Charleston is a fabulous city to visit for an Ultimate Weekend Getaway. This 300-year old Southern city is stunningly beautiful with a very well preserved historic district filled with 18th and 19th century buildings and homes, southern hospitality, nice beaches and fabulous new restaurants that have been drawing food lovers from all over to this city. It is not surprising that Charleston has been selected by Travel + Leisure as the Best City in North America for the last three years.
We recommend the boutique Zero George Hotel for this ultimate weekend getaway. We like the Zero George Hotel because it has preserved the essence of historical Charleston while providing all the comforts of a modern boutique hotel. The hotel is small, with only 18 studios and suites, and is made up of three Charleston residences and two brick carriage houses from the early 19th century that surround a landscaped central courtyard. The hotel has done a fabulous job of preserving the architectural details and feel of the historic buildings – heart pine floors, high ceilings, period millwork details and classic piazzas – while adding modern conveniences to make for a luxurious stay. The hotel is located on George Street, a few blocks from the main shopping street and away from the tourist crowds.
For this weekend, we recommend the Garden Suite located on the second floor of the original carriage house of Zero George Street. It features a living parlor, a separate study area and a comfortable king bedroom. The European-style bathroom has a hand-laid marble and tile shower, marble countertops and handcrafted armoire.
Zero George Hotel // 0 George Street // Website
After getting settled into your hotel, a quick orientation tour of the city is in order. The best way to see Charleston is slowly – by walking, bicycle or carriage. Since you will have an opportunity to explore the historic buildings and homes in detail during tomorrow’s walking tour, we recommend that you take one of the hotel’s bicycles to get an overview of the historic district of Charleston.
Charleston was founded as a port city in the late 1660s and played an important role in the early days of the United States. Charleston’s historic district is charming and filled with well-preserved buildings and homes from the 18th and 19th centuries, cobblestone streets, wrought-iron gates unique to the area and picturesque gas lanterns on many residences. Other than the cars parked on the streets, parts of the historic district feel like they haven’t changed much in the last hundred years.
The historic district of Charleston is relatively small so it is easy to explore on bicycles. If you head south from the hotel towards the end of the peninsula, you will reach the Battery, which runs along the harbor and is lined with beautifully restored colonial mansions. Located at the southern end of the Battery is White Point Gardens, a small park with nice views of the harbor and lined with cannons used by the Confederate army during the Civil War to protect the city against Union attack. This area below Broad Street is mostly residential and filled with beautiful homes on narrow tree-lined streets. Be sure to visit Church Street, which is one of the prettiest residential streets in Charleston, where you will find some of the most beautiful historic homes (many with plaques providing the history of the home) and verdant private gardens.
Charleston is known for its “Lowcountry” cuisine (cooking traditionally associated with the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia) and is particularly known for its fabulous seafood. On the way to dinner, we recommend a stop at The Ordinary for a seafood platter and a glass of chilled wine before dinner. The Ordinary is a Southern seafood hall and oyster bar located in an old bank and its menu focuses on the seafood from the Coastal Carolinas and the East Coast. The restaurant opens to soaring two-story ceilings, a long wooden bar running the length of the restaurant, an upper dining alcove and a massive vault door at the rear of the restaurant that looks into the open kitchen. We suggest that you sit at the oyster bar where you will find many varieties of oysters piled on shaved ice. Order a dozen or so oysters or their signature seafood tower which is filled with local and East Coast oysters, littleneck clams, stone crab claws, and local shrimp. A glass of Sancerre goes perfectly with this seafood medley.
The Ordinary // 544 King Street // Website
Not far from The Ordinary is Chez Nous, a tiny no-reservations restaurant that serves a very creative three-course fixed menu featuring French, Northern Italian and Spanish influenced dishes. The restaurant is located in a cute 2-story house in an alley off the main street. The restaurant has only 16 tables, including a number in the garden patio. The best table in the house is a very private 2-person table on the small veranda overlooking the garden. They also have a small bar area where you can have a drink while waiting for a table to become available. You will be presented with a handwritten menu in the elegant handwriting of the chef that includes two choices for each course. Recent standout dishes included Caratelli con Rapini (carapelli pasta with broccoli rabe, a classic dish from the Molise region of Italy), Mussels with chick peas, beans and faro and, for dessert, Gateaux Basque (a pastry cream filled cake from the Basque region of Spain).
Chez Nous // 6 Payne Court // Website
There is no need to leave your hotel for breakfast since the Zero George Hotel serves a delicious continental breakfast that may include prosciutto or smoked salmon, homemade granola and fabulous muffins and pastries from the best bakeries in Charleston. You can enjoy breakfast in the main building’s small dining room, the upstairs parlor or the sun-drenched patio.
The historic district of Charleston is rich with history and beautiful old homes and buildings. We think that the best way to see this part of the city is on foot and highly recommend a private guided walking tour with Therese Smythe of Two Sisters Tours. Therese, who operates Two Sisters Tours with her sister, is a seventh-generation Charlestonian and is delightful and extremely knowledgeable of the history and architecture of Charleston. During the tour, you will likely see and learn about the Charleston’s famous row houses (particularly the colorful and historic Rainbow Row), St. Philip’s Church, where George Washington worshipped in 1791, the Heyward-Washington House, a beautiful Georgian-style house with beautiful formal gardens, the Nathaniel Russell House, a fabulous example of Federal-style architecture, and the Edmondston-Alton House, originally a Federal-style house that was transformed by its second owner into a Greek Revival-style home.
Two Sisters Tours // Website
We recommend having lunch at Husk, which is justifiably famous for being at the epicenter of the new Southern cuisine renaissance in Charleston. James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock, who became executive chef of McCrady’s restaurant in Charleston in 2006 and then opened Husk in 2010, is credited with helping to modernize Charleston cuisine and transform Charleston's restaurant scene. Brock is considered one of the most creative Southern chefs and, at Husk, has focused on an ingredient-driven cuisine that is firmly rooted in Charleston traditions. Brock, a stickler for using ingredients indigenous to the South, creates the menus twice daily based upon the best products offered by his local purveyors. Brock loves the flavors imparted by wood-fire cooking and is a firm believer that “low and slow” imparts the most flavor so it is not surprising that Husk has two smokers, a barbecue pit and spit, and a wood-burning oven, all fueled by an old fashioned burn barrel.
Husk is located in the center of historic Charleston in 2-story building complex dating to the late 19th century. As you enter, there is a large chalkboard listing the artisanal products currently being used by the kitchen. There are dining rooms scattered throughout the restaurant -- on the ground floor, next to the open kitchen, and on the second floor, together with seating on the patio. The menu reflects a modern take on Charleston cuisine. Some of Husk’s standout dishes include Glazed Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Shrimp with Edisto Grits in a Spicy Sweet Potato Broth, and their fabulously crunchy Fried Chicken with Panzanella Salad.
Husk // 76 Queen Street // Website
For this afternoon, we recommend exploring the city’s attractive shopping district. The city’s main shopping strip is located on King Street, as well as Broad Street and the Market Street area. The historic buildings along King Street have been beautifully preserved and there is a nice mix of unique local stores and boutiques and high-end national chain stores. We recommend starting at Broad Street, where you will find a number of art galleries and antique stores, including the well-regarded Martin Gallery. Heading north, the lower part of King Street is filled with high-end antique dealers, such as George C. Birlant & Co. and Jacques’ Antiques. As you get to the Market Street area, you will find a number of art galleries, such as the Wells Gallery, and the busy Charleston City Market, which showcases local Charleston vendors, including Charleston’s famous sweet grass basket weavers. The middle portion of King Street (from Market Street to Calhoun Street) is much more fashion focused, with local boutiques, such as the stylish Hampden Clothing and Billy Reid, as well as upper-end clothing chains. The area of Upper King (north of Calhoun Street) is an up-and-coming area filled with fabulous new bars and restaurants and furniture and interior-design stores. Don’t miss Blue Bicycle Books on Upper King for its used, rare and local book selection.
For food lovers, it is definitely worth checking out O’Hara & Flynn, a well-known wine shop with a wine bar, Heirloon Book & Co., a well-stocked bookstore focused on contemporary and vintage cookbooks, Bin 152, an excellent wine bar run by the owners of Chez Nous, Gullah Gourmet, known for their gourmet products and gifts and, on Saturdays, the farmer’s market located in Marion Square (Upper King).
If your energy begins to wane, we recommend a visit to the best coffee shop in Charleston, Black Tap Coffee. The shop is intentionally minimalist with simple custom-built tables made from heart pine wood used in the construction of Charleston’s oldest buildings, a stand-up bar with wrought iron stools, and a few black-and-white family photographs. They make excellent espresso drinks and hand-pour all of their drip coffee. They are also well known for their iced coffees.
Black Tap Coffee // 70 ½ Beaufain Street // Website
Our favorite restaurant in Charleston is FIG (an acronym for Food is Good). It has been around for over a decade and it really shines under the direction of Chef Mike Lata, who was named as the “James Beard Best Chef: Southeast” in 2009. The restaurant has a nice bar area (where you can order from the menu if you cannot get a reservation) and its dining room has an elegant bistro-like feel with modern lighting fixtures, antique mirrors, and well-spaced tables. Chef Lata is very focused on getting the very best ingredients and has developed relationships with best farms to ensure that he gets the first pick of their products. The menu reflects contemporary American and European cuisine with a nod to modern Southern cooking. Some of the recent standout dishes included Ricotta Gnocchi & Border Springs Farm Lamb Bolognese (the lightest gnocchi that we have ever tasted), Skate Wing “Chop” Meuniere, and Fish Stew with shrimp, squid, mussels and Carolina gold rice.
FIG // 232 Meeting Street // Website
After dinner, we recommend wandering over to The Belmont for an after-dinner drink. The Belmont is a hidden cocktail gem owned by Mickey Moran. The bar seats about 40 and has a great laid-back atmosphere with tin ceiling, exposed brick walls, a nice soundtrack and very skilled bartenders elegantly dressed in white shirts and skinny black ties. They are also known for projecting old B&W movies on the back wall. The Belmont is an “insiders” bar where the Charleston chefs and bartenders often go for a drink. The bar has a huge selection of unusual spirits which allows them to offer a great selection of classic and creative cocktails. These guys are really skilled so you will not be disappointed if you allow one of the bartenders to make a bespoke drink for you. Every city should have a bar like The Belmont.
The Belmont // 511 King St. // Website
There is no need to get up early since Sunday morning in Charleston is fairly quiet. Charleston has much more to offer than just the beautiful historic district and the attractive shopping options on King Street. For today, there are a number of different options depending upon your interests. Although yesterday’s tour provided an overview of the historic district, there is so much to see so you may want to spend the day exploring Charleston’s historic areas at a more leisurely pace. You can visit the historic homes that are open to the public, peek into lush private gardens and explore the small streets and alleys in the area south of Broad Street.
If you want to see an old southern plantation, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens in Mount Pleasant comes highly recommended. This is a working plantation and has been used in a number of Hollywood films. If you are a beach lover, consider an excursion to Kiawah Island, which is a windswept barrier island 28 miles southwest of Charleston. The island has over 10 miles of wide ocean beaches and offers opportunities to hike, play tennis or golf or just relax on the beautiful beaches.
Charleston is known for its fabulous Sunday brunches and Two Boroughs Larder comes highly recommended as the perfect Sunday brunch spot. Two Boroughs Larder, which was opened by Josh and Heather Keeler who ventured down from Philadelphia to Charleston, is a hybrid restaurant-market offering an eclectic mix of very creative and delicious American dishes amid shelves filled with souvenirs available for purchase. They are particularly known for their breakfast sandwich and their pork scrapple.
Two Boroughs Larder // 186 Coming Street // Website
The Zero George Hotel, which has been named by Condé Nast Traveler as a Top 5 Foodie Hotel in the World , offers cooking classes that have been distinguished by FOOD + WINE as one of the best new cooking classes in the world. If you are a food lover and would like to learn how to prepare some “lowcountry” dishes, taking a class at Zero George is likely to be a memorable experience.