Guide to Charleston
Southern Charm in the Low Country
I recently had to do some traveling for work, and was sent off to the lovely Charleston, South Carolina. My cousin got married in Charleston when I was in college. I hadn’t been back since; so, I’m so glad that I got this opportunity. I was there for three weeks (God, I missed Pepper), so, I tried to make the very best of it. Since my employer provided meals, I only really dined out on the weekends. I have no idea how I was able to complete everything on this list but I did. Charleston is not only gorgeous, but it is a food haven. If you’re watching your weight or dieting, this is not the place for you. As a daughter of a Georgia born and Florida raised man, I’m pretty accustomed to coastal seafood and soul food recipes. What makes Charleston so great and different from all of the rest, is truly its charm. It may sound cliché, but you’re immersed in it.
What fascinates me about the city is their dedication to preserving as much architecture and aesthetic of the pre-Civil War era as possible. When I walked the streets of downtown, I was in awe of the different architectural styles of the homes, dependent upon the year it was built. Walking down King Street, south of Broad Street, you’re surrounded by single family “carriage houses,” where the double porches were designed to face the side of the house to allow more airflow from the winds blowing from the harbor. Even when I would enter some restaurants, the interior designer would make it a point to incorporate traditional style with coastal elements, paying homage to Charleston’s harbor and the history of shipping merchants.
Here is a full list of where I stayed, ate and found things to do during my three week work trip.
Where to Stay
I loved staying at the Elliott House Inn. Built in 1861 as a private residence, this charming bed and breakfast has 26 hotel rooms, fully renovated. The gorgeous coral B&B is located at 78 Queen Street, next door to the treasured 82 Queen Street, which offers room service. The inn sits at the intersection of Queen Street and King Street, near dozens of antique shops. Full disclosure: the antique stores in Charleston are significantly expensive.
Where to Eat
The Palmetto Cafe was by far the best meal I had in all of Charleston. Located in the Belmond Hotel at Charleston Place, the cafe offers a delicious brunch on the weekends. The brunch buffet is $31 each, with traditional menu items. I opted for the Seafood Club, which consisted of lobster, shrimp, applewood bacon, smoked salmon and tomato. The bread was perfectly toasted and buttered, probably with one of their house made butters. I paired this amazing sandwich with a mimosa and found my happy place. The lover of home design was also obsessed with architectural design, with plantation shutters all around and a gorgeous mirror wall. The menu is pricey but the food and experience were worth every penny. If you’re going to have lunch anywhere, have it here.
Poogan’s Porch is a true Charleston style restaurant, offering everyone’s favorite brunch option, shrimp ‘n grits. The restaurant is located in a Queen Anne style single family home, initially built in 1891. The home was converted to a restaurant in 1976. According to their website, the restaurant was named after the neighborhood dog, Poogan, who previously belonged to the last residential owners, who chose to leave him behind. Although he roamed up and down Queen Street, this porch was his favorite place to lay his head. The owner of the new restaurant named the establishment after him. I love their story! In terms of the shrimp n grits, I gave it a B+, as I tasted a few other Charleston style shrimp ‘n grits, and Poogan’s seemed a little runny that morning, and wasn’t as flavorful as expected.
82 Queen, located right next door to The Elliott House Inn, is your go-to Lowcountry bistro. I had initially planned on dining at another restaurant, but the weather had other plans, with a torrential hurricane like downpour. So, I opted to stay close and dine next door. So glad that I did! I ordered the Crispy Roasted Duck over toasted pecan rice pilaf in a raspberry orange glaze. It paired very well with their Muddled Creek cocktail item, which consisted of bourbon, orange slices, orange liquer and a splash of ginger ale.
Prohibition is one of those places, that if you ever come back to a city, you’d make it a point to visit there each time. Quite honestly, I need a Prohibition in Baltimore, D.C. or Orlando, because it was the ultimate food, drink and cool jazz combination. I went to the restaurant on a late afternoon, enjoying tapas until the jazz band came out later that evening. Reasonably priced, you can enjoy several shareables with friends, with live jazz in the background.
