Charleston Vacation Secrets — Staying Across the Harbor, Restaurants an Insider Loves and Prime Shopping Picks
See Another Side of the Low Country TreasureBY Laurann Claridge // 09.15.21
A surfer sets out to ride a wave on Folly Beach. (Photo Doug Hickok)
This wrought iron gate in historic downtown Charleston features a sword emblem at its center.
One way to explore downtown historic Charleston is on a horse-drawn carriage tour. (Photo Dough Hickok)
The colorful Georgian style houses that line this street in historic Charleston are called "Rainbow Row".
A sunrise view of the Charleston Harbor Marina.
This is the awe-inspiring Arthur Ravenel cable-stayed Bridge in Charleston.
Take a sailing lesson with a varsity sailor on the College of Charleston team. (Photo: JB McCabe Photography)
Bicyles are available at the Beach Club to explore the property and beyond it, the historic Patriot's Point and Mt. Pleasant.
The porch at The Beach Club grants you a view of the pools on property and beyond that the marina and harbor. (Photo The Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina)
Book a spacious king room at The Beach Club at The Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina.
Take a seat poolside at The Beach Club or reserve a cabana for the day. (Photo The Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina)
The Beach Club at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina is dog friendly, too. (Photo The Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina)
Catch the convenient water taxi here at the dock of The Beach Club. For $12 a day you can take as many rides to four destinations in the area.
Slip into your seersucker robe in the spacious bathroom suite of the king room at The Beach Club. (Photo The Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina)
A view of The Beach Club from the harbor. (Photo The Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina)
Up for some fun and games? Let’s play, “Where have I been?” Shall we? A few clues. It is a direct flight from Houston and Dallas. (Hello Southwest!) It is one of the most popular small cities in the country where palmetto fronds bend gently with the wind off its scenic harbor. A place where horse-drawn carriages hoof along charming cobblestone streets, past historic Georgian houses. It’s a spot the Civil and Revolutionary Wars left their mark, and rich Gullah culture is celebrated along with the low country cuisine it inspired.
If you guessed Charleston, South Carolina, aka the Holy City, bookended by two rivers and dotted with scenic barrier islands, you are correct.
But this trip unlike my others, I opted not to stay in Charleston’s quaint downtown, but across the harbor – just a water taxi ride away – at The Beach Club at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina located at the historic Patriot’s Point on Mount Pleasant. It has 92 gracious rooms with nearly every one granting you a spectacular view of the Marina, the nearby WWII aircraft carrier and The USS Yorktown. And beyond them both, the edge of downtown Charleston comes into view.
Whether you arrive by car over the awe-inspiring Arthur Ravenel cable-stayed bridge or sail into the Marina (there are 459 slips), check-in for a few days, and you’re in for a treat. Beach it or reserve a cabana for the day and soak in the sun at the numerous pools on property, then wind down with a massage at the Estuary Spa on site.
Try to swing in for dinner at The Fish House at least once, where chefs Dan Doyle and chef de cuisine Cole Poolaw man the range. Local lore has it these South Carolina chefs met in New York City when they dueled it out on the reality cooking show, Chopped. Now they work side-by-side putting out fresh Southern fare with locally procured seafood.
Do not miss their rendition of shrimp and grits with bacon lardons, sweet peppers in a tomato broth – I’m still dreaming about that dish – along with their decadent smoked gouda pimento cheese dip served with pork rinds to scoop it up. Decadence aside, I swooned over their seasonal special of peach, arugula and watermelon salad, not to mention a perfectly prepared gazpacho topped with blue crab and paired with a refreshing glass of Fleur de Mer Rose. (More on Charleston’s food later from a restaurant insider.)
Of course, I made it my mission to explore downtown, pop into some art galleries and antique stores, and browse about the shops along the old section of King Street. BTW, that aforementioned water taxi can be hailed at the dock outside the Beach Club (and three additional stops) and will take you past schools of dolphins frolicking in the harbor (if you’re lucky!) to the marketplace downtown or the South Carolina Aquarium. All for $12 for an all-day pass.
While admittedly, several national chains have crept in between those storied spaces downtown, there are still loads of wonderful, locally-owned shops. My favorites include: Hampden and RTW – Charleston’s answer to Net-a-Porter, Shirtini – a beautiful women’s shirt and dress shop (confession they carry our line Claridge + King), Worthwhile (a bit of everything lovely), Ben Silver, M. Dumas & Sons, and Billy Reid (all boutiques with pieces for men), The Old Whaling Company (for handmade bath and body goods), Buxton Books and Chocolates by Adam Turoni (exquisitely handcrafted sweets) to name just a handful.
