The historic, charming town of Charleston is known for its unique architecture, incredible food, rich history, and natural beauty. An epicenter for the arts and Southern culture, Charleston boasts unique experiences for the local and tourist alike. Whether taking a carriage ride down historic King Street, participating in a oyster shucking competition, or walking through the Battery in the early morning hours, a visit to Charleston will not disappoint. Here is your ultimate guide to Charleston, South Carolina!
The Ultimate Guide to Charleston, South Carolina: WHERE TO EAT
This gem of a local restaurant was found on a whim during one of our morning walks. It felt like enjoying breakfast on the French countryside, and for that reason alone, Cafe Framboise made it on my list of must-visit places in Charleston. Located right in downtown Charleston, just a short walk away from most of the big hotels and King Street, lies this charming cafe. They offer breakfast, brunch, and lunch. The crepes are a must-try here, and the classic strawberry, banana, and nutella crepe truly cannot be beat. This is a great place to go for breakfast as it is off the beaten path and usually not much of a wait. You will enjoy a lovely, quiet breakfast in this sweet, little French cafe when you visit!
On our recent trip to Charleston we were not able to make it over to this restaurant, but FIG is easily at the top of my list for the next time I visit. FIG is a local neighborhood restaurant that was first started in 2003 in Charleston. FIG stands for “Food is Good” and that slogan stands at the center of everything they do. The most fun part about FIG is that the menu changes nightly, a tribute to both the cuisine that each season has to offer as well as the freshest ingredients that can be found each day. While a popular restaurant to both locals and tourists alike, FIG at its core is a local neighborhood bistro. Their wine program is James Beard Award winning, and their food pays homage to the Lowcountry. Reservations are taken up to four weeks in advance, and on any given day you can find FIG completely booked with reservations for the week. The bar is always open for walk-up guests though, and the restaurant encourages you to visit the bar if you want the FIG experience but do not have a reservation.
Tavern & Table
Located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just a short drive from Charleston, Tavern & Table is the perfect place to escape for a quiet meal by the water. An ode to Charleston and the Lowcountry, this restaurant’s menu features food that is rustic, yet refined with options such as wood-fired flatbreads, seafood classics, and plenty of small plate options. They are open for lunch and dinner every day, and they also host brunch on Sundays. Tavern & Table has both an indoor dining area with a bar, as well as a dockside eating area and waterfront bar for your dining pleasure. Some popular food items on the menu include the charcuterie plate, any of the flatbreads, and the skillet of cornbread. This is the perfect spot for a casual dinner with the entire family!
Leon’s Oyster Shop
Charleston is known for their incredible oyster shops, and Leon’s Oyster Shop is one of the most well known. It is an award-winning restaurant located in downtown Charleston. While oysters are easily the star of the menu, they also serve incredible fried chicken, salads, and tons of different alcoholic drink options. Located in a refurbished old garage, Leon’s gives you a casual yet relaxed feel. There is also an outside patio with string lights and potted plants, making it the perfect spot for a summertime meal. This place is a true locals’ hangout and makes for a perfect, laidback oyster meal.
Off Track Ice Cream
Just a block away from one of the busiest sections of King Street is Off Track Ice Cream. This ice cream joint can almost always be found busy and overflowing with customers, proof of the incredible flavor and ingredients behind their ice cream. They offer both traditional and vegan ice cream in unique and classic flavors. All of the ice cream is homemade from scratch with only the freshest locally-sourced ingredients. Some of the most popular ice cream flavors include cookies & cream, brown sugar oat milk & cookies, cold brew honeycomb, and maple cinnamon roll. Some unique offerings on their menu are the nitro affogato and the craft soda float. This is the perfect place to stop by for an after-dinner dessert or afternoon pick me up!
Xiao Bao Biscuit
A small chain restaurant that originated in Charleston, Xiao Bao Biscuit features an eclectic mix of Asian soul food. Located in a fun converted gas station, Xiao Bao Biscuit brings a lively atmosphere and a great spot to try an adventurous meal with friends. They have some outdoor patio seating that makes for the perfect vibe on summer evenings. Xiao Bao Biscuit is open for both lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday. The menu changes with each season and features daily specials and family style dinner service. While their goal is not authentic Asian food, they provide a fusion of Asian cuisine from China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Xiao Bao Biscuit is a perfect spot for late night hangs with friends and a casual, fun dining experience.
