Nestled off the Atlantic Coast, you'll find Charleston, South Carolina. This idyllic destination has been named dozens of award-winning titles (including Travel + Leisure's Number 1 City in the World), and it's not hard to understand why. It's rich in history, home to some incredible restaurants, and picturesque as a postcard.
I've taken a couple of different trips with friends to "Chucktown" over the last couple of month- both unique from the other. The first trip was more of a local perspective, where we stayed with friends who live there and know the area well. I loved seeing some of the hidden gems and less touristy places that the city has to offer, and feeling like I went "behind the scenes" if you will.
The most recent trip back was more of a traditional visit where we stayed at a hotel and spent most of our time in the "touristy" area of town. After just scratching the surface of the most popular part of Charleston last trip, it was fun to really dive in and cover a lot of territory I breezed through the first time.
Both trips were wonderful and showed me unique aspects of Charleston. l fell in love with so much about this city and could ramble on about everything we did for hours. So if you're planning a trip of your own, be sure to add these recommendations to your itinerary.
Conveniently located in the heart of Charleston on King Street, you'll find The Restoration. This chic + luxurious boutique hotel is relaxed + refined-- where high class meets low country. It's comprised of five buildings, "all of which have been updated and modernized to bring Charleston's dynamic history to life and celebrate the New South."
I stayed here on my most recent trip, and was highly impressed by every detail of the property. Immediately upon arriving, we went straight to The Watch, their rooftop bar and restaurant, (which offers stunning views of the city) for a bottle of champagne and then relaxed at the pool (also a rooftop). I then swooned over the beautiful room (with serious bathroom goals) when we checked in, and was frequently found cozying up in the luxe bathrobes provided. But my favorite part? Complimentary breakfast delivered to your room every morning- just fill out the menu and leave it on your door. Anywhere I can indulge in croissants + country ham with my coffee to start the day is perfectly alright with me.
If you want to be in the center of the action and enjoy the luxuries of a high quality boutique hotel, The Restoration is the place for you.
EAT + DRINK
Charleston is notorious for great seafood. Also notorious for this cuisine? New England, of course. 167 Raw, originally established in Nantucket Island, now embraces the outstanding seafood culture of New England in a new setting: their Charleston location. They pride themselves in bringing the freshest most delicious seafood our oceans have to offer- and it truly is delicious. We stopped in for lunch and everyone loved what they ordered. The crowd favorites? Oysters and Fish Tacos.
If it's a nice day, sit outside on the patio, order a cocktail, and you've got a recipe for perfection.
James Beard Award winning chef makes Low Country Shrimp + Grits. Need I say more? Chef/Owner Robert Stehling lets the Charleston's unique cultural history and flavors guide his cooking. And while I'm no grits aficionado, I could clearly taste the difference between these and any others I've tried. Everything on the menu was fantastic (even the jam on the table for the biscuits- which is an in-house recipe from an employee). Don't miss it.
I've dined at the Nashville Husk multiple times and have always been pleased with my experience. But our dinner at their flagship location in Charleston was easily my most impressive visit (it also happened to be my first time as a meat eater, so that probably helped!)
Sean Brock (another James Beard Award-winning Chef) "reinterprets the bounty of the surrounding area and explores ingredient-driven cuisine that redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston." Menu items will vary based on seasonal ingredients, but if possible, I recommend the Southern Fried Chicken Skins with Pimento Cheese Dressing or the Broadbent Country Ham + Buttermilk Biscuits to start. For the main course? The Carolina Heritage Pork with Field Pea "Sofrito" and House Made Pancetta is out of this world. We ordered lots of desserts and cocktails, and they were all fantastic too.
In addition to the food, the building is stunning (dates back to the 19th century) and creates the perfect ambient atmosphere for a wonderful dining experience.
Indaco is located on Upper King Street, and was easily the most pleasant surprise I discovered in Charleston. When I learned we were eating at an Italian place, I wasn't mad about it- but I also wasn't necessarily excited. But that quickly changed right when we walked in the door. The setting is beautiful, with an open kitchen and rustic details like butcherblock tables. The menu is brimming with delicious hand crafted pastas (I loved the Black Pepper Tagliatelle), housemade salumi and cured sausages, and wood-fired pizzas (try the sweet corn!) But my favorite dish was easily the Burrata (an appetizer). Don't leave without trying it.
In the spirit of continuing to experience Charleston's quality seafood, be sure to pencil Leon's Oyster Shop in your visit. But don't take my word for it- just take a gander at their ever-growing list of impressive awards: Eater's Best New Restaurant in America, Southern Living's Best Restaurant in the South, or James Beard Rising Star Chef Semifinalist.
Start with oysters. Raw Oysters. Char-grilled oysters (with butter and parmesan... YAS). Fried Oysters Rockefeller. They're all fantastic. Bottom dwellers not your thing? No big deal. Their hush puppies with honey butter will melt in your mouth, they're so good.
We also freaked out over their fried chicken (de-lic-ious), Siam Salad and avocado toast. The atmosphere was also fun and festive, which made our overall experience one for the books.
After realizing a bar we wanted to try was on a ridiculous wait, we walked over to The Spectator Hotel bar- and I'm so glad we did (We didn't even end up going to the other bar when they paged us). For starters, the entire property is stunning (it was voted the #1 Hotel in the Continental US and #2 in the world by Travel + Leisure). The bar is "a delicious combination of the exuberance of the 1920s speakeasy and the ease of the Jazz Age." The in-house mixologist made fantastic drinks, and the ambience couldn't have been more on-point.
One of my favorite things we did in Charleston was rent bikes- and I'm definitely not the only one who will recommend this. On most days, you'll see almost as many cyclists as you will vehicles peddling around and exploring the city on two wheels. Cruise down King Street, explore Waterfront Park, and let yourself get lost.
Every Saturday from April through November, 8am-2pm, you'll find the local Farmer's Market happening at Marion Square. It's filled with amazing products from local Lowcountry farmers, growers, artisans, crafters, and community groups of all kinds. Head over for breakfast from one of the vendors, enjoy the live entertainment, and browse an assortment of local goodies.
In the Historic District of Charleston, you can't miss Rainbow Row: a series of 13 colorful houses representing the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the US. The name was coined after the pastel colors that they were painted as they were restored in the 30s and 40s (and you're guaranteed to see tourists snapping pics in front of them).
RiverOaks is different from any other type of recommendation I typically include: it's a wedding venue (nope- I'm definitely still single.) But I was extremely fortunate to stay there during my first trip, and it was an experience of a lifetime. It's actually the home of a friend of mine, and his parents use it as a wedding venue. Words won't come close to doing it justice, but just imagine the idyllic charm of a European home, chickens roaming freely (which means farm fresh eggs on the table) and Spanish moss hanging from the trees by the sparkling river. The setting was truly incredible, and it wasn't even set up for a wedding.
Bottom line: if you happen to get married in Charleston, you must get married there and you must invite me.
I loved everything about my time in Charleston: taking the boat out on the water, indulging in Lowcountry cuisine, the Southern hospitality I encountered, and countless other memories I made with so many people I love. No matter the occasion for your visit, I'm confident you'll have an incredible trip.