Old times there are not forgotten. Much of Charleston remains as it was in the 19th century – beautiful mansions, lush gardens, horse-drawn carriages on cobblestone streets. The city prides itself on its four-century heritage and well-preserved beauty, as well as on its Southern hospitality and, of course, down-home cooking.
WHERE TO STAY
The Wentworth Mansion, a 19th-century private home converted into a 21-room hotel, is known for its lavish pampering (most rooms have whirlpool tubs and gas fireplaces), its luxurious spa, and its romantic atmosphere. (Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe honeymooned here; guess all that ambiance didn’t quite take.) The Market Pavilion boasts opulent guest rooms (the bathrooms have Hermès toiletries), a convenient waterfront location, and a rooftop whose cascading pool and bar make it one of Charleston’s most popular nightspots.
WHERE TO EAT
Grits – gotta love ‘em. Especially since they’re on practically every menu in Charleston. Jestine’s Kitchen is the archetypal soul food restaurant; locals swear by their fried chicken. Magnolia’s puts a modern, upscale spin on Lowcountry favorites like fried green tomatoes.
You’d expect great seafood in a port city like Charleston, and your choices range from the no-frills (the seafood platter, stuffed with shellfish, red rice, and fried grits, at The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene, a covered porch on a pier where the namesake trawler ran aground) to the posh (Seafood à la Wando, a sautéed shellfish platter with grit cakes at Hank’s Seafood, a Charleston mainstay in a historic landmark building).
Poogan’s Porch is a favorite brunch spot (try the banana nut pancakes) where celebrities from Tennessee Williams to Barbra Streisand and James Brolin have dined. (Also keep an eye out for the ghost of Zoe St. Amand, a late Charlestonian whose specter, clad in a long black dress, is said to haunt the premises.)
WHAT TO DO
The port city is steeped in military and maritime history. The Civil War started at Fort Sumter, which you can tour. The nation’s oldest museum, the Charleston Museum, dates back to 1773 and puts the natural and cultural history of the Carolina Lowcountry on display. Off the beaten path is the H.L. Hunley, a little-known vessel from 1864 that was the first successful submarine, now on display at the old Charleston Navy Base. You can also tour Charleston’s pre-Revolutionary dungeon and other haunted sites.
King Street is Charleston’s prime shopping district, with everything from chain stores to high-end antiques and objets d’art. For crafts and souvenirs, visit the two-centuries-old bazaar known as the Charleston City Market.
If you’re around on Labor Day weekend, the annual Southern National Barbecue Championship & Bluegrass Festival will feature an open cook-off, top bluegrass acts, and a mechanical bull-riding contest.