Maggie and I are so lucky to live in Charleston, South Carolina full time. Charleston has consistently been ranked a #1 travel destination in the world for a few years now and the city is full of life and amazing food! I’ve been lucky enough to live in Charleston for five and a half years now, two of which have been spent working in a very busy hotel as a concierge! I like to think that I really know “whats up” at this point after seriously receiving every question possible about things to do and food to eat while in town!
A lot of the guests we receive at the hotel spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the city- and this seems to be the perfect length of time to see the “Holy City”. While touristy things are fun (and also important for a first time visitor!) – I really love when people want to do something a bit more off the beaten path. That being said, my guide will include both some of the more touristy options as well as options and advice you’ll hear straight from locals.
Welcome! You have probably landed at Charleston International Airport. The airport is small (but lovely) and there is only one main building. Once you get your luggage, head outside where you will see a few different options for transportation (if your hotel doesn’t provide a shuttle-which most don’t). The best options for transportation are going to be a public shuttle (about $14) or Uber ($22-25 to downtown). Taxis tend to run around $30 if you are a traditionalist and if you want a more luxury option, Charleston Black Cab is a company I have worked closely in the past with that have a lot of options for transport from the airport in style.
Where to Stay:
There a few wonderful hotels on the Charleston Peninsula that cater to every price range. I’ve included a few different options from a Splurge to Save accommodations.
The Spectator arrived on the hotel scene a few years ago as a luxury, modern option in the Historic District. The rooms are clean and bright and offer a variety of amenities catered towards the discerning guest.
Their rooms feature lovely touches such as marble bathrooms, smart TVs, free Wi-Fi and Nespresso machines. Also, super cool, there is butler service available which means that your complimentary continental breakfast is delivered to your door each morning and they will even pack/unpack your bag for you. I could totally get on board with that.
The hotel also offers the use of loaner bikes which is the perfect way to see the city since it is so condensed. There’s also a stylish 1920s-inspired cocktail bar in the lobby that serves up delicious cocktails with wonderful service.
My personal favorite hotel in Charleston is The Charleston Place. It isn’t hard to see why the hotel has so many repeat visitors. It is the perfect balance of modern and historic and its lobby is just palatial. The hotel is a bustling hub right smack in the middle of the Historic District and offers the famously delicious Charleston Grill which probably has the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life (no, really) and features live jazz music each night. The service is unparalleled and it is just such an experience to dine with them. The hotel also has The Palmetto Cafe, open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, and the Thoroughbred Club for cocktails.
The rooms are stunning and have been recently renovated. The hotel also offers a world-class spa and indoor swimming pool with access to an outside patio for sunbathing. If you stay on their club level (I highly recommend this!) you have access to refreshments and snacks during the day and “club-level amenities”.
Staying at the Charleston Place is such a wonderful experience. It was the first hotel I stayed in before moving down to Charleston for college and I remember just being in awe of everything. I personally love window shopping in the Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores in the lobby before popping over to Godiva for a mid-day treat (heck, I even did this in college when I wasn’t staying at the hotel!).
86 Cannon is a relatively new boutique property that is simply delightful. The property itself is located in an impeccably renovated old house on Cannon Street. The attention to detail is unlike any other and each room feels special. With only five guest rooms the Inn offers an intimate feeling to its guests that a large hotel cannot really accomplish.
Some amenities included with your stay include curated concierge services, free bicycle rental, marble bathrooms, luxury linens, complimentary European style breakfast, nightly wine and cheese service, and a third floor library with an “honor bar”. The Inn also offers free-parking which is very rare in Downtown Charleston!
I’ve been dying to stay at 86 Cannon since it opened. It may be my birthday present to myself to splurge a bit and spend the night!
I am a huge advocate for Airbnbs. I love privacy and quiet and I tend to feel as though Airbnbs are usually the best option to achieve both of those. I also don’t really need a lot in the way of amenities (although it is nice from time to time to be pampered!), especially when I tend to look towards more budget friendly options! The Airbnbs I found online in the Charleston area tend to be in the $70-$200 range so there is something for everyone. Also, don’t be deterred by not staying downtown. While it is obviously the easier option, getting downtown from the outlying areas is usually very easy! Parking is really the only thing that tends to be annoying since it costs money everywhere, so I would suggest using Uber to get around instead (you’ll save money, trust me).
Honorable mentions include The King Charles Inn, Zero George, French Quarter Inn, and the Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.
