Sure, you could go to Charleston and check out a ghost tour and take a carriage ride with a heat exhausted horse. OR, you could eat, shop and explore your way through this culturally rich town with the confidence of a local and the curiosity of a visitor. If the latter sounds more like your jam, check out my fabulous finds for guidance! Organic and farm-to-table southern food and artisanal cocktails that rival NYC’s best are just a few of the gems I discovered during my recent trip… PLUS where to shop my very own vintage denim brand, Vagablonde!
Voted one of Conde Nast’s Top 5 Foodie Hotels in the WORLD, Zero George is a dining destination, but it was the overall charm oozing from every corner that stole my heart. A feminine, old-southern aesthetic describes the twin mansion property, and flickering gas lanterns light pale bricked pathways at night. You’ll need a little light after sampling their damn delicious cocktails—some of the most carefully crafted in the city. Darling pastel bikes are available for loan at first come, first serve basis and the homemade cinnamon breakfast biscuits are worth waking up for. I found the dinner tasting menu a bit overpriced and unnecessarily rich for my personal taste; but literally everything else from the cocktails to the bedding to the service were impeccable. Plus the location couldn’t be more central!
If you don’t mind being tucked away just outside of the city and want to really soak up the “deep south” experience, try the Inn at Middleton Place Plantation. It’s far, but it’s freakin’ gorgeous. Thankfully the restaurant on property is reputable, because it’s quite a trek to get into town for meals.
Click here for Travel & Leisure’s extensive list of the best places to stay in Charleston!
A brand new wine bar, newly opened in an up and coming neighborhood, was well worth the short Uber ride from downtown. The crab salad was plump, fresh and more flavorful than is typical elsewhere, and the duck pappardelle had us licking the plate. Of the several dishes we tried, my only regret was not making my way through the rest of the entire menu.
The expansive garden and excellent Italian wines are enough of a draw here, but sorghum (gluten-free) Caccio e Pepe had me at hello.
Both oyster bars were tied for ambiance in my book, but although Ordinary typically has a wide range of oysters - we couldn’t find the list and instead enjoyed some of the freshest Blue Points from the bar at The Darling.
If you’re a beer drinker, this is your spot. With a seemingly endless supply of beers on tap, they luckily offer some equally impressive food to soak it all up. We had both the specials and two midsize plates, and were faced with enough food for 4-6 people. But I have been told that the charcuterie board alone is worth a visit. Sit at the Chef’s Counter inside to watch it all go down, then grab an after dinner drink under the twinkle lights of the beer garden.
If you can’t get a reservation at this award winning dining destination, try sneaking in for lunch. The old mansion house is so darn pretty and the food... Well, TBH we didn’t learn this lunch advice until we stopped by too late. But I’m still crying over the smells that we couldn’t taste...
A perfect lunch option when you’re ready to lighten up. Fresh menu options as well as meatier dishes ensure to satisfy hungrier friends.
Bike the peninsula & rainbow row
Bikes are available for free from many of the hotels (Zero George included) but the city also offers a bike share program that’s popular and easy to use. Rainbow Row is, as it sounds, a row of brightly painted homes wrapping around the waterfront peninsula.
Get sun & history on Sullivan’s Island
An easy, 15 minute drive from downtown Charleston; Sullivan’s Island not only offers gorgeous white sand beaches and warm waters, but is also home to Fort Sumter, where first battle of the American Civil War began. After spending a day on the beach and visiting the museum, stop by Goldbug for the cutest accessories, jewelry and gifts on the island before finishing up at Home Team with some Carolina style BBQ and down home vibes.
Re-Live the Notebook in Mt Pleasant
Just as pleasant as it sounds, Mt Pleasant is a sweet little stretch between downtown Charleston and the islands where parts of The Notebook were filmed. Stop by Celedon to shop global housewares, Out of Hand for great beauty and gifts and definitely spend some time at Rudi’s Old Village Wine Shop for an impressive selection of imported Italian wines, live music and over 150 available by the glass (!) Then stumble over to Mill Street Tavern or the dock at Shem Creek, grab some oysters and watch the sun set over a peaceful marsh.
Go Back in Time on The Plantations
You can’t go to Charleston without visiting the plantations. Ok, you can do whatever you’d like but I wouldn’t recommend it! Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens are just a few minutes down the road from each other, and take anywhere from 1-3 hours each to visit, depending on how involved you like to get. Both are equally impressive for different reasons, so it’s worth doing a little research before you go if you cannot make it to both. Stop in for lunch at Middleton Place’s stunning, farm-to-table and mostly organic restaurant - or grab a quicker bite down the road from Rudi’s Cafe at Dreyton Hall.
I’m partial to this beachy boutique (with a darling coffee and wine bar upstairs) for carrying my very own line of vintage embroidered denim, Vagablonde! Available in stores, and soon online.
Think Net-A-Porter comes to life...
Mt Pleasant (Hint: They also have a warehouse in North Charleston!)
Boho-lux housewares, jewelry and gifts from around the world that won’t break the bank.
Super hip gifts and jewelry from a local designer.
Go in for a mead tasting, leave with a box of fresh, whole honeycomb or some Charleston honey.
DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME
Skip the Historic Charleston Market, which is as full of cheesy souvenirs as tourists.