CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
- When: 25 May- 1 June, 2022
- Where (accommodations): Homewood Suites by Hilton Charleston Historic District
- Transportation: JetBlue airlines flight from Boston (BOS) to Charleston (CHS). Car rental through Turo
- Sights/attractions: King Street, Rainbow Row, The Battery, Joe Riley Waterfront Park, Hotel Bennett, The Vendue Hotel, Charleston City Market, Charleston Harbor Tours, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms Beach, Folly Beach, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
- Food/drinks: Slightly North of Broad, Beech, Husk, Chez Nous, Cru Cafe, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, The Obstinate Daughter, Lost Dog Cafe, Chico Feo, Sorghum & Salt, The Ordinary, Harken Cafe, Poogan’s Porch, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Frannie & The Fox, Chubby Fish, Stars Rooftop & Grill
Another wonderful week of work and play in the books! With the long weekend for the Memorial Day holiday coming up, we were looking for a warm place to escape a cold Boston spring. Since we both are working remotely, just like a year ago with New Orleans, we decided to have another ‘work-ation’. Flight costs from Boston to Charleston are usually high. Despite it being short two hour flight, it averages around $500pp round trip when traveling for the weekend. Leaving on Wednesday afternoon and returning on the following Wednesday (6am flight, not ideal, but…) the cost was just over $500 for both of us together! I’ve been looking forward to visiting Charleston for quite some time, so we could not pass up on this deal.
We had to work for a few days, so we wanted to be within walking distance to the restaurants and the downtown. We also needed some extra space to take calls, and without having to do so in the bathroom. Homewood Suites by Hilton Charleston Historic District ticked off the boxes: reasonably priced, in an excellent location, has a pool and a very large room. It even came with a full size fridge and a stove top (which we never used).
Breakfast was included in the cost, but after trying it once, we decided it’s not for us. Apart from some fruit, there was nothing healthy or even really tasty. If you are in Charleston, where the restaurant scene is exceptional, don’t waste the calories on this generic hotel breakfast. There are much better places that I will talk about later on. Another minor complaint was that there was absolutely no shade near the pool. Not a single umbrella. Charleston is HOT. Even in May it was reaching 90F, so it was surprising to see lounge chairs, but no cover. Other than that, we had a great stay in the spacious room with excellent internet for work. We only had three full days to explore, so most of the experience was dining. It IS worth coming here for food alone. If you know us though, we can’t sit still, so here is what we were able to accomplish in our short visit.
King Street and Historic Downtown
Charleston is pretty small and a perfect walking city. We practically polished King Street with our daily walks and a few morning runs. Numerous shops, restaurants and bars line the King Street, there is something for everyone. Nice architecture, clean streets, though busy on the weekends, but fairly quiet during the week.
As you walk towards the ocean, it gets progressively less busy and a lot more fancy. Some of the houses are basically mansions. When in Charleston, King Street is not to be missed.
Not far from the King Street and the Waterfront, you can find East Bay Street with it’s 13 brightly colored houses.
These historic homes were built around 1790 and used by the merchants who had stores on the first floor and lived upstairs. It was not always so colorful, and after the Civil War, this area was even considered a slum. In 1931, Dorothy Porcher Legge and her husband purchased a section of the houses and initially started painting them pink with hopes to make the area look nicer. Other residents of the street started painting their houses with different colors as well. Some say that it helped drunk sailors to find their way home easier 🙂 . Now this is one of the most photographed areas in Charleston. It reminded me of the Caribbean.
Beautiful promenade along the water, named for a civil war coastal defense artillery battery at the site. Easily walkable from the Rainbow Row or the King Street. On a hot day there is a pleasant breeze near the ocean. We even ran from our hotel all the way to The Battery one morning before work. Very nice area any time of day.
Joe Riley Waterfront Park
We only came to this park in the evening and the main reason was the pineapple fountain. It was beautiful lit up, but I think it would look even more spectacular during sunset.
Historic Charleston City Market
Established in 1790s, this market stretches across four city blocks. Open daily, we visited during Memorial Day and it was packed.
Between shopping on King Street and this market, you will definitely find a way to lighten your wallet.
Charleston from above
Named No. 1 Luxury Hotel in the USA (by USA Today), perfect location in the historic downtown this hotel was not in our price range for staying, but we definitely wanted to check out the gorgeous lobby, the pink Camellia’s Champagne Lounge and of course the rooftop.
