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With the departure date lurking somewhere in the near future, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic about the beautiful place that I’ve called home off and on for the past seven years. Charleston is both unique and picturesque, with cobblestone streets winding between colonial mansions, Charleston singles, church towers, cemeteries, waterfront parks, and oak trees draped in Spanish moss. My close friend, Mary, came to Charleston last week on a business trip and was forced to stay through the weekend because of a snowstorm up north. This unfortunate (fortunate!) event provided me with the perfect excuse to engage in the best of what the city has to offer one last time before I depart.
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Charleston, you will be missed!
I thought this information might useful to anyone planning a weekend visit to Charleston, so I’ve included our itineraries in the hopes that you will use it to build-your-own weekend adventure. Because Mary only had two full days to take advantage of, we planned our touring around efficiency, eating (of course), and capturing the essence of the place. This is a rundown of our two-day tour of Charleston plus a few travel tips for first-time visitors.
Day One: Itinerary
- Breakfast at Hominy Grill – 1 hour
- Browse antique shops along King Street – 30 min
- Drive to the Battery and walk around – 20 min
- Wander, explore streets and architecture south of Broad Street – 30 min
- Drive to Rainbow Row/East Bay Street – 5 min
- Walk to Waterfront Park – 20 min
- Explore art galleries on Queen and Broad Streets – 45 min
- Check out churches and cemeteries on Church and Meeting Streets – 20 min
- Drive to Folly beach – 25 min
- Lunch at the Lost Dog Cafe – 1 hour
- Walk on the pier – 45 min
- Stop for a Tokyo Crepe – 15 min
- Drive back downtown – 25 min
- Dinner at a downtown restaurant – 1 hour
Day Two: Itinerary
- Drive to Isle of Palms – 20 min
- Brunch at the Boathouse – 1 hour
- Drive to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island – 10 min
- Walk around the fort – 45 min
- Walk along the beach – 45 min
- Drive back downtown – 20 min
- Drive by Citadel – 10 min
- Break – 2 hours
- Dinner at Monza on King Street – 1 hour
- Walk to Paolo’s Gelateria for Dessert – 20 min
*times are estimated
Places to stay: During my last year of college, I worked at a bed and breakfast downtown (the 1837 Bed and Breakfast to be precise). There are a large number of unique B&B’s conveniently located throughout the historic district. Each one is distinct, some located in historic mansions, renovated Charleston singles, or carriage houses, so the price ranges vary drastically between the different accommodations. You can easily walk or bike the city, usually a full breakfast and parking is provided, and in most cases, they are family owned or run, so you will get a personalized experience. If you are on a tight budget, check out the NotSo Hostel, Charleston’s only backpackers’ hostel located in a historic house on Spring Street. Call the Charleston Visitors’ Center for more information on accommodations and booking.
Things to See: As with any city, you could easily fill an entire week with sightseeing, but if you only have a few days, then you can choose your highlights based on your interests (i.e. history, architecture, art, etc.). I recommend walking or renting a bicycle (available by the day here) for traveling downtown because parking and driving in Charleston can be quite tricky. The streets were built for horse and carriage; they may be beautiful, but they are disorganized, narrow, and flood-prone, so bring a map. Definitely wander down to see the iconic Battery, Rainbow Row, Waterfront Park, the Market, the College of Charleston, and any of the residential streets south of Broad Street. There are also numerous art galleries, antique shops, and boutiques located south of Market Street and along Broad Street. For specific tour information visit this site. If you are willing to drive outside of the downtown area, be sure to check out Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, either Fort Moultrie or Fort Sumter (Fort Sumter requires a boat tour), and one or more of the plantations surrounding the peninsula. By the way, check out this great NY Times slideshow of the plantations.
Good Eats: These are simply my favorites. For breakfast or brunch head to Hominy Grill on the corner of Rutledge and Cannon Streets. Located in a pink Charleston-style house with a large mural on the side of a woman with a steaming bowl of grits, it offers typical Lowcountry cuisine, such as fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, etc. For a quick, inexpensive, light bite to eat for breakfast or lunch, visit my favorite cafe in Charleston, Fast and French on Broad Street (croissants, french press coffee, sandwiches, and soups). Check out the lunch or dinner menu for Cru Cafe near the market, a cozy Charleston-style restaurant with a cute little porch available for dining. The Lost Dog Cafe is my favorite Folly Beach choice; casual with indoor and outdoor dining, the food is always great, but remember it is closed for dinner. As for dinner downtown, I will simply recommend FIG ($$$$) and Monza ($$), and send you to browse the dining guide here or here. Be sure to investigate menu prices (especially if you are thinking about dining on Market or East Bay Streets).
FYI the Charleston City Paper is a great place to learn what is going on the weekend of your visit or to read about restaurants and local events, and if you come in the spring, fall, or summer, don’t forget to check out the Saturday morning Farmers Market in Marion Square!