Editor’s Note: This post was originally written in 2016 and updated in 2018. Since then, I’ve also written about Charleston a few other places on the blog that might be helpful to read if you’re planning a trip to CHS!: What to Do on a Girls’ Weekend in Charleston and What to Do on a Solo Trip to Charleston.
Hello ladies! What better way to celebrate hump day than with a Charleston Travel Guide?
I will be doing a full recap on my experience at this year’s Blog Societies Conference—the same conference I went to last year, just renamed to encompass the entire US!—but I first wanted to give you all the scoop on one of my all-time favorite cities, which just so happened to be where the conference was held: Charleston. I left a week ago today and didn’t come back until Sunday evening, so I really feel like I was able to explore and enjoy the city more so than on other recent trips.
Surprisingly enough, this was not my first trip to the Holy City—named for all the churches that dot the skyline—in August. And let me tell you: the low country is hot and humid. If you are heat averse, I would definitely recommend going in the fall or spring so you can enjoy more moderate temperatures. When I went for New Years a few years ago, it was in the high 60s/low 70s most of the time and that was absolutely perfect/did not require twice-a-day showers like this past trip.
I took over 1,500 photos on this trip, so needless to say, I think we should just hop to the very distilled version of our wonderful five day adventure!
HOW TO GET THERE /
I’ve gotten to Charleston two ways from DC—by car and by plane. The former is definitely doable if you have the time. It’s about a seven or eight hour drive from Washington, so it pretty much takes up the whole day. Be aware if you are going during beach season, a good portion of the drive is down I-95 so you will hit Carolina beach traffic and it will take longer.
If you’re flying, I would highly recommend looking for JetBlue deals out of DCA. My flights were under $200 round trip, and some of my DC blogger gals were able to score a total of $117!
When you land at the two-terminal airport, we found it very easy to call an Uber that was there in minutes. Last year, we arrived later at night around 11 pm, and the airport was running shuttles for $20/person to downtown Charleston, so definitely scope out the scene when you get there. And, as always, check to see if your hotel has a free shuttle!
WHERE TO STAY /
I cannot recommend the Courtyard Marriott Charleston Historic District enough. Although Marriott’s Courtyard line is generally targeted at business travelers there for a night or two, this location definitely understands that tourists are their primary audience. I first stayed here for New Years 2014 into 2015, and recommended it to my roommates this year when we were looking for a hotel. You cannot beat the location as it is centrally located a block away from King Street, known for its shopping and restaurants. In general, many fun bars are right to the north, and the tourist spots and historic districts are to the south. And, the hotel has a concierge on-site who is so helpful and willing to make any recommendation or reservation you need. But the best part? The bathrooms are huge, which was great when your roommates are three other bloggers.
I would also recommend staying at the Belmond Charleston Place, which is where the conference was held and where I stayed last year. It’s definitely a splurge, but it’s right in the middle of the historic district and has that charming boutique-feel. I will say, while the service was impeccable, the rooms are very small and since it is an older building, the air conditioning can be spotty, which is tough in the summer.
Another splurge option is The Dewberry—this place is gorgeous and I honestly felt like I as walking onto the set of Mad Men. A converted former federal building, The Dewberry opened in 2016. The rooms are gorgeously designed, have dimmers on every light switch, and have the highest ceilings of any hotel I’ve ever been in. But what we loved the most about this hotel was the bar, called The Living Room. Located right off the lobby, I actually felt like I was in someone’s living room in the 1960s. The bar tenders were great, too, and we drank “The Basically” all weekend long—it had La Croix, vodka, and St. Germain. We found a great deal for this hotel on Expedia, otherwise, we would have never been able to afford this place—so definitely shop around a bit for deals!
While I have not stayed there, I have heard nothing but good things about Zero George. Also a splurge, it’s a boutique hotel with 16 rooms in a cluster historical Charleston-Style homes, and they have the cutest bikes on-hand for guests to use. We couldn’t afford to stay there, so we opted to enjoy cocktails and cheese on their patio one night instead.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK /
I think I could write a whole post about eating in Charleston. So, if you want to talk food or need more recommendations, let me know. Here’s a rundown of what I recommend based on where I’ve eaten. I’m already planning a trip back so I can eat at Leon’s and Magnolia’s.
- Stars Restaurant—I had only been for drinks on the roof before this trip, but now that I know how good their scallops risotto is, I’ll be back.
- The Daily—a walk up King Street, but so worth the trek. Owned by Butcher & Bee, we stopped in for breakfast tacos, coffee, and green tea. The chef also made us the sausage biscuit with peach jelly they make on-site. Delicious!
- Husk—probably the preeminent Charleston restaurant, we loved our lunch here. Monica and I split a cheeseburger, which is what they are known for, and a BLT. The second-story patio is to-die for, and in the main dining room, it’s so welcoming you feel like you’re eating in someone’s home. If you’re looking for something more low key, but still want the Husk experience, definitely check out The Bar at Husk. It’s right behind the main building, and offers a more casual vibe. They serve a handful of small plates and the aforementioned burger.
- The Darling Oyster Bar—come for the food, stay for the branding. They have three different match books available! The clam chowder fries were a big hit at our table, and I found the fried chicken sandwich to be the perfect late-dinner option after the welcome party.
- Poogan’s Porch—I’d highly recommend doing three or four appetizers with a friend as your entree here. Kristyn and I split the fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese fritters, mac and cheese, and kale caesar here and we had way too much! Mostly because we had indulged in the warm biscuits they brought out as a starter.