The pink lounge was full of ladies- it’s a popular place for bachelorettes and was very loud. Don’t expect an intimate conversation if you go there. Rooftop was nice, there is a pool (for hotel guests) and a full bar. One thing to note- Charleston’s buildings are low, so don’t expect sweeping views from any rooftop. Still a nice change of perspective and a cool breeze.
The Vendue Hotel
Fun lobby and big rooftop- I think we actually liked this rooftop more than Hotel Bennet one. There was plenty of space to sit and a lot wider viewpoint.
Stars Rooftop & Grill
This mid 1930s vibe restaurant is on King Street and was very popular on the weekend. We checked out the rooftop on Tuesday when it was basically empty and there was no line to get in. Cozy, nice view, I can see why there were so many people waiting to get up here on Saturday night.
Charleston from the water
Charleston Harbor Tours
We booked a sunset sailing on s Schooner Pride, but received an email a couple days prior that the scheduled tour has been cancelled. They claimed to not have the sail boat back (not sure from where). Our options were to either cancel it all together, or rebook it on a different day and a different boat. Despite having to rearrange some dinner plans we chose to rebook and go on a “Princess”- a lot different experience than sailing. This was a big boat (looked like a ferry) with a ton of people, all rushing up for a best seat on the deck.
We were able to get a spot near the railing, so 90 minutes went by pretty comfortably leaning on it. Charleston does not have any high rise buildings and the tallest structure in the whole state of South Carolina is Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. For that reason alone I would recommend a sunset cruise.
If the tour was during the day, it would be a lot less interesting, because there isn’t much to see. With the sky changing colors it was a nice experience and yet another perspective of the same city.
Lets go to the beach
We are total beach bums, so if there is a beach, we will be sure to check it out. In fact, a short 20 min drive away from downtown Charleston there are three beautiful beaches. We picked up our rental car on Saturday morning and set off to explore. We found it that using the usual car rentals the prices are much higher, so for the first time we tried out Turo. We had excellent experience. It’s sort of like AirBnb but for cars. Our Prius was new, clean and we barely used any gas.
Our first beach was on Sullivan’s Island. We lucked out with parking because it was still somewhat early in the day and we found a spot in the parking lot close to the beach.
There is plenty of space, even later in the day nobody was on top of each other. Note: no umbrella rentals and no bathrooms as far as we could see.
We really liked the sandbar that formed (or maybe it’s always there despite the tides?). The water was less than waist high and you could cross to sort of an island. We walked for a while and reached the area with a lot of boats- seemed like a fun place where a bunch of locals were hanging out.
This beach had super calm water and would be perfect for people with kids- no worries about being swept under a wave.
As it was lunch time and we had no snacks, we went to a restaurant in town- The Obstinate Daughter. It was excellent!
If you’re in Sullivan’s Island don’t miss this gem.
Isle of Palms
For our afternoon beach experience we decided to drive to Isle of Palms. There was some traffic and we were worried we won’t find parking, but someone left and the spot opened up on the street just along the beach. We didn’t spend much time here because the clouds were gathering and we thought it might start raining. The beach was nice, wide, but the waves were pretty big and you could feel the undertow. No facilities or umbrella rentals either, so bring your own.
One of the most popular beaches near Charleston and we were told it will be crowded, so go here early. We came before 9am and were able to street park right near the beach. I can see why this place is popular. There are (clean and air conditioned!) bathrooms, you can rent chairs/umbrella and the restaurants are a short walk away.
When we arrived there was barely anyone on the beach and our chairs were in the first row in front of the ocean. As the day progressed, more and more people came and we ended up almost in the middle of the beach. It was a very nice day- having the shade and the bathrooms does make a big difference.
For breakfast we went to a Lost Dog Cafe and ordered food to go. It was VERY busy, but the take out line moved quick and we enjoyed our breakfast on the beach.
For lunch (also to go) was Chico Feo– good tacos, Sean had a cuban sandwich and I had num pang- everything was on point.
All in all the beaches were nice. But since we are beach snobs, I have to add some comments. The sand is not very white- it’s more of a grayish color and pretty flat. Not as comfortable to lay on a towel as I am used to. The water is very warm, but it’s not clear. Standing knee deep you can’t see your toes. I did not particularly like that, especially once we heard that there are sharks. Obviously, since it’s so hot, it’s awesome to have multiple beaches available to cool off at, and it did not stop us from enjoying what South Carolina has to offer.
