Charleston, South Carolina
We are always looking for easy weekend getaways and one of the ways we find destinations is searching budget airline routes. There is a small county airport only fifteen minutes from our house that only operates Frontier Airlines. While Frontier certainly comes with its cons, one of the huge pros is the low airfare tickets that can be found (Breaking Down Flight Fees). I started tracking the flight route to Charleston (Getting the Best Deal – Tracking Flight Prices) – which happens to be a great Bourdain episode. After keeping an eye on the trends for several months, I was able to grab cheap tickets for a long weekend trip.
I had many people comment on how much they loved their trip to Charleston but unlike the crowd sourced trip to Nashville, I was not left with many recommendations on what to do there. After a quick Google search, it seemed that a long weekend would be a good amount of time to see the major attractions and eat some delicious food.
Our flight was Friday afternoon and in under two hours we arrived in Charleston. A small airport, we loved deplaning and getting out of the airport in less than five minutes. Even better was the airport’s proximity to the city – less than twenty minutes away. The Airbnb was described as a “tiny house” – walk in and in front was the bathroom, to the left was the bedroom and to the right a small kitchen and living area – tiny house indeed but it worked well for us. The location was only two blocks from King Street, which is one of the life lines to downtown filled with shops and food – a great spot for exploring Charleston.
Wasting no time, we dropped off our bags and started walking. The first thing we noticed before even reaching King Street were the houses. They had a front door that led to nowhere!
It seems to serve no purpose as many of the houses had access the other doors – what was the point of the front fake door? We certainly found it entertaining and could not figure it out. If anyone knows the history of these doors, we would love to know!
King street was lined with bars, restaurants, and stores. We passed Jeni’s Ice Cream which we recognized from our time in Nashville. Fighting the urge, we did not want to spoil our dinner so we book marked it for later. It is probably my favorite part about where we were staying – we had to always pass Jeni’s to get home.
The next notable observation was the architecture. The buildings had some stunning molding and art deco style (Kevin’s favorite). Some felt stuck in the 50s, a shell of what was once there, others had been updated but kept the vintage charm, and there were those that were decked out exuding wealth and high class.
About half way down King Street we began noticing historical plaques detailing historical events that occurred in that particular location. I honestly forgot how much colonial history was in Charleston! Charleston was the site of many pivotal moments in both the Revolutionary and Civil War – include the first shots in both wars! South Carolina had the highest number of plantation homes, which also meant they had one of the highest population of slaves so there is that side of history to tell as well.
It was a great walk as we discovered downtown Charleston. The only thing I had on the agenda tonight was a reservation the coveted restaurant, Husk. When we turned down Queen Street, the building stood out among all the rest – a huge tree in front, it used to be an art school now converted into one of the most famous restaurants in Charleston.
Read our dining review of Husk here!
As the only reservation I had for this trip (I know, very unlike me!), we went all out and left enormously full. It was a welcomed half hour walk back to our Airbnb before quickly passing out.
Waking up still full, I knew breakfast would need to be on the lighter side. I had a few coffee shops tagged and felt that was the better option than a full breakfast.
Since many of the attractions we had planned were outside of downtown Charleston, ridesharing costs would add up quickly – many places were over twenty minutes away. We had used TURO in the past (typically cheaper than traditional car rentals) and found a great deal to keep the cost of renting a car low. We picked up the car around 8AM and we were off to breakfast at The Daily.
A small coffee shop to the north of the city (and with parking!) that offers coffee, pastries and simple breakfast items The pastries were so tempting – it was hard to resist – Kevin got a coffee and we both order a toast (trendy!).
I order the whipped feta toast with local honey and chives on nine grain bread (minus the black pepper) and Kevin chose the soft scrambled egg toast with chives on sourdough – both of which were delicious and just enough to carry us through the rest of the morning.
We still had some time to kill before our 1030AM tour time and while I originally planned to go to Folly Beach in the afternoon, it made more sense to go to Sullivan Beach on our way to the tour. Improvising at its finest to be the most efficient with our time.
Upon arriving at Sullivan Beach, Kevin wanted another coffee so we stopped in The CO-OP before heading to the shoreline. The parking situation was unclear but we found a spots along Access Point 18 1/2 that put us right by the path to the beach. This is also the spot where the island lighthouse is located and I must say, it is one of the oddest looking lighthouses we have seen.
Even though it was a gray morning, we found many people walking along the beach and more dogs that I could count. We walked south to get better views of Fort Sumter and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge but what captured our attention was the constant pacing of the pelicans along the coast and the flurried pipers chasing the waves.
There were also a fleet of yachts that were making their way further out into the ocean.
Keeping an eye on the time, we made our way back to the car to ensure we had enough time to make our way north. Almost foiled by the on-the-hour drawbridge getting off the island, we made it at 1030AM on the dot to Center for Birds of Prey.
Center for Birds of Prey was not something I found widely advertised as something to do in Charleston. Ever since Galapagos, Kevin has an appreciation and distinct interest in birds, so when I found this I knew it would be a nice treat. We really did not know what to expect from the afternoon here but when we arrived, I could not believe this was not a more talked about destination for people visiting Charleston.
