Fabulous shops, great stays, and bright gardens make South Carolina the place to go this spring.
Mark G. Stith

Spring gushes out all over Charleston's historic district. Wisteria vines cascade over brick walls on Meeting Street. Flowering trees electrify the skies along Church Street. Window boxes full of blossoms brighten every lane and alley.

You'd expect a city with such a colorful history to have exceptional antiques stores too. You're right. Come shop with us as we take you to a few of our favorites. Springtime antiquing in Charleston is a beautiful combination that few cities can match.

Find Your Way on Friday
Start your trip at the Charleston Visitor Center. Even if you've been to the city before, this is the place to find out what's happening. You can't beat the location--right on Meeting Street with convenient parking and access to the green trolley cars shuttling passengers downtown.

We'll give you a couple of options for downtown stays. At the pricey, posh end, there's the relatively new Market Pavilion Hotel on East Bay Street. Their 66 luxurious rooms start at $299 double occupancy for weekend nights; toll free 1-877-440-2250. Visitors are treated to a luxurious room with mahogany furniture, marble baths, Egyptian cotton sateen sheets, and cashmere blankets.

For a less costly stay, there's the remodeled Days Inn on Meeting Street. Rates range $129-$179; toll free 1-866-683-8411. Both these hotels put you in the thick of things--right in the middle of the historic district and a short walk to the waterfront, historic homes and gardens, and shops. Or you could stay outside the historic district at the Holiday Inn Express in North Charleston. Rates start at $99 for weekend nights; (843) 553-1600.

For a satisfying low-cost dinner downtown, it's hard to beat Jestine's on Meeting Street. There's nothing fancy about it, but you'll get a tasty shrimp dinner for about $12.25. That's a deal in these parts.

A Royal Start to Saturday
King Street reigns supreme as the best place to get your bearings from a shopping and pricing perspective. Among the treasures you'll find are fine English antiques and reproductions at Geo. C. Birlant & Co. In three locations also on King Street, John Gibson Inc. is a wonderland of amazing furniture. (Note: The antiques shops are closed on Sundays.)

At nearby Broad Street, drop in Gaulart & Maliclet café for lunch. Get there early. The crowded counter fills up quickly, and for good reason. Go for a soup-and-sandwich combination, and consider their recommendation for wine by the glass. Even with dessert, you'll spend just a little more than $10.

Now, back to antiquing. Hop in the car, and head north on U.S. 17 (about 6 miles) up to Mount Pleasant, where you'll find one of our favorite places: Page's Thieves Market (1460 Ben Sawyer Blvd.; [843] 884-9672). There's a wide range of prices and a browser's delight of interesting items.

Save the best for last: Livingston Antiques (2137 Savannah Highway or U.S. 17 South; [843] 556-6162). This warehouse is incredible. It has 30,000 square feet of floorspace, but it should be at least double that, because they have antiques stacked on antiques. Don't worry--they're very considerate of the fine furniture on display, including 19th-century English and some French imported items. We liked the optician's table ($3,250).

Shopping works up an appetite, so indulge yourself tonight. Try the fabulous Grill 225, located in the Market Pavilion Hotel. Sumptuous decor with wood paneling, soft lighting, and quiet ambience make this place outstanding. Try to suppress a yelp when you see the prices: Entrées hover around the $30 mark. Such high prices create high expectations, and they're met. Steaks are superb here. But, frankly, Charleston has the best cuisine per capita of almost any Southern city.

Sunday Strolls
Charleston's 58th Annual Festival of Houses and Gardens runs from March 17 through April 16, 2005. This is a must-see on any springtime visit here. Approximately 150 historic private houses in 10 Colonial and antebellum neighborhoods open their doors to visitors. You're also invited to admire the many alluring private gardens during this peak time for peeking.

The festival features several Plantation Picnics at Drayton Hall Plantation, a national historic landmark property dating back to 1738, as well as daily walking tours with expert guides through the historic district. Tip: Most events sell out quickly, so make reservations early. Tickets are $45; call (843) 722-3405, or visit www.historiccharleston.org.

For more information: Contact the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, call 1-800-868-8118, or visit www.charlestoncvb.com.

This article is from the March 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.