The Ultimate Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

By Alexandra Macon

Charleston Guide

I grew up in Charleston, S.C. When I was a kid, Pat Conroy hadn’t written a book about south of the Broad (the historic residential neighborhood located on the point of the peninsula), and New Yorkers didn’t really know where it was. (I remember when I first moved up north, people would ask where I was from, and I would respond, “Charleston, S.C. Have you been? It’s the best!” They would then reply, “Charlotte, N.C.?”). It hadn’t been named “Best Small City in the U.S.” by Condé Nast Traveler or “The World’s Best City” by Travel + Leisure. It’s grown by leaps and bounds since I was young. There are James Beard chefs, Boeing and BMW have built big production plants, and new hotels and restaurants are popping up all over town. It’s even become the number two wedding destination in the United States—only behind Las Vegas. I don’t live in Charleston anymore, but I go back often to visit family and for events like Charleston Wedding Week and Lexus Charleston Fashion Week, both of which I attended earlier this spring and were a lot of fun!

Friends and acquaintances often ask me for my tips when they’re about to travel down south. So drawing upon my own experience and calling upon a few of the city’s most in-the-know for their input, we’ve put together a guide for where to stay, what to do, where to shop, and most importantly, what to eat. We hope you enjoy it!

WHERE TO STAY:
Mid-Range Hotels ($150 – $300)
Splurge-worthy Hotels ($300 – $500)

WHERE TO EAT:
Coffee / Sweets
Drinks with Friends
Dinner for Two

THINGS TO DO:
Shopping
Interiors / Antiques / Arts / Gifts
Makers / Craftsmen
Sites and Sounds

WHERE TO STAY

MID-RANGE HOTELS ($150 – $300):

The Battery Carriage House Inn
Built in 1843, the house looks out onto White Point Gardens and Charleston Harbor, so you can walk right out your door and take in incredible water views or explore streets lined with historic homes south of Broad.

The Dewberry
The newly opened luxury hotel is situated across from Marion Square Park. Designed by Workstead, the space offers a bit of modernity in the midst of the historic district and has a popular bar for post-work drinks and get-togethers.

Jasmine House Inn
Affiliated with the Indigo Inn across the street, The Jasmine Inn is just around the corner from all of the shops on King Street, but a bit of an unknown gem. The decor is decidedly shabby chic, but the rooms are spacious, with canopy beds and beautiful fireplaces. The rates are also downright cheap and a light breakfast is included. If you’re looking for a room with a kitchen, ask for the penthouse.

Market Pavilion
Check out the Pavilion Bar on the roof for great views of the city. (P.S. This is where most of our out of town guests stayed when I got married.)

Planters Inn
With beautifully decorated rooms, this Relais & Chateaux property is nothing but luxury and probably the swankiest hotel in town. Be sure to make a reservation at the in-house Peninsula Grill.

The Restoration

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Photo: Courtesy of The Restoration Hotel

This newly renovated boutique hotel featuring a coffee bar, spa, Assouline library, rooftop bar and retail boutique and is where all of the A-listers stayed during Lexus Charleston Fashion Week.

SPLURGE-WORTHY HOTELS ($300 – $500):

86 Cannon
Located in a fully restored, three-story Charleston single house, 86 Cannon is a luxury boutique inn is located on Cannon Street, as its name would suggest, and just opened. With chic interiors—Betsy Berry did the decor—it’s worth dropping by to check out that if nothing more.

The Belmond Charleston Place

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Photo: Courtesy of The Belmond

Formerly called Charleston Place, The Belmond is located right in the heart of downtown. Spanning the width of a city block, with King Street on one side and East Bay on the other, you can’t get any more conveniently located than this. Check out lunch at The Palmetto Cafe—the she crab soup shouldn’t be missed!

The Spectator

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Photo: Courtesy of The Spectator

This upscale boutique hotel has butler service and a 1920s-inspired lounge and bar.