What to Do
Now that you have settled into your hotel, head outside to explore the area. The Historic District of Charleston lies, in my opinion, South of Calhoun Street and all the way down to The Battery. From Calhoun to The Battery is 1.1 miles exactly. This being said, it is all very walk-able. The absolute best way to the city is hands down to walk it. If walking is not your thing, the second best way to see the city is by bike. A lot of the hotels offer complimentary bicycles to use- but if your property does not, Affordabike on King St. is a great option. If you don’t want to do a 24-hour rental, Holy Spokes is a new program in downtown Charleston that is kind of like Citibikes in NYC. You go to a freestanding bike kiosk and reserve a bike with your credit card.
Bike down all the way to The Battery to take in the beautiful Antebellum mansions that line Battery Row. It is seriously amazing to just wander along the old streets, peeking into gardens and snapping photos of all the wrought-iron gates that stand at the entrances to these historic old homes. Be sure to bike to Waterfront Park to snap a photo of the Pineapple Fountain and look for dolphins off of the pier.
People who think of Charleston usually think of big, beautiful plantations, Rainbow Row, and the beach. They aren’t too far off- these things are a big part of what makes Charleston, Charleston. Some of my favorite things to see in Charleston involve the historic homes that are available to tour. There is just something about these places that really allow you step back in time and imagine what Charleston used to be.
The Edmondston-Alston House
The Edmondston-Alston House is located on East Battery St. and is a great representation of a classic Charleston home that has been wonderfully preserved and features family heirlooms and classic furniture. The guides tend to be very informative and helpful and it doesn’t hurt that the home has a fabulous views of the water from its piazza!
I’ve decided that I am only going to write about only one plantation since I don’t want this guide to get too lengthy! Middleton Place is hands down my favorite plantation to visit. Its grounds are gorgeous and the gardens were actually inspired by Versaille’s! It is also the only plantation where there is a docent led garden tour. I’d also suggest adding on the additional house tour. It is fun to see the original family heirlooms and furniture that still outfit the home. Be sure to stop by and visit the goats that live on property too 😉
Sullivan’s Island is hands-down my favorite beach. To be honest, I don’t really like Folly at all which is a shame since I hear that it used to be the best, most down to earth beach in Charleston! Unfortunately, it has since become too touristy (think high rise hotel, ugly condos) for my taste. That being said, Sullivan’s Island is the perfect mixture of not too quiet and not too busy. Once you get to Sullivan’s you can find parking along the side streets that is free. Just be sure to really follow the instructions listed on the signs and don’t park where you aren’t supposed to, you will be ticketed! That being said, the beach has different “stations” that provide access out to the beach. Station 26 is usually the favorite among my friends. If you need to rent beach chairs, umbrellas, etc., there is a wonderful company that is run by a few College of Charleston alum called Charleston Beach Works and they will drop beach rentals off at your hotel downtown.
There are plenty of other attractions to see when you are in Charleston- but to be totally honest, a lot of what makes Charleston so special is just how beautiful it is to look at! Walking around downtown is the best way to get a feel of Charleston and to take in what the city has to offer. I would absolutely suggest doing a walking tour while you’re in town. My favorite company is Oyster Point Tours which is run by (another) CofC graduate. They lead a fantastic two hour tour and I have never heard anything but positive things! Also, if water activities are your thing- check out Coastal Expeditions for paddle boarding, kayaking, and a ferry out to Bull’s Island.
Honorable Mentions: Boone Hall Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, Drayton Hall, Isle of Palms, Heyward-Washington House, Aiken-Rhett House, and USS Yorktown.
What to Eat and Drink
Now, lets get down to my favorite part of living in Charleston, the FOOD. It is hard to convey just how amazing it is to live in such a food-centered place. I feel myself becoming a bit of a snob about food because every time I go anywhere else I always feel as though the food isn’t all that amazing and its double the price! Charleston food can obviously get relatively expensive depending on the restaurants you go to, but most of the time for what it is its very reasonable. I seriously have so many recommendations on where to eat that I couldn’t possibly list them all, so I’ll just write up a few favorites. Hint: as a concierge I love to checkup on Charleston Eater to see what new restaurants are opening soon and for their monthly “heat map”. Its a good way to see what restaurants are up and coming and/or generating a lot of buzz because of how delicious they are!
Y’all. My friends and I are obsessed with Edmund’s Oast. It is a little off the beaten path because it isn’t technically “downtown”, but it is a quick 7 minute drive or Uber up King St. The food is insanely delicious and they also offer their own craft beer from their brewery just up the road (be sure to check it out if you have the time!). The menu has a distinctly fresh, farm to table feel with a hint of Asian flavor influence to it as well. It is in such a cool building and the bar is amazing too. If you’re a party of two, be sure to sit at the Chef’s Counter so you can watch the kitchen hard at work. Fun Fact: in the small print at the bottom of the menu there is an option to buy the kitchen crew a six-pack. If you do it they’ll all ring a bell and hoot and holler.
