Charleston Travel Guide
I'm still beaming from our first visit to Charleston. It's charm and beauty far surpassed our expectations and though we only got back a few days ago, I'm already daydreaming about revisiting all of our favorite spots.
This was a bucket list trip for both Joe and I. It's a city we've always wanted to visit yet had never really prioritized due to our busy schedules. When the subject of me turning 30 this November came up a few months ago, we both wanted to do something special and low key, since bottle service at a night club isn't quite my ideal celebration if we're being honest. We figured that a quick trip to Charleston would be the perfect excuse for us to get away, just the two of us, and explore somewhere we've always wanted to go.
If there's one thing I have learned while traveling, it's to jot everything down. I remember during my first trip to Italy, my dad handing me a notebook and recommending that I journal each night of our trip. I probably opened the notebook once or twice, and couldn't regret it more. There's so many faded memories I have of special places we stumbled upon or hidden-gems we discovered that I wish I had to look back on. Since then, every time I have traveled, I have journaled, which has given me the opportunity to revisit so many of my favorite adventures.
I know I'm certainly not the only one who's had Charleston on my list, so I'm excited to be able to share my trip with you! I've broken down my Charleston travel guide into four categories: What to Pack, Where to Eat, What to Do and Where to Stay. Whether you're planning to visit for the first time or looking to explore some new spots, I hope you find some helpful tips throughout this post!
What to pack for Charleston in the Fall
We didn't even really think twice when planning this trip that we were visiting at the ideal time of year. November in Charleston was nearly perfect. Most days, the temperature peaked at around 78, which could be a little warm in the direct sun, but was otherwise beautiful and not too hot. The mornings were around 68-70, calling for a light sweater and jeans, and nights got a little chilly into the mid 60's.
I didn't realize how much walking we would be doing when we were down there, but was so thankful that I had packed two pairs of sneakers because they were all I wore. I brought two outfits for each day; one for daytime and one for going out at night. During the day it was a casual t-shirt, jeans and sneakers with a light sweater if we had started our day early. I was so happy that I had taken the comfortable, causal route; it ended up being perfect. As for the nighttime, I brought a mix of pieces, knowing it would be a little chilly. Things like cropped velvet pants, off the shoulder tops and minidresses with a bootie were perfect.
It's always so telling once you get home from a trip to see what you actually wore and got the most use out of, and I have to say I'm pretty proud of myself for hitting the nail on the head with this trip. Next time, I would bring 1-2 tanks (I was a little hot in a t-shirt biking), and stick with one neutral heel as opposed to 3 pairs, that I could wear more than once for a nice dinner.
Where to eat in Charleston
Though we managed to squeeze in a lot of meals on our trip, we didn't have enough time to visit everything on our list. Charleston is a food-lovers dream. Between the southern cuisine, the fresh seafood and the locally-sourced ingredients, there are so many options.
I, myself, am an annoyingly picky eater. I thought I would be sentenced to a week of fried chicken, but I was honestly fine. There are so many places that there are truly options for everyone. Joe, of course, enjoyed a little bit of everything; one of his favorites being oysters. Here are our recommendations, broken down by meal:
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit - This was our first stop when arriving in Charleston. Great for a quick grab-and-go biscuit sandwich. The sandwiches are small but pack a serious punch.
Poogan’s Porch - A quaint little breakfast spot situated inside of an old Victorian. Poogan's Porch also offers brunch and lunch, with an outdoor dining option.
Hominy Grill - This breakfast spot came highly recommended, although we never got the chance to dine here. Make sure to arrive around or before 9 to avoid a long wait.
The Eclectic Café and Vinyl - Casual and quick breakfast where you can sit down or grab and go. The coolest part? This spot is part record store, part café.
The Daily - Located on King, in the heart of downtown Charleston, The Daily serves fresh coffee, pressed juices and breads baked daily. Great for a quick stop.
Glazed - This spot single-handedly converted me into a doughnut person. Glazed is great for a light bite in the AM, with its gourmet doughnuts boasting homemade, all-natural ingredients. The raspberry glazed is a must-try if it's available!
PawPaw - When in Charleston, you have to do fried chicken at least once, and this place knows how to do it. This was one of my favorite lunches (a great dinner spot too)! Pawpaw also makes a grapefruit frozé that is out of this world.
The Darling Oyster Bar - Housed in a 115-year-old restored vintage-esque storefront, this is a great seafood spot located right in the middle of downtown Charleston. This is also a fun spot for a quick bite and some cocktails.
The Park Café - Right across from Hampton Park is this causal and cozy spot with a delicious selection of toasts, sandwiches, soups and salads.
Leon's - Fried chicken, oysters, salads, and a great selection of beers on tap. Located in an old garage with a very cool indoor atmosphere.
Le Farfalle - There's only so much comfort food you can eat when you're down South, and this is a great option if you're craving some light and fresh Italian. A little on the fancier side.
Taziki's - Another option if you're looking for something outside of seafood and fried chicken. We grabbed takeout at this Mediterranean spot one afternoon and it was delish!
Magnolia's - This came as one of the most highly recommended spots, and it totally delivered. Think uptown down south cuisine. Make sure to reserve a table at least a week in advance. The fried green tomatoes are a must-try!
Husk - While this menu was a bit too eclectic for my picky eating habits, if you're a true foodie, this restored Victorian home turned restaurant is a must-visit.
The Ordinary - A seafood lovers dream (but clearly not mine). Uniquely located in an old bank, this spot offers a hot and cold menu, along with an oyster bar and some great cocktails.
Minero - We always manage to find a Mexican spot everywhere we go. Minero has a cool, casual atmosphere with delicious tacos a la carté and a killer spicy margarita. Loved it so much we ate here twice!
Butcher & Bee - A highly recommended spot that we didn't get to visit, Butcher & Bee offers a selection of locally sourced ingredients on Mediterranean-inspired menu that changes daily. Also great for breakfast and lunch.
Sugar - Best chocolate chip cookie I've ever tasted! With a daily selection of cookies and freshly baked cupcakes, sugar is a must-visit.
Carmella's - We couldn't resist stopping in Carmella's after lunch one day. It's a literal dessert bar, and the perfect spot for a drink and some sweets. The blackberry gelato was out of this world.
Jeni's - So sad we didn't make it here, but Jeni's ice cream came highly recommended by numerous people!
Elevé Rooftop - This rooftop was located at the top floor of our hotel. Very funky, Alice in Wonderland-esque decor with lounge seating and an indoor bar too. Highly recommend The Paloma cocktail.
The Rarebit - If you're a fan of moscow mules, this spot makes the best in town. You can also grab dinner while you're here.
The Watch - Rooftop spot with views of Charleston offering specialty cocktails, craft beers + local wine.
The Ordinary - If you're not a seafood fan or not in the mood for a full dinner, then go for some drinks. The atmosphere alone is worth it!
What to do in Charleston
There's certainly no shortage of things to do in Charleston. Though Joe and I are both very organized, when it comes to vacations, we don't like to plan ahead unless we absolutely have to. This worked out perfectly on this trip; we squeezed a lot in without feeling overwhelmed and made decisions based on what we felt like doing each day.
Visit a plantation
One of the highlights of our trip was visiting the Magnolia Plantation. It was only about 25 minutes outside of town (we loved having a rental car for day trips like this) and having gone on a weekday, we basically had the entire place to ourselves. It was incredible to see all of the history and how expansive the grounds were. The fresh air and beautiful blooms didn't hurt either.
Boone Hall Plantation is another great place to visit. This one is a bit more polished, with lots of tours to choose from and a few exhibits. We ultimately chose Magnolia because we wanted to experience a more authentic, preserved plantation.
Rent bikes + explore Downtown Charleston
I highly recommend taking a day or two to explore downtown Charleston on your own, sans a guided tour or carriage ride. Rent bikes (holy spokesis a fairly new bike share all over town that's perfect for this), explore the cobblestone streets within the French Quarter and take time to look at all of the stunning architecture. Rainbow Row was of course, one of my favorite spots, but I also loved the colorful doors on Tradd Street.
Check out the local shops
There's plenty of shopping in Charleston, but the real challenge is finding the hidden gems amongst all of the commercial stores. Candlefish was one that was just steps away from our hotel that we loved. With a fragrance library of over 100 original scents, these candles make for great souvenirs or gifts. Candlefish also offers a 2-hour candle making class, which is BYOB. We had planned to do this but unfortunately never got around to it!
Savannah Bee Company is another great spot we stumbled upon while walking up and down King Street. They have a honey bar and tasting station, with an incredible selection of locally sourced honeys for all different occasions.
If you have an hour or so to kill, the Charleston City Market is a fun walkthrough. It's an indoor/outdoor market that spans blocks and blocks with locally-made crafts and goods. I will say, some items sold here can be overpriced and tchotchki-ish, but the experience is worth it!
Where to stay in Charleston
Hotels in Charleston are aplenty, which can make finding the right place to stay difficult. Although we thought about the idea of doing an Airbnb, we ultimately chose to stay at a hotel for that extra little bit of added luxury.
I highly recommend staying in the downtown area. In downtown Charleston, everything is walking distance, making the convenience unbeatable. Plus, money saved on Ubers. Win-win.
We stayed at a small boutique hotel right in the heart of the Historic District. The Grand Bohemian is known for its eclectic decor, wine tasting and its very own art gallery located right off the lobby of the hotel. We had an excellent stay here from the moment we checked in to the moment we checked out, and I would absolutely recommend it! Rates were around $300/night for the weekdays and $500/night for Friday night. Prices skyrocket on the weekend, so plan accordingly!
One of our favorite spots in our hotel was the funky, Alice in Wonderland-esque rooftop restaurant + bar, Elevé, which we visited a few times. It was the perfect place to go for a drink after an early dinner and sit by the fire pit in a casual, laid-back setting.