Church and Union Charleston
Originally named Five Church Charleston, Church and Union Charleston serves New American cuisine in a 100 year old church. While you dine, you will be surrounded by towering stained glass windows, cathedral ceilings, and contemporary art. Located on Historic Market Street in downtown Charleston, Church and Union is the perfect spot for an evening meal after a day of shopping around downtown. The menu is simple and minimal with some classic dishes including oysters, fried chicken, and a filet. They also serve brunch on the weekends and lunch on the weekdays. Church and Union is the perfect date night for a playful, yet sophisticated dining experience!
Charleston is no stranger to great coffee shops. Head over to my blog post on a Guide to Charleston’s Coffee Shops for all of the best coffee shop recommendations.
As soon as you drive up to Lewis Barbeque, you will notice the large custom-made smokers as well as the huge mural located right outside the restaurant. They have a decently sized dining room, long bar, and plenty of seating in the backyard patio. They are open for lunch and dinner every day, and the line is usually long as it is a favorite among locals and tourists. All of the meats are cut to order at the counter, and you are able to get as much or as little as you would like. They also offer classic Southern sides and traditional barbeque sandwiches. With some of the best Texas barbeque on this side of the states, Lewis Barbeque never disappoints.
Millers All Day
A classic breakfast spot that serves brunch food all day long, Millers All Day always has a line of customers down the sidewalk of King Street in downtown Charleston. With a farm-to-table type cuisine, Millers All Day is any breakfast lover’s dream. Some of the menu highlights include biscuits and gravy, signature fried chicken biscuit, shrimp and grits, lobster roll, and hot honey chicken donut sandwich. This is a must stop for any Charleston trip, just make sure to show up early as the line will increase throughout the day!
The Ultimate Guide to Charleston, South Carolina: WHERE TO STAY
Located in the heart of the historic district, Charleston Place offers luxurious accommodations and award-winning dining in their elegant building. The best part of staying at Charleston Place is the amenities. With high end shopping located just outside and within the hotel, you will never be without things to do. They have a spa that is known for its rejuvenating treatments. The rooftop features a stunning heated pool and jacuzzi as well as a bar for your enjoyment. Each guest rooms features a reading nook, original art, and colonial style furniture. The bathroom features stunning marble vanities with a walk-in shower or soaking tub. Charleston Place also offers several options for dining including Charleston Grill, one of the top-rated restaurants in the city, Palmetto Cafe for daily breakfast, and Thoroughbred Club for tapas and cocktails. With prices starting around $500 a night, Charleston Place is perfect for those not wanting to leave the hotel to have a great vacation, a prime location, and deluxe accommodations.
Emeline is a chic boutique hotel located in downtown Charleston. With eclectic and stylish decor, Emeline is the hip and fun hotel of Charleston. You will be greeted with a welcome cocktail upon your arrival to the space. On the lower levels you will find Clerks Coffee Company, offering an array of coffee and pastries each morning as well as Frannie & the Fox, a restaurant featuring Italian plates with a lively bar. Emeline’s room rates start at $300, offering a much more affordable option for a place to stay, while not slacking on quality. Emeline is pet friendly. Since it is within the downtown area, parking is limited around the hotel, and they offer valet parking for $42 a day.
Hampton Inn Charleston- Historic District
A more budget-friendly option while still being in the heart of it all, the Hampton Inn Charleston offers a perfect stay for families and those wanting to save money on their next trip. With free breakfast and a prime location next to Charleston’s biggest museums, Hampton Inn Charleston offers you an incredible experience at a fraction of the cost. They do have a large outdoor pool to enjoy, and there are large trees that allow for some shade on those hot, summer days. With prices starting around $180 a night, the Hampton Inn Charleston- Historic District is a great value place to stay in Charleston.
The Ultimate Guide to Charleston, South Carolina: WHERE TO SHOP
Charleston City Market
Charleston City Market features about 300 vendors daily in its famous and historic Great Hall and open-air sheds. This market is a great spot to find souvenirs, hand-woven baskets, and locally made products.
