As you stroll through the cobblestone streets, under the whispering willows and magnolia trees, past the historic mansions with Tiffany windows and giant side porches, you’ll find it hard not to fall deep under the spell of Charleston, South Carolina. Where it’s y’all, not you all and where you’ll find some of the sweetest tea, nicest people and best comfort food in all of the country.
The buildings dating back to the early 1800s still gleam like they did the day they were built, thanks to a historical society dedicated to preserving the history of this great southern city. Here’s our guide to the best hotels, sights and food in the low country.
Where to stay
If you’re going to stay in Charleston, stay in a hotel that’s as old as the city itself. The Vendue Inn was built in 1783 and, like most of the buildings in Charleston, has been restored to its natural beauty. Located steps from the waterfront and the Battery, as well as a short walk to King Street, St. Michaels and St. Philips churches and many historical mansions, you couldn’t ask for a better location. The inn has 66 rooms, many which are historically-themed and decorated. Rooms start at $275 a night.
Easily one of the most beautiful hotels in the city is the Wentworth Mansion. Recently named the No. 1 best small hotel in a city by Travel & Leisure and the No. 12 best hotel in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, this nod to Charleston aristocracy is decorated with Italian crystal chandeliers, hand-carved marble fireplaces and stunning antique furniture. The hotel, which was once a private home, feels like a trip back in time with evening port, sherry and brandy on the porch and appetizer parties with guests donned in their Sunday finest. Rooms start at $390 a night.
Where to play
The first thing anyone does when they go to Charleston is visit the historic city market. The market, open year round, is over 200 years old and is home to hundreds of local vendors selling everything from food, to jewelry, to those coveted sweetgrass baskets. If you prefer shopping, stop by King Street, which has beautiful buildings holding big brands like Apple, as well as many local outfitters and restaurants. After a day of exploring, stop by the South Carolina Aquarium which has a 380,000-gallon ocean tank, touch tanks and a penguin exhibit.
A little outside the city lines is Middleton Place & Gardens. The house, which was built in 1755, is open to the public as a working museum. The gardens were created in 1741 by Henry Middleton and are considered American’s oldest landscaped gardens. The breathtaking 65-acre property has over a hundred seasonal blooms planted. Tickets cost $28 and it’s advised you spend at least 2 hours to explore.
Another top spot to visit in the city is the Battery and Waterfront Park. Not only will you get stunning views of the water and the many boats that decorate it, you’ll also get a chance to look at the historic mansions that are situated near it.
The beaches are another must. Isle of Palms, located close to Mount Pleasant about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston, is always a hot spot during the summer. Go early or risk not finding parking. Folly Beach is home to the younger, hipper crowd but has some stellar restaurants, small town charm and beautiful beaches. Sullivan’s Island is one of the smallest beaches— at only 3.3 miles long— but is often less crowded.
Where to eat
Southern food hasn’t always had the best rap, so James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock set out to change that. And that he did with Husk, our top pick for dining in Charleston. The food is Southern in style but reinvented with a very fresh, innovated flair. Brock takes southern dining seriously, and if the ingredients aren’t grown in the south, he won’t serve it. The menu is updated twice daily and is rarely ever the same. We love the Wagyu sirloin that was perfectly cooked and a big batch of melt-in-your-mouth skillet cornbread. Reservations are required.
A local favorite and a little less fancy is Hominy Grill. This breakfast and brunch institution also has a James Beard award-winning chef at the helm. Although it’s open for lunch and dinner, the breakfast here can’t be missed. The giant buttermilk biscuits are out of this world amazing, especially when paired with homemade sausage gravy. The Big Nasty Biscuit is another must-order. Fried chicken, cheddar cheese and gravy — what’s not to love? Reservations are required.