Almost 350 years old, this coastal South Carolina gem has bewitched travelers from every corner of the globe with its cotton-candy-colored homes, cobblestone lanes, wild salt marshes, and walled gardens.
The real secret to Charleston's enduring appeal is not its timelessness, but rather its skill for reinvention. After the
earthquake of 1886, the city dusted itself off and rebuilt. In 1977, a small performing arts festival called Spoleto became a catalyst for cultural change. Then just over a decade later, in 1989, Hurricane Hugo dealt the city a brutal blow–but not a knockout punch. The building boom that followed the storm laid the foundation for the current transformation spearheaded by a growing group of young creatives—artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs. Discover the best of classic and contemporary Charleston. Then plan your trip. ASAP.
1. The Dewberry
An abandoned mid-century government building turned swank hotel, where bartender Ryan Casey uses quail eggs to froth up his classic libations, and Lydia Mondavi's spa program includes field-to-massage-table treatments using native plants such as Carolina rice and Atlantic seaweed.
2. 86 Cannon
The boutique hotel's interiors, dreamed up by Charleston designer Betsy Berry, are fresh not fussy, but our favorite part of this restored 1860s single-house is the third floor library and round-the-clock honor bar.
3. The Blind Tiger Pub
When this longtime Broad Street barroom changed hands last year, locals worried renovations would erase the soul of the place. But other than kicking the stale beer smell, pumping up the menu, and adding a few subtle updates (like the marble bar tops), the new guys were careful to preserve the patina. Most importantly the brick-lined courtyard is as full of off-the-beaten-path charm as ever.
If the weather is nice, count on the patio being as packed as area beaches. Natives gobble chargrilled oysters by the half dozen and bite into crispy, fish sandwiches, but they also know to save room for the retro vanilla soft serve. Perfectly pulled, Instagrammable cones come topped with housemade rainbow jimmies.
5. Little Jack’s
6. Le Creuset Atelier
Inside the tricked out test kitchen at the French cookware company's North American headquarters on the Ashley River, you can stand elbow to whisk with some of the country's best chefs during monthly cooking classes.
7. The Gibbes Museum of Art
The South's oldest art museum is looking better than ever after a two-year, $13.5 million overhaul, which included expanded gallery space for cutting-edge exhibitions that explore everything from race and gun violence to the intoxicating beauty of the Lowcountry landscape.
8. Pancito & Lefty
Chef Robert Berry explores the breadth and depth of genuine Mexican cuisine with imaginative dishes rooted in tradition—think chilaquiles topped with quail eggs—plus a ridiculous tequila and mezcal menu at this new South-of-the-border-inspired outpost. Bonus: Carlos Santana gifted one of his guitars to the restaurant so if you’re feeling sufficiently inhibited, an impromptu singalong is not out of the question.
9. The Alley
No one does front-of-the-house charm like Jimmy Poole and his team, whose modernized bowling concept draws in all-day, multigenerational crowds (kids’ birthday parties in the AM followed by tailgaters around mid-day followed by a good-time crowd come evening).
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10. Hampton Park
Situated on the site of the historic Washington race track, this sixty-acre, Olmsted-brother-designed green space adjacent to the Citadel cries out for picnickers. Grab lunch to-go at any number of walkable restaurants—Park Cafe, Harold's Cabin, and North Central Deli.
11. Open Door
Whether it's a set of hemstitch linen cocktail napkins, a pineapple-shaped serving dish, or funky champagne flutes, this light-flooded home goods boutique on Line Street has got a Southern hostess covered on all fronts.
12. Marina Variety Store
The Sunrise Starter, the Holy City's answer to Waffle House's All-Star breakfast, comes with two eggs, grits, hash browns or toast, a buttermilk biscuit or short stack of silver dollar pancakes, and your choice of bacon, sausage, or ham. And if you're up early enough, a front row seat to the morning light show.
13. Hannibal's Kitchen
Chef Sean Brock, of Husk and McCrady's, is a vocal fan of the crab rice—buttered rice topped with a mess of fresh crab pan-fried with bell pepper, celery, onion, and bacon—at this soul food stalwart on Charleston's Eastside. But the Maco Shark steak (you read that right), might be the dive's most popular order.
14. Charleston Library Society
A haven for book-lovers of all ages since 1748, the historic Library Society hosts twice weekly story hours in the Rabbit Hole for the kiddos as well as regular conversations with international authors and tastemakers for their parents. Stop in to watch the book binders at work or sign up for a class in the traditional art.
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15. The Joe
Root for the RiverDogs with team co-owner Bill Murray, whose role as "Director of Fun," means the comedian can often be found in the stands at Joseph P. Riley Park, situated on the banks of the Ashley River.
16. Mac & Murphy
Stock up on quirky cards, letterpress calendars, custom stationery and other stylish office necessities at this sophisticated paperie on Cannon Street—it's next to impossible to leave empty-handed.
17. Nathaniel Russell House Museum
The cantilevered spiral staircase ascending three stories is an architectural marvel and the centerpiece of this painstakingly restored circa-1808, Federal-style town home at 51 Meeting Street.
18. Rodney Scott BBQ
Hemingway, South Carolina's favorite son and internationally acclaimed pit master Rodney Scott joins the Holy City's mini barbecue boom—Lewis Barbecue and Home Team BBQ are just around the corner—serving up the state's signature slow-smoked pulled pork. Scratch-made hush puppies, mac and cheese, cornbread, and greens all make worthy additions to a plate.
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19. Callie's Hot Little Biscuit
It's hard to eat just one of Callie Morey's buttermilk biscuits that come topped with everything from country ham to black pepper bacon to blackberry preserves, which is why they're sold in pairs. This spring, Morey will open her second peninsula location in the City Market.
20. Butcher & Bee
Two words: whipped feta. Served with fresh baked pita bread, the creamy Mediterranean cheese spread, topped with chili oil-tinged local honey is a favorite at this former sandwich shop and late-night hot spot turned full-service restaurant.
21. Fritz Porter
Sarah Hamlin-Hastings's 6,500-square-foot (and growing) antiques and design shop at the Cigar Factory—which carries everything from 18th-century chests and crystal decanters to Erin Connelly Reitz’s American made home goods—caters to both interior designers and do-it-yourself style mavens.
22. The Darling Oyster Bar
Pair the Fish House Punch (derived from a circa-1732 recipe made with rum, cognac, and lemon)–so popular its kept on tap—with a dozen Hatteras Salts and a seat at the always-festive, King Street-facing raw bar.
23. (Even Cooler, Newer) Food Trucks
Like its brick-and-mortar cousins, Charleston's food truck fleet is headed in creative new directions. At BKeD, hot hand-twisted pretzels—both mini and standard—come in flavors like Charleston sea salt and benne-seed. You can indulge your inner 8-year-old at Pure Fluff, a roving cotton candy wonderland. La Morra is a gorgeous Neapolitan-style, wood-fired pizza oven on wheels.