ISO Southern Charm? Head to Charleston, SC

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Charleston is the quintessential southern town.  It was founded in 1670, which is not too shabby for this young country.  When you go, like all destinations, plan to be part tourist, part local.  It’s the only way to do it. 

Before you Go:

1) As you pick your dates of travel, know that tourist season is spring and summer.  But let’s be honest, this is not like planning around summertime at Disney World.  What's more important to know is that hot, humid, sweaty season is July to sometimes as late as October.  So plan accordingly. 

2) When booking a hotel, know that the main corridors are Calhoun Street, Meeting Street, Broad Street, and East Bay Street. These four streets take you in a large loop around the main spots.  King Street runs parallel to this loop and is the main shopping strip with all the chain retailers- stuff you can find anywhere.  If you can book your lodging at a spot where you can park your car and leave it- that’s your best bet.  It’s a great walking town.  You want to slow down, walk (or should I say stroll) and see everything. 

3) There are certainly many places you can book
Emanuel African American Episcopal Church
through airbnb or bed and breakfasts- check them out.  I tend to either go big and stay somewhere unique and interesting, or I book at a Marriott or Hilton close to the action. This way I can either use points, or earn points.  Don’t discount the value of that. It’s OK to choose to spend your money on the experiences throughout your stay rather than most of your money on your lodging.  On our last trip to Charleston we chose to stay at the Courtyard by Marriott Charleston HistoricDistrict at 125 Calhoun Street.  It’s a nice location close to the College of Charleston, Marion Square and Emanuel African American Episcopal Church. It's on the far end and a bit of a walk to the action on East Bay and Broad Streets.  But then again, this is a walking town. Take different side streets each time you come and go from the hotel.

4) Be sure to Google “Charleston Calendar of Events” and see what is happening during your stay.  You never know what cool event for locals might be going on. 

5) Restaurants tend to book up for dinner reservations about 1-3 months in advance.  So pick a few spots and at least make a few reservations early.  If you find somewhere else later you just have to go, you can always cancel. 

Do Charleston.

Brunch.  On the weekend you do brunch. Make reservations though!

Drink a Charleston Brew- You can tour the
Local brew
Palmetto Brewing Co., every hour, on the hour.  Or just pick one up around town.  

Shop at the Charleston City Market. Yes, it’s a little cheesy.  It is touristy, but it’s a must.  At least once.  My husband bought me a very large brimmed hat here.  It’s the perfect Kentucky Derby hat and I’ll bring it on my next Charleston visit.  I’ll need it for brunch.  Here you can also find a Sweetgrass basket (a Charleston institution in itself).  But be prepared- they are not cheap.  It's best to find these being sold on the road into town, but if you miss that opportunity you can find them for sale here in the Market. 

Stroll Rainbow Row and the Battery. Southern, southern, southern.  One of the most photographed spots in town.  The row of pastel colored homes overlooking the battery makes for quite a sight.  It’s a little hard to get the perfect picture as there are parking spots on the road in front of the homes and lots of traffic.  If you can’t get their early enough in the morning, pick up a postcard or small art print to take this memory home with you. Bonus- the pineapple fountain in Waterfront Park is close by.  

Blue Bicycle Books
Browse Blue Bicycle Books.  “Used, rare and local” is their tag line.  Every book ever written on or about Charleston can be found there.  The late Pat Conroy was a Charlestonian and did several author talks and book signings here.  If you are a reader, read South of Broad which takes place in Charleston. I loved it!   

Go on a Walking Tour.  Sure, you can do a carriage ride, and maybe you should at least once, but don’t skip a walking tour.  A walking tour is a stroll through town. On a walking tour, you get stories you might not hear anywhere else. You have time to look down alleyways, peek over gates and take pictures along the way.  A walking tour is the best way to see any town. You can try to do it yourself, there are books and websites out there, but you don’t want to miss the view with your nose in a book. We loved our history tour with Ed Macy Walking Tours. He's not part of a big tour company, it's just him and he knows his stuff. I highly recommend booking with him.

Visit a Cemetery.  Magnolia Cemetery in particular.  It is one of the oldest in the country, as well as being beautiful.  Sound weird to you?  Never visited an old cemetery?  You are missing out.  Start with this one and let me know if you need recs in other towns.

Take a Carriage Ride.  It's almost mandatory.

Charleston: a Lesson in History

And apparently a lesson in current events as well.  There is a long history here of plantation life supported by slavery and the American Civil War which was fought to preserve that way of life.  Charleston does a good job of remembering and honoring that past and not glorifying it. Here are some spots to give you a look at what was the deep South.

Fort Sumter - Sight where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Take a ferry over and enjoy the ride. On the way back the bar opens. Not a bad idea. 

