Friday, October 22, 2010

Charleston, South Carolina

One of the prettiest, most interesting small cities in the U.S. to visit, in my opinion, is Charleston, South Carolina.
Ask ten people what they like about Charleston and, as the saying goes, you will probably get ten different answers.
Here below are my reasons for loving this city:

Historical architecture The sheer volume of the pristinely kept antique homes and buildings is simply breath-taking. You can walk for hours through neighborhoods dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, meandering through narrow alleys and rambling along coloful, shady streets. In addition to private, piazza-graced homes, Charleston's churches are spectacular, too.

Restaurants Charleston restauranteurs take seafood sustainability and locally produced ingredients seriously. They realize the abundance of fabulous foods grown and produced in their own backyard and utilize these goodies effectively. Bonus: It is very easy to eat really good food on the cheap in Charleston.
Some of my favorite places:

$ Jestine's It's well known and well loved for a reason. This tiny restaurant has an ever-present line out the door (no matter the weather). I finally had lunch there a few weeks ago and it was truly a treat; all southern soul food like your Granny (or, in this case, Jestine) would have made. Fried chicken, locally caught, friend shrimp, collards, gumbo, cornbread-- and if you are into desserts, they do not disappoint, in fact the Jestine's bakery is right next door so that you can take a pecan pie or red velvet cake home. Absolutely worth the wait.

$$ Hank's Seafood Restaurant Hank's has long been a personal favorite. The food is dependably, always very good. If you are in a celebratory mood (and have got a generous bank account) try the seafood tower-- iced platters rising above the table filled with fresh seafood, some cooked, like shrimp and crab claws, fewer, like small clams and oysters are raw. Towers are decedent, delicious and best consumed with champagne. The atmosphere is lively and somewhat retro; High-backed leather booths, servers in white coats, you expect to see the Rat Pack sauntering up to the very long bar.

$$ Slightly North of Broad Great location, great atmosphere, beautiful building and very good food. Fun for lunch and brunch, but great for dinner, too!

$$$ Charleston Grill Charleston Grill is located in the Charleston Place Hotel (my favorite hotel in the city). It is cool and regal and the food is truly exceptional, excellent even. The prices reflect this, but it is a great place top go for a celebration or special, romantic dinner.

$ Hominy Grill Truth be told, I have not yet eaten here and probably shouldn't recommend it because of that-- BUT, I know the guy who supplies the Hominy Grill with their grits, and I have been told by countless people that this place purveys a fantastic taste of the Charleston, old school. It is purported to be an excellent place to eat breakfast thru dinner. Great southern classics most of which you can enjoy for under $10, fewer entrees in the $15 range.

$-$$ Fleet Landing This is Charleston's only waterfront dining and it is great fun.  Comfortable, gleaming clean, sparkling water-views with very good food to match. You can choose to sit outside or in. Great for lunch or dinner-- excellent salads, sandwiches and local fried shrimp, oysters and fish.

(and, just for drinks...)
Pavilion Bar There is no better place to relax above Charleston, looking out over the harbor and back at the city. This is a gorgeous place to have drinks at sunset and in to the evening. The enforced dress code keeps tank-top wearing meatheads at bay.

What to do Far from being an exhaustive list, the following are just a few of my favorites:

1) Walk the streets early in the morning. The sun has just risen, the streets are empty and quiet, this is a great way to intimately feel the history of the city.

2) Take a walking tour. There are lots of tours to choose from: Ghost, Civil War, photography, Gullah, African American history, architectural, general history, pub. I've taken about a dozen lead by different companies and never been disappointed.

3) Carriage ride. Maybe not for everyone, and honestly, you only need to take one once, but it is a great way to get an overview of the city and learn a bit about it's remarkable history.

4) South Carolina Aquarium. If you are into aquariums, or you are traveling with a child, this is a fabulous facility. Opened just 10 years ago, it still feels new (in an entirely good way). The staff is friendly and helpful, too. For a nominal fee, you can take a 'backstage' tour of the aquarium or visit their new Sea Turtle Hospital-- awesome.

5) Shop. For trinkets, souvenirs or just a look around, The Old Market is great fun. For serious shopping at big ticket shops and some independent boutiques, head to King Street.

6) Take a boat tour or dinner cruise. I've not done this, but there are many companies providing such adventure and loads of people partake. Looks fun!

7) USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier. Massive, intimidating and utterly interesting.

8) Get to a plantation. If you've got a car and a 1/2 day to spare, get out to a plantation. I've been to almost all and my favorite is Middleton Place. It's not cheap, but bring a picnic, there's lots to see. Spend the day strolling the property, pretending like you own the place.

Great Hotels There are lots and lots of quaint Bed and Breakfasts in Charleston. I've not stayed in any of them; I'm a hotel girl. I like staying in very nice hotels, but I also like getting a good deal. Tip: I've found in most touristy cities, if you can stay Sunday through Thursday night, you will pay up to half what you pay on the weekend. I've personally stayed in all of the hotels listed below, with the exception of the French Quarter Inn, but I did tour that property extensively.

$$$ Charleston Place Hotel This is an oasis of tranquility. An Orient Express hotel, it's common rooms are grand, the guest rooms are swanky, a fantastic spa, and it's location perfect. It's pricey, about $229 on a super-saver deal, but worth it.

$$ Mills House Hotel Maybe even better located than the Charleston Place, this is a grand dame in an historic building. The rooms are very nice, with maybe some worn spots, but it is welcoming and airy and, for Priority Club members, a Holiday Inn.

$$$ The French Quarter Inn Located right next to the Old Market, this is an exceptional place with luxurious rooms.

$$$ Harbourview Inn Located on the Charleston harbor, this is a newer intimate property that is gorgeous, truly gorgeous.

$$ Holiday Inn Historic District Not as well located as the others, this property is about a 5 block (completely safe) walk to the Old Market, but it is newer property with very nice rooms and a good pool, at a good price.

$$-$$$ Marriott Renaissance Historic District This is well located with very nicely decorated, spacious rooms. What you would expect from a Renaissance.

Have you got Charleston favorites of your own? Comment and share your thoughts!


Erik said...

I agree - Fleet Landing is a GREAT place to dine and drink - great view of the harbor!

Some of my other favorites:

39 Rue de Jean - best mussels and a great place for cocktails! Not expensive and they even a limited shushi bar - something for everyone.

Cyprus Grille on Bay St. has a KILLER wine presentation and is a terrific place to dine, one of my favorites other than the Charleston Grille

A little of the beaten path but perhaps the hands-down best value in the WHOLE CITY is the Mustard Seed Cafe on Maybank highway! This is a secret I'd rather not share - but a worthy spot.

And finally - for after dinner - upstairs over the Tinderbox Cigar Shop on Meeting St. is a place called Club Habana - Charleston's only grandfathered smoking establishment - cognac, cordials, etc. a fine, classy place for after dinner beverages.

JennyB said...

Awesome recommendations-- thanks Ernie!!!!