Charleston is the epitome of Southern charm. Quaint streets lined with sprawling, pastel homes and palm trees. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And, seriously good eats.
After spending a long weekend in downtown Charleston, I realized nothing is truer than this statement: north is a direction, south is a lifestyle.
- Explore Charleston on foot: A walking tour hadn’t been on our list of things to do until we found a great Groupon deal ($10 for a 2 hour tour of Historic Charleston). I’m so glad we decided to do this! Strolling through the streets of Charleston and listening to Paulette share interesting facts was a fun way to get a real feel for the city and its history. As you’re wandering, you’ll see a lot of carriage tours, but I prefer the walking version because it feels more personal and you’re able to take photos as you wish. Paulette also offers a ghost tour at night for those who want to learn about Charleston’s spooky side
- See Historic Charleston: Parts of Charleston feel suspended in time, thanks to its antebellum architecture. The window boxes Charleston is known for were one of my favorite things to check out as we wandered around town. Also, the secret gardens tucked away in alleyways are absolutely adorable
- A fun fact I learned on our walking tour- a lot of the homes in Charleston use a layout called the Charleston single house. Well-suited to long, narrow lots, which were laid out in early Charleston, a single house has a narrow side with a gable end along the street and a longer side running perpendicular to the street
- Head to the Waterfront Park: Home to the Pineapple Fountain, this park is perfect for a picnic or relaxing in shade on a sunny afternoon
- Wondering about the Pineapple Fountain? Back in the day, before returning to Charleston, a sea captain’s last stop would likely be somewhere tropical. As part of their loot, they’d bring home a slew of tropical fruits. Upon arriving home after a long voyage, the captain would spear a pineapple on his fence post to let friends know he had returned safely. Seen as a symbol of hospitality, the pineapple became an invitation to come over for drinks and stories of adventure
- Check out Rainbow Row: A Charleston staple, there are a few rumors about how the series of thirteen Caribbean colored homes got their name. Historians believe homes on Rainbow Row were painted their pastel hues when one woman bought and renovated several of them to save from demolition. In actuality, that’s probably what happened, but I prefer the local myth, which claims the houses were painted in various colors so intoxicated sailors coming in from port could remember which houses they were staying in
- After you check out the pastel-hued homes, continue heading south to the Battery & White Point Gardens. It’s a public park at the tip of the peninsula, shaded by stately oak trees and surrounded by breathtaking mansions
- Stroll through Old City Market: Boasting 300 local vendors, this open-air market stretches four city blocks and is one of the oldest city markets in America. Vendors change daily and sell everything from sweetgrass baskets to handmade jewelry and candied pralines
- Go Shopping on King Street: The best stretch of shopping is from Marion Square to Lower King Street, a few of my favorites:
- Candlefish: Gorgeous shop selling its own brand of candles and carefully curated selection of small gifts. We weren’t able to try one of their famed candle making classes, but we did spend time at the candle library- blindly sniffing scents until we found ones we loved. Such a fun and charming shop to visit, and all of their hand-poured candles are soy-based
- Savannah Bee Company: Come here to taste different varieties of honey, including whipped honey
- Impeccable Pig: Cute clothing boutique
- Also, Mac & Murphy is a cute local stationery shop not located on King Street, but it’s a short walk (reco checking it out if you visit Hominy Grill to eat)
- Visit a plantation: Plantations are part of Charleston’s history. On our trip, we took the Greyline to Boone Hall, which is still a working farm. The plantation itself has a lot of history- on our visit, we toured the house, watched a Gullah presentation, strolled down the Avenue of the Oaks and took time to take in the well-preserved slave cabins
- Old Slave Mart Museum: ~40% of all enslaved Africans coming into the United States in the 18th century came in through the Port of Charleston. This museum is the only known former slave auction gallery still in existence
- Hampton Park: If you’re staying nearby, as we were in an Airbnb, this park is a great place to go for a morning walk or run- beautiful and well-kept gardens
Where to Get Coffee:
- Black Tap Coffee: Loved this place so much, we came back twice. Cold brew is great, but the coffee cocktails were my favorite thing on the menu. Recommend trying the Black Julep- espresso, cold brew, mint and honey
- Kudu Coffee: Liked the vibe of this place a lot, plenty of indoor and outdoor garden seating
- Tricera Coffee: Coffee & dinosaurs? Two of my favorite things! Tricera’s close-location to King Street makes it a good place to stop if you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up from shopping/wandering
Where to Eat:
- HUSK: Unable to get a dinner reservation here, we came for lunch on our first day in Charleston. Everything we tried was delicious. Using only ingredients from the south, HUSK nails hearty home cooking
- Hominy Grill: Located in a historic Charleston single house, Hominy Grill feels as though it has been open for generations. It’s southern food perfection, you have to try the shrimp and cheese grits
- Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit: Is there anything better than bacon, egg and pimento cheese on a fresh baked biscuit for breakfast?