Down the history lane
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
There are a few plantations close to Charleston, not all were open on Memorial Day. We went to see Magnolia Plantation & Gardens– one of the oldest plantations in the South. We did not do a House tour, because the next one was not available for a couple of hours and we didn’t want to wait that long in the heat.
We did a Nature Tram Tour and walked around the gardens. The tram was super fun. 45 min long, the driver/guide was funny and informative, we saw local birds, turtles, alligators and got a quick history lesson about the place as well.
We walked around the gardens, but can’t say we covered them all. It was hot, humid and I was hungry, so that self guided tour did not last too long. Nice place to visit if you have time.
And now, let’s eat!
Both Sean and I agreed that food was the best part of visiting Charleston. We still think New Orleans food was better, but Charleston was a VERY close runner up. There were only a few breakfast/lunch places that we didn’t have a ‘wow’ moment, so I won’t bother mentioning those. Also some of the famous places were a bit overrated. But everything else was delightful and I would recommend for anyone visiting.
The first one is the overrated Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit. We went before the beach on Saturday and luckily there was no line (usually it’s busy). We got several biscuits, Sean even tried a biscuit sandwich- it was just OK. Really don’t know what the hype is all about. If you are already there, there is no line, then sure, try it and maybe your experience is better. We would not go back.
If you want a REALLY good breakfast, go to Harken Cafe instead. Amazing ricotta biscuit with honey butter and jam, tasty lavender latte, cute cafe with inside and outside seating- I wish it was closer to our hotel, so we could’ve had breakfast there more than once.
Last breakfast place that we loved (and went back a couple of times) Beech. Fresh, quick service and delicious! We make açaí bowls at home and usually try to get them when we travel, so we know what to expect. Beech was legit. As a comparison, we tried Playa Bowls and did not like it.
Beech has great tuna poke bowls for lunch, so we enjoyed those once. The other excellent place was recommended by Sean’s aunt. Cru Cafe is open for dinner too, but we only tried lunch on their patio. Would certainly go back!
Dinners were our favorites, one better than the next! We ranked them at the end of the trip, so I will list them in the order from our favorite (with the rest being close to it!). Husk we liked the most. Some say it used to be better (we have no baseline), some say it’s overrated.
We liked everything- drinks, apps, main courses, dessert, sitting on the balcony outside. Make reservations as it is one of the most popular restaurants in town.
Second place is tied between Chez Nous and Sorghum & Salt. They are actually about 2 min walk away from each other and that’s how we ended up trying Sorghum & Salt. I had reservations for Chez Nous and while walking there we saw the other restaurant, so for one of the nights that we had nothing booked, we tried it. Great food in both places. Chez Nous menu changes daily, so you won’t find the same dishes there.
They also have a cozy yard and there is a family style long table. We had our own table near the fence, but some people were surprised to be seated close to strangers, so keep that in mind when making a reservation. For ambiance we liked Chez Nous better, for food (at least dessert) Sorghum & Salt.
Frannie & The Fox had one of the best wood-fire pizzas. I know, kind of random, but we craved pizza and this place did not disappoint. Taleggio was the name of the pizza we loved and it was recommended by the server.
The Ordinary and the Chubby Fish were suggested by the local people and we enjoyed both places. The Ordinary is an upscale, tall ceilings, formerly 1920s bank building. Chubby Fish- small neighborhood eatery that does not take reservations, so go early and put your name on the list.
Crispy Oyster Sliders and Zucchini Carpaccio were our favorite at The Ordinary.
Lamb was my fav at the Chubby Fish.
For a pre-dinner snack we stopped at a very popular Poogan’s Porch, which is next door to Husk. If our boat tour was not rescheduled, we’d had dinner there. The few a quick bites that we tried were great, so I imagine dinner would be too.
Last but not least- the place we still reminisce about- Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. A long line on the weekends, but so so good! Unusual flavors, the one we loved was Gooey Butter Cake Pint- don’t even know how to describe it, you’ll just have to go and try it!
Fun, quick and very food oriented trip. I am grateful to be working remotely, just to be able to do these type of little escapes. I don’t think we’d ever take a week long vacation to see Charleston, SC, so it was nice to experience it without taking any time off. I think you could easily explore most of it in a long weekend, but then you’d miss too many amazing restaurants. We may have returned a little chubbier, but definitely happier 🙂 . If Charleston was not on your radar, now it should be!