and Raven Roxanne.
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