Often described as a living museum, everything in Charleston has a story to tell.
From the cobblestone streets and antebellum homes to the spate of new boutique hotels that dot its storied corridors, the "Holy City" (named after the city's ) has come a long way since it was settled in 1670.
In recent years, the city has become just as recognized for its food scene — home to world-famous chefs and restaurants serving up a mix of haute cuisine and new takes on Southern fare — and has grown from a colonial seaport into a hot spot that attracts more than four million people each year.
Still, Charleston remains a history lover's playground. Take a ferry to Fort Sumter and you'll stand exactly where the Civil War began. Have a bite at McCrady's, housed in the same building where George Washington dined. History is literally everywhere.
Read on for the best ways to experience old and new in one of the country's most dynamic destinations.
Named after King Charles II, who granted the territory to eight of his friends in 1663, Charleston's historic sights continue to delight even as its food scene thrives.
Upon entering , in the French Quarter, the glamorously decorated lobby with hand-painted silk mural, art deco chandelier and abstract paintings take you back to the Jazz Age. The decor is so opulent, it's hard to imagine that a parking lot once held the place of these modern-day Gatsby-style digs.
Harking back to the artistic renaissance of the 1920s, the hotel relied on many creatives from the area, including interior designer , to shape its design. From the handcrafted cocktails upon arrival — the lobby bar serves a smattering of Prohibition-era drinks alongside fun concoctions like "The Dude Imbibes," a decadent ode to the White Russian-obsessed, slacker detective of "The Big Lebowski" — down to the hand-stitched room keys, every detail is thought out to exude a feeling of elegance.
Inside the hotel's 41 guest rooms, a commitment to local purveyors shines through, with mattresses and pillows crafted by makers out of Charleston and local beverages and goodies stocking the mini fridge.
Even more unique than its polished decor is The Spectator's specialized butler service. Not only will your personal butler, most of whom train at the Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette, welcome you to the hotel, he (or she) will carry your luggage, show you to your room and even offer some historical tidbits on the area, all while clad in a swanky, three-piece suit.
And that's not all. Say, your clothes get wrinkled in transit. Just dial up your butler to have your outfits steamed back to perfection. Want to try the best restaurant in town? Your butler can handle making those pesky reservations for you. They'll even pack and unpack your clothes and help schedule in-room massages for when you need a little R&R.
The first shots of the Civil War were fired at in 1861, and today the national monument, accessible by ferry from Liberty Square, remains a top sight. But there's plenty to see just by walking.
A block from The Spectator is the , a complex of one-story market sheds spanning four blocks and dating back to the 1800s that offer goods from more than 100 vendors. Shop everything from clothing to candles to handmade soaps and beautiful sweetgrass baskets made from locally-harvested bulrush, a tradition started by West African slaves in the 17th century.
After exiting the market, take a 10 minute walk down East Bay Street until you come across the collection of colorful Georgian homes known as .
First built in the 18th century, the homes were later restored in the early 1900s and painted in pastel colors, which some say was inspired by the colorful homes colonists encountered in the Caribbean.
Make your way further down East Bay Street into Charleston's South of Broad neighborhood, and you'll come across some of the city's most affluent homes. Gas street lights, hidden alleyways, cobblestone sidewalks and ancient oak trees guide visitors through the rows of colonial and antebellum homes, including , a Gilded Age residence-turned-museum that's the largest private home in Charleston, and , the Georgian-style home where George Washington stayed on his tour of the South in 1791.
It's hard to appreciate the beauty of Charleston without acknowledging the role slavery played in the city's commerce and infrastructure. A closer look at the bricks found throughout the homes and buildings may even reveal the fingerprints of the slave who built them.
For a deeper look, pay a visit to the on Chalmers Street. Once a slave auction gallery, the building is now a museum dedicated to African-American history, arts and crafts.
Similarly, the , which has served a variety of civic functions over the years, from customs house to public meeting place, remains open to the public, offering tours (with guides donning colonial-era costumes) on the city's history and the eerie dungeons once used as a prison for American patriots held by the British during the Revolutionary War.
When a break is in order, head to for a walk along the pier and rela views of the water. Keep an eye out, while you're there, for the famous , just one of many pineapple motifs you'll find throughout Charleston.
