This post is dedicated to Jonathan Libutti. He fueled my interest to visit this city and I am forever grateful for the recommendations he gave me.
The food has a distinct flavor, the weather is warm, and the people are charming. Charleston has been voted best city in the U.S. numerous times in numerous publications and secured #1 in the world in Travel and Leisure. So what is it about this city that beats New York, Paris, Hong Kong and the other behemoths?
1) The Lowcountry Cuisine: Charleston’s restaurant scene is gaining national attention for its distinctly southern flavors, uniquely modern restaurants, and talented newcomer chefs. Local ingredients have always been a point of pride for area restaurants, and in recent years Charleston’s finest have rallied behind a standard of using only fresh, locally sourced foods. Charleston is known for comfort foods with a Gullah influence, and famous for such dishes as Shrimp and Grits and She-crab soup.
2) Historic Homes: Early in Charleston’s history, the city collected property tax on the street width of the house, rather than the length, creating a preference for the long, narrow houses that are signature Charleston style homes today. Almost every home on Charleston’s peninsula is historic. Beautifully colored antebellum mansion homes can be found on East Bay on Rainbow Row, and at the Battery on Murray and South Battery streets. Most of these picturesque dwellings also contain shady secret courtyards and black ironwork gates.
3) Southern Hospitality: A town raised with “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am,” Charleston demonstrates its southern hospitality in every aspect of life. Hotels in Charleston go above and beyond the usual amenities you’d expect, with many offering complimentary wine and cheese receptions in the afternoons, and cookies and milk in the evenings.
4) Beaches: While Charleston’s downtown itself is a harbor town, three beaches are located just a short drive off the peninsula. Isle of Palms, the furthest beach from downtown, is full of upscale beach condos and remains relatively uncrowded most of the year. Sullivan’s Island, only about 15 – 20 minutes away by car, is a flat sand beach with beautiful homes and rentals, unique bars and restaurants, and is the home of Fort Moultrie, a defensive fort used in both Revolutionary and Civil wars. Folly Beach, a 20-minute’s ride away on James Island, is most popular with college students and Charleston vacationers.
5) American History: Called the Holy City for its many church steeples and historically early religious tolerance, Charleston’s great tale begins when King Charles the second of England chartered Carolina to his 8 Lords Proprietors. Established in 1670, Charleston fell victim to attack in the centuries to come by Native Americans, Pirates like the “Gentleman Pirate” Stede Bonnet, and throughout the War of 1812, and American Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Visit historical sites like Ft. Sumter in the Charleston harbor, to stand where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
- Planters Inn: Elegant, with a southern style and amazing amenities. Located in the Historic District, it’s in the middle of everything (read: you can walk everywhere)
Dining – Respect the Food:
- Hank & Hyman Seafood: The She-crab soup is a must. It’s Charleston’s signature dish made from the sweet meat from the female crab. The Carolina Delight takes grits to a new level – fried, cheese, more cheese. And the build your own platters are magnificent.
- Jestines: Old southern cooking. Always a line. Classic soul food: fried everything, cornbread, and the blue collar special (peanut butter and banana sandwich with potato chips)
- Anson: The crab and brie fondue, fried green tomatoes, catfish and chicken under the brick are delicious!
- Husk: The bar serves Pappy! The focus is ingredient-driven cuisine and was 2011’s Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit Magazine. The menu changes but get the corn bread. The Carolina Heritage Pork is very flavorful and the Short Rib is succulent.
- Hank’s Seafood (next to Planter’s Inn): Located in a turn of the century warehouse, the ingredients are as fresh as they come and the seafood is divine.
- Peninsula Grill @ Planter’s Inn: Totally romantic with flickering lanterns and a historic brick alleyway. To start, you cannot go wrong with the lobster 3 way (ravioli, tempura, and sautéed) and the she-crab soup. Their steaks are outstanding with an assortment of beautiful sauces of all flavors to accompany the decadent meat. (Ginger-Lime Beurre Blanc?) And where else could you get a wreckfish? Although I’m not a dessert person, their Ultimate Coconut Cake is off the hook.
- FIG: Local, fresh eatery that services a Provencal fish stew and a roasted tilefish! The rabbit pie is also a distinct dish.
- McCrady’s Tavern (George Washington Spot): This was Keith’s favorite. A favorite of notable Charlestonians before/during/after the American Revolution, this establishment hosted a grand 30-course dinner for President George Washington in 1791. The calf’s head soup is one to try.
- Hominy Grill: With a James Beard award winning chef, the entire appetizer menu is worthy – jalapeno hushpuppies, fried chicken basket, fried green tomatoes, okra & shrimp beignets… where do you stop?
- YoBo: “Healthy Mexican” with the legendary Mason Jar Margarita: double shot of gold tequila and margarita mix.
- Charleston Harbor Resort’s: Blended mudslide cocktail
- Mercantile & Mash: All about American spirits. 120 whiskeys, including limited releases and single-barrel and cask-strength offerings.
Must See / Excursions:
- King St – For all your shopping needs
- Rainbow Row: Window shop for mansions
- Museum of Charleston
- Meeting sweetgrass basket weavers at the Charleston City Market – yes we bought one and I store my chargers in it
- Horse and Buggy Tour: Historic District, Ft. Sumner/Park
- Boone Hall
- Candle Store across street from Planters Inn Hotel (can’t remember the name!) – the most amazing scents.
- The Holy City Salt Scrub @ Hyman Seafood – best salt scrub ever!
- Hug a really big tree!