- High Cotton—you’ll feel transported into a previous era with the slow-moving palm ceiling fans and warm color palette when you walk in here. Opt for the pimento cheeseburger or fried chicken sandwich and you won’t leave disappointed.
- Taco Boy—I’ve been to the one on Folly Beach, but the one in Charleston had the best Saturday night atmosphere. And with house margaritas only $6, how could it not?
- Eli’s Table—we ate here for brunch when we went to Charleston for New Years, and I still remember how great the meal was. Go for the crab and eggs or the shrimp and grits benedict.
- Sugar Bakeshop—if you love cupcakes, you’ll love this place. I opted for my standard vanilla-on-vanilla, and it didn’t disappoint. A note these cupcakes are extra sweet so if you’re not a dessert person, you might want to pass.
- Kudu—a great coffee shop with craft beer available as well. They have a cute outdoor patio, which I was lucky enough to enjoy with my cousin on a previous trip.
- Fleet Landing—located right on the water, this place is can’t-miss for a sunset happy hour and dinner. Definitely get their Low Country Seafood Gumbo—it won’t disappoint.
- The Vendue Rooftop—even if it’s hot outside, the Vendue seems to have the perfect amount of ceiling fans going to keep you cool in the Charleston heat. This would be the perfect spot for lunch or a pre- or post-dinner drink.
- The Cocktail Club—I grabbed a drink here one night before dinner, and definitely want to go back and stay longer next time! Located upstairs in a historic King Street building, it has a great outdoor patio and such a cool vibe inside. Definitely stop by if you get the chance!
WHERE TO SHOP /
Charleston has all the major chain stores you’d expect, but I think the true gems in Charleston are the boutiques. Last year, I feel in love with Moon & Lola, which has a make-your-own charm bar and the cutest in-store gallery wall. One of my all-time favorite necklaces is from there and you know any store that is an Oprah’s favorite thing is a great shop!
This year, we also explored Candy Shop Vintage, as our great blogger friend Annie works there. They have both vintage and vintage-inspired pieces. They also make Charleston rice beads, which are the perfect Charleston souvenir! (We’ve aged out of shot glasses, y’all!)
From there, we walked down the street to Mac & Murphy, which is the cutest paper shop you ever did see. They have all sorts of greeting cards, prints, matchbooks, and candles. I purchased a map of Charleston very similar to the United States print shown on the right below. We wrapped up our morning at Open Door Shop, which sources unique tabletop and home accents.
I also love popping into Candlefish on King Street whenever I am in town. My favorite candle is number 12—which is a great citrus orange flavor. They also offer BYOB candle-making classes, which was such a fun afternoon activity—you can read my recap here.
Though I can easily be overwhelmed in the Charleston City Market, I decided to walk through on my June 2018 trip because it was right on my way to lunch, so I figured it’d be worth the time to see if anything caught my eye. I’m glad I did because I discovered Sofya’s beautiful paintings. I love how colorfully and abstractly she depicts Charleston, and I ended up bringing three of her prints home with me. Though she does ship online, her prices are a lot cheaper in the market—I paid $60 for all three prints—so definitely check her out if you’re in town!
One of my favorite stores is The Skinny Dip. Not only do they have all sorts of cute clothes and accessories, they also have a ton of letterpress cards and art prints for sale, which are two of my favorite things to buy on a trip. Upstairs is the cutest bar offering wine, beer, coffee and espresso drinks. There’s also an outdoor patio with a swing and ample bench seating off the bar if it’s a cooler day.
GETTING AROUND CHARLESTON /
Charleston is not one of those cities that has a huge public infrastructure like New York, Chicago, or DC. But, I’ve found that once you’re on the peninsula of Charleston proper, it is relatively easy to get around. If you drove to Charleston, many restaurants have parking or there are easy-to-find, inexpensive parking garages or street parking options. If you’re in need of a lift, Ubers are very cheap! For instance, our 25 minute ride from the airport cost under $20 total. Or, if you’re up for it, most places in the historic part of the peninsula are relatively close to one another, and therefore very walkable. On this trip, we pretty much walked whenever we could even though it was hot, just because we wanted to explore.
WHAT TO DO /
One of my favorite things to do in Charleston is to walk around and look at houses. I love walking down Chalmers Street from Meeting to State Street, Tradd Street, Anson Street from Calhoun to Market Street, and walking along the Battery.
Stopping at the Pineapple Fountain is really fun for me because I love being on the water, and its in the heart of Charleston’s waterfront park. Be aware that during the heat of the day, the fountain seems to double as a swimming pool for kids, so if you want the best ‘gram, it’s best to head there first thing in the morning.
It also may be cheesy, but one of the best things I’ve ever done in Charleston is take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city. I learned so much about the city’s history, and it makes me appreciate it that much more. For instance, the city doesn’t know where all their gas lines are, so they have to keep all gas lanterns on 24/7. And the city used to tax homes based on how much fronted the street, so that’s why “Charleston-style” homes are long and skinny, as opposed to wide and skinny.
The last time I was in Charleston, we took a ghost tour, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. There are so many companies in town, we honestly just walked around the Charleston City Market and picked the cheapest one—$20/person—so I recommend doing the same. (We signed up around 2 pm for a 10 pm tour.) Our guide was awesome since he showed us pictures of what certain aspects of the city looked like right after the Civil War, which added a historical element to his commentary that was much appreciated.
Whew. That was a long one, but such a fun post to write. Can I go back now?
Any questions? Let me know in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.