Try: The Classic Burger or Hot & Sour Grouper. Also, their Birds of Paradise beer is top-notch. Half off bottles of wine on Sunday and Monday, too!
The Obstinate Daughter
TBH, I think the best restaurants are either off the Peninsula (Downtown Charleston is a peninsula) or a bit further up King St. than you would want to walk. The Obstinate Daughter falls under this category because it is out on Sullivan’s Island. It isn’t really your average walk-off-the-beach-with-sand-in-your-hair-and-a-wet-bathing-suit type of restaurant one would normally find in a beach community (try Poe’s Tavern for that!), but it is worth the drive out to try their amazing food. I think I would classify it as “Modern Italian” with fresh, house-made pastas and insanely delicious fresh pizzas. Its located in a bright, modern space with stunning decor. They also do a killer brunch on the weekends.
Try: Anson Mills Farro Piccolo, Ricotta Gnocchi, and the “Old Danger” pizza.
So, I have not been to R Kitchen myself, but I have a few friends and family members that have and they have raved about it. It is a bit different because they offer guest chef Mondays and the menu rotates nightly. You have to have a reservation and they will tailor your menu based on your likes and dislikes. It is a small, intimate restaurant with lots of interaction with the chef who is cooking your meal. I am hoping to eat here as soon as possible, but if any of you beat me to the punch- tell me everything.
Again, this restaurant is not Downtown, but I couldn’t resist including it. When I first graduated from college my roommate Carly and I moved to Mount Pleasant (just over the bridge from Charleston) to an apartment located in an area called Seaside Farms. It was such a great little area that had a couple of cute storefronts and restaurants (also, a Target within walking distance which was super dangerous for us). One of the restaurants in the complex is called Opal and much to our delight, they offer the greatest charcuterie boards in the area. They let you pick a selection of cheeses and meats and the boards then come with local honey, an assortment of pickled veggies, a small side salad with nuts, and toast squares. Carly and I used to go there all the time and literally just eat those for dinner. They also have thee most amazing chicken dish I have ever had in my life.
Try: The roast chicken and the charcuterie board- apparently the steak is incredible too (direct quote from Maggie’s Boyfriend; “this is the second best steak I’ve ever had”- the first was at Edmund’s Oast)
I obviously have to include some walk-able downtown Charleston restaurants for y’all too, so my first choice would be Minero located on East Bay St. Minero is the restaurant of Chef Sean Brock (of Husk fame) and is his more casual eatery. The restaurant is Mexican and Sean Brock delayed its opening by a few months because he hadn’t yet perfected the tortilla. Well, the wait was worth it because the food is seriously the greatest Mexican food I’ve ever had.
Try: their margaritas, the giant burrito, and the queso fundido- yum.
Honorable Mentions (seriously, these are all amazing too): The Ordinary, Felix, 167 Raw, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Leon’s, Little Jack’s (recently voted best burger), Butcher & Bee, The Daily, and Paw Paw.
I’ll keep this pretty short- there are plenty of fun places to have a few cocktails with friends. My list is as follows;
- Cocktail Club: craft cocktails located in a funky brick exposed upstairs space. Really fun on Thursday nights.
- ACs: Super grungy but seriously fun. Play pool and grab cheese fries from their food counter in the back corner. Miller High Lifes are $2 each and seems to be the drink of choice for everyone. Think dancing on tables to Grease and Britney Spears. You never know what you’ll find at ACs. Lines can be long but its a fun end-of-night place.
- Trio: the only “nightclub” I’ll recommend. Charleston isn’t really known for its nightclubs but this can be fun on Saturday nights.
- The Belmont: if you’re looking for something a little quieter, The Belmont is always fun and they’ve got a seriously long list of cocktails.
- Stars: A lot of my friends like going to Stars because of its dance floor downstairs on the weekends and its rooftop bar upstairs. It has never really been my “thing”, but it can be a lot of fun!
- Prohibition: I always have a lot of fun here. It is a 1920’s speakeasy themed bar with a gorgeous outside patio. They sometimes have live music and the dance floor is always hopping.
- Ink & Ivy: Newcomer to Downtown. Super funky indoor space but I have a feeling that now that Midtown is closed (RIP mug night) this will become the new college student hangout.
- Gin Join: Gin Joint is always fun to try. The bartender crafts your cocktails to fit your taste preferences. Not a must do- but fun if you’re in the area.
- Pour Taphouse: Pour is a fun beer-centered bar on top of the Hyatt Place. It is self serve and rumor has it it has the best view in Downtown Charleston ;).
That is it for now! Check back later for a couple of more specific guides to the Charleston area. I hope to do one for Cafes, Instagrammable locations, and some other fun things! Also, feel free to reach out with any questions you have- always happy to help.