Planning a trip to Charleston? Discover where to eat, what to do, and where to stay – plus a sample itinerary – in this Charleston Travel Guide!
Last month, Alex and I spent five days in the South with the goal of exploring, relaxing, and eating lots of good food. We started our trip in Charleston, a city that’s been at the top of our bucket list for a long time, before heading further south to Savannah (more on that to come!). We both love to plan ahead, and we did tons of research and put lots of thought into our itinerary so that we could see as much of the city as possible within the two and a half days we spent there. Alex was super excited to tour Fort Sumter, and I was really looking forward to exploring the city’s beautiful residential streets. But most of all, we couldn’t wait for some delicious southern comfort food.
It’s no surprise that Charleston has become such a popular travel destination. From the stunning porches covered in jasmine to the cutest little shops to the food – oh my gosh, the food! – it’s the perfect spot for a charming weekend getaway! I’m so excited to share my Charleston Travel Guide with you, and I hope that it inspires you to book a vacation of your own! I’ve even included a sample itinerary at the bottom of this post to help take some of the guesswork out of planning your trip to the beautiful city.
Where we stayed:
Andrew Pinckney Inn – We booked a room at the Andrew Pinckney Inn, and we’re so glad we did. The location was perfect; it’s on a quiet street just a few blocks from the bustle of King Street, and we were able to walk everywhere from the inn. The rooms were simple and nice, and the daily continental breakfast on the sun-drenched rooftop terrace was a great way to begin each morning.
Other options to consider:
86 Cannon – This boutique inn, with just five rooms and a gorgeous porch, is the most charming inn I could imagine. 86 Cannon just opened this spring, and their Instagram has me already wanting to plan a trip back to Charleston.
Zero George – I’ve seen this boutique hotel recommended by a number of bloggers, and it isn’t hard to see why. The hotel features a beautiful central courtyard, a restaurant and bar, and adorable seafoam-colored bicycles that guests can take out on the town.
The Dewberry – If you prefer larger hotels, I’ve heard wonderful things about The Dewberry, a modern and luxurious hotel with great views of the city.
Where we ate & drank:
Husk – We’d heard incredible things about Husk, but even with our high expectations we were still blown away. For starters, even the bread basket was to die for. The cocktails were excellent (we both ordered the Dragoon’s Punch, a rum punch with a recipe dating back to the 1700’s), and our entrees were spectacular. But the best thing we ate at Husk – heck, the best thing we ate during our entire trip – was the fried chicken skin with pimento ranch! So good! The menu at Husk changes daily, but if you’re lucky enough to see this on the menu do not pass it up! Also the service was perfect, and the atmosphere, despite the upscale food being served, was relaxed and unpretentious. And, to top it all off, the restaurant is located inside a beautifully restored historic home (with a bar in the carriage house)! Be sure to make a reservation (I recommend calling a couple of months in advance) so you don’t miss out! Dress code: smart casual to business casual
Hominy Grill – Hominy Grill was another favorite from our trip. It’s located a little bit off the beaten path, but it’s definitely worth the short trek for the seriously amazing comfort food! The she crab soup is a local favorite and a must try if you’re visiting the South. Alex and I shared the catfish po-boy sandwich and pimento cheese sandwich, and both were excellent! I also wanted to try the buttermilk pie on the menu, but I was saving some room to stuff my face with sweets at Sugar Bakeshop later that afternoon! Dress code: casual
Poogan’s Smokehouse – We ate at Poogan’s Smokehouse on our first night in Charleston, and it was the perfect introduction to southern comfort food. The atmosphere is laid back and casual, and the food was delicious. Be sure to order the Tennessee hot fish with fried catfish, cheesy grits, and Brussels sprouts. I’m not big on spicy food, so I ordered the sauce on the side and it was perfect! Dress code: casual
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits – Callie’s is a fantastic spot to grab a quick bite to eat for breakfast or lunch. They have an assortment of hot, flaky biscuits, plus a variety of toppings and spreads, so there’s something for everyone. We had lunch at their new location within Charleston’s City Market, and the biscuit BLT really hit the spot! Seating is limited, so you may want to get your biscuits to go. Dress code: casual