- Glazed Gourmet: Come here early for delicious doughnuts with quirky flavors- we loved the apple bacon fritter and lemon old fashioned
- Butcher & Bee: Located on Upper King Street, this sandwich shop is right by The Daily. The menu changes daily, but we tried a grilled cheese with zucchini ribbons and brunch biscuit sandwich. Be sure to stop by The Daily before you leave for homemade cold-pressed juice or cold brew
- Jeni’s Splendid: This place has been on my to-try list forever, but somehow, I never make it to one of their locations when I’m in LA or Chicago. Went a little crazy here and ordered a double scoop with brambleberry crisp and salted caramel ice creams, topped with salted caramel sauce and bitter chocolate fudge. Simply amazing, crossing my fingers Jeni’s opens a NYC outpost soon
- Poogan’s Porch: Southern classics done right. The pimento cheese fritters were delicious. While we enjoyed having dinner outside on the front porch, if I had to choose between here and HUSK, I’d dine at the latter
- Coast Bar & Grill: We came here one night after a few cocktails and were pleased to find a chill environment to enjoy a few appetizers (fried green tomatoes!). The full dinner menu looked good, so I’d consider this a solid option if you’re on King Street and need somewhere to grab a bite
- Mercantile & Mash: Charleston’s first fancy food court, it’s a good place to grab lunch if you’re nearby
- Kaminsky’s: You can’t come to the south and leave without having pie. Bonus: Kaminsky’s also has a full bar. Order the Tollhouse Cookie Pie & Brandy Alexander
- Sugar Bakeshop: The cupcakes are delicious, but the courtyard was our favorite part of this little bakery
Where to Drink:
- The Gin Joint: One of my favorite cocktail bars in Charleston, this place revamps their menu seasonally. We came a week after they introduced the spring menu and weren’t disappointed. If you’re there when the Studmuffin (Charleston Madeira, Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur, St. George Coffee Liqueur, Amaro Sibilla, Sumac Bay Leaf Ice Cubes) is on the menu, I highly recommend ordering it
- Proof: Another one of my favorite bars in Charleston. They have a great happy hour, but also a solid cocktail menu. Grab a seat at the bar and work your way through their drink list- my favorite one: the Martinez, served with a cheese slice garnish
- The Belmont: Cozy bar with old black and white movies playing on the side wall
- The Cocktail Club: Great cocktail menu, nice bar area and plenty of seating. We visited on a warm spring night and enjoyed sipping drinks on the rooftop
- The bar at HUSK: Outstanding selection of bourbon and whiskey. I’m a big Madeira fan and appreciated the ones they have on the menu here
- The Griffin: A dive located near HUSK, it’s been a local staple for 20+ years
- Bay Street Biergarten: Perfect place for a few beers in the afternoon sun
- Amen: Come for the afternoon happy hour (4-7 pm at the bar weekdays). Great drink specials and half-price fresh oysters
- McCrady’s: I’ve heard good things about the tasting menu here, but we came for cocktails. If you’re a Madeira fan, this is a good place to try a few varieties
A few other recommended restaurants/cafes we didn’t have a chance to check out:
- Taco Boy: Margaritas + tacos
- FIG: I’ve heard this place is as good as HUSK, will def check it out on a return trip
- Wildflour Pastry: Doughnut muffins!
- Caviar & Bananas: Said to be similar to Dean & Deluca, come for brunch
- Indaco: Recommended for brunch and burrata
- Two Boroughs Larder: Hipster southern grocery store with great noodle bowels
- Edmonds Oast: Local favorite with a top notch beer selection
We spent most of our time in downtown Charleston, but if you want to see more of the surrounding area, I’d suggest renting a car and checking out Isle of Palms, Sullivans Island, or Folly Beach- all barrier islands off the coast.
Because we stayed close to Harleston Village, we opted not to rent a car- walking everywhere was really easy, our longest walk was ~15 minutes. On late nights out, we took Uber home. At the time of our visit, Uber rates had just been lowered, and most rides cost us $2-6 (super cheap!). To put it into context, we took an Uber from Harleston Village to the airport outside of downtown for $14- taxi rides covering the same distance are over double that.
Have you ever been to Charleston? What was your must-visit attraction or place to eat?