Culture / Travel

A Cultural and Culinary Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

Explore History, Architecture, and Lowcountry Delicacies in the Holy City

BY // 12.28.23

If the South has a perfect weekend getaway spot, it’s Charleston. If you want to eat, drink, and shop, you’ll love the world-class restaurants, rooftop patios, art galleries, and boutiques. If your goal is to escape land-locked Dallas, you’ll enjoy a sunset sail on Charleston Harbor. History buffs will nerd out on Colonial-era architecture, Civil War battle sites, and plenty of American Revolution plaques. There’s culture. There’s southern charm. And anyone who’s sick of Dallas traffic will delight in strolling the picturesque cobblestone streets.

Ahead, we’ve mapped out a culture- and cuisine-packed itinerary to help you get the most out of a Charleston, South Carolina getaway.

The famous pineapple fountain at Waterfront Park. (courtesy of Explore Charleston)

How to get there:

From DFW, a direct flight to Charleston takes two and a half hours.

 

The Charleston Place Hotel. (courtesy of Explore Charleston)

Where to stay:

The Charleston Place drops you into the center of the action. Situated downtown on Meeting Street, this elegant hotel offers two restaurants, two bars, plenty of shopping, a spa with nine treatment rooms, and a marble-floored lobby punctuated by an oversized spiral staircase. Book a table at on-site Charleston Grill and don’t miss the jumbo lump crab cake—composed almost entirely of fresh crab. From The Charleston Place, you’ll be able to walk just about anywhere.

Two more great hotel options:
Set in a restored building from the early Nineteenth Century, boutique hotel Zero George offers a beautiful outdoor courtyard, bikes for guests, and the best little caviar bar in town.

Everyone knows the landmark that is Mills House Charleston because it’s salmon-pink. It also has cool offerings and amenities, including a crabbing expedition that ends with the hotel chef cooking up your catch for dinner.

 

A horsedrawn carriage by Charleston City Market. (courtesy of Explore Charleston)

What to do in Charleston:

Charleston City Market: Across the street from The Charleston Place, this daily open-air flea market dating back to 1804 spans four blocks and hosts hundreds of local vendors. Browse everything from fine jewelry to custom hats to hand-made leather goods to baskets woven out of sweetgrass.

The International African American Museum: Situated on Gadsden’s Wharf, the port at which roughly 40 percent of enslaved Africans entered the country, this museum tells the story of South Carolina’s rich African-American history. Twenty-three years in the making, IAAM finally opened its doors last June, and instantly became the city’s most impressive and important cultural offering.

Rainbow Row: Named for the 13 pastel-colored townhouses that have lined the sidewalk since the 1700s, this street by Charleston Harbor makes for a beautiful photo backdrop.

Walking tours: Spare the poor, over-worked horses and skip the carriage tours; walking is the best way to see this historic city. There are endless themed tours to choose from, but Lost Stories of Black Charleston, led by historian Professor Damon Fordham, is a standout, and will serve as an educational companion to your IAAM visit.

Galleries: More than 40 galleries dot the cobblestone streets of greater Charleston. Among the noteworthy, Gallery Chuma, features art of the Gullah people (descendants of enslaved Africans who settled throughout the coastal Southeast); Robert Lange Studios, a beautiful old warehouse with exposed brick walls, was used in the 1800s for grain storage, and displays cool, offbeat art; and Images Charleston slings vibrant paintings of Charleston doors (old Charleston homes have the best doors), and paintings of Harbor scenes, whose frames are made of local driftwood. If you happen to be in the city on the first Friday of any given month (except January and July), the Art Walk is a great opportunity to enjoy the galleries.

Angel Oak: Drive half an hour out of Downtown to see the oldest Live Oak east of the Mississippi. Estimated to be between 300 and 400 years old, this 65-foot-tall tree forms a beautiful canopy, its ancient branches making something like Surrealist art against the sky.

 

Costa Charleston

Where to eat and drink in Charleston:

Costa: This brand-new coastal Italian spot (think homemade Mortadella, scallop crudo, fresh pasta) offers family-style dishes, a huge open kitchen, and fine-dining service. With a special talent for combining unlikely ingredients, Chef Vinson Petrillo whips up a not-to-be-missed burrata with leeks, squash, and sourdough bread.

Lewis Barbecue: In case you get homesick, go see pitmaster John Lewis, who hails from El Paso and Austin, and serves up Texas barbecue from a smoker he welded himself.

Bin 152: The oldest wine bar in Charleston, this charming spot in the French Quarter offers over 200 wines and every cheese imaginable.

The Griffon: For a sip of the real Charleston, grab a beer at this pub where the walls are papered with signed dollar bills—a nod to tradition from its run as an 1800s mariner’s tavern.

The Watch: If the weather’s on your side, grab a cocktail at this rooftop bar on the seventh floor of The Restoration Hotel. Sunset is the best time to take in those sweeping city views.

Vern’s: This neighborhood spot serves up Lowcountry delicacies and a cozy, chic ambiance. When it opened in 2022, it quickly became a local favorite.

Tavern at Rainbow Row: First opened in 1686, this liquor store, the oldest licensed alcohol establishment in North America, has a storied history, including its stint as a “barbershop” during Prohibition, when customers bought “hair tonic” that was actually whisky. Now the neighborhood dogs convene for the treats that are always on offer.

Chubby Fish: The seafood comes straight from the Atlantic and local rivers and, thanks to its commitment to seasonality and freshness, the restaurant offers an ever-changing menu.

167 Sushi: If you eat one thing in Charleston, make it the Royal Red Shrimp maki from this tiny sushi bar with a tiny menu. You won’t find your typical California rolls here, but the unique offerings are fresh and surprising, and pair well with local craft beers. The hip vibe complements the warm service.

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