Given all the attention Charleston gets these days, it goes without saying that this special little city offers a rich low-country experience to visitors looking to fully immerse in the deep traditions of the South. Lately, however, there are some developments in town that are adding an exciting new dimension to Charleston. Below is a compilation of my top picks of the moment!
Stay: The Dewberry Charleston (http://www.thedewberrycharleston.com/) is a beautiful, brand spankin’ new hotel on the scene. In fact, when we were there last weekend, only a portion of the rooms were ready for occupancy and the spa was not yet completed. Didn’t matter though, because I was sold on the lobby area, lounge and restaurant. All were done in rich woods and marble with a casual, mid-century modern flair. I was not surprised to learn that the space was created with the influence of a Brooklyn-based design team. It’s hard to believe the structure was once an eyesore of a federal building. The first “grand”, luxury property to grace Charleston in years, I am rooting for this gem!
If you like to compare and contrast before deciding where to rest your head at night, have a look at these smaller but very special properties as well, all of which have mastered the art of fusing chic, modern luxury with low-country tradition: The Spectator Hotel (http://thespectatorhotel.com/), the Restoration Hotel (http://www.therestorationhotel.com) and the Zero George (http://zerogeorge.com/).
Eat: Le Farfalle (http://lefarfallecharleston.com/) is a relative newcomer on the Charleston dining scene that delighted our entire family. The interior is open, airy and casual. The menu features delicious, inventive Italian fare (loved the tuna milanese) and the service was top-notch. Turns out the chef/owner wet his feet in Manhattan before taking his talents south.
Some of my other current faves for dinner in Charleston are The Grocery (http://www.thegrocerycharleston.com/), Lana Restaurant (http://www.lanarestaurant.com/) and The Ordinary (http://eattheordinary.com/), with Henrietta’s at the Dewberry Hotel (http://www.thedewberrycharleston.com/drinks-dining) on the top of my list for our next visit. For lunch, I love Butcher & Bee (http://butcherandbee.com/) and look forward to trying Park Cafe (http://theparkcafechs.com/) next time around. And of course, Husk(http://huskrestaurant.com/) is fast becoming an institution in this town.
For a more traditional Southern dining experience, you may want to reserve at a Charleston institution like Slightly North of Broad (aka “SNOB”) (http://snobcharleston.com/) or McCrady’s (http://mccradysrestaurant.com/) for dinner, and High Cotton (http://highcottoncharleston.com/) for live jazz brunch. Hominy Grill (http://hominygrill.com/ is another local classic open breakfast through dinner. I always get a good laugh when I look at the Vegetables section of their menu, which includes “macaroni and cheese”, “deep fried cheese grits” and “french fries” among its veggies.
Do: My top activity picks are as follows –
Downtown, the horse-drawn carriage rides give insightful, scenic tours around the historic part of the city. Each tour is a little different depending on the guide and the area covered so even if you’ve been once, it’s worth a second go round. Palmetto Carriage Works (http://palmettocarriage.com/) and Old South Carriage Company (http://www.oldsouthcarriagetours.com/) are good options to consider.
A tour of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, is a must (http://www.fortsumtertours.com/) for history buffs. The kids will surely enjoy the boat ride over and exploring the fort ruins and the many cannons. There is plenty of open space for running around as well.
A bridge walk (or run) over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge – or even halfway – is a fun activity that also offers stellar views of the city.
The bridge connects downtown to Mount Pleasant. You might begin on the Mount Pleasant side, take an abridged stroll on the bridge, and then relax on a park bench while your kids entertain themselves at the awesome playground under the bridge at the Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. There is also a long dock at that park, for yet another look at Charleston harbor and downtown. How many church steeples can you spot?? Nearby, you can visit the USS Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier and home to the Patriot’s Point Maritime and Naval Museum (https://www.patriotspoint.org/).
Sullivan’s Island beach is my favorite beach in town (I use the term “in town” loosely – it’s actually about a 20 minute drive from downtown) and from there you can grab a bite at The Obstinate Daughter (http://www.theobstinatedaughter.com/), located on the only commercial “strip” (blink and you’ll miss it) on Sullivan’s Island.
If the weather is not cooperative, the South Carolina Aquarium (http://www.scaquarium.org/) and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (http://explorecml.org/) are good options downtown (I would say 10 is the max age at the museum). If you are at the museum and need a lunch break during or after your visit, Rue De Jean (http://www.holycityhospitality.com/39-rue-de-jean/) is a yummy bistro (they have pretty good sushi too!) practically across the street.
If you are seeking culture in the form of live entertainment, check out what’s playing at the Dock Street Theatre (http://www.charlestonstage.com/dock-street-theatre.html), the Footlight Players Theatre (http://footlightplayers.net/events/) and the beautifully rebuilt Gaillard Center (http://www.gaillardcenter.com/).
If you are looking to do some shopping, King Street is lined with stores, from local boutiques such as the high-end Bob Ellis Shoes to chains such as J.Crew, and many in between. Worthwhile is one of my favorites, with a unique and carefully edited selection of clothing, jewelry and homewares (http://shopworthwhile.com/). The Magnifilous Toy Emporium (http://www.magnifilous.com/) is a great spot for kids (and right near the Children’s Museum, mentioned below).
This past visit we also browsed through a few galleries downtown. We spent a while in Robert Lange (http://www.robertlangestudios.com/) – great space with a cool assortment of local art, some of which we are thinking about adopting for our own walls.
There are several amazing, historical gardens and plantations under an hour from downtown Charleston that are worth visiting:
Charlestown Landing (http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/ctl/introduction.aspx) is an awesome place to visit for the entire family. With over 80 acres of gardens, interactive educational “exhibits” on colonial history, walking trails and biking trails, you could easily spend an entire day here.
Boone Hall Plantation (http://www.boonehallplantation.com/) is one we just visited and a must-see. On property there is a terrific live performance about Gullah culture. If you’re lucky, you’ll go on a day when Jackie is performing – she is incredibly talented and gives soulful, deep insight into the history of the Gullah people and slave history of South Carolina. You will also get to see some of the slave quarters that were occupied during slavery at Boone Hall. If you have time, take the Plantation Coach Tour also, during which you will learn about the plantation’s history as well as its current use as a working farm. They have seasonal pick-your-own fruit on site during the spring and summer as well.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (http://www.magnoliaplantation.com/) is another historical gem which not only features beautiful gardens, but also provides rich historical tours about “Gullah” culture and slavery, as well as the historical significance of rice growing in and around Charleston.
Middleton Place (https://www.middletonplace.org/) has breathtaking gardens as well, and a fascinating area where craft artisans reenact the work done by slaves on the plantation at one time. We brought a picnic and spent hours exploring Middleton. Our kids loved playing with the sheep roaming on the huge open field by the picnic area.
That’s it for now, y’all!