Zero George Hotel

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Photo: Sloan Photography / Courtesy of Zero George Street

Set amidst a private landscaped courtyard, this boutique hotel is really five restored historic residential buildings. With accommodations featuring contemporary décor and furnishings, it’s a favorite spot amongst fashion bloggers.

 

 

WHERE TO EAT

COFFEE / SWEETS:

Black Tap Coffee

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Photo: Courtesy of Black Tap Coffee

A favorite spot amongst locals for grabbing a cup of coffee (and Instagramming said coffee). The lavender latte is a must-not-miss.

Christophe Artisan Chocolatier
Think the movie Chocolat with Johnny Depp. It’s like that, but in the South, not France. These luxury artisanal chocolatiers also have a collection of hand-painted chocolates, macaroons, and fine chocolate truffles that make for great gifts. They ship too!

The Daily

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Photo: Courtesy of The Daily

With Stumptown coffee, cold-pressed juice, and breakfast sandwiches, The Daily has everything one could want in the A.M.

Jeni’s Ice Cream

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Photo: Courtesy of Jenni’s Icecream

There’s often a short line, but it moves quickly and the wait is worth it. Try their peanut butter and jelly sundae.

The Rise Coffee Shop at The Restoration Hotel

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Photo: Courtesy of The Rise Coffee Bar / The Restoration

Newly opened after the renovation of The Restoration. This is an obvious morning go-to if that’s where you’re staying.

Sugar Bakeshop

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Photo: Blog Appétit / Courtesy of Sugar Bakeshop

Opened by a couple who moved to Charleston from New York City (they actually live in the house attached to the bakery), this sweet bakeshop is a fun stop for a treat.

DRINKS WITH FRIENDS:

The Belmont

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Photo: Courtesy of The Belmont

Classic black & white films are projected on the wall of this chic bar offering creative cocktails. The perfect spot for a pre-dinner drink on date night or for an evening out with friends.

The Gin Joint

Photo: Andrew Cebulka / Courtesy of The Gin Joint
Photo: Andrew Cebulka / Courtesy of The Gin Joint

Cozy, intimate bar and eatery serving cocktails and eclectic small plates in a 1920s-inspired setting. The bartenders really take time crafting their artisanal cocktails. If you don’t know exactly what you want, you have the option to pick a few adjectives off of their menu and the bartender will make you something custom.

DINNER FOR TWO:

167 Raw

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Photo: Cassandra Michelle Photography

This place is tiny and is bit off the beaten path. Located on upper East Bay Street, it’s across the street from the Harris Teeter grocery store. They have one of the best lobster rolls in the city though, so it’s worth going out of your way and waiting for a table (if need be).

Burbage’s Self-Serve Grocery
Over 65 year old family-owned no fuss neighborhood grocery store on Broad Street. Grab and go items include delicious homemade BBQ sandwiches and fresh soups.

Butcher & Bee
Recently moved to a new location on Morrison Drive this hip restaurant delivers an eclectic and ever-changing menu made with local ingredients.

Cannon Green

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Photo: Courtesy of Cannon Green

Restaurant and event venue in Charleston’s up and coming Cannonborough / Elliotborough neighborhood. Check it out for brunch.

Charleston Grill

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Photo: Courtesy of Belmond

A fine dining restaurant and a great cocktail spot with nightly live jazz.

The Darling Oyster Bar

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Photo: Dan Q Dao / Courtesy of The Darling

Newly opened on King Street, this very chic oyster bar is perfect for drinks and dinner.

Edmund’s Oast
Hip, loft like spot offering New American fare, beer brewed on-site, and craft cocktails—plus a patio.

FIG
Recently remodeled and often worth just sliding in at the bar even if you can’t get a reservation. With its elevated take on southern classics, many think this restaurant serves up the best meal in town.

Goat. Sheep. Cow.

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Photo: Courtesy of Goat. Sheep. Cow.

