Charleston is packed with Southern charm, the kind that inspires one to watch Gone With the Wind again. However, the Holy City doesn’t live in the past. It’s vibrant culinary scene and nightlife offers contemporary restaurants and venues. Upper King’s revitalization is swiftly turning the hip district into an up-and-coming tourist destination. There you’ll find new galleries, boutiques, restaurants and more housed in 19th century buildings using reclaimed materials. The streets bustle with the sounds of crowds, music and energy.
Heading south toward the harbor, the more established Lower King area offers a delicious array of award-winning restaurants, the antique district, tourist attractions and the historic city market. For more than 200 years, one of the nation’s oldest public markets has represented the epicenter of trade in the city. The site was bequeathed by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who stipulated the land be used as a public market in perpetuity.
As you make your way south of Broad Street, you enter one of the city’s poshest neighborhoods. The stunning examples of Colonial, Federal, Italianate and Antebellum architecture provide a wonderful landscape for a stroll to the end of the peninsula. Walk back along the waterfront to take in the harbor views of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers.
This reasonably priced historic hotel is perfectly placed at the border of the hip Upper King district while still walking distance to the harbor. Dating back to the 1920s, it also offers charming rooms and great customer service. francismarionhotel.com
Charleston is filled with historic mansions and here’s your opportunity to stay at one. This small, luxury hotel offers classically decorated rooms in the heart of King Street’s shops and restaurants. wentworthmansion.com
Those preferring to stay closer to the water can enjoy harbor views at this 52-room boutique hotel. Other amenities include breakfast delivered to your room, tea service and a complimentary skyline tour from the rooftop terrace. harbourviewcharleston.com
Darling Oyster Bar
This raw bar and eatery housed in a 115-year-old storefront serves local seafood in a charming, vintage inspired setting in the up-and-coming Upper King district. It’s great for a happy hour drink and small bites too! thedarling.com
Book ahead at this neighborhood farm-to-table restaurant where chef Mike Lata incorporates low- country favorites with seasonal dishes. It’s not named after the fruit; the acronym stands for “Food is Good.” eatatfig.com
This intimate French bistro housed in a bungalow may not suit everyone. The menu offers only two entrée choices that change daily, but the flickering candles and vintage charm makes it one of the most romantic spots in town. cheznouschs.com
Housed in a historic church, which just celebrated its 100th birthday, this high-end restaurant offers a crowd-pleasing menu in an eclectic setting. 5churchcharleston.com
This swing-inspired bar with live music six nights a week (and dance lessons on three) features beer, wine, champagne and historically inspired cocktails. prohibitioncharleston.com
The Rooftop Bar at Vendue
The upscale lounge features a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the Charleston harbor and live music on Sunday afternoons. thevendue.com
Bay Street Biergarten
The city’s first contemporary beer garden modeled after a Bavarian beer hall offers 70 taps with 24 right at your table for DIY pouring. baystreetbiergarten.com
Charleston Distilling Co.
Schedule a tasting at this distillery in the heart of Charleston crafting rye whiskey, vodka and gin. charlestondistilling.com
Charleston was one of the early incubators of America’s signature music, and today you can enjoy classic to contemporary styles. Several local bars feature jazz artists at night—The Commodore (thecommodorechs.com) or The Cocktail Club (thecocktailclubcharleston.com)—but you can also sit down for more formal concerts. Find the latest listings through the Jazz Artists of Charleston (jazzartistsofcharleston.org).
Historic Houses and Plantations
At the tip of the Charleston peninsula is a small neighborhood of stunning historic homes, and it’s in this posh area known as South of Broad where many socialites and celebrities (including Oprah and Bill Murray) live. Amongst the private residences, you will find historic estates open to the public. One of the most stunning is the Calhoun Mansion (calhounmansion.net), an Italianate manor that reflects the city’s gilded age. The Heyward-Washington House (charlestonmuseum.org), a modest home built in 1772, housed the first President while the Nathanial Russell House (historiccharleston.org) is one of America’s most important neoclassical dwellings.
Just outside Charleston, visit some of the area’s historical plantations, including Drayton Hall (draytonhall.org), Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (magnoliaplantation.com) and Middleton Place (middletonplace.org). Both Middleton and Magnolia are known for their beautiful gardens, the former boasting America’s oldest landscaped gardens and the latter the country’s oldest public tourist site. While at Drayton Hall, the Palladian colonial house is preserved to its near original condition.
Within 15 minutes of downtown, you can be wiggling your toes in sand at one of the areas many beaches. The closest—Folly Beach (cityoffollybeach.com)—offers wide beaches, quaint restaurants and shops. Or venture further to Isle of Palms (iop.net) or Kiawah Island (kiawahisland.org). Kiawah, known as a resort community, offers a more upscale destination and when you need a break from the beach you can stop by Freshfields Village (freshfieldsvillage.com) for a little shopping. Isle of Palms is also known for its world-class golf courses but the pristine beaches and laid-back style makes it a family-friendly destination.
Carriage Rides & Tours
It may seem hokey, but seeing Charleston by carriage ride is a unique learning experience. There are many companies to choose from including Palmetto Carriage Works (palmettocarriage.com) and Old South Carriage Company (oldsouthcarriage.com)—ask for Lance as your guide! Each hour-long tour tackles a small slice of the city but it gives you tremendous insight into its historic tales. For those wanting to experience the city’s darker side, several ghost walks such as Tour Charleston’s (tourcharleston.com) take you through the city’s hair-raising haunts.