After being named the #1 city in the nation again (and #2 in the world) by Travel + Leisure, visitors beyond the South are enjoying the charms of Charleston. Our family has been there numerous times since it’s just a short four-hour drive from Athens, Ga., but I recently had the pleasure of introducing Charleston to my teenage niece for the first time. With more than 700 restaurants, endless shopping opportunities and unique cultural experiences, it can be hard to narrow down and prioritize your short stay. In just 48 hours, our girls’ trip was an eclectic mix of modern, classic and historic Charleston. Here are a few of my family-friendly favorites if you are exploring Charleston for the first time.
The Ordinary: In a beautifully-renovated bank building on the hip, northern end of King Street, this restaurant takes seafood to new heights. My favorite – the bright and light ceviche highlighting their freshest catch of the day.
FIG: Undoubtedly one of my favorite Charleston classics, this staple on Meeting Street is celebrating its 10th year. If you can’t get a reservation (I recommend reserving a table for every restaurant on this list at least a month before your trip), then find a seat at the bar and enjoy chatting with the locals about their favorite FIG dishes.
SNOB: It’s not uptight, just located slightly north of Broad. If you are looking to indulge in a low country staple, go for the shrimp and grits at this traditional, white-linen establishment. I prefer going for lunch so that we can squeeze in all our favorites at every meal of the day!
Hominy Grill: This Rutledge Avenue café continues to expand because of its popularity. Because it doesn’t take reservations, you will want to go for brunch as soon as you wake. The staff will tell you their favorite dish is the day’s special. I can’t visit without their signature Nasty Biscuit with fried chicken and sumptuous gravy.
Husk: When my husband and I visit Charleston on our own, we always make time for a pre-dinner cocktail at Husk. The historic kitchen house beckons an order of bourbon. But, with my 18-year-old niece, we skipped the bar and headed straight to the Queen Street restaurant for a farm-to-table feast of fresh vegetables and delightful desserts.
Take a walking tour: My niece loves history and Charleston is dripping in it. She and I also love photography and the city is postcard-perfect everywhere you turn. The gardens, architecture and wrought iron gates beckon a keen photographer’s eye, so we enjoyed a morning on Joyce Weir’s Charleston History Tour. Joyce takes you on a two-hour stroll through all of the major historic sites in downtown, but goes one step further to offer her expertise as a professional photographer. At almost every stop she shows you how to capture the perfectly-positioned photo, and we walked away with a beautiful collection of memorable shots.
Shop on King: Admittedly, I am not a shopper, but every time I visit Charleston I am lured in by the boutiques and shops on King Street. From fine antiques to high-end hat shops, runway fashion to the latest trends on a budget, this stretch of stores has something for every visitor. We enjoyed strolling and window shopping, popping into Blue Bicycle Books to peruse and Anthropologie to pick up a few dresses on sale. There are also great restaurants and quick bites on King. We rested our feet and cooled off at Jeni’s Ice Cream more than once!
Visit a plantation: I had never invested the time in driving outside of Charleston to visit a historic plantation, but we were so glad we did. The storied South is remembered at Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark. Set on the Ashley River, the sprawling rice plantation dates back to the 1730s with America’s oldest landscaped gardens and insightful tours given throughout the day. The history and culture of Charleston is better understood after a visit to one of the city’s remaining plantations.
Hit the beach: Not many cities can boast a fabulous downtown with beautiful beaches less than half an hour away. Charleston has both. Whether you want to stroll the wide and relatively quiet shoreline of Sullivan’s Island or check out the quirky and fun community of Folly Beach, putting your toes in the sand is worth the short trip out of Charleston for at least an afternoon.
Charleston has something for everyone. It oozes with charm and confidently mixes history with modern taste. If you haven’t explored Charleston, take your first trip. It won’t be your last.