Gourmet specialty cheese shop on Church Street in Charleston’s historic south of Broad neighborhood featuring artisanal cheeses and wines, plus a daily sandwich that regulars call-in to order ahead as it always sells out in hours. There’s also a recently opened second location of Goat. Sheep. Cow. on Meeting Street that immediately transports you to Europe. The selection of cheese and wines can’t be beat. Follow them on Instagram and suddenly you’re immediately hungry.

The Grocery
This neighborhood spot is known for its fresh menu packed with seasonal ingredients available from local and regional farmers and fishermen.

Hominy Grill

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Photo: Courtesy of Hominy Grill

Located in a Historic Charleston single house this landmark restaurant serves classic and fresh Lowcountry dishes. It’s by far the most popular brunch spot in Charleston. Remember to order the shrimp grits or the Big Nasty when you pay this Charleston staple a visit!

Husk

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Photo: Andrew Cebulka / Courtesy of Husk

Restaurant in a Victorian-era home on Queen Street owned by well-known award-winning Chef Sean Brock. This well-known spot specializing in southern cuisine with a twist has been featured in Vogue and on No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. There is also a location in Nashville. Savannah, G.A. and Greenville, S.C. will be getting their own soon too.

Leon’s Oyster Shop

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Photo: Courtesy of Leon’s

In an old car garage. We love their oysters, but they also have the best fried chicken and soft serve ice cream. Spend an afternoon eating good food and sitting outside on their patio.

Lewis Barbecue

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Photo: Andrew Cebulka / Courtesy of Lewis Barbecue

Pitmaster John Lewis brings his signature Texas barbecue to Charleston, S.C., with Lewis Barbecue in the city’s emerging Upper Peninsula. Before moving to the Holy City, John lived in Austin, T.X., where he oversaw the award-winning BBQ program at La Barbecue and helped open Franklin Barbecue, establishing himself as one of the best in the business.

Mercantile and Mash

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Photo: Courtesy of Mercantile and Mash

Located in the Cigar Factory, Mercantile and Mash is a gourmet food market and whiskey bar. You will find many locals having meetings and working here.

Minero
Also, owned by well-known, award-winning chef Sean Brock, this casual Mexican restaurant located on East Bay Street is a great spot for a fun dinner before a night out at the bars.

The Obstinate Daughter

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Photo: Andrew Cebulka / Courtesy of The Obstinate Daughter

Located on the beautiful Sullivan’s Island, The Obstinate Daughter is worth leaving the peninsula for. With great wood oven pizzas, it’s the perfect spot for dinner after a walk on the beach. Stop by Beard Cat’s Sweet Shop downstairs for an after-dinner treat!

The Ordinary

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Photo: Courtesy of The Ordinary

This beautiful upscale seafood restaurant on King Street is in an old bank. The kitchen is in a the bank vault, and the raw bar is a great perch from which to take it all in.

Peninsula Grill
A fine dining, special occasion restaurant inside the Planters Inn known for its famous coconut cake dessert. Also great for a drink at their “Champagne Bar.”

Scarecrow
Located in an old train depot off King Street, Scarecrow features an open area to watch the chefs prepare your dinner by an oversized wood-fired grill.

The Watch Rooftop Kitchen & Spirits
This is the rooftop restaurant and bar at the newly renovated hotel, The Restoration. The best place on the peninsula to have a drink and watch the sunset.

Xia Bao Biscuit
Located on the corner of Rutledge Avenue and Spring Street, Xia Bao Biscuit is a local favorite. Serving up Asian Soul food, family style, the menu features dishes from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam and is inspired by “kick-ass grandmothers everywhere,” which we love!

 

THINGS TO DO

SHOPPING:

Billy Reid
Well-known for women’s and men’s clothing with an emphasis on American manufacturing and high quality construction, this former CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner and southerner fittingly has a Charleston outpost on lower King Street.

