Although I’m a proud North Carolinian, when it comes to weekend getaways, I have a soft spot for South Carolina, a true treasure on the coast. And the city of Charleston boasts more character on its cobblestone streets than most states as a whole.
In Charleston, you can wine, dine and relax in a casual yet refined, historic yet modern and downright unforgettable environment. Plus I’m a firm believer in the healing powers of saltwater and soul food.
Where to stay
The Charleston Place Hotel
This classic hotel is located right in the middle of all the action. Famous guests like Oprah Winfrey and Faith Hill have stayed here to enjoy Southern hospitality at its finest and fanciest.
The French Quarter Inn
Built in 2001, this hotel boasts larger guests rooms you just can’t find in an older, more historic hotel. Also centrally located, this property has amenities that make any stay a luxurious one. Think free champagne at check-in, milk and cookies before bedtime and a seven-option pillow menu.
The HarborView Inn
If you have your heart set on a room with a water view, this is the place. Located in the slightly more quiet Waterfront Park, this hotel sits away from the main drag and toward the serene atmosphere of the coast. This hotel is also just a block or two away from the majority of the restaurants that give Charleston its reputation as a top Southern food destination.
Where to eat
If I had to choose a last meal, it would be from Halls. A manager shakes guests' hands as they get out of their rickshaws — a preferred method of transportation — which is only the start of the exceptional service experience. Start with a chopped salad, followed by the flavorful bone-in rib-eye. Sides are served family-style, and favorites include the lobster mac and cheese, pepper Jack grits, and asparagus with hollandaise.
Butcher and Bee
This is the place to go if you are craving a sandwich. Ingredients are pulled fresh from the garden out back, and the always-changing chalkboard is posted daily on social media. If available, try the pulled squash with smoked slaw, pickle and barbecue sauce or the pimento grilled cheese with prosciutto and pickled okra. Butcher and Bee is also famous for its late-night menu, which is offered until 3 am on weekends.
The Hospitality Management Group proves that good things come in threes. Magnolias serves one of the best crab BLT's known to man. Blossom infuses dishes with local flavors, such as the sorghum-glazed barbecued pork belly with local jalapeño and bourbon peach jam. Cypress is an elegant, fine-dining experience — with an unforgettable three-story wine wall — led by two-time James Beard nominee Craig Deihl.
Slightly North of Broad — or SNOB — is known for seafood dishes and proudly uses local sourced ingredients from some of the finest farmers in the area. In my mind, you shouldn't miss the shrimp and grits, but there is a wide selection of small, medium and large plates to fit any appetite.
Where to drink
The Cocktail Club
This upscale, loft-style bar is where I first learned to like gin, at a cocktail-making class centered around the often misunderstood spirit. The menu features libations made with interesting ingredients, such as spiced beet maple syrup, red hot chile peppers and black peppercorn vodka — and that's just one page. Cocktailing with a crew? Get the Pimm's Punch for six served in an old-school punch bowl and poured into copper cups.
Social Wine Bar & Restaurant
If cocktails aren't your thing, head toward the water for a glass of wine. The wine selection at this multilevel hangout makes it hard to choose just one glass. Plus, the wood-fired pizza is a standout and makes for a relaxed dining experience.
The Rooftop Bar at the Vendue
If you have been lucky enough to see a sunset from the top of this hotel, you are lucky enough. Although it's currently closed for renovations, we can just imagine how amazing the new-and-improved bar will be when it opens again in March. A cocktail of choice? Anything with made with Firefly vodka.
Where to play
Take a least an afternoon, if not a day, to visit one of the many beaches near Charleston. Head over to Folly Beach if you are a laid-back beachgoer who likes to catch a wave, visit a surf shop or grab some grub on the go. For breathtaking scenery without the crowds, try Isle of Palms, a family-friendly destination perfect for a picnic on the beach. If you don't mind a small drive, visit Kiawah Island. Then ditch your car and walk in and out of the adorable shops on the main square.
Charleston also has a rich history, and Battery Park is a must-see. With the Cooper River on one side and the Ashley River on the other, Southern mansions share the streets with American Revolutionary and Civil War history. The area now known as “Rainbow Row” is probably what you have seen on postcards of Charleston, as it was at one time the center of Charleston’s commerce district. Today, it’s all residential, but something not to be missed.
Shopaholics can get their fix on King Street, which is home to a handful of boutiques, specialty shops and even mainstream stores. When you've had almost all that you can take, finish your shopping with a stroll through the Charleston City Market. It’s the perfect place for picking up presents for those who were not lucky enough to join you.