The capital of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Charleston, South Carolina, is hard to resist.
It charms with its sheer beauty, rich 300-year history, distinctive personality and satisfying flavor. Stroll its cobblestone streets and discover colorful homes, distinctive ironwork, copious markets and boutiques, art galleries, horse-drawn carriages, architectural treasures, living history, intense local pride and restaurants.
Oh! The food!
Culinary styles grow out of what’s available in a region and who lives there—taste preferences, cultures, cooking skills and recipes are key influences. The Lowcountry (the coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina, including Charleston) was settled by a diverse population of French, Spanish, Scottish, English, African and Native American people with ready access to rice, seafood and abundant produce. That ethnic melting pot of people working with coastal fresh ingredients gave rise to Lowcountry cuisine, one of the nation’s most celebrated food traditions.
Today’s Charleston menus showcase Lowcountry classics like frogmore stew, she crab soup and shrimp & grits alongside contemporary creations. Expect to be more than satisfied: Expect to be wowed.
The best way to visit Charleston is by walking, eating and talking. Explore on your own—don’t forget a camera!—eat wherever and whatever looks interesting, and mingle with people you meet along the way. Take a tour for professional insights and rest assured the money you spend for a ticket won’t be wasted on mindless entertainment: All tour guides in Charleston are certified, so you can trust what they’re telling you as historically accurate; this is not a city that tolerates the “make it up as you go along” approach.
I adore Charleston and visit as often as I can. Each time, I discover new things; I’m convinced you could live here and never see it all.
Only have a day or two? No problem. Even a short visit is time to relish Charleston’s abundant, unique charms.
Come once and you’ll be drawn to return to Charleston again and again, delighted anew with each visit.
Among my most recent discoveries…
Where To Eat…
Proof that fine dining should never go out of style, this Forbes Four Star and AAA Four Diamond rated restaurant takes “upscale” and ramps it up to “sophisticated” with elegant service, fancy décor, confident cooking and creative presentations. Eating here is an event, suitable to any special occasion (though it can also transform any random day into something special). Chef Marc Collins finds inspiration in global cuisines to give Lowcountry classics a healthy spin—so there’s less butter and cream, more whole grains in his dishes than might be found elsewhere. But one bite of any dish comfirms there’s no compromise when it comes to flavor. From crab cakes to antelope loin, heirloom tomato salad to foie gras, chicken-fried halibut to heart of palm with spicy pineapple glaze, there’s much to drool over. Whatever strikes your fancy, savor it. Be sure to save room for an amazing dessert.
The Cocktail Club
Located upstairs above The Macintosh, this bar is a cozy place to hang out with your travel companions and even meet new people—it’s friendly, not specifically a pick-up scene. Whether you’re a casual imbiber or someone who takes cocktails very seriously, whether you prefer classics or innovations, the libations here are sure to impress. Expand your palate and try something new. Be sure to get your Shazam app readied because the classics soundtrack played here is so awesome you’ll likely hear something you’ll want to buy.
Waterfront dining at the edge of the French Quarter, this upscale casual restaurant makes it possible to have a view and walkability, too. Located on the east side of the Charleston peninsula, the retired naval building (circa 1942) is a hurricane-proof concrete structure that juts out over the marsh on a reinforced pier. Huge windows offer a clear view of the Charleston harbor and “maritime chic” décor cheer the inside. Fittingly, Chef Drew Hedlund’s menu showcases seafood in classic and contemporary classics like shrimp & grits, oysters, calamari, she crab soup, fish tacos, shrimp pot pie and fried flounder sandwich. (Chicken, turkey and beef options available, too.)
Open for breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch, this fast-casual restaurant serves fresh fare in open environs. Biscuits are fluffy, eggs cooked to order and sandwiches are creative combinations you’ll wish you’d thought of first. Yummy nourishment worth lingering over.
The menu reads like a challenge: James Beard Award semifinalist Chef Jeremiah Bacon dares you to pick just one dish though every description delights. I found making a decision so overwhelming that I surrendered and asked the waiter to have the chef pick for me. Though I still wonder what the other creations taste like, I certainly was thrilled with the confit pork shoulder with shaved vegetables, peanuts, baked beans and tamarind barbeque sauce—an Asian spin on classic Southern barbecue. Food this good in such a cozy upscale casual environment warrants multiple re-visits. In a word: Yum.
What To Do…
A “historic mall” (circa 1804—one of the oldest public markets in the U.S.), this brick structure houses 285 vendors selling a range of goods from hand-crafted works of art to touristy trinkets. A whopping 56 artisans sell woven sweetgrass baskets, a prized Gullah craft. A must-have, look for one that’s tightly woven and not easily bent.
Take a one-hour horse-drawn carriage tour with the oldest carriage tour company in Charleston. To help control traffic, tour routes vary (and are selected by a random lottery system). But fret not: Whatever route you get is sure to offer a mix of history, quirky anecdotes, entertaining factoids and picturesque sights.
Striped Pig Distillery
Charleston’s first distillery since Prohibition is run by four guys who do all the work themselves to produce hand-crafted, small-batch spirits—moonshine, vodka, rum and whiskey—distilled from 100-percent heirloom corn grown in South Carolina and premium molasses from Savannah, Ga. And yes, there is actually a pig named Jackson on site, but no, he’s not striped.
Where To Stay…
King Charles Inn
237 Meeting Street
Charleston SC 29401
This award-winning hotel offers everything you need and nothing you don’t. The key draw: location. It’s in Charleston’s historic French Quarter, so it’s possible to park the car here—for free!—and then explore by foot. (And, trust us, Charleston is one of those cities where it’s easiest to keep driving to a minimum.) This hotel is a great option if convenience ranks high on your list, you prefer hotels with individual character over national chains, and prefer service without pretentiousness. The assortment of rooms (doubles, queens, kings) ensures there’s something to suit your needs, whether you’re traveling alone, with a friend, lover, family member or business associate.
- Free Internet access
- Free parking—of crucial value in historic downtown Charleston SC!
- Non-smoking hotel
- No pets allowed
- 91 guestrooms
- Courtesy computer and printer available in the lobby
- On-site dining at BREW Pub & Café—plus a short walk to FIG, one of the city’s finest eateries
- Happy hour drink specials and complimentary snacks daily, 4:30-5:30 p.m.
- Outdoor pool
- In-room mini refrigerator
- Keurig coffee brewer and basic supplies provided in each guestroom; complimentary coffee also available near the lobby from 7-10:30 a.m.
- Fitness center $5 per person per day
Charleston, South Carolina has been voted “Top City in the U.S.” by Condé Nast Traveler readers for three consecutive years.
Charleston, South Carolina was among the stops of the #DSGetaway shared by Deep South Magazine and Getaways for Grownups. To read more related features, click on the DSGetaway tag on this site or on DeepSouthMag.com. On Facebook and Twitter, search #DSGetaway.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC