Oak-lined streets, historic row houses, and creative Lowcountry cooking—South Carolina's oldest city has charm to spare.

By Stirling Kelso
October 10, 2014
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

Lay of the Land

Folly Beach: The 12-mile island south of downtown is known for its surf-worthy waves, seafood purveyors, and live-music bars.

Historic District: These cobblestoned streets are lined with row houses, and you’re likely to spot more horse- drawn carriages and cruiser bikes than cars.

Mount Pleasant: While this area is mostly residential, the Old Village is worth exploring for classic Americana— U.S. flags; white picket fences—and stylish shops and restaurants.

Sullivan’s Island: On this barrier isle, grand residences contrast with remote stretches of beach.

Upper Peninsula: Oneoff boutiques and gallery spaces opened by young entrepreneurs have given the district newfound creative energy.

Getting Around: Charleston is pedestrian and bike-friendly. To reach the outer islands, consider renting a car.


Charleston has no shortage of sophisticated hotels. Here, five we love.

Zero George Street: With its sprawling verandas and manicured pocket gardens, this newcomer in the Ansonborough district pays homage to the city’s history, but interiors are refreshingly modern. The 18 rooms are spread out among five residences, some with mahogany bed frames, blue-and-white porcelain lamps, and beds with Kravet linens. A highlight: breakfast in the 1804 carriage house. $$

Two Meeting Street: Welcome to the city’s oldest inn, with just nine airy bedrooms full of antiques— Tiffany stained-glass windows; Audubon prints; Venetian glass fixtures. Settle into one of the rocking chairs on the wraparound porch and take in the sunset over Battery Park. $$

The Wentworth: Built by a cotton baron in 1886, the red Philadelphia-brick Wentworth blends old and new: oversize soaking tubs and flat-screen TV’s mix with Italian crystal chandeliers and 19th-century marble mantels. The hotel’s cupola has knockout views of the city. $$$

French Quarter Inn: The 50-room French Quarter Inn is known for its first-rate service and welcoming staff: there’s champagne at check-in, wine and local bites (smoked salmon; boiled peanuts) served in the evening, and port or milk and cookies during turndown. $$

Planters Inn: In the heart of the historic district, the landmark Planters Inn channels Old Charleston with sweetgrass baskets, flickering carriage lanterns, and etchings by the late local painter Elizabeth O’Neill Verner. $$

On the Horizon

Opening in 2015, the 41-room Spectator, in the historic district, will have a hip, Prohibition-era vibe with a 1920’s-inspired bar and lounge. $$

Hotel Pricing Key

$ Less than $200

$$ $200 to $350

$$$ $350 to $500

$$$$ $500 to $1,000

$$$$$ More than $1,000

See + Do

Where to get your culture fix.

Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art: The small museum on the College of Charleston’s campus is a welcome addition to the city’s art scene. Past exhibits have included American artists Jasper Johns and Shepard Fairey, as well as up-and-coming international talent like the Jerusalem-based Yaakov Israel.

Marion Square Farmers' Market: Every Saturday, hundreds of regional producers gather at Marion Square to sell fresh fruit, vegetables, and artisanal goods. Pick up the Wild Boar black-truffle cheese from Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse.

Dock Street Theatre: Reopened in 2010 after a $19 million renovation, the Dock Street Theatre maintains its original 1800’s charm but has been updated with state-of-the-art soundproofing and lighting. Don’t miss a show by the Charleston Stage theater company, or one of several performances during the spring Spoleto festival.

Nathaniel Russell House: This 19th-century former residence is arguably the grande dame of house museums. Its Neoclassical details (a turquoise oval dining room; hand-carved fireplace mantels; a floating spiral staircase) have been restored to their 1808 grandeur.


Our favorite boutiques for clothing, home décor, and more.

Hand-painted champagne flutes and letterpress stationery are just a sampling of what you’ll find at Lily, a one-stop shop for exclusive Charleston souvenirs.

On King Street, Hampden Clothing carries more than 40 labels ranging from edgy international brands (Mother of Pearl; Simone Rocha) to local designers, including Candy Shop Vintage.

Giulio and Donatella della Porta make regular trips to their native Italy to select artisan-made wares (silk scarves; ceramic tulip pots) for the Hidden Countship.

You’ll have to ring a bell to gain access to the fourth-generation, family-owned jewelry shop Croghan’s Jewel Box. Inside, antique brooches and lockets are displayed alongside bow ties made from South Carolina turkey feathers.

Head to Shirtini for classic American fashions such as white corduroy shirts by CP Shades and Claridge & King’s striped button-downs.


The city's hottest tables.

Two Boroughs Larder: At chef Josh Keeler’s unpretentious bistro, wines by the glass are served in tumblers and dishes such as whipped ricotta with anchoïade and hazelnuts or veal sweetbreads with brussels-sprout leaves are simple and down-to-earth. The shelves are stocked with souvenirs available for purchase: take home a clay plate or locally made Bittermilk cocktail mixer. $$

Husk: After a whiskey cocktail at Husk Bar, head to dinner in the neighboring historic house, with a romantic two-story porch and a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard highlighting regional farmers and purveyors. We love the glazed pig’s ears wrapped in crunchy Bibb lettuce. $$$

Black Tap Coffee: Charlestonians flock to this two-year-old shop and café for its distinctive coffee creations, from lattes made with organic Counter Culture beans to decadent java cocktails. $

Salt: This wood-beamed restaurant has a laid-back, beachy atmosphere—there’s a spacious terrace with a raw bar where chefs serve oysters from Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as a seasonal, Lowcountry-inspired menu. The flaky wreckfish with herb spaetzle is a crowdpleaser. $$

Butcher & Bee: The plates at Butcher & Bee change daily depending on what comes in from area farms. Try the grilled cheese with fontina and ribbons of zucchini or the Cuban sandwich loaded with pork, Gruyère, and pickles. The Daily, its new market, sells cold- pressed juices and chef Stuart Tray’s house-made ketchup. $

Chez Nous: Patrick and Fanny Panella, the husband-and-wife team behind popular wine bar Bin 152 on King Street, opened this southern French restaurant in an 1835 house, with a cozy bar and 16 candlelit tables. The menus may include dishes such as farro with cucumbers and tomatoes and grouper with caramelized lemon. $$$

Leon's Oyster Shop: Chef Ari Kolender, who trained under James Beard Award winner Mike Lata (of F.I.G. and the Ordinary fame), launched Leon’s in a former auto body shop. Here, it’s all about the fried chicken: after bathing in buttermilk and hot sauce overnight, wings and drumsticks are spiced up with Old Bay, cayenne, and paprika. $$

Restaurant Pricing Key

$ Less than $25

$$ $25 to $75

$$$ $75 to $150

$$$$ More than $150

Local Take

Three insiders share their top places in Charleston.

Brandy Culp

Curator, the Historic Charleston Foundation

“Book a walking tour with Martine Dulles, a former docent at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She’ll teach you all about the city’s history, architecture, and art. On King Street, swing by the Silver Vault of Charleston to view owner Charlotte Crabtree’s French, British, and American silver collections. Built in the 1750’s, St. Michael’s Church is Charleston’s oldest religious structure and a must-see.”

Sean Brock

Chef, Husk and McCrady’s

“For lunch, I’m a fan of the Glass Onion, in the West Ashley district; I usually get the shrimp and grits with fries and béarnaise. Bowens Island Restaurant, on the water near Folly Beach, is another favorite—order the Frogmore stew. When friends come to visit, I recommend they hit the Heirloom Bookshop and the Charleston Preservation Society to pick up one-of-a-kind souvenirs.”

Lindsey Carter

Designer, Troubadour

“Anyone seeking to outfit their home with quirky, beach-chic décor should stop by Eclectic, in Mount Pleasant. Owner Sidney Wagner is a great resource for interior-design advice. At King Street’s Worthwhile, look out for Moroccan slippers by textile company Proud Mary—founder Harper Poe collaborates with international artisans to create beautiful, sustainably made clothing. For drinks, you’ll find me sipping a fresh-lime margarita at Básico, in North Charleston.”

Worth a Detour

Beaufort: The architectural heritage of the town of Beaufort was spared during the Civil War. Head to Plums Restaurant for clams.

Kiawah Island: This windswept barrier island has endless diversions. Go for a hike, play tennis, tee off at the Ocean Course, or simply relax on the beach.

Middleton Place: Day tours of this National Historic Landmark have long been popular, but few travelers know about the grounds’ kayak swamp tours.