Why Charleston Is the South's Best City 2019
Plan a visit, and expect a warm Southern welcome.
I had high expectations when I set my sights on Charleston for the first time. A place doesn’t win the title of South’s Best City three years in a row without a gift for hospitality and plenty of charm. The city brims with both—that’s evident—but there’s more. Charleston is home to hundreds of years of history and is still constantly reinventing itself.
First, I noticed the palm trees. They line the sidewalks and shake their shaggy heads as the salty gusts roll in from the harbor. Next, I saw the steeples, one after another after another glinting in the sun—they don’t call it the Holy City for nothing. Palms and spires make everyone’s lists of things to see when in Charleston, but there are plenty of others too. Meander Rainbow Row; peek through wrought-iron gates, past tendrils of trailing ivy, to catch glimpses of hidden gardens; take a blustery walk along the Battery under blue skies; and sidle up to an oyster bar for a half-shell slurp. Even the most universally recommended experiences feel singular.
These are among Charleston’s greatest hits (and for good reason), but you’ll find there’s also a growing roster of new adventures claiming a place in the life of the city. The architects of this are Charlestonians, those who were born and raised on the coast as well as those who adopted the city later in life. They’re ushering in their own vibrant visions for food and retail, as well as fresh ways to appreciate the deep history of the place, evolving what locals and visitors alike have always loved about the city.
They're building storefronts like Graft Wine Shop & Bar, a must-visit Upper King spot helmed by two longtime friends, co-owners and sommeliers Miles White and Femi Oyediran. Everyone in town wants to be a regular at Graft, where you can enjoy memorable, complex sips, sometimes with a soundtrack of live music from a local five-piece band.
The local art scene is thriving too. The city’s newest hub for creatives is The Vault on King, a gallery, studio, and retail space that’s located in the heart of downtown. It joins an impressive array of fine art galleries and performance venues, the many storied institutions that have helped make Charleston one of the most culturally and artistically rich cities in the South.
Much like the layers of brick, mortar, and paint that have given the downtown area centuries of patina, there are layers to the history of the place, which visitors are invited to explore. Recently, the Historic Charleston Foundation debuted a new mobile app to help illuminate the wealth of historic sites and hidden stories found across the city. It’s available as a free download, with text and audio resources to supplement a self-guided tour. Now, more than ever, a stroll around Charleston is an invitation to discovery. Take that walk, and let the reigning South’s Best City capture your imagination.
There’s always a new story waiting to be discovered in Charleston. Visit the Holy City, and write one of your own.
The Insider’s Guide
Plan your getaway with these favorites from a few current and former locals.
- Croghan’s Jewel Box has been a Charleston institution for over 100 years, and the jewelry store still dazzles.
- Jordan Lash is King Street’s newest go-to men’s clothier, and it has already cemented its place as a must-visit.
- You never know what you'll find at Worthwhile, a beautifully curated shop with an inviting sandstone facade located just south of Wentworth Street.
- The Vault on King is a bustling art collective where you’ll find pieces for sale next to artists and their in-progress easels.
Stephanie Burt of The Southern Fork podcast shares a few of her top spots for a sip and a bite.
- Grab a cup of joe at The Daily, a charming Upper King coffeehouse.
- Enjoy a tasting next door at High Wire Distilling Co., where you might find Burt leading a tour.
- Get the best lunch in town at Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop—don’t miss the fried chicken.
- Sip something uplifting at the new local hangout, Graft Wine Shop & Bar.
- Try the best burger in town at Little Jack’s Tavern.
Sid Evans, Editor in Chief of Southern Living and onetime Charleston resident, recommends these two spots.
- The John Rutledge House Inn on Broad Street downtown features high ceilings, wide-plank floors, and canopy beds that make it feel as if you were staying in an old Charleston mansion (but with modern amenities). It’s a short walk to the prettiest homes and gardens in the city.
- The newly opened Hotel Bennett, which is located on Marion Square, is a European-inspired property with a heated pool on the roof and a pink Champagne bar, Camellias, that’s the talk of the town.