Poe’s Tavern – This low-key spot is just two blocks from the beach on Sullivan’s Island. We grabbed a table on the porch and enjoyed the ocean breeze while chowing down on their delicious fish tacos. Dress code: casual
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams – The ice cream at Jeni’s is so incredibly smooth – and their scoop shops have so many fun flavors – that it’s hard to turn down seconds! Dress code: casual
Sugar Bakeshop – This little bakery is so adorable, it’s nearly impossible to walk by without snapping a photo for Instagram. But don’t wander off without stopping in for a sweet treats! The cupcakes in particular are delicious and definitely Instagram-worthy as well. Dress code: casual
Gin Joint – Gin Joint is an excellent spot for cocktails! We stopped in for pre-dinner drinks on our first night in Charleston and left with a slight buzz ready to conquer a big meal. The bar is cozy inside with a couple of tables outside as well, and it’s conveniently located near Poogan’s Smokehouse, SNOB, and High Cotton if you’re looking to get something to eat. I recommend the Must Hive cocktail with bee pollen infused gin and rose petal infused honey; it’s definitely girly, but not too sweet and totally delicious! Dress code: casual to smart casual
The Rooftop at The Vendue – Atop The Vendue hotel is a great rooftop bar with awesome views of the city. We stopped here for a drink before our dinner at Husk and enjoyed a refreshing cocktail and the warm afternoon sunshine. This would also be a great spot to catch the sunset! Dress code: casual to smart casual
Other options to consider:
FIG – This sister restaurant to Husk features seasonal dishes.
Xiao Bao Biscuit – This restaurant may look like a bit of a dive, but its Asian soul food dishes are supposedly incredible!
Obstinate Daughter – Located near Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island, Obstinate offers up some delicious-looking pizza, pasta, and small plates.
Leon’s Oyster Shop – For fresh oysters, be they raw, char-grilled, or fried on a sandwich, head to this lively spot on the northern end of King Street.
SNOB – The menu at Slightly North of Broad features everything from strawberry salad to shrimp and grits to beef carpaccio to duck breast. They also have an extensive gluten free menu.
The Ordinary – If you’re looking for a spectacular seafood spot, this seems to be it. Their cocktail menu doesn’t look half bad, either!
The Bar at Husk – This charming bar can be found in the carriage house next to the historic home that now houses Husk. As I mentioned with Husk, I highly recommend the Dragoon’s Punch!
The Daily – This is a popular spot for a morning pick-me-up: a latte, fresh juice, or smoothie.
What we did:
Explore Waterfront Park, Rainbow Row, The Battery, & South of Broad – There is so much beauty to discover in Charleston, so block off a morning to explore the city before the heat of the day. Start your tour at Waterfront Park, and be sure to snap a photo of the pineapple fountain! Then work your way towards the end of the peninsula, stopping to see the charming pastel-colored row homes that make up Rainbow Row along East Bay Street. Continue south along The Battery, where you’ll see the Cooper River to your left and beautiful, historic homes to your right. At the end of The Battery you’ll come to White Point Garden, where you can pause to cool off under the shade of the gazebo. Finally, explore South of Broad (the residential streets south of Broad Street), where you’ll find some of the most exquisite homes and gardens I’ve ever seen. Legare Street and Church Street are two streets not to miss, and I could not get enough of the stunning window boxes and blooming jasmine throughout the area. Time to allot: 3 hours
Shopping Along Cannon Street & King Street – There are so many charming shops in Charleston that you can easily spend an afternoon browsing along the city’s streets. On Cannon Street you’ll find Mac & Murphy, a sweet little boutique with beautiful stationery and gifts. Make your way down King Street and pop into newly-opened Skinny Dip for their well curated selection of clothing and lifestyle items. Continue on to Vom Fass to peruse their selection of interesting oils and vinegars. We bought a bottle of mango balsamic that we can’t wait to try in cocktails! And last but certainly not least, you must visit Candlefish for their incredible selection of local candles. I brought home two candles whose scents remind me of our trip. Also, if you plan ahead you can sign up for one of their candle-making workshops! Time to allot: 2 to 3 hours