Read about our tour of the Center for Birds of Prey here!
Feeling the sensation of hunger again, I wanted to continue to utilize the car to check off further out places on my Google Map. One such place was the highly rated seafood joint – Leon’s Oyster Shop.
They do not take reservations and the mob of people outside was not optimistic even though we were past the lunch crowd. Kevin jumped out of the car and threw our name on the list despite the 45 minutes wait. Leon’s has the world’s tightest parking lot which we were lucky to grab a spot in but if you have a big car find an alternative – our rental Ford Fiesta was able to navigate in and out but I cannot imagine having had a larger car. We hoped there would be a spot at the bar but no such luck – the bar was also mobbed with people. However, not more than ten minutes later we were called up for a table.
Seated at the reserved section of the bar right in front of oysters shucking station, it was a call back to the time we shucked oysters in San Francisco! The menu certainly made it hard to choose so we tried to get a little bit of everything (caution: they do not make any substitutes on the Fish Fry sampler platter, which includes catfish, oysters, shrimp, hush puppies, and choice of side – I tried).
Our order include half a dozen raw oysters, the Fry Up with half shrimp and half clam strips, and the two piece dark meat fried chicken with a leg and thigh. They also have a great drink menu, even offering half bottles of wine, which is what we took advantage of – Sauterne.
Sometimes you just need some deep fried goodness. One of the benefits of the clam strips were the endless batter munchies that came with it – the best part. The chicken was also delicious. The perfect lunch spot!
It had been far overdue in trying Jeni’s ice cream since spotting it last night so after dropping the car off we stopped by – the perfect snack while walking to the waterfront.
Oh the smell of butterscotch and waffles when you open the door. There are well over twenty flavors to choose from and they do not make it an easy decision. I chose the Darkest Chocolate while Kevin got two half scoops of Darkest Chocolate and Cream Puff. Both flavors are a great expression with chunks of fudgey chocolate and fried cream puff inside the ice cream. Instant love – Jeni, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Ice cream certainly helps make a long walk more enjoyable. We were excited to see the Waterfront and Battery areas of Charleston. Our first stop was the Fort Sumter Monument where boats depart several times a day to transport guests to Fort Sumter.
From here we proceeded south along the Waterfront towards the Battery. We were surprised to see a massive cruise ship docked – actually observed a different cruise ship every day – didn’t know Charleston was a cruise destination. Running out of sidewalk, we turned down E Bay Street where we were thrown right back into the town, passing places like the United States House of Commons and Charleston City Market.
Kevin requested a caffeine stop and I had nearby Bitty and Beau’s Coffee star’ed on Google Maps. This coffee shop employs people with disabilities to provide a valuable job. Such a great mission and Kevin really enjoyed their coffee.
A little further south, we started to see those cobblestone streets I had read about. While they ended up being not nearly as prominent as I expected, the few streets that display this characteristic were very beautiful.
The houses here were simply stunning. Enormous homes with carefully crafted terraces and mandatory fountains – some more extravagant than others – and meticulously selected pastel shutters and doors. It was hard to pick a favorite house and the ones “for sale” gave us a reality check on the value of these homes – millions!
Once we dead ended down Water Street, we were back at the water but this time a boardwalk welcomed us along the waterfront. The sun was starting to set creating some beautiful scenery.
The boardwalk led directly to The Battery. White Point Garden was lined with cannons while the park itself was full of giant oak trees. It was honestly the perfect time of day to visit this area as the sun displayed hues of pink and orange faded into the blue water and sky.
From here, we passed some of the historic houses in the area, including the Calhoun Mansion, which even from the gate outside was oozing with luxury.
We reversed our route back up the boardwalk along the Waterfront to check out a few more sights on this side of town. The first stop was Rainbow Road – the Painted Ladies of Charleston – a collection of pastel painted houses.
The second stop was Waterfront Park to see the iconic Pineapple Fountain and while I wanted to get here before the sunset, the lights on the fountain reflected beautifully at night.
With no dinner plans, we decided to do our own walking food tour of some of the star’ed places on my Google Maps. Our first stop was Swig and Swine for beer and BBQ. When we approached the address, it was no where to be found – we even walked a block in each direction in case it was cataloged incorrectly on Google Maps. The current resident confirmed that Swig and Swine closed at that location a month ago – whomp whomp. Oh well, onto the next location!
Since we were “right there”, we walked through the Charleston City Market. Situated between North and South Market Street, this market extends four blocks and is over 200 years old. Vendors include food, coffee, arts and crafts, and traditional sweetgrass baskets.
A co-worker had attested that 167 Raw was the best lobster roll she had ever had. Willing to test the theory, we walked across town to their location to find another mob of people waiting. There must have been 12 seats max in there. I asked to be put in line and was told it was over an hour wait and unlike our luck at Leon’s, I had a feeling this we going to be every minute of that wait. Inquiring about take out options, I was surprised the answer was “yeah we can do that”. I ordered the lobster roll and I was once again surprised the answer was “$30 is your total”. The best comes at a price! We sat outside and ten minutes later our take out bag arrived. We were told we could not eat it outside on their benches so obliging their request, we walked a few blocks, found a street light and went to town.
