Charleston is one of my favorite cities. It evokes a small town feel but brings world class dining experiences, rich history and natural beauty for a truly well rounded vacation whether you travel solo or as a family. In this two part guide we’ll explore the city itself as well as charming Folly Beach, just about 12 miles from downtown.
Where to Stay:
Francis Marion (francismarionhotel.com)
If you don’t have a car or are looking for a more upscale experience I recommend Francis Marion. In the Heart of the city and a Historical Property from the 1920’s, this beautifully appointed hotel provides a great home base for exploring the city and works well for families or couples. Located on King Street you can easily walk to restaurants and shopping and enjoy sightseeing. The hotel also has a restaurant and spa on-site if you need down time.
Town & Country Inn and Suites West Ashley (http://www.thetownandcountryinn.com)
If you have a car and would rather spend more money on dining or shopping/experiences then you’ll enjoy this reasonably priced hotel located in West Ashley which is about a 15 minute drive from Downtown Charleston. If you go in warm weather season you can enjoy the on-site pool and they include a daily $15 food and beverage voucher so you can enjoy breakfast or a cocktail before heading out to explore the city.
Other recommended hotels:
The Dewberry Charleston https://www.thedewberrycharleston.com
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Suits Charleston-Historic District (http://bit.ly/2TeHeZC)
Where to Play:
A great way to start your trip is with a walk through the Battery, a landmark seawall and promenade that stretches along the lower shores of the Charleston peninsula. You can start at Waterfront Park which is where you’ll find the pineapple fountain, a perfect backdrop for a photo.Then you can follow the walking paths on East Battery Street for an almost mile-long walk to White Point Gardens, a city park with a gazebo and old cannons. It’s easy to get to The Battery on foot if you choose to stay downton. If you stay outside the city you’ll find parking lots and limited street parking by Waterfront Park.
The Bridge: You’ve likely seen the iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge in photos of Charleston with its diamond shaped towers and cables suspending it over the Cooper River connecting Charleston and Mount Pleasant. You can walk across the bridge which will take about an hour and give you plenty of great views of the harbor. If you don’t have the time or desire to walk the bridge you can easily drive/ride across or even see from a harbor boat tour.
Fort Sumter: A national monument, Fort Sumter is a must visit for its historical significance as the place where the Civil War began. Tours include a ferry ride to the Fort, located in the middle of the harbor.
Gibbes Museum of Art (http://www.gibbesmuseum.org)
If you enjoy art and want to see a collection that showcases historic and contemporary Charleston artists and works then definitely take 1-2 hours to spend at Gibbes Museum of Art. They have rotating exhibits in addition to the permanent collection. A must see is the collection of miniatures which are tokens that were common to mark or commemorate milestone events prior to photography. The museum claims the first American miniatures were painted in Charleston and they have an extensive collection on display. It’s a fascinating and unique experience. Bonus- The Daily runs the cafe at the museum so you can stick around for a delicious snack or meal before or after your tour.
South Carolina Aquarium (https://scaquarium.org)
This is a great break from the heat or a good activity on a rainy day. Enjoyable for families or on your own, you will explore many exhibits of varied marine wildlife and get to know more about their Turtle Rescue Program. This aquarium does a great job highlighting local wildlife and the staff is very knowledgable. Usually there are some interactive exhibits and a touch tank so you can have more of a hands on experience. Note: The admission price is a bit steep
Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (http://explorecml.org)
If you are traveling with children, they will love spending a few hours exploring the 9 interactive areas including an art room and water play station. This is a self paced and guided experience so your child can let their imagination run wild.
Charleston City Market
I’ve seen many reviews and guides refer to this as a tourist trap and maybe it is to some degree, but it is also one of the oldest public markets in America that stretches 4 city blocks and is home now to over 300 independent businesses where you can buy gifts, clothes, artworks, etc made by local Charlestonians. It is charming to stroll through, meet local vendors and see the variety of goods on offer. You’ll definitely want to check out the unique sweetgrass baskets (https://www.thecharlestoncitymarket.com/main/sweetgrass-baskets).
Where to Eat:
I could spend an entire trip to Charleston just eating. No joke. These are some of my favorites though there are many more places you’ll find delicious food and charming atmosphere. Charleston City Paper always has a good list of the current best bars and restaurants so check there before you go.