Since colonial times, pineapples have endured as a . Imperial travelers first came across the fruit on their trips to the Caribbean, where natives would hang the pineapple in front of their entrances. Later, when the fruit reached America, it was so expensive, only the wealthiest families could afford to serve it at their dinner tables, adding to its prestige in the South.
Behind the bright purple and orange exterior of , some of the finest brews await. The coffee house in Harleston Village, one of Charleston's oldest neighborhoods dating back to the 1700s, remains a favorite, and has gained popularity for its creative takes on iced coffees. Their summer staple, Black Julep, combines espresso, hot water, honey and a couple of muddled mint leaves for a pretty and refreshing drink.
History lovers will especially want to pay a visit to in the French Quarter. Inside the building, dating back to 1778, brick arches and distressed copper tables nod to the restaurant's storied past, when it served as a watering hole for notable Charlestonians. Before and during the American Revolution, the tavern became a retreat for imbibing and discussing the country's evolving political climate. McCrady's grand "Long Room," built as a private dining space in 1788, would even host George Washington for a 30-course dinner during his Southern tour.
Today, the eatery, helmed by chef , is famous for its reimagined, locally-sourced American classics, such as the Tavern Burger with béarnaise sauce, the Beet au Poivre and the caviar service (served with tater tots).
Though one of the hottest tables in the French Quarter is , also led by Brock, along with executive chef Travis Grimes. Set up inside a beautifully restored 1893 Queen Anne home, Husk celebrates a new style of Southern cooking by crafting meals from ingredients indigenous to the South. Every grain, protein, green and spice is sourced locally, and in some cases is even grown on a small farm Brock established just outside the city.
On the menu: deviled eggs with pickled okra and trout roe and South Carolina shrimp and choppee okra stew with Carolina gold rice and flowering basil. If you can't score a reservation, your next best bet is Husk's bar right next door, where centuries-old exposed brick and dark-wood rafters offers a laid-back spot for sipping or munching on Husk's legendary burger with Benton’s bacon ground right into the patty.
Charleston's King Street is the place for shopping, especially if you're in the market for antiques.
, an antiques shop founded in 1922 by its namesake antiques dealer, realtor and auctioneer, remains a staple for buying (or simply ogling) English antique furniture, silver, china, crystal and brass from the 18th and 19th centuries. Chests of drawers, grandfather clocks and porcelain dessert services are just a few of the gems you'll find tucked away.
Nearby, , the Charleston showroom of designer Kay Douglass, has garnered attention for its mix of decor and home accessories. It's packed to the brim with antiques sourced from France and Belgium, upholstery and a selection of light fixtures, all reminiscent of Douglass' European-inspired design style.
Just up the road on King Street, hand engraver and jeweler William Croghan opened over 100 years ago. Now one of the city's oldest family-run shops, Croghan's selection of antique and contemporary jewelry is a sight to behold. The shop even has its own exclusive . These gold-plated jewelry pieces, ranging from earrings to necklaces, turn one of the city's most unwelcome visitors into something beautiful.
With a fragrance library of 100 different handcrafted candles, on Wentworth Street is pretty much a scent lover's dream. Their collection is so vast, in fact, that a ladder is needed to reach the scents at the top shelves and a library number is needed to identify each candle. If you want to get a taste of the candle making magic yourself, try one of the Candlefish workshops, led by a resident expert.
As Charleston's shopping and restaurant scene have blossomed, so has its cool status. On Upper King Street, a stylish hangout seems to pop up every day, and along Morrison Drive and Elliotsborough/Canonsborough, trendy eateries include neighborhood watering hole of "Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives" fame.
With so many foodie it spots popping up in Charleston, trying to fit as many restaurant visits in as possible can be challenging. Luckily, , just off Marion Square in the city's bustling Upper King district, makes it easy. Between its ideal location near the bars and eateries, not to mention those exquisite mid-century modern details, it's the perfect home base for taking in all that trendy Charleston has to offer.
Occupying the former L. Mendel Rivers Federal Building, which was ravaged by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the hotel honors the original architecture with a facade of stunning lime-washed brick. Inside, the interiors underwent a Southern Modernist remodel, a fresh contrast from Charleston's more historic vibe.
Considering Brooklyn-based design firm Workstead (known for converting historic buildings into hot spots like New York City's and ) had a hand in the design, it's no wonder The Dewberry manages to blend old-world charm with a distinct modern edge.
The lobby is decked out with palm-shaped chandeliers, funky Poul Kjærholm sofas, copper sconce and paintings by 1950s abstract artist and Charleston native William Halsey. Inside the rooms, curated books from the Charleston Library Society and more original art are on show, alongside floor-to-ceiling windows for stunning views of the city beyond.
While The Dewberry boasts a number of standard amenities, from a seasonal in-room bar to a world-class spa, perhaps the biggest attraction is its eatery, Henrietta's. Between the photogenic black-and-white tiled floors to servers in white tuxedo jackets, it's a picture-perfect backdrop for some seriously delicious food. On the menu: dishes inspired by contemporary French brasseries and signature cocktails like "One Before Dinner," a turmeric-infused gin and tonic with a hint of grapefruit.
Amid the hustle and bustle of Upper King Street, offers a number of tasty options, but the big draw, of course, is those piping hot, handmade biscuits.
While the counter-service restaurant opened in 2014, Callie's had already made a name for itself nationwide by way of its mail-order service. Classic country ham and buttermilk biscuits are excellent go-to's, though visitors can't get enough of the fried chicken biscuit special and signature biscuit bowls, filled with slow-cooked stone ground grits, shrimp and a heap of toppings from pimento cheese and roasted tomatoes to avocado and bacon.
Just across the street, seafood is the star of the menu at the , but even non-seafood lovers can be made happy here. Located inside a 115-year-old storefront, the restaurant, designed by , is an ode to the classic oyster bar with rich ink blue interiors, faded wood tables in the dining room a weather worn zinc bar that offers 14 patrons a front row seat to the oyster-shucking action. The best way to eat an oyster at the Darling? Raw on the half shell with a couple drops of the restaurant's house-made hot sauce. Seafood alternatives include a fried chicken sandwich and grilled Berkshire pork chops.
Creativity is not lacking on the menu at . Since moving to a larger, brighter building on Charleston's Morrison Drive in 2016, the hipster joint has made a name for itself, serving inventive sandwiches and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes for sharing. Try the mezze plates of whipped feta with fermented honey and falafel with baba ghanoush or the veggie burger, made with green tahini, grilled onions, feta, roasted tomato and zucchini pickles.
In an 8,700-square-foot building on Upper King Street, produces some of the best handmade, small batch spirits, made from grains milled in house. The interiors aren't to be overlooked either, with original wooden floor boards from the 1900s, copper finishes and light fixtures sourced from an old submarine. Schedule a tour of the distillery for a behind-the-scenes look at how those tasty sips are made.
Nearby Liberty Square, you can hop on board the , an 84-foot tall ship modeled after the 18th-century coastal trading "schooners" that once dotted the harbor. If you prefer sailing to strolling, the boat's daily two-hour tours will take you past some of the city's most popular sights, including the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge, Rainbow Row and Fort Sumter. There's a chance you may even spot dolphins en route. And though there isn't an official tour guide, the crew is happy to point out landmarks if you ask.
From its start, Charleston's neighborhood, once two separate areas, has been known to attract a diverse mix of residents. Back in the day, immigrants, freed slaves and blue-collar workers flocked to the area as industrial opportunities increased, and the neighborhood continues to thrive today, attracting everyone from young college students to business owners looking to set up shop.
One such trendy boutique is , the shop for stationery addicts. In the past eight years, it's grown from curating and selling greeting cards from vendors all over the world to creating its own line of stationery and wedding suites for clients. Also on display, you'll find an assortment of colorful notebooks and note pads, candles and fun art prints. The store's custom makes for a popular memento of the city.
Not too far, you'll find , a small shop that manages to pack a mighty collection of tabletop and home goods. Launched first in 2013 as an e-commerce site, store owners expanded to a brick and mortar space in 2015. Now, the shop can't help but attract home design fans for its ever-changing tablescapes. From the moment you walk through the bright pink door, you're met with an array of finds, ranging from marbled placecards to bamboo salad servers. But there's one item people go crazy for: the shop's wooden pineapple bowls.
In Upper King street, offers one of Charleston's best galleries and interior design studios. The brainchild of designers , the gallery is brimming with timeless, contemporary items from local and regional artists, pieces sprinkled in from the pair's global travels. Opened in 2007, the little storefront has come a long way since its days as a pop-up shop. Just strolling through the gallery's eclectic mix of goods is an adventure in itself. Think: brass snake letter knives, Czech glass knots, gold chrome piggy banks — there's a lot to keep you mesmerized.