Plantations and Gardens- pick one of these to visit during your stay:
Boone Hall Plantation andGardens - This is one of the oldest working farms with a variety of tours offered.  In the fall there are U-pick fields.  You can tour the home and learn more about slave history here. 
Middleton Place - A National Historic Landmark with the oldest landscaped gardens, a home tour and plantation stableyards.        
Magnolia Plantation andGardens - More gardens and a home to tour, but also a rice field boat tour, swamp garden tour and more.  
Drayton Hall - Here you can tour the home and grounds, as well as an African American cemetery.  

Eat and Drink Your Way through Charleston

If you haven’t heard of Lowcountry cuisine go ahead and google that now.  It will be important that you are familiar with it before you arrive.  If you’ve never tried shrimp and grits, you will want to do this while in town.  There are sooo many good restaurants to choose from.  Here's a few to start with:

Fancy Dinner (it's all sorta fancy in Charleston)

Husk - this is one of those places that books up far in advance.  If you can’t get in during your stay, no worries. Stop by and grab a drink and something to eat at The Bar at Husk. It’s a two story building next door with its own small menu and awesome bartenders.  We loved the upstairs for drinks and a cheese board. 

Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.) -  Local, fresh ingredients and known for its shrimp and grits. And surely you just want to eat somewhere with this awesome acronym.

Magnolia's - Known for it's "upscale Southern cuisine." We celebrated our first anniversary here!  

Casual Eats for Lunch

You’ll be dropping a pretty penny or two on dinners so check out these lunch spots that don't skimp on taste.

Jestine’s Kitchen - Lowcountry cuisine right on the main loop at 251 Meeting Street.  Small, quaint, quick and good- all qualities you need for day time meals when you don’t want to lose too much shopping and strolling time.  Comes highly recommended for their shrimp and grits.  We tried fried green tomatoes and a few other apps for lunch so we could sample as much as possible.  No regrets.

Butcher and Bee - locally sourced ingredients, frequented by locals, known for awesome sandwiches and BYOB (bonus). Quirky hours so check that out before heading over. 

On my List

The Macintosh - It's a farm-to-table restaurant. I hear it has an awesome brunch.  It's has bacon happy hour M-F from 5-7.  I'm in.  

High Cotton Charleston - It hosts a rare Saturday brunch in Charleston.  Here you can often find bluegrass musicians providing the entertainment.  It's a sister restaurant to S.N.O.B. I'm in.   

Coast bar and grille -  This one is on the outskirts of town.  It's located in a former indigo warehouse. Hello- of course I want to see this place. It’s offers "casual seafood on open oak grills with tin-roofed booths".  I'm not even 100% sure what that all means, but say no more. I’m in. 

Walk Charleston to see the little joys like this.

Dessert?  Drinks?  Both?

Carmella’s Cafe and Dessert Bar-  This is the one place we can't seem to forget. We fell in love with it.  We miss it. The space is perfect with chandeliers, and a bar where you can watch them actually baking and decorating their amazing deserts while they serve you up a fancy drink. 

No joke desserts at Carmella's

After Dark

If you can hold off on your day drinking enough to stay up passed dinner you have lots of interesting places to choose from.  Charleston is a college town, so there is no want for nightlife.  But don't worry about feeling old or out of place. Who cares- you are on vacation. And so are lots of other people. You'll fit right in. 

The Belmont  is located on upper King Street closer to the college.  On the back wall they play old black and white movies, without the sound, to really set the vibe.  

Proof - while on King Street stop in here and enjoy this small, swanky place with swanky bartenders making classic drinks.  

The Gin Joint is a speakeasy themed bar and comes highly recommended. It's on my list. 

Need to tone it down?  Do you love a good dive bar?  I do. You can get your PBR’s in a can at the Palace Hotel (or at least have the option to).  It's such a dive it doesn't have a website.  But, it's quite the popular place with locals.  

Not that toned down?  Here's an interesting place to try out- McCrady’s Tavern. The building was constructed in 1778 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks. Go for the building, stay for absinthe-topped drinks. 

It’s no secret that rooftop bars are hot right now. Read Thrilllist's article The Best Rooftop Bars in Charleston, add one of these locations to your list. Check it out.  And then let me know if I need to add it to my list.

Your Insta-Inspiration and  More

Follow these Instagram account for 
Rainbow Row
inspiration and build the anticipation:

Keep following the ones you love after you return home to keep a little bit of Charleston on your mind every day.

More?  Here's a cool blog with a local take: Explore Charleston.

One last thing-  Savannah is a great add-on to your Charleston trip!  More on that soon...

J/K- This is the last thing...Don't forget to print your Charleston photos!  After every trip take some time to go through all those great vacation photos, do a little editing and print some up.  You'll be so glad you did one day.  Check out Parabo Press now for 25 free 4x4 square prints and/or 5x5 Softcover Photo Books


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