Mary Margaret Chambliss
Charleston sparkles this time of year. From the sun-dappled water beside The Battery to autumn's afternoon light against the city's legendary steeples, the colors will make you want to move here.
If you only have a weekend to spend, though, we'll help you make the most of it. With average temperatures this month in the mid-70s, it's the ideal season for an active itinerary. Get outside, do a little window shopping, and savor the fresh flavors that make this city famous.
Truly memorable trips are the ones where you try something different, and biking around town fills the bill. Bike the Bridge Rentals delivers a bicycle to your hotel and picks it up when you leave. In the historic downtown area, where parking is tough, there's no better way to get around. Plus, the company offers small, laminated guidebooks that mount on your handlebars, providing clear maps that highlight The U.S. Customs House, The Historic Rice Mill Buildings, and several other city landmarks. You get the benefit of a comprehensive tour at your own pace.
Pedal across the Ravenel Bridge, a stunning piece of engineering that spans the Cooper River and connects to Mount Pleasant. You're rewarded with an unbeatable view of Fort Sumter and downtown Charleston.
Once you get to Mount Pleasant, follow the signs to Charleston Harbor Resort, where Charleston Water Taxi escorts you and your bike back to Charleston near the wharf. Capt. Scott Connelly's boats depart from the resort at the top of every hour, and the trip costs just $5. Tip: If you happen to be heading back at dusk, the taxi makes an incredible sunset cruise.
Where To Stay
The city offers several excellent hotels downtown, so all you have to decide is how much you want to pay. For the ultimate splurge, you can't beat the Market Pavilion Hotel or Charleston Place Hotel. Charleston Place is larger and boasts some first-class shops on its bottom floor, including GUCCI and St. John. At the Market Pavilion, visit the rooftop restaurant and bar for a lively scene and one of the best views of the city.
For more moderate budgets, the newly restored Hampton Inn Historic District is a true find. Built in the 19th century as a railroad warehouse, the property finished a complete renovation this year, with all new bedding and room decor. The courtyard is surprisingly elegant and leaves you feeling as if you're in an independent property, instead of a chain. Another plus is its location, directly across the street from the helpful Charleston Visitors Center.
Tasting the Town
Notable Lowcountry cuisine continues to reign in this city, and Hominy Grill still serves some of the best. Near the College of Charleston, it's a good spot where you can request a table in the courtyard on a sunny day and enjoy superb shrimp and grits for breakfast or lunch.
For a decadent brunch, visit Poogan's Porch, a small spot on Queen Street. The restaurant takes its name from Poogan the dog, who hung around on the front porch of the place back in the 1970s when the owners first bought and renovated it. A local favorite is the Charlestowne Fry Omelet, an open-faced masterpiece topped with lightly fried oysters, white Cheddar, and applewood-smoked bacon.
Two spots earn our acclaim for upscale dining. At McCrady's, creativity and innovative flavor combinations drive the menu. The restaurant's entrance, in an alley off East Bay Street, seems tucked away and hidden. That's fitting, because the food here will make you feel as if you've discovered a secret all your own. Innovative dishes such as the Wagyu beef short ribs appetizer with onion-mustard seed relish are unreal--cut it with a fork, and it falls apart. Seared tuna with black truffle sauce combines interesting flavors for a surprising treat. Our dinner here was the best we tried the entire trip.
Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau: 423 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403; www.charlestoncvb.com or (843) 853-8000.Where To Find It
• Bike the Bridge Rentals: www.bikethebridgerentals.com
• Charleston Water Taxi: www.charlestonwatertaxi.com
• Market Pavilion Hotel: www.marketpavilion.com
• Charleston Place Hotel: www.charlestonplace.com
• Hampton Inn Historic District: www.hamptoninn.com
• Hominy Grill: www.hominygrill.com
• Poogan's Porch: www.poogansporch.com
• McCrady's: www.mccradysrestaurant.com
• Maine Cottage: www.mainecottage.com
"The Perfect Time for Charleston" is from the October 2007 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.