Every year, nearly four million tourists flock to Charleston, South Carolina, originally called Charles Town when it was settled in the 1600s. Charleston's entire downtown is considered a National Historic Landmark, and it's here where the visitors can take in a bit of history, as well as a plethora of dining, shopping, and cultural options. And that's not to say anything of the nearby beaches. If you're planning a trip to this charming southern gem, there are certain things to do/see/eat that are very Charleston and worthy of any traveler's "must" list. In no particular order, here are some of the highlights...
Take a carriage ride through historic downtown
Five carriage companies operate in the district, and many can be found lining North Market Street near their stables on Anson Street. In an effort to cut down on too much carriage traffic, the city instituted a lottery system to determine which neighborhoods and historic buildings a particular carriage ride will cover. So you may need to take a few rides to see everything on your list. Reservations are usually not needed.
Have a drink and appetizer at The Gin Joint on East Bay Street
You'll find a pre-Prohibition menu, so vodka is not behind the small bar, but locals say you won't even miss it. I recommend trying the Gin and Basil Smash drink with an order (or two!) of the homemade soft pretzels with sriracha cheese. Both of these items are delicious and addictive, so be careful!
Visit Folly Beach
Folly is a laid-back surfer town about 11 miles south of downtown Charleston. This is the only beach that allows consumption of alcohol on the beach itself, but make sure it is in a plastic cup. No visible bottles or cans are allowed.
Have shrimp and grits at Poogan's Porch on Queen Street
Housed in a grand Victorian home, this is one of the oldest, independent culinary establishments in Charleston, and the menu is all things lowcountry, from buttermilk biscuits to fried chicken. If you like ghost stories, ask about the upstairs bathroom, and if you do not, don't go alone.
Go shopping on King Street
This is Charleston's own Magnificent Mile. Along this street, stores range from high-end fashion to local southern boutiques where you can get the latest in seersucker. If you like antiquing, check out the stores closer to the Broad Street end.
Have grilled banana bread for breakfast at Hominy Grill
Hominy Grill sits at the intersection of Cannon Street and Rutledge Avenue, north of the main downtown area. There is a small parking lot attached, and customers can park in the neighborhoods for one hour. The key here is to go early, and preferably during the week, to avoid a long wait.
Walk the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
The bridge is also known as the Cooper River Bridge, and each year around the beginning of April, close to 50,000 people gather for the Cooper River Bridge Run, which starts in Mount Pleasant, crosses over the bridge, and finishes in Marion Square downtown. If you don't feel like joining the hordes, park at one end and walk part or all of the bridge for some beautiful views of the harbor and downtown.
Take a picnic dinner and watch the sunset on Sullivan's Island
About 10 miles east of Charleston, you'll find the wide and relatively quiet beach of Sullivan's Island. Author Edgar Allan Poe called this island home while he was stationed here in the army for 13 months. If you don't want to pack a picnic, stop in at Poe's Tavern, named after the author and known for its burgers and fish tacos. Be warned, this establishment has no wait list... it's a hover-and-grab-a-table-when-you-can kind of place.
Have lunch at Husk
Chef Sean Brock, a James Beard Award-winner, has put this all-southern restaurant on the map. Inside you'll find a chalkboard that lists the origin of all of the menu's ingredients, the definition of farm-to-fork. Lunch is your best best, as the prices are about half of those on the dinner menu and you might actually get a reservation. Yes, you must make reservations, even for lunch in the middle of the week.
Visit a Piggly Wiggly supermarket
This is an odd one to put on here, but having moved away from the South a few years ago, I love walking into this store and seeing the T-shirts that exclaim "I'm Big On The Pig!"
Have some fresh seafood, an order of fried chicken, and a shot of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka
When seafood comes off the boats and on to your plate, there is probably nothing tastier. Places like Bowen's Island, Fleet Landing, and others have great seafood menus. Fried chicken, or really anything fried, is so very southern and delicious. Everyday, customers line the block to experience the southern charm and fried goodness at Jestine's Kitchen downtown. Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka is made about 45 minutes west of Charleston, and you'll find it in almost every restaurant. It is good by itself, or try it in an Arnold Palmer.
If you have extra time, here are some more ideas...
Have a drink on one of the rooftop bars. Visit Fort Sumter, or at least spot it from Battery Park. Walk by Rainbow Row on East Bay Street. Visit a plantation. Visit some of the historical churches and graveyards in downtown. Take a ghost tour.
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