When I travel, I yearn to do things I’d likely rarely have a chance to do at home, like take a sunset cruise on the 84-foot Schooner Pride. Book a ride aboard this three-mast tall ship, where you, the crew and up to 49 passengers will set off for a tranquil two-hour sail with no set course ($70 per person). They offer afternoon and full moon sails, too.
Want to learn how to sail? I took a lesson with a student on the varsity sailing team at the College of Charleston. Their Sailing Center onsite at the Marina (steps from the Beach Club, too) will show beginners the ropes, literally educating would-be sailors on the difference between the mainsail and the jib, the bow and stern. Before you even hit the water, you’ll have learned the basics, and with a skilled teacher by your side, you can confidently take the helm and sail away. Private classes start at $80 an hour.
I couldn’t venture to Charleston without seeing my BFF, Marianna Michaels, who, along with chef Ben Berryhill owns the popular and much acclaimed, Mt. Pleasant gastropub, The Red Drum. Regulars of the former Café Annie will recognize them. Michaels is the smart, poised woman who ran the front of the house, while Berryhill is the talented chef who rose through the ranks at Tony’s and Café Annie before this duo left for Charleston a decade ago.
Who better to ask for restaurant recommendations in Charleston and the islands beyond than a bonified restaurant owner? I give you Marianna Michaels’ list of the best eats:
Where to Eat in Historic Downtown Charleston
Peninsula Grill at Planter’s Inn: Lovely bar and special occasion dining spot. Splurge for your anniversary dinner here.
Hall’s Chop House: Quintessential steak house, very sophisticated. The place to see and be seen.
Raw 167: Think sushi, seafood towers and lobster rolls. Right now, it’s the hot new kid on the block, and people are crazy for it.
Fig: Chef Mike Lata wins James Beard accolades every year. You won’t forget his tomato tart.
S.N.O.B (Slightly North of Broad): Wonderful fine-dining spot on East Bay. I love the food here. It reminds me of Cafe Annie, eclectic but refined low country cuisine. It’s been around a long time and always delivers.
Xiao Bao Biscuit: Amazing Asian fusion by a very hip, talented young chef. The place is in an old converted gas station. I feel like everything here is out of a Wes Anderson movie. Their small menu is perfection.
Crosstown or Way Upper King and Morrison Drive
Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop: Swing in for lunch and order the fried chicken and Siam salad. (Ben says the fish sandwich is delicious, too.)
Little Jack’s Tavern: Burgers and more burgers. You’ll love the clubby tavern atmosphere.
Melfi’s: The website heralds “Roman-ish thin crust pizza” pastas, salads and large plates. Be sure to book ahead.
Butcher & Bee: Great casual lunch and dinner spot, as well as a bakery. The Mt Pleasant Whole Foods Market carries B&B’s delicious sourdough baguette – which is often sold out when I go looking for it.
Edmund’s Oast: Local brewery and dining hall, a popular spot for the after-work crowd.
The Obstinate Daughter: Cool Southern food spot perched on the second floor above the owner’s sweet shop, Beardcats gelato shop. Expect a mix of influences from Spain to Italy on the menu.
High Thyme: It’s a local hangout and honestly my favorite, maybe not as slick as Obstinate Daughter, but it’s so fun because it’s where you see everybody.
The Co-Op: Head here for a turkey club and a frosé.
Red Drum: Former Houstonians and alums of Café Annie (front and back of the house respectively), Marianna Michaels, and Chef Ben Berryhill’s friendly restaurant serves up wood-grilled steaks, seafood that melds Southern cuisine (and hospitality) with Ben’s Texan heritage. A great wine list, too.
Old Village Post House: Adorable little hotel and restaurant in the hamlet of Mount Pleasant. Nosh on small plates, crudo, cocktails.
The Wreck: Tucked away from the more touristy places on Shem Creek, roll in here for fresh seafood platters served up on paper plates. Don’t miss their key lime pie.
Isle of Palm
Coda del Pesce: Chef/owner Ken Vendriski’s small kitchen puts out handmade pastas and delicious seafood dishes inspired by Italian coastal cuisine. A small restaurant (book ahead and bring $$$). Coda is situated right on the beach and has beautiful views of the Atlantic. My favorite place to go.
New takes on the old southern BBQ concept have really taken off in Charleston. Two places in particular (Rodney Scott’s and Lewis) are getting a lot of national press. Check out:
Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ: 2018 James Beard Best Chef Southeast Winner specializes in pulled pork BBQ.
Lewis Barbecue: Texas-style BBQ from genuine Texan, John Lewis.
The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina
College of Charleston Sailing Lessons
The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau