UPDATED FOR 2022: Charleston, South Carolina continues to gain popularity as a travel destination in the south, particularly for special life events like bachelorette parties or couples getaways. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the historic city a few times now, and during each trip I find myself further impressed by the local charm, divine dining choices, and elegant hotel options. If Charleston is on your travel bucket list, I’m hoping this guide will help you narrow down your choices as you arrange accommodations, restaurant reservations, and map out the final details of your itinerary. Bon voyage!
My favorite hotels in the historic city – recommended either as a place to stay or a place to visit due to design and or the property’s food and beverage experience.
This dreamy dwelling comprises just 16 guest rooms and studios complete with pine floors, pastel paint colors, and all-around delightful decor. Although the rooms have been recently revamped, they all pay tribute to the buildings’ 1804 architecture and design, adding true southern appeal throughout. Sip your morning coffee on the veranda, take a ride on the hotel’s complimentary bikes, then browse the shops and bakeries that line the street.
Location, location, location! Planters Inn has a lot to show off, but perhaps one of the most compelling reasons guests book a room here is due to the hotel’s status as a landmark in the heart of Charleston’s historic district. Thoughtful interiors, like those featured in the St. Philip Suite (pictured below), flaunt high ceilings, exposed brick, and arched doorways. We’ve stayed here and I adored classic charm and incredibly kind staff.
With suites overlooking Marion Square, a highly-desired rooftop lounge, and numerous spa treatments to indulge in, there should be no hesitation when it comes to deciding on The Dewberry as your hotel of choice. You’ll love the thoughtfulness behind every detail of your stay—like the carefully curated in-room bar with selections from the hotel’s head chef. Plus their outdoor seating for coffee, drinks, or full dining is as convenient as it is beautiful.
Another pick with deep roots in history, the quintessential 86 Cannon hotel was originally a three-story 1860s house. Now fully restored and refreshed, guests rave about the picturesque marble bathrooms, cozy library, open air piazzas, and nightly cheese and wine delivery. Mid Century finishes and classic French influences create a glamorous vibe. Swoon!
Local ingredients, superb service, and a creative menu land Fig a spot at the top of my must-eat list. Order a refreshing cocktail while you look over the menu and decide between an array of delicious options, like gnocchi or chicken and bow tie soup. Make reservations early as this is one of the most desirable restaurants in town.
Conveniently located within the hustle and bustle of downtown, this small restaurant stands out from competitors by offering a two appetizer, two entree, and two dessert menu that changes daily. You’ll find yourself completely satisfied as you enjoy seasonal bites and good conversation at a joint that truly feels one of a kind. I love the classic French details like the handwritten menus and antique flatware. It is an unforgettable experience in a garden setting—on a visit for Christmas 2020 it was my first stop after arriving in town, and Penny came along to sit outside for lunch!
Formerly a 1920s bank building, this high-energy oyster hall is known as Charleston’s best when it comes to seafood. Post up at the bar and enjoy oyster happy hour from 5:00-6:30 or opt for a seat outside while you savor a lobster roll. The bar is known for its impressive collection of rum, so be sure to try one of the twelve options from the cocktail list. It’s a great option for groups – we went here for dinner over my bestie Lydia’s bachelorette weekend and it was one of the highlight memories of the weekend!
Another favorite spot for an outdoor healthy(ish!) lunch is Little Jack’s Tavern. I love their margarita and crudité! If the weather is nice then it’s also a nice spot to sit outside.
This upscale pizzeria is located inside the Emeline hotel in historic downtown Charleston. The restaurant prides itself on their wood burning concept that translates to flavorful, well rounded dishes. Most diners go for their pizzas and cocktails but they also have a variety of other entrees like steak, rigatoni, salads, and fish.
You can’t leave Charleston without indulging in some oysters. Leon’s has been one of my go-to spots to get my fix on recent trips and I’d highly recommend it. If oysters aren’t your thing it’s still worth stopping by for a fun atmosphere, good drinks, and fresh salads. Plus, it’s a good spot to keep in mind when you’re craving a late night bite—they’re open until 10 pm daily.
Kick off your evening in the rustic Vintage Lounge, which is best known for its extensive wine list. Start with a glass of your favorite varietal at the bar before making your way out to the lush patio—the lounge’s hidden gem. You can also schedule a wine tasting or join the wine club if you’re looking for something beyond a simple drink. It’s a great spot to layover before or after dinner.
Although Graft is primarily a bottle shop, you can snag a seat and a glass of wine for an experience both locals and tourists adore. Here, shop employees are known for their personable attitudes and ability to fill visitors in on all things newsworthy in Charleston. With vinyl spinning in the background and customers filtering in and out to purchase wine, you’ll be exposed to good conversation in the most relaxing way possible.
The light and airy interior at this upscale bar is inviting for all. Their cocktail list is so lengthy you’ll have a hard time deciding between a sparkling cocktail, French classic, or American favorite. If you’re in the mood for a bite, Felix also has a broad range of lunch and dinner options. Because of the variety, this is the place to go if no one can agree on a spot.
An absolute must if you’re visiting Charleston for the first time, the owner of the tour company, Tommy Dew, personally walks you through the most impressive spots in the city. Learn the history of the local architecture, discuss the pretty landscaping, and get pointers on other good restaurants and bars. Tip: Book your tour at the beginning of your trip so you know what areas you want to check out more.
People gush over this small stationary shop, and after browsing through the company’s Instagram account, I can see why. Although their printed notecards take center stage, the store offers a variety of gifts that will serve as a dose of southern charm long after you’re gone.
Satisfy your sweet tooth by making a pit stop by Sugar Bakeshop. The bakery is just steps down the street from Mac & Murphy, making it easy to pop by. Try the lemon curd cupcake, chocolate bourbon pecan tart, or ginger molasses cookie—three options that are sure not to disappoint.
No matter where you’re traveling, browsing local boutiques and shops is always a good time. You can find some of the most unique, quality pieces from small businesses and it’s such a great way to support the city you’re visiting. Some of my favorite spots to stop by in Charleston include Croghan’s Fine Jewelry for vintage and estate jewelry and antiques, Hampden for the best emerging and luxury edit, Amanda Lindroth for southern design, and Elizabeth Stuart design.
There are a ton of great museums in Charleston, but if you only have time to check out one, I’d recommend The Gibbes Museum. Their collection of art ranges from contemporary to colonial and will offer you a greater appreciation for both local and international art. Plan to spend between 1-2 hours here.
If you’re a history fan then you must add a visit to historic Fort Sumter to your itinerary. There is a ferry that takes you to the Fort. Fort Sumter is located in the middle of Charleston Harbor, and is only accessible by ferry rides through Fort Sumter Tours. There are two departure locations: Liberty Square Visitor Education Center, a National Park Service visitor center open daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, and Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.