An Insider's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina
January 1, 1970
Quite possibly the most charming city in all of North America; Charleston, South Carolina is spectacular travel destination. This historical city by the sea is known for so many different reasons including awards like, Best American Cities for Foodies (2014, Condé Nast Traveler), as well as its title of Top Ten Cities Overall (2013, Travel + Leisure), and Best Places to Retire (2012, Forbes). Charleston’s name has also graced international lists, like when it was named #1 Travel Destination in the World in 2012 by Condé Nast Traveler. And just when you think you’ve heard enough to be convinced that this place is worth visiting, Charleston has also been called America’s Most Attractive City due to the caliber of ladies and gents residing there.
I was lucky enough to live in Charleston for four years while attending the College of Charleston and I find every excuse I can in order to return! Since I consider myself a quasi-expert on all things Charleston I have compiled a few lists to use in order to make the most of your time in the Holy City. Keep in mind that I am a recent college grad/world traveler/freelance writer so my lists tend to highlight the cheaper thrills on the city. You can spend a pretty penny on a weekend away in Charleston so hopefully these suggestions will help to keep your wallet happy.
Best Places to Stay:
Courtyard Marriott Historic District – Fun Fact, I worked front desk at this hotel for two years in college. It has a prime location at the corner of Calhoun and Meeting Street. If offers an outdoor pool, onsite parking, and a 24hr work out facility.
Price Range: Off-season standard rooms range from $139-$179, while you can pay upwards of $239 for a standard room in high season.
**If you are looking for a place cheaper than this you’ll have to broaden your search to somewhere out of the downtown area. Perhaps try the Holiday Inn on Upper Meeting Street that was constructed in early 2014.**
Francis Marion – This hotel wins the award for “most coveted real estate” it is located at the very center of downtown on the corner of King and Calhoun Street. The Francis Marion hotel is one of the oldest, and tallest, building on the Charleston Peninsula. The lobby and guest areas are elegantly decorated with proper low country class. One complaint I have heard about this hotel, the rooms and bathrooms are painfully small.
Price range: 200-500/night depending on seasonality.
Harbour View Inn – Precious boutique hotel located right in across from Waterfront Park. With only 50-something rooms, guests receive very personalized treatment and complimentary valet. Also, free wine and cookies are present every evening at precisely 9pm.. Ask me how I know that 😉
Price range: 200-500/night depending on seasonality.
Charleston Place Hotel – In my personal opinion, this stunning hotel could hold its own wit NYC’s Waldorf Astoria (at least on the inside). Several movie stars frequent this hotel, including Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, and T-Swift. If you have to ask how much it is to stay there, you probably can’t afford it. The hotel offers premium dining experiences, indoor pool & spa, and top of the line shopping.
For a more “authentic” and historical accommodation in Charleston there are several Inns and converted historic homes available in the center of the Historic District but you will certainly have to pay for this luxury.
My sister and I before dinner at High Cotton
Best Places to Eat:
Rue de Jean & Coast: Location – 36 John Street. Rue de Jean is my all-time favorite restaurant in Charleston, I celebrated three birthdays at this place, I cannot get enough! The French cuisine and gorgeous mahogany interior will make you feel like you are living the life of the rich & famous but it is actually very moderately priced. I loved that I could order sushi, sweet potatoes fries, and a platter of French cheese all in one sitting. Coast is there sister restaurant, they have some of the best seafood in town! (Insider advice: if the kitchens are not too busy, you can sit at either restaurant and ask for both menus!! Amazing!)
Poe’s : Named after Edgar Allen Poe. This restaurant is located on Sullivan’s Island (About a 10 minute drive from downtown). This place always draws a crowd on warm, sunny days. It is known for its outstanding shrimp&grits as well as its burgers! Perfect place for a lunch break during a day of enjoying Sullivan’s beach.
Kitchen 208: At Kitchen 208 you can enjoy all of the low country cuisine that Charleston is so well known for but you won’t be shocked when the bill arrives. Kitchen 208 is located right off of King Street in the downtown historic district. This quaint little restaurant is the PERFECT Charleston brunch with the girls.
Fleets Landing: The only restaurant downtown that is on the water! Fleets Landing has an amazing ocean view and outside deck & bar. It also has some of the best seafood in town and it has onsite parking (hard to find downtown)!! This restaurant is a win-win-win-win! It is also right next to Charleston’s Waterfront park, so after dinner you can take a romantic stroll along the water. A swoon-worthy place for the perfect Charlestonian date night.
Hominy Grill: If there is one thing that Charlestonian’s know.. it’s how to BRUNCH! Hominy Grill is known for its signature dish, “The Big Nasty”, a honey-butter chicken biscuit like you have never experienced in your life. Hominy Grill is a must on your list of experiencing the low-country cuisine that Charleston is so beloved for.
Other Restaurant Recommendations: I could honestly write an entire book about great places to eat in Charleston (it’s been done before!) However, that is not the sole purpose of this blog so I will leave you with this list and a few extra: Toast, 82 Queen, Husk, Poogan’s Porch ß apparently haunted (!) and last but not least, Tabulli on Market street – known for it’s Bloody Mary’s, mixed drinks, and one of Charleston’s only hookah bars!
Best Places to Party:
Bars on Market Street:
The bars on Market Street are so much fun and have a more upscale and feel to them. Unlike the bars located on King Street, the buildings are much bigger so you don’t feel claustrophobic while trying to order your martini. The downside is that it’s over a 15-minute walk away from the main party district of Charleston (Upper King Street) so you’ll probably have to take a cab if you don’t want to make the trek in your new designer heels.
Market Pavilion Rooftop: Located on the rooftop of Charleston’s gorgeous Market Pavilion Hotel, this downtown party spot will make you feel like you have made it to the big leagues. It has unbelievable 360-degree views of Charleston, a dance floor, and a rooftop pool. Expect to pay at least 10$ for a cocktail.
NV: One of Charleston’s only “club” like scenes. I love NV because it has so many different dimensions; it has a candle lit rooftop, a raving dance floor, at least three different bars and multiple outdoor areas and private corners.
Bars on Upper King Street:
Stars Rooftop: Charlestonians love their rooftops. Stars rooftop is a posh place to hang out and mingle with others. The have a craft-cocktail bar, you’ll pay upwards of 8$ per drink but it is so, so worth it. You’ll see a lot of bachelorette parties pregaming up here on a Friday or Saturday night.
Mynt (Thursday & Sunday nights): Thursdays and Sundays are “dollar-liquor nights” at Mynt. It is definitely the place to be, just make sure you show up at 10pm or earlier or you’ll be waiting in the line at the door for 30 minutes. The bars in Charleston all close at 2am so the partying starts early!
Other Recommendations: The Silver Dollar, Fish, Midtown, Republic Bar & Grill, Cocktail Club
Night Out on Upper King Street
View from Vendue Rooftop
Best Places to Chill:
Vendue Rooftop: Prime pregame location before a night out on the town. This rooftop terrace is located on top of the Vendue Inn, directly next to Waterfront Park. It closes at midnight so get there early. Vendue’s rooftop is also the perfect place for a light snack and martini as you watch the sun set over Charleston’s steeple-filled skyline. Just Perfect.
Kudu: Hipster coffee bar, for those of you who choose to revolt against Starbucks’ coffee-culture, this is just the place for you. Lovely outdoor area with live music guests or poetry readings almost every night.
Marion Square: Located at the corner of King and Calhoun Street, this public park is the perfect meeting place for young Charlestonians. On a warm, sunny day there will be several groups of students from the nearby College of Charleston or tourists passing through that enjoy coming to the park to play Frisbee, throw a football, sunbathing, studying, picnics, etc.
Best Way to Spend Your Day:
Rent a kayak or paddle board and float the rivers: Downtown Charleston is located on a peninsula between two rivers; the Ashley and the Cooper River. You can either grab a float and float for the day or there are several facilities that will rent you a paddle board or kayak for the day.
Price Range: $25-35
Beaches: There are no beaches on the Charleston Peninsula, you will have to drive 10 minutes to the closest beaches. Folly Beach is the college hang out, during the summer this beach looks like a mile-long frat party. Sullivan’s Island is much more upscale and residential, you will see many more families here enjoying a quite, family beach day.
Bridge Run: Walk, run, or cycle of the Cooper River Bridge that connects the Peninsula with neighboring Mount Pleasant. You will see amazing views of the Charleston Peninsula, Fort Sumter and the Atlantic Ocean.
Plantations: The Plantations surrounding Charleston hold so much of the South’s heritage. They are gorgeous estates that have been maintained for centuries and have been featured in several films such as The Patriot, and The Notebook. My best recommendations are Magnolia Plantation, Boone Hall Plantation, and Drayton Hall. You’ll want to spend a good chunk of your day exploring this historical gems, lunch is often served after tours.
I could go on and on about all of the wonderful things that Charleston, South Carolina has to offer but for now, I will leave it here. Feel free to contact me for more tips, recommendations, or information! I am always happy to help my fellow travelers navigate new destinations.