It’s no great surprise that Charleston won the South’s Best City for the second year in a row. Our obsession with this jewel of the Lowcountry has only grown as the Holy City has expanded its culinary scene, added a bevy of hotels and inns, and opened glittery new shops. Which is why, as a former resident, I get an e-mail at least once a month from some friend (or complete stranger) asking about my favorite places to go: “Hey, Sid! Headed to Charleston in a few weeks! Where should we eat? What should we do?” Here’s what my list usually looks like.
If you want a taste of Charleston’s history, charm, and glamour, stay at the Wentworth Mansion. For an intimate, stylish bed-and-breakfast that feels like part of the neighborhood, try 86 Cannon or Zero George Street. For something with a mid-century modern feel as well as the best-looking bar in the city, book a room at The Dewberry.
Despite the dozens of great new restaurants here, you still need to plan. Priority one: Get a reservation at one of Mike Lata’s places, either FIG or The Ordinary. He never disappoints. Head out to Sullivan’s Island for dinner at The Obstinate Daughter, and then go for a walk on the beach. Others on my short list: Butcher & Bee, Little Jack’s Tavern, McCrady’s, Chez Nous, and Bar Normandy. I also love to go out to Bowens Island on a warm summer night, catch the breeze off the marsh, and eat a tray full of steamed oysters.
For lunch, go to Stella’s for keftedes (beef-and-lamb meatballs), Minero for tacos, and Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop for delicious fried chicken. Another old favorite of mine is Dave’s Carry-Out for simple yet soulful dishes like fried shrimp and deviled crab.
I also tell everyone to visit the newly renovated Gibbes Museum of Art, take Alphonso Brown’s Gullah Tour, and go to a plantation (Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Middleton Place, or Drayton Hall). But most importantly, allow plenty of time to walk around and take it in. Charleston is a city to be savored, not devoured. Peek into the gardens through the wrought iron gates lining the sidewalks south of Broad Street. Pause to look at the window boxes on Rainbow Row. And duck into the old Unitarian church graveyard a block or so from the corner of Queen and King streets. You could spend an hour wandering among the ancient headstones.
Come to think of it, you’d better add a couple more days to your trip.