Croghan’s Jewel Box

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Photo: Courtesy of Croghan’s Jewel Box

The 100-year old family jewelry store located on Charleston’s historic King Street or as the ladies at Croghan’s like to hashtag it on their fun-loving Instagram account #308wonderfulkingstreet is well-known around town for its estate pieces, sterling silver gifts, and charming, upbeat atmosphere. They have a wide selection ranging from graduation and debutante presents to Christmas ornaments, diamonds, and custom creations—the store used to literally be the size of a jewel box but has since expanded and recently underwent a renovation that allows all of the jewelry to be showcased beautifully. Be sure to checkout the Goldbug Collection, designed by “Mini” Mariana Hay. The design of the bold, gold jewelry is based on the South Carolina cockroach or “palmetto bug,” as they’re called by Charlestonians, and the unique collection has been embraced by locals and tourists alike.

Hampden Clothing

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Photo: Courtesy of Hampden Clothing

This contemporary womenswear boutique is the best game in town and features designers like Isabel Marant, Stella McCartney, Tibi, Rag & Bone, and Self-Portrait. About to celebrate its tenth year in business (a major feat in the current retail landscape), the store is owned and operated by fellow Vanderbilt alum, Stacy Smallwood, who’s super nice. She and her team are always happy to pull looks for an upcoming event or giving styling advice, so be sure to say “hi” when you drop in.

Ibu Movement

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Photo: Courtesy of Ibu Movement

Ibu is located on the second floor of a house on lower King Street. Go up the narrow staircase, and you’ll find a boutique that provides women in over 30 countries around the world the ability to grow into economic self-sufficiency through their art. Started in the Spring of 2015, the store prides itself in being bearers of both the textile tradition and social change. It features a wide range of handmade fashion and home accessories.

Indigo & Cotton

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Photo: Courtesy of Indigo & Cotton

Well curated men’s shop for the modern southern gent.

JAMES
This 1,400 square footwear and accessories store adjacent to Hampden Clothing is the newest addition to Stacy’s King Street presence. The brand roster includes high-end names like Rag & Bone, Rupert Sanderson, Loeffler Randall, and more.

Morgan Kylee

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Photo: Courtesy of Morgan Kylee

Founder Morgan Henzlik runs a showroom that specializes in appointment-only styling services at 123 King Street. She has a wide range of emerging designers in stock, like Behno, Dodo Bar Or, TY-LR, and Atea Oceanie and only carries a few pieces of each item, so customers are are sure to get something special. Shop online or via Instagram @morgankyleeboutique. For an appointment call Morgan at 404.307.4668.

RTW Charleston
Women’s specialty shop that carries designer clothing and is iconic to King Street. Look for one of our favorite labels, Brock Collection, when you’re perusing the racks.

Shirtini
Located on lower King Street, Shirtini offers up a curated collection of menswear inspired Oxford-style shirts made for women. The quality is great, and the fit is fantastic. They run long, and if you can swing it, it’s worth stocking up on one or two to wear over leggings.

Worthwhile

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Photo: Courtesy of Worthwhile

This eclectic shop featuring fashion, accessories, and gifts has been around forever and is definitely worth a stop if you’re looking for something unique. I especially love the quilt featuring the South Carolina coastline that’s typically on display in the front window.

INTERIORS / ANTIQUES / ART / GIFTS

Candlefish

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Photo: Courtesy of Candlefish

The best smelling gift and scent shop in Charleston. Candlefish has a candle library of 100 handmade fragrances. They also offer BYOB candle making classes.

 

Fieldshop
Fieldshop is a retail concept brought to you by Garden & Gun. Located inside The Dewberry Hotel, there’s an assortment of the finest sporting centric brands from around the world coupled with seasonal apparel, barware, jewelry, entertaining items, and florals all curated with the tastes of the magazine in mind.

Flowershop

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Photo: Olivia Rae James / Courtesy of Flowershop

Flowershop is a retail florist and floral design studio located downtown at 125 1/2 Spring Street (downstairs from Proud Mary). Owner Lily Peterson specializes in beautiful, unique wedding bouquets.

