Ok, does Charleston live up to all the hype? In a word, yes. No doubt many of you have spent a few days in the Holy City (church central), or you’re considering a trip. It would seem everyone is…for two years in a row Charleston has been chosen the number one city for travelers. My family started going there years ago in the spring…for two reasons…perfect weather, and something for everyone. Golf, culture and events, history, fabulous restaurants(that scene has only gotten more competitive in the recent years), great shopping and boutiques(hello King Street)….and beautiful beaches only 20 minutes away.
We often stay on Isle of Palms, though we have stayed on Kiawah Island and loved it. Pluses for IOP…closer to downtown Charleston for shopping and great restaurants…about 20 minutes tops…two lovely golf courses, and it’s close to Sullivan’s Island(Sully’s as they call it) and Mt. Pleasant. Both are just minutes away and they also have really top notch restaurants of their own if you don’t feel like going downtown. The Obstinate Daughter, Poe’s, Mustard Seed, Basil Thai(an offshoot of the famous downtown Basil)…so lots of options and dining places have improved a lot on IOP proper -Seabiscuit and Acme Lowcountry pop to mind.
Kiawah is great….extremely gorgeous with maritime forests in addition to marshes and beaches, miles of bike paths the go all over the island. We loved our stay there very much…the only downside…40 minutes to downtown Charleston and limited dining options nearby. It’s also home to the the the famous Sanctuary resort with FIVE championship golf courses, including the incredible Ocean Course…one of only four courses in the U.S. to have hosted every major PGA event. So if you’re into golf…this is the ticket.
In no particular order, here some of the wonderful, more off the beaten path places that I love, and you might want to check out on your trip to Charleston.
Ok, let’s eat later. First…especially on a HOT summer Charleston day, cool off at the Gibbes Museum of Art downtown. What a gem! It’s not a huge museum, which will suit most of you on a limited time schedule just fine, but has a wonderfully curated collection of paintings, sculpture and multi-media exhibits, some of which are Charleston-centric…but that’s ok, as it lends itself to understanding the city and its past. Go, you won’t regret it.
The hardest decision made in Charleston are about food. Because there’s so much of it, and so much of it is absolute perfection. On a limited schedule…where do you go? There are many spots popular with tourists…Magnolia’s, High Cotton, SNOB…and don’t get e wrong – they are wonderful restaurants, but try something less…obvious?
Cru Cafe is one of my longtime faves, and not because it the first place where my son ever paid for a meal with the family(but that did make it extra memorable-all parents of adult children will understand this). Cru is in an old Charleston “single House”….a house with a covered porch that runs the length of the house, and usually has a door at the end that opens to the street. Very Charleston. Great you say, what about the food(I’m just saying, it is charming). We had a perfect lunch there this past trip…which I had never done before. GO there for their legendary Chinese Chicken Salad or the white wine truffled mussels, or shoot, anything that strikes your fancy. I’ve never had anything there that wasn’t excellent. Ressies a must…Cru Cafe is petite.
For dinner, head up to Chez Nous. Like Cru Cafe, it is pint sized…also in an old house, with an ever-changing, but quite curated menu. By that I mean, each night there are 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts each evening. So yeah, curated. But makes it easy to order. They always have the menu items on Facebook, or you can call and see what’s cooking that day. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Like tonight they’re featuring triggerfish with chervil mayonnaise…but that won’t be around tomorrow most likely. Interesting wine list!
Another local fave of Charlestonians is Macintosh on King Street, a new try for me this trip, recommended by my daughter who lived in Charleston for a couple of years. Featuring upscale lowcountry cuisine by Executive Chef Jeremiah Bacon, a three-time James Beard semifinalist. We missed the famous Bacon Happy Hour (which looked pretty fantastic and a bargain)…but dinner was yum. Loved the heirloom tomatoes with watermelon, burrata and Tagaroshi vinaigrette. Amazing. And if you’re pondering the savory bone marrow bread pudding side…the waiter said “just order it”. Good Lord it was good.
And while you can no longer say it’s off the beaten path, because the path is well trod indeed, but …Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is still worth a visit or three, and go prepared to wait. Or get there early. Either one works. If you follow them on Instagram(I like to torture myself that way), biscuit porn is brought to life at HLB on King Street.
Leon’s on King Street north of the battery is an old converted garage turned eatery. Like fried chicken? Like oysters? Then this is your joint, Very casual and fun…and keep in mind Charleston is a more formal town, but not here. Your shorts are fine. Char-grilled and raw oysters, possible the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Oh, and did I mention they make an incredible frozen G&T? I want one right now!
And speaking of gin(we were, were we not?)…theres a small batch distillery in Charleston where you can do a $5, 45 minute tour and tasting (extra $$ but not much). Charleston Distilling makes a number of hand crafted spirits…a bourbon, a rye, two gins, and a couple of vodkas (the Carolina Reaper sounds interesting if dangerous). But it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or two whiling away a rainy afternoon.
There are loads of gorgeous and pricey hotels in Charleston (Charleson is many things but one thing it ain’t is cheap)….for a great location and more reasonable rate…check out the Francis Marion, right on Marion Square. Lovely…perfect downtown location. And if you have a group, investigate some of the unbelievable VRBO and AIRBNB houses on Isle of Palms and Kiawah Island. Vacation like a rock star! Check out a long time fave of ours on IOP above…The Marsh House. It has been the backdrop for some of the best vacations I’ve ever had…look inside and you’ll see why.
Have your own Charleston faves that we might not have heard of? Bring it!! And don’t be a stranger…see ya soon!