In this series, Katie Goldstein from Travelingpanties and Smartypanties is breaking down the best honeymoon destinations, one at a time, to help you narrow down the dizzying array of options so you can choose the one that reflects your interests, budget and style. Up today? Charleston, South Carolina.
Destination: Charleston, South Carolina
Fly into Charleston International Airport, which is about a 30-minute ride from downtown. A taxi shouldn’t cost more than $35.
If you’re looking to stay within downtown Charleston, there is no need to rent a car. The best way to see downtown is by foot, bicycle or carriage ride. Cabs are not readily available on the street, so if you need a lift, we recommend calling Charleston Rickshaw or Charleston Black Cab, which will come to your destination in 10 minutes. There is also the Downtown Area Shuttle, which is a trolley bus that offers free hop-on service.
Charleston is the perfect destination for a stateside honeymoon. This charming city manages to retain its Southern gentility while keeping up with modern times. Oak trees line Charleston’s streets, jasmine perfume fills its warm air and horse-drawn carriage rides remain a legitimate mode of transportation. However, in stark contrast to its antebellum mansions and old-fashioned Southern hospitality is an edgy culinary scene, trendy boutiques and farmers markets that are sure to impress even the most seasoned traveler.
When to go
The ideal time to experience Charleston is from April through June. The city is filled with blooming honeysuckle and magnolias so in addition to being beautiful, it smells absolutely divine. Although early spring through summer may be the most beautiful, the peak season often brings crowds. To avoid the masses yet still enjoy some of the city’s best weather, try to visit in early spring or on weekdays during peak season. If you plan to go in summer, although this charming city will still be quite picturesque, the weather can be a bit unpredictable — you may find yourself sweltering in the heat or in the middle of a tropical storm.
Where to stay
If you’re going for upscale, our first pick goes to Charleston Place. This landmark hotel features stately guest rooms, delicately hand-carved furniture, fountains at every turn and sweeping staircases that beg you to make a dramatic entrance. Charleston Place has managed to bring old Southern comforts into the new age while still managing to retain its charm. The amenities here are unbeatable: There is a world-class spa, a heated saltwater pool (complete with a retractable glass roof), two of the city’s finest restaurants, fabulous on-site shopping and a super swanky cocktail lounge. Although everything here is state-of-the-art, the history seems to literally jump off the walls at you. The service is impeccable and the location is central to everything, which is probably why esteemed guests like Prince Charles and Mel Gibson have chosen to call Charleston Place home when in town. Book the honeymoon package and enjoy a private horse-and-carriage tour, a couples’ massage and dinner at the glamorous Charleston Grill!
If boutique luxury is what you’re looking for, we simply adore the John Rutledge House Inn. It’s a historical landmark that was built in 1763 by John Rutledge, a signer of the U.S. Constitution (one of only 15 homes belonging to the signers that has survived and the only one to accommodate visitors). Guests can experience a taste of colonial Charleston at its finest. The property is filled with charming features like marble fireplaces, elaborate ironwork and intricately carved wood furniture. Although this charming inn is old fashioned in certain ways, it has all the modern amenities you may want — flat screen televisions, luxury toiletries and Tempur-Pedic mattresses. Be sure to enjoy some sweet tea and snacks served in the library every afternoon. For the ultimate in romance, ask about the Romantic Getaway package, which includes a bottle of Champagne, chocolate covered strawberries and an afternoon of private massages in your guest room.
What to do
Although there are plenty of things to do, Charleston is so charming that one could be happy merely idling on a porch swing with a sweet tea, getting lost among the cobblestone streets or gazing at the harbor for an entire week. But then you would miss all the wonderful things Charleston has to offer: historical homes and plantations, picturesque churches and so much history. But don’t let this Southern Belle fool you, she’s as modern as the next big city with worldly museums and music festivals to boot.
For history buffs
Kick back aboard the city’s most fun mode of transport: a carriage ride. Enjoy your guide’s Southern drawl as you get schooled in Charleston’s history. Learn about famous homes, churches and other landmarks. We recommend Palmetto Carriage, which is located in a big red barn in the center of town.
A trip to Fort Sumter — the site of the first battle of the Civil War — is a must for everyone. Take a boat cruise over to the island where you will be amazed as the history comes to life!
On Saturday mornings, ditch your hotel’s breakfast buffet and head out to Marion Square. Sip on freshly squeezed juices at Juice Joint, munch on creative ice pops at King of Pops (we loved the chocolate sea salt) and browse fresh produce and local crafts all while you enjoy live music.