Gillie’s Seafood and Soul Food is your mom and pop shop, that no one tells you about unless you’re a local and true foodie. My brother found this place and couldn’t stop bragging about his locating skills. LOL. It was delicious! I got the catfish and shrimp over grits, with their special sauce that has a little kick to it — but not too spicey. If you go on a Sunday, just know it does get a little crowded with the after church crowd. The menu prices are very reasonable and the food is truly flavorful.
Pearlz Oyster Bar is near the Battery district. Known for their raw oysters and cocktails, this place is typically crowded during their daily 4-7pm happy hour. The Charleston location is very small, considering it is located on the first floor of a former Charleston carriage house. Thus, seating is tight and you will likely have a wait. I tried the fried oyster slider, which was amazing.
Park Circle Creamery is an adorable ice cream parlor in a small suburb of Charleston. Park Circle has a little downtown area with eateries, a wine bar and a yoga studio. After you’re done having a yummy flatbread pizza at EVO Pizzeria, walk across the street to the creamery and order one of their homemade items. I’m slightly obsessed with their banana pudding, peach pie (cobbler) and Mexican vanilla flavors.
What To Do
The Historic Charleston City Market first opened in 1804. The marketplace offers numerous vendors with a variety of crafts and goods. Most tourists check out the market in search of souvenirs, usually after sweetgrass baskets, where a basket the size of your palm will set you back $100.00. Since I had visited the Gibbs Museum and fell in love with Jonathan Greene’s Corene, I opted to purchase a framed giclee print of this painting, which was also signed by the local Charleston artist. #SCORE.
King Street Antiquing
Historic French Quarter
If you’re like me and love antiques, and your options of gorgeous chinoiserie ginger jars, then walking up King Street is the place you’ll want to be. There were several antique shops on King. Full disclosure: antique stores in Charleston are immensely overpriced comparatively to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Shop at your own risk.
Book lovers should be sure to stop by Buxton Books, an independently owned bookstore on King Street. This adorable spot features tons of local authors and books on the low country.
Architectural Walking Tour
South of Broad Homes
South of Broad
When you’re done shopping on King Street, continue on King, walking south of Broad Street, towards the Charleston harbor. While walking on King, south of Broad, you’ll find your variety of Charleston homes in all architectural designs beginning from Georgian homes built in the 1700s, to single family “carriage houses,” with piazzas or porches on the side of the homes. Enjoy the many pastel homes covered in ivy, with amazing front door envy. Best part: this costs nothing except the camera in your hand! For more information on the many historical architectural styles in Charleston, click here.
When I got to Rainbow Row, it seemed like every one had a professional photographer in hand and was having a photoshoot in front of the pastel homes. It’s a very popular location to check out homes. Street parking is available.
Museums and Other Must See’s
During my stay, the city hosted their annual First Day Festival, where they encourage families to come together to receive school supplies, find school support resources, and enjoy live entertainment. On the day of the festival, held every year in August, admission to the South Carolina Aquarium is free. I’m not one for crowded places with hundreds of children (my inner introverted self was screaming), but it was free so I definitely was not going to pass up the offer. The aquarium is nice place, if you’re traveling with small children, as they have dozens of animals and exhibits. Nonetheless, keep in mind that the aquarium is not that large and will cost adults $30 each.
You cannot leave Charleston without visiting one of their many art museums. Charleston is an artsy city with almost as many art galleries as they have churches. With that being said, check out Gibbs Museum of Art, a short distance from the Elliott House Inn. It’s only $12 to get in; and if you’re frugal and remember to buy your ticket online before you get there (unlike myself), you can get up to $2 off your ticket purchase price. I recently was able to catch their exhibit, Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem. Gibbs Museum received various artworks from African American artists, on loan from the Studio Museum in Harlem, with art as far back as 1930 to present.
Charleston has several house museums, where descendants of former slave owners have maintained and retained their family properties. The Edmonston - Alston home, which overlooks the Charleston Harbor, was originally built in 1825 for shipping merchant Charles Edmondston and his large family. The home has both features of the “carriage house,” with three piazzas appropriately located on the side of the home to allow airflow; but, was built to reflect English regency style architectural design with influences from Greece and Rome. Edmondston eventually filed bankruptcy and sold the property to Charles Alston. The property was maintained by their two house slaves, George and Warley. When the Alston family returned to their home after the Civil War, the house was occupied by members of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Charles Alston had to request (and receive) a pardon from President Andrew Johnson to obtain the return of his property. Since then, the home is one of many family properties of former slaveowners in Charleston, where the homes are passed down via family wills, to the oldest family heir (the homes are not left to widows or widowers as the Alston-Middleton-Smith families only pass down the properties to descendants to keep the properties in the family names).
