Lately, Charleston has been getting lots of hype. For two years in a row, it has been voted “The Best City in America” by Conde Nast. But as I read the many articles on a city where I spent 4+ years, I’m convinced that the write-ups are a lot of PR propaganda. (I would know, I work in PR.) Yes, there is a lot of history - we are home to the blockade runner for which the character Rhett Butler was based. And lots of good food - shrimp and grits are on every corner. But we are also home to a modern burgeoning foodie scene, a vast outdoor community and a center for cultural events, such as the Spoleto Festival in May.
Where to crash and get some R&R
Situated in the heart of downtown Charleston, The Restoration boutique hotel captures the juxtaposition of modern and historical that encapsulates Charleston. Featuring exposed brick and full, modern kitchens, each room is suite-style and the rooftop terrace is great for taking in the city with a glass of wine. All the charm and amenities come at a price - rooms start at $250/night and can hike to $450/night on the weekends.
With eighteen studios and suites that elicit the feel of an 18th century home, this boutique hotel makes you feel like you are a bona fide Charleston resident. With a chic, Southern contemporary vibe, the décor of Zero George (named for its address) nods to the city’s rich port history while the garden courtyard and private piazzas let guests take their sweet Southern time.
On one side, you’ve got Waterfront Park and on the other side, you’ve got the bars and restaurants of East Bay Street. Above you, a popular nightspot that closes at midnight. And you can take it all in via the free bike rentals. The hotel was recently renovated and rebranded as an art hotel, featuring works from artists around the world curated by locally-based Robert Lange Studios. You won’t beat the price for the location.
If sun and surf is what you’re after and you don’t want to worry with a house rental, head to Folly Beach - just a short drive from the action downtown. The cute B&B features quaint rooms and spacious villas that provide guests with dreamy views of the marshlands. At Happy Hour, enjoy the World Famous Folly Punch.
This place is business in the front (a full retail space) and pampering in the back (a huge oasis complete with an infrared sauna and yoga classes). Pop in for a quickie massage in the Migun Bed or go all out with a relaxation or deep tissue massage.
Tucked away on the grounds of the Wentworth Mansion, this spa is small and secluded, offering the perfect getaway. I love the Body Buzz, a mask of combining sugar, espresso and milk to reinvigorate the skin and stimulate circulation.
Where to chow down and then unbutton the top button
The original farm-to-table joint in Charleston, FIG is by far my favorite place to splurge on dinner. Original Chef Mike Lata of the “I catered the Ryan Reynolds/Blake Lively wedding” fame and now at the also impressive The Ordinary, passed the torch to 2015 James Beard award winner Jason Stanhope. The rotating menu delivers the freshest of ingredients and some of my favorites are the Homemade Gnocchi, Tomato Tarte Tatin, Suckling Pig and any of the fresh veggies and fish. To Die For! is how I describe this restaurant, but I’m not the only one who says this, so book well in advance.
A relatively new addition to the up-and-coming Upper King area (I think we can officially say that it is up and has come), this restaurant’s take on the Charleston’s foodie scene is refreshing and delicious. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the bone marrow pudding and if you want a new take on good old steak, order the Deckle. Perfect portions and a modern ambiance made this a go-to restaurant choice when I was entertaining out-of-town guests.
You won’t find red sauce at this restaurant because according to Chef Ken Vedrinski, red sauce is not authentic Italian. What you will find is a combination of fresh, local seafood, quality ingredients and pasta that is surprisingly light, but not surprisingly delicious, given the reputation of the chef. With breathtaking views of the Atlantic, this is the perfect beach getaway.
Edgar Allan Poe was a fan of South Carolina and wrote a few of his rather disturbing stories on Sullivan’s Island - a beach about 20 minutes from downtown. On the main drag, you can find some of the best burgers in Charleston at his namesake. First come, first serve so get ready to stalk a table.
If there is a hipster hood in Charleston, this restaurant, a gas station in a former life, is at the heart of it. Touted as Asian soul food, this eclectic, inspired menu features something for everyone with dishes from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The menu changes frequently but one staple that is a must-try is the Okonomiyaki, a cabbage pancake. Trust me. No reservations so plan accordingly.
This is your friendly neighborhood market with a gourmet twist. It’s my favorite place to get my morning cup of Joe and a light breakfast (get the parfait!) or a heavy one if that’s what you’re in the mood for (croissant or French toast).
This restaurant is truly a unique experience and run by two of my favorite Charleston food & beverage geniuses - Patrick and Fanny Panella (they also own Bin 152). Changing daily, the lunch and dinner menu offer 2 appetizers, 2 entrees and 2 desserts - all from Southern France, Northern Spain and Northern Italy. And with its hidden alley location in a small, charming house that seats only 30, you'll feel like you've escaped to Europe, if only for dinner.
Where to drink up and get down
With high booths and globe lighting, this has an upscale diner feel with the details done right. But don’t load up on coffee and instead order a cocktail. Their signature, a Moscow Mule, is served in a copper tin that you’ll want to steal, but don’t, that’s rude.
Wine and Cheese at Bin 152
Antique tables, an international wine and cheese list and the helpful wine aficionados behind the bar bring a European wine bar experience to Charleston. This hidden gem on Lower King is perfect for pre-or-post- dinner drinks. Or, if you’re like me and could live on cheese and baguette alone, stay all night.
Words cannot describe my love for Trio - when it closed for renovations, something was missing in my life. It's a "Charleston club" that doesn't put on any heirs - it is what it is so go with that mindset and you'll have a good time. But you do need a key, so be sure to meet a local who can get you in ... and don't show up before midnight.
One of the best things about Charleston is that you can be outside all year long. But if you’re here in the summer, be prepared to sweat, even at midnight. For some fresh air, take the elevator to the roof at Stars restaurant and enjoy a Greyhound while taking in the skyline.
I Just Bought These Pants
Where to nab the best threads
Pricey, cool designer clothes (such as Rag & Bone) with shoes and accessories next door at James.
Tap into your inner hipster with cool tees, fun jewelry and boho chic items.
This is the only place to shoe shop in Charleston if you ask me, and you kinda did. So there.
I am a confessed paper whore and this is my favorite spot for cute cards and paper products, from wrapping paper to stationery.
Ants in your Pants
What to do when you can’t sit still
Roll out of bed on Saturday and head to Marion Square to sample eats and drinks that include fresh juice, crepes, Roti Rolls, Banh Mi, beignets and barbeque. (There’s a lot of jewelry and art, too.) Open 8-2 April through December.
Kayak/Paddleboard Shem Creek
Surf the Small Waves
Charleston is not known for big waves, which is why I love surfing here. It’s fun, not dangerous, so if you happen to be here when the surf’s up, rent a board from Ocean Surf Shop on Folly or Catch Some Air near IOP (Isle of Palms). Both offer lessons as well.
Cool down during the hot summers or enjoy the cool, and rarely cold, breezes on the beach at one of Charleston’s beautiful beach spots. Hang out at Station 18, then grab a Gamechanger at Home Team BBQ. They are more potent than they seem … so watch out.
South Carolinians took sweet tea to a new level by fusing it with vodka. Located at Wadmalaw Island 30 miles from downtown, the local distillery serves up Southern hospitality in the form of a tasting room. Price is $6 per tasting.
Can’t come to the South without seeing a plantation? Head to historical, beautiful and dreamy Middleton Place, located on the Ashley River and ready to meet all your expectations of days gone by. Open daily from 9-5.