Learn about the area’s rich culinary scene from the area’s best chefs on the Savor the Flavors Tour. Come hungry, leave heavy!
To be terrified
Learn about some of Charleston’s most infamous criminals on Bulldog’s Haunted Jail Tour. Prepare to be seriously spooked!
King Street is the place to go. Lower King is considered the antique district, while Upper King is where you’ll find contemporary shops. Make sure to stop by M. Dumas & Sons for all your preppy clothing needs — you haven’t been inducted into Charleston’s culture until you’ve purchased something seersucker. Old Road Mercantile is the perfect place to find unique gifts, and Croghan’s Jewel Box has great estate-style jewelry.
A trip to City Market is also fun. You’ll find tons of mini boutique-style booths that sell great souvenirs like the much sought after Charleston sweetgrass baskets, which are an indigenous art-form to the area.
For outdoorsy types
There is no better way to enjoy Charleston than by a bicycle ride around town. Forget the taxis or rental cars and take in the picturesque streets at a leisurely pace. We recommend grabbing your rental from The Bicycle Shoppe. If you book ahead of time, they can have your bicycle waiting for you when you arrive.
For culture seekers
Check out the famously hued pastel homes on Rainbow Row. Take a moment to enjoy these quirky mansions, as they are definitely a Kodak moment.
Gibbes Art Museum is a great place to visit if you enjoy American fine art.
For 17 nights each summer, Spoleto Festival hits Charleston with tons of live musical performances from just about every genre. Get tickets to a show held at an outdoor venue and enjoy live music and craft beer under the stars.
For day trippers
If you’re coming to Charleston for your honeymoon, you simply can’t miss a trip to Kiawah Island, and the best place to stay is at The Sanctuary, the island’s crowning jewel. The Sanctuary is exactly that, a luxurious oasis that might just be the most exquisite oceanfront resort on the East Coast. Located right along the white sandy beaches, it boasts fantastic accommodations, world-class golf and a brilliant spa. The restaurants are all high quality — especially the Ocean Room. We recommend the His and Hers package, which includes golf and spa — marriage is all about compromise after all, so what better way to start off this new chapter in your life? Enjoy two 60-minute spa treatments, two rounds of golf and complimentary spa access for your entire stay. Be sure to ask about their arrangement where you can borrow a Mercedes to try out for free! It’s a great way to explore the island for a few hours.
Where to eat and drink
Anyone who has been to Charleston knows that the food here is splurge-worthy. From upscale restaurants featuring fresh seafood to outdoor cafés serving up low-country cuisine like fried chicken and shrimp and grits, you’ll try things that are better than anything you’ve ever imagined.
- Hominy Grill is an essential visit for any guest in town. Try delectable classics like the shrimp and grits, the big nasty biscuit (fried chicken and gravy) and chocolate pudding!
- Oak Steakhouse is probably the city’s best steakhouse. Be sure to ask for the romantic table on the restaurant’s third floor — they’ll know what you’re referring to. For dinner, try the deep-fried, whole lobster. Need we say more?
- Magnolias is one of the early pioneers in the restaurant scene in Charleston and is still alive and well. Be sure to try twists on Southern classics like the pimento cheese and the shellfish and grits. They also have the best pecan pie in town.
- Brunch is an institution in Charleston and High Cotton reigns supreme. Get a table near the live jazz band and be sure to try the breakfast donuts to start!
- Enjoy a slow start like the rest of the locals. If you’re looking for a casual yet delicious brunch, be sure to stop into Poogan’s Porch.
- Husk is a shrine to Southern cuisine and the latest from James Beard award-winning executive chef Sean Brock. He bases his menu upon whatever local ingredients are available and even posts a list of exactly where each ingredient comes from for interested diners.
- Snob, which stands for Slightly North of Broad (street), is the city’s current place to “see and be seen,” especially during lunch.
- Peninsula Grill is a classic fine dining institution and a popular dinner destination for honeymooners and those celebrating special occasions. Don’t leave without having a slice of their coconut cake.
- FIG is one of the top casual restaurants in the area. The food is fresh and simple, and the atmosphere is nice yet laid back.
- If you’re looking for Charleston’s best barbecue, be sure to hit up Jim and Nick’s.
- For the best darn oysters and reasonable prices, be sure to stop into Pearlz Oyster Bar.
- For cocktails, there are just too many choices, but some of our favorites are: Rarebit, Cocktail Club and the Blind Tiger Pub. For uber romantic drinks, head to the rooftop bar at the Market Pavilion Hotel.
What to watch out for
It can get pretty hot in Charleston, even in the spring. Be sure to use SPF and stay hydrated.