Since Charleston first began, King Street has been a major shopping hub and commercial area. On this street you will everything from big-box retailers like Apple and Gap to local boutiques and antique shops. Lower King, designated as the shops between Broad Street and Market Street, is mainly filled with antique shops, art galleries, and local boutiques. A must stop antique shop, George C. Birlant & Co is one of the largest and oldest antique establishments in the entire southeast. Middle King includes the shops from Market Street to Calhoun Street. These shops are referred to as the fashion district, with name brands like H&M and Banana Republic. Upper King includes all the shops from Calhoun Street to Spring Street. There is a good variety of shops on this section with home decor stores like West Elm as well as local favorites like Blue Bicycle Books.
The Shops at Belmond Charleston Place
Located on the lobby level of Belmond Charleston Place are a near two-dozen high end retailers like Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
Mount Pleasant Towne Centre
A 25 minute drive from downtown Charleston, Mount Pleasant Towne Centre offers a more traditional shopping mall experience with retailers like Old Navy and Bed, Bath, & Beyond, chain restaurants, and a movie theater.
Located near the airport in north Charleston, Tanger Outlets features more than 100 national retail stores offering discounted “outlet” rates.
The Ultimate Guide to Charleston, South Carolina: WHAT TO DO
Rainbow Row refers to a colorful row of 13 homes in downtown Charleston. These homes are located on East Bay Street and feature a variety of pastel colors. Rainbow Row has become an iconic spot in Charleston and should definitely be on your list of places to visit.
A picturesque neighborhood at the city’s southern tip along the water, The Battery is truly a cannot-miss experience. A great walk would be to start at Waterfront Park and then continue for about a mile to White Point Garden. Along the way you will also pass Rainbow Row.
Sullivan’s Island/Folly Beach
Sullivan’s Island is a small beach town comprising only about 3 square miles. It offers beaches, restaurants, and local shops. The beach at Sullivan’s Island is a great spot for families to visit and enjoy. Folly Beach features a larger coastline with beachfront bars and restaurants, hotels, and casual restaurants located just a few miles away from the beach. Parking lots near the beach are about $7 for all-day parking, and street parking is free but hard to come by.
Angel Oak Tree
About 15 miles from downtown Charleston, you can find one of the most photographed landmarks of Charleston, the Angel Oak Tree. It is free to park and visit the tree, and donations are welcome. This tree is known to be the largest live oak tree on this side of the Mississippi. Pose next to this beautiful 300-400 year old oak tree on your next visit to Charleston!
Take a Tour
Whether it be a carriage tour, food tour, walking tour, brewery tour, ghost tour, or boat tour, you truly will not be dissapointed. Charleston, famous for its cuisine, boasts several food tour options starting at $75 per person with Charleston Culinary Tours. Most of the walking tours last about two hours long and cost $20 per person.
Tour a Museum
Charleston is known for history and art, and that can be seen in all of the museums this beautiful city has to offer. Gibbes Museum of Art, Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, and the Charleston Museum are just a few of the museums that Charleston is famous for.
South Carolina Aquarium
Overlooking the Charleston Harbor, the South Carolina Aquarium features 5,000 animals and rehabilitation spaces. The Aquarium itself is a sight to see with stunning design features and beautiful views of the water. There are over 60 exhibits in the aquarium with hands-on interactive spaces for children. Adult tickets are $30 per person and children tickets are $23 a person.
Charleston Farmers Market
The Charleston Farmers Market occurs every Saturday from March to November from 8 AM to 2 PM. Held in the historic district of Charleston, this market hosts a wide range of vendors including produce farmers, flower farmers, food vendors, live music, and arts and crafts makers.
The Ultimate Guide to Charleston, South Carolina: SPECIAL EVENTS
Charleston Food & Wine Festival
This event typically occurs during the first full weekend in March every year. This festival features special dinners, wine tastings, seminars, and workshops. This is a perfect way to experience Charleston’s famous cuisine all in one weekend.
Lowcountry Oyster Festival
This festival in Charleston is the world’s largest oyster festival featuring live music, contests, a children’s area, and local food vendors. It typically occurs in January or February of each year at Boone Hall Plantation.
Southeastern Wildlife Exposition
This annual three day event in February of each year involves animal exhibits, art, educational programs, and outdoor sports competitions. This is a must do event for outdoor and wildlife lovers!
Spoleto Festival USA
This event occurs in May each year and brings famous and renowned artists around the world to Charleston to showcase their music, theater, and dance.
Hope you enjoyed this ultimate guide to Charleston, South Carolina!