Eating, Drinking, and Absorbing Charleston’s Southern Charm

Charleston is the anti-Los Angeles. Charleston exists to balance out the Orlandos of the world. It has actual history. It’s walkable. You can bicycle. It has neighborhoods. It has soul. And now, it also has great restaurants, hotels, and cocktail bars.

If you’re from the Midwest, there’s the added bonus of warmth (except in the summer months, when it’s called “suffocation” with the humidity). The city has low-country and Gullah roots that shine through in its food and culture, and is ideal for eating, walking, and biking—just beware the cruise-shippers wandering around during the daytime.

Where to Stay:

(Disclaimer: Due to the aforementioned warmth and humidity, some of the more historic properties can get a little musty.)

For a small boutique: Zero George Street is in close proximity to everywhere you’ll want to walk, but enough off the beaten path. Be careful if you stay there which room you choose and make sure you ask for a room facing away from East Bay Street.

For something new: The Dewberry. It’s a bit on the bigger side and has a pretty active bar scene in both Henrietta’s (a great restaurant choice in town) and in the hotel lobby lounge called the Living Room (which was also a James Beard semifinalist for its cocktails).

For something historic: The Vendue has one of the more popular rooftops in town, and a great location to walk everywhere from.

For something central: The Restoration on King is on the safe end of King’s Street (further north becomes a hotbed of college bars and clubs), right in the heart of the small city.

For a great bar: The Planter’s Inn, in the center of it all, is a solid Relais & Chateaux property.

For something big: The Belmond Charleston Place has quality service and rooms, but be prepared. It’s a big hotel.

What to Do:

Eat (see below). And eat.

Walk the city for a whole or part-day to see the houses, the gardens, and the history.

Head out to Sullivan’s Island to walk the beach and eat.

See the Angel Oak, the 1500-year-old live oak on John’s Island (the largest in the world).

Do a plantation tour at either Magnolia or Boone Hall.

Rent bikes from either Affordabike or The Bicycle Shoppe; it’s the best way to get an overview of the small city, and they can get you to Sullivan’s Island.

Where to Eat:

If you’re into Sean Brock: This chef put Charleston on the map as a foodie town with McGrady’s first (now both a tasting-menu spot and a tavern), followed by Husk. Both are solid choices, but make reservations in advance, and beware that they’ve turned touristy.

The darling of the dining scene: Fig, for food that’s great and service that’s spectacular, and they just won a Beard to honor the wine program—part of why we prefer the bar area.

For killer food within a few blocks:

  • The Ordinary has a spectacular oyster bar and the freshest of seafood. 
  • The Grocery has a central open kitchen, a community-table-like bar, and will make you understand pimento cheese.
  • Felix is French, with a front-and-center bar
  • Chez Nous is intimate, cozy, French, and always different.
  • One new kid is Tu, where flavors, space, and service are incredible.
  • A perfect evening in this part of Charleston would start or end with a cocktail at the Belmont.
  • Hominy Grill is on every tourist list for the best of low-country cooking, and is worth it.

For real-deal BBQ: Charleston has a few great barbeque joints, including the recent James Beard-winning Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Lewis Barbecue is also full-on legit, with the giant smokers on display.

For the kind of place where they say pastries are “from scratch”: The pastry chefs at Butcher & Bee are unmatched, and have been Beard nominees.

For breakfast or lunch: One Broad Street, by the same owner as the always-awesome Bar Normandy. The weekend brunches are amazing. And Alex Lira is finally getting the recognition he deserves with a James Beard nod in 2018.

Where pizza is poppin’: Renzo is the hottest place in town for Neapolitan and Detroit-style pies, and Uneeda Scicilian is a newbie serving up Grandma-style pizzas.

For brunch whenever: Millers All Day embraces the all-day dining trend with its on-point name.

On Sullivan’s Island: The Obstinate Daughter for a hint of Italian, or Poe’s Tavern for a crowd-pleaser and a great outdoor patio.

If you went to see the tree: Bowens Island Restaurant. It’s a local oyster shack with oysters (no kidding), shrimp, and beer.

Where to Drink:

For a cool East Bay spot: Proof or Bar Mash/Mercantile Mash

If you’re into beer: Edmund’s Oast.

For tropical vibes: The Getaway is new-ish, with Latin American and Caribbean-inspired drinks that whisk you away.

For something sleek: Vintage Lounge is a respite from tourist spots on King Street.

For a glass of red: Graft wine bar on King.

For a healthy pour: Peninsula Grill at the Planter’s Inn, where there are also mean Sazeracs and a different soufflé every night.