Fort Sumter – Take a ferry ride to Fort Sumter and tour the fort where the Civil War began. This is a must for history buffs, but it’s worth the visit just for the ferry ride with great views of The Battery. Be sure to book tickets, which include transportation via ferry and access to the fort, in advance. Also, there will be some wind on the ferry and at the fort so dress accordingly and consider bringing an extra layer if it’s not too hot out. Time to allot: 3 hours, including the ferry rides to and from the fort
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens – Spend some time at Magnolia Plantation and stroll through America’s oldest public gardens. We had so much fun exploring the gardens, spotting the occasional (small) alligator in one of the ponds and wandering across the garden’s picturesque bridges. Get there early in the day if you want to book a tour, as time slots fill up fast, but we didn’t feel a tour was necessary and were perfectly happy to explore the grounds with general admission. Time to allot: 1.5 to 2 hours, plus travel time (it’s a 30 minute drive from downtown Charleston)
Sullivan’s Island – Head to Sullivan’s Island for lunch at Poe’s Tavern or Obstinate Daughter, then spend the afternoon relaxing at the beach! It rained on and off on our first afternoon in Charleston, so our plans to lay in the sun were thwarted, but we did spend some time exploring the island, including scoping out some beautiful beach homes and the island’s quirky lighthouse. We didn’t find anywhere to park near the beach, so try to snag a parking spot on Middle Street (where the restaurants are located) and plan to walk the two blocks down to the beach. Time to allot: 2 to 4 hours, plus travel time (it’s a 20 minute drive from downtown Charleston)
Angel Oak – Angel Oak is an oak tree growing outside of Charleston that’s estimated to be 400 to 500 years old. It’s the most gigantic tree that I’ve ever seen in real life, with a massive trunk and huge, sprawling branches. This is a fun and worthwhile pit stop if you’re exploring the area surrounding Charleston. Time to allot: 15 to 30 minutes, plus travel time (it’s a 30 minute drive from downtown Charleston)
Other options to consider:
Hampton Park – Hampton Park is the largest park near the Charleston downtown area and would be a great spot for a picnic or simply relaxing and enjoying nature.
Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens – The former cotton plantation now grows berries and other fresh produce and is open year-round for tours of the home and gardens.
Middleton Place – The house at this former rice plantation is filled with antiques like furniture and silver, and the thoughtfully-planned garden includes such a variety of plants that something is blooming all year round.
Aiken Rhett House – This historic Charleston home remained in the same family for over 140 years and is now open to the public for tours.
Getting Around: Charleston is a very walkable city, so if you’re staying downtown you will be able to walk (or bicycle!) to most of your destinations. Uber is also a great option if you’re trying to get across town in a hurry. You’ll want a rental car or the number for a cab company if you’re planning to travel a bit further from the downtown area, since it may be hard to get an Uber back into the city from a more remote location.
What to Pack: The weather in Charleston was more hot and humid than I’m used to here in the northeast, so I brought breezy clothing to help me stay cool in the heat. The locals are fashionable, so I recommend chic, casual clothing – breezy dresses and skirts, trousers with a cute top, stylish and comfortable shoes – for exploring the city and for evenings out. If you plan to travel to Fort Sumter, it will be much windier on the ferry ride and at the fort than downtown, so avoid breezy dresses or skirts for this activity (I learned this the hard way!) and pack an extra layer to keep you warm in the wind. And don’t forget sunscreen and frizz-fighting hair products if humidity is not your friend!
When to Visit: We loved visiting in April because the weather was nice and a little bit hot (but not too hot!) and the summer crowds hadn’t yet descended on the city. Visiting during the week also meant smaller crowds at tourist attractions and shorter lines at restaurants. I’d heard the lines at Hominy Grill, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, and Sugar Bakeshop can get pretty long, but we never had to wait for a table or a bite while traveling during the week in April. I’m sure the city is charming year-round, but I recommend planning a trip for the spring time if you can!
Are you planning a trip to Charleston? Or do you have a favorite spot that I missed? Please leave me a note in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!
P.S. Be sure to check back next week for my Savannah Travel Guide!