Fritz Porter

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Photo: Courtesy of Fritz Porter

Concepted by designer Sarah Hamlin-Hastings, Fritz Porter is an antique center representing 15 different dealers with styles ranging from flea market chic to museum quality classics located inside the Cigar Factory. With everything from original pieces by contemporary artists to fabric and a furniture showroom as well as one-of-a-kind gifts, this is a must-visit for anyone who loves interiors.

Open Door Shop

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Photo: Josie Derrick / Courtesy of Open Door Shop

Curated home decor, unique gifts, bridal gifts, wedding registry, tabletop and linens shop on Line Street.

MAKERS / CRAFTSMEN

Brackish Bowties

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Photo: Courtesy of Brackish Bowties

Handcrafted bowties made locally out of turkey feathers. Seen on many southern gentlemen at weddings and special events. Bill Murray wore his Brackish bowtie to the 2014 Oscars.

The-Commons

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Photo: Courtesy of The Commons

A unique collection of hand crafted goods produced on a small scale within the local communities and a curated collection of American made goods for the home. Recently launched their own collection of glassware, The Shelter collection, designed in South Carolina and produced in North Carolina, this is the only line of glassware manufactured exclusively in the South. The collection is designed to be passed down in your family, looking as beautiful on your table today as it will on the tables of generations to come.

J. Stark
Erik Holmberg is the owner and founder of J. Stark, a Charleston-based luxury dry goods label comprised of a variety of handcrafted tote bags, clutches, zip- up pouches, and leather wallets.

Sisal & Tow

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Photo: Courtesy of Sisal & Tow

Founder of Sisal & Tow, Becca Barnet specializes in illustration, taxidermy, sculpture, and museum fabrication.

SITES AND SOUNDS:

Aiken Rhett House

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Photo: Courtesy of Historic Charleston Foundation

Charleston has many wonderful historic houses throughout the city that you can tour. The Aiken Rhett House is special because it remained in the hands of family descendents for 142 years until it was sold to The Charleston Museum and opened as a museum house in 1975. Historic Charleston Foundation purchased the house in 1995. Elizabeth Street—where the house is located—is gorgeous.

The Battery & White Point Gardens
The southern tip of Charleston’s peninsula was originally known as Oyster Point and later White Point because of the piles of sun-bleached oyster shells found at the edge of the water. This area of town is perfect for an afternoon walk and great for dream home hunting as it’s where the majority of Charleston’s grandest historic homes are located.

Charleston Music Hall

Photo: Courtesy of Charleston Music Hall

The Charleston Music Hall is a Holy City staple. Located in the Upper King Street Area of Downtown Charleston and home to the city’s ever-growing, eclectic, local music and theater scene.

Dock Street Theater

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Photo: Courtesy of The Belmond Hotel

Historic Dock Street Theatre was the first building in America built exclusively to be used for theatrical performances. Today, Charleston Stage, which became the resident professional theatre at the Dock Street Theatre in 1978, produces over 100 performances each season.

Gibbes Museum of Art

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Photo: Courtesy of The Gibbes Museum

The Gibbes Museum of Art is recognized among the oldest arts organizations in the United States, opening in 1905. Home to over 10,000 works that tell the story of American art, the museum recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation that restored the building to its original grandeur and transformed the look and feel of the space where these pieces of art are displayed. In addition to having a the largest collection of miniatures in the United States, the museum presents an innovative series of six to eight special exhibitions per year.

Nathaniel Russell House Museum
Located in Downtown Charleston near High Battery, the Nathaniel Russell House Museum, 51 Meeting Street, is widely recognized as one of America’s most important neoclassical dwellings. Historic Charleston Foundation purchased the National Historic Landmark in 1955, and the house served as the Foundation’s headquarters for 37 years. Today, the interiors are restored to their original 1808 grandeur and surrounded by formal gardens.

Sullivan’s Island
Just a 20 minute car ride from the peninsula is one of Charleston’s most gorgeous beaches. It’s worth the ride out there to get some sun and enjoy lunch at one of many great restaurants Sullivan’s island has to offer (like family favorite Poe’s).