There were two amazing things about this property: the slaveowners kept a log of slaves and have actual diaries of the slaves’ names, years they were born and years they were baptized. However, the books are badly worn due to their age. Secondly, I couldn’t believe the craftsmanship by slaves that built the property’s library, fireplace mantles and door frames. Since Edmonston was a shipping merchant, it is believed that he had the slaves carve roping like features into the wood to replicate boat rope.
Magnolia Plantation was established in 1676 by Thomas and Ann Drayton, two English colonizers who resettled in the lowcountry swampland along the Ashley River. The Draytons cultivated the land for rice and purchased slaves from Charleston’s “Old Slave Mart,” the oldest slave port in America, to grow the plantation. The Drayton family continued to pass the plantation down to male descendants over the years, including Thomas’ great great grandson, John Drayton, who owned and maintained the property during the Civil War. The Draytons had 41 slaves at one time, cultivating the rice fields. According to the tour guides on the property, only 45% of Black males were expected to reach the age of 20 years old, due to the strenuous and life threatening conditions working as a slave on a rice field. After the South lost the Civil War, Drayton offered the now freed slaves paid work to assist him in the planting and maintenance of his garden. Many slaves stayed and agreed to work, and Magnolia Gardens opened for public viewing in 1870. The property, now reduced to approximately 500 acres due to previous sales, offers $20 general admissions, and additional $8 tours for their gardens, antebellum home, slave quarters, rice fields, swamp garden and nature tram.
I only participated in viewing the main gardens (general admission), the mansion and slave quarters, costing approximately $36. I arrived early (8:30 am), did the house tour and slave quarters tour immediately (finished by 11:30 a.m.), and then toured all of the gardens until 2:00 p.m. I highly recommend wearing sneakers, hat, sunglasses, and BUG SPRAY. I didn’t realize that the actual property was in the swamp. I swatted mosquito, that had clung to me so well, that when I finally realized I was being bitten and killed him, I was covered in blood all over my hand. (GROSS!) If you remember anything, remember bug spray.
Saint Phillip’s Cemetery
Historic French Quarter
The historic cemetery sits across the street from Saint Phillip’s Episcopal Church. The cemetery has graves dating back pre-Civil War, including the seventh president, John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina native.
Parks and Beaches
Joe Riley Waterfront Park
Historic French Quarter
This gorgeous park has views of the Charleston harbor and a nearby dog park area for your fur babies.
White Point Garden
South of Broad - Charleston Harbor
White Point Garden is South of Broad along the harbor. There is plenty of street parking at this park and is well shaded during the hot and humid summer.
Sullivan’s Island was my favorite beach because it was the least crowded. I parked near the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse, where there was free street parking. Sullivan’s Island is surrounded by beach houses and feels very private. There were dogs allowed on the beach; however, pay close attention to beach rules which address months and times dogs are permitted.
Isle de Palms
Isle de Palms is a gorgeous beach and quite popular, as it was more crowded than Sullivan’s Island. There are beach resorts available for lodging, as well as local restaurants.
Folly Beach was the most crowded out of all three beaches that I visited. Folly Beach also features a large fisherman’s pier, and has signs on the types of fish often caught along Charleston’s beaches. I hung out on the pier one evening and was able to catch glimpses of a dolphin, but forgot to bring my zoom lens for some awesome shots (*sigh*).
I hope you enjoyed this ultimate travel guide to Charleston. I found myself dreaming of living there, but then came hurricane Dorian, which is hitting Florida as of the date of this post. I left Charleston with Dorian’s not-so-friendly reminder that the area is called low country for a reason. Hoping that the hurricane doesn’t put the entire city under water, as the place truly is beautiful.
On that note, prayers to all those affected by this massive storm. May you all be safe!