With a fabulous outdoor eating are and turf play areas, this is a great way to spend an afternoon and perfect for families since the kids can run around while you sip on wine and tuck in to delicious food. With a rotating set of restaurants this is the food court your foodie dreams are made of and with 7 different kitchens you’ll never have to compromise on what type of food you want as a group. As of publication these are the current residents but they change often so check the website for up to date information:
Greens & Grounds
Chuck & Patty’s
Merrows Garden Bar
Sushi Wa Izakaya
Little Miss Ha
Butcher & Bee (https://butcherandbee.com/locations/charleston)
Delicious, fresh ingredients with a modern approach and middle eastern influence. Definitely get the whipped feta and ask for a table where you can see the pasta making.
The Daily (https://www.shopthedaily.com)
Serves coffee, breakfast, lunch and more using locally sourced ingredients. The menu is elegant and full of bright flavors. Pro tip- you can get delicious food and wine from the grab and go to enjoy a picnic around town.
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (https://calliesbiscuits.com)
There are two locations to try these delicious biscuits, Upper King and City Market. Southern food with fresh flavor combos are easy to find here. Of course you need a biscuit or two, or three so you can try different flavors like cheese and chive, cinnamon or classic buttermilk. The pimento cheese is also yummy and you can get it on a biscuit sandwich. Other must try sandwiches are the fired chicken and roasted tomato BLT.
Xiao Bao Biscuit (https://www.xiaobaobiscuit.com)
Family Style Asian Fusion. The menu changes often but everything I have tried has been delightful. Order several dishes and pass around.
Delicious Southern food in a cozy historic building. Reservations are best. Menu changes often since they use local, seasonal ingredients.
Leon’s Oyster Shop (http://leonsoystershop.com)
"We do fried chicken, oysters, lots of kick ass salads, cheap beer, soft serve, rosé on tap, frozen G&T’s, tons of grower champagne, and decent cocktails – all in an old garage.” I have nothing more to add to this description they provide. Delicious food and a cool vibe.
Let’s Head to the beach...
Quaint beach town with a boho vibe. Entertainment is pretty obvious- the Beach! But there are also plenty of places to eat, drink and its a perfect place to bike or walk to explore.
Where to Stay:
Airbnb has plenty of houses for rent and you can filter by number of beds/baths, etc. to find one that fits your needs
Find a Bed and Breakfast https://visitfolly.com/bed-breakfasts/
Where to Play:
The Pier https://ccprc.com/1753/Folly-Beach-Pier
Grab a cocktail at the beginning of the poor and sip and stroll your way down. Climb the stairs for a better view but beware the seagull poop!
Folly is a wide, flat sandy beach perfect for strolling, building sandcastles and soaking up the sun. Be careful as lifeguards are only on duty seasonally and not on all areas of the beach.
Morris Island Lighthouse
Best to visit at low tide so you can get closer. You can park at the end of East Ashley Street on Folly and walk most of the way out on a paved path to see this historic lighthouse and the beautiful scenery surrounding it.
Where to Eat:
Rita’s Seaside Grille (http://www.ritasseasidegrille.com)
Perfect for family meals, this relaxed beachside restaurant serves large portions of classic American faire.
Chico Feo (https://www.chicofeos.com)
Casual, no fuss bar and taco stand just off the beach. Serving lots of local beers and delicious street tacos. Cozy and quaint patio is perfect for a nice day.
Black Magic Cafe (https://blackmagiccafe.com/menu)
Yummy spot to grab coffee and breakfast to fuel a beach day. Family friendly, cozy and quaint you’ll find southern classics like biscuits and sausage gravy, yummy pastries and traditional breakfast plates.
Surf Bar (http://surfbarfollybeach.com)
Hole in the wall bar serving a damn good ahi tuna tacos and philly cheesesteak (as well as other bar staples like onion rings) and affordable adult drinks. Bring a dollar to post up on the wall.
Bert’s Market (https://www.follybeach.com/berts-market/)*
A must visit! This family run market has fresh produce, a deli bar that has all the components of a good cheese plate or charcuterie board and interesting finds like sweetgrass baskets or cbd lotion. The staff are friendly and it is always open.
*their website says a new one is coming soon so I linked to this review