We were amazed when we opened the box at the sight of this lobster roll – so much lobster! No filling at all, just succulent lobster. The bread was a nice thick cut, toasted and slathered in butter. We could not be happier eating this on a side street under a lamp post. Splitting this meant it was gone far too quickly. I can only imagine what a full dining experience must be like here.
While I had plenty of bars marked on the Google Maps, we really are not bar people. We prefer a more relaxed environment so when I found Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer, just by the name alone this would work. This ended up becoming Kevin’s favorite place in Charleston.
Coffee shop vibes and a killer craft beer list, Kevin loved trying different beers and impressed at how great the quality was, comparable to the New England craft beer scene. When we ordered, I noticed a sign advertising a beer festival… that happened today. There Will Be Hops! Beer Festival was hosted at nearby Charles Towne Fermentory with over twenty breweries including Trillium and Equilibrium – whomp whomp WHOMP! I can’t believe we missed this event. Will have to keep this in mind for next year perhaps. We got our drinks and sat in the outdoor area, listening to Queen among brewers from the festival – validation that we were at the right place. Kevin discovered several new beers from our multiple trips to Kudu throughout the trip – highly recommend grabbing a drink (coffee or beer) here!
We continued north on King Street to continue our food tour. The first stop was Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts which only has late night hours on Saturday. It was slim pickings on doughnut choices so come early in the day if you want to have all the options available. We ended up splitting a Black and White – doughnut filled with dark chocolate and white powdered sugar on the outside.
Not the most extravagant of their offerings but once again, there were maybe four different doughnuts to choose from at this hour. It was a delicious doughnut and can only imagine what the others on the website must taste like.
This ended up being the last stop of the night. We peeked inside some of the bars in the area but we were not in the mood and Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit was not open yet for its late night hours so that would have to wait for another time.
What a full day! I feel like we now had a more complete map of Charleston and had to chance to see and experience a lot today.
As our last day with the rental car, I wanted to make sure we hit all the areas that required driving today. Our breakfast spot opened at 7AM and to keep the day rolling, I had us up and out early.
Daps Breakfast & Imbibe while not in the downtown area was close by to our Airbnb and more of a locals only joint. We arrived just before open and we were not alone – there were already several other people waiting for the doors to open.
A hybrid of table and quick service, you order at the front register then seat yourself. The place is not that big so I can understand how crowded Daps can get – happy to be here early.
The menu was amazing – what caught Kevin’s eye to come here in the first place was the Fruity Pebbles pancakes – a super cool concept to have cereal inspired pancakes! Not only were the selections all great but the prices were too. We ended up ordering a half order potato hash of Spinach & Mushroom with sourdough toast, a single stack of Captain Crunch pancakes, and B’Fast Bahn Mi with Egg, Glazed Pork Belly, Pork Mousse, Pickled Vegetables, Cilantro, on an English Muffin. We grabbed our seat and patiently waited for our food!
Nom, nom, nom! Everything looked perfect and tasted amazing. The hash was so simple but simple is sometimes the best – it really was delicious. The pancake was so fun – crushed up Captain Crunch cereal overtop the pancake and this berry compote on top was just delightful. I ended up putting the compote on the toast and it made for a great jelly substitute. And finally, that Bahn Mi. We can never say no to pork belly and it was cooked great and all the flavors of the different ingredients provided a fresh, light, yummy sandwich. Everything here was great and I was sad we would not have time to eat here again on the trip.
Back to the car, we journeyed out of Charleston to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. I will preface that there are way too many plantations to pick from. I found this blog post very useful in identifying the key differences between the six major plantations and they all have their own characteristics that make them each a unique experience. For this trip, we went with Magnolia for a more relaxed morning but it is good to know there is so much more to see on return trips.
Had to make a separate post just for all the beautiful photos. Read about our time at Magnolia Plantation here!
Starving, I had the perfect craving for BBQ. There are so many BBQ spots in Charleston and it was hard to decide which would be the one we hit on this trip. After much review, we chose Lewis Barbecue as it was local to Charleston and one of the highest rated.
Texas style BBQ and in house smoking of meat, we could not be more excited for lunch. While we could have went all out – and trust me, after I saw someone else with the pork ribs I wish we did – we split a half a pound chopped beef brisket with a side of mac and cheese.
I know it is difficult to tell from the picture but even the half pound was a large mound of meat. I liked getting the chopped up version as opposed to the slices because the fatty pieces were incorporated throughout giving a tasty surprise. There were several sauces to pair as well to give variety and additional flare. The mac and cheese was delightful – big macaroni noodles swimming in liquid gold. While a slice of white bread was provided, I really wanted a piece of corn bread – that would have been a great add on.
Banana pudding vs chocolate dirt pie. It was one of the toughest choices I had to make the entire trip. I asked the staff and the answers were literally split 50/50. “Why not order both?” Cause I most certainly would have ate both tubs of dessert. Since I had so much banana pudding in Nashville so I opted for the chocolate dirt pie.
I think Kevin managed two spoonfuls before it was gone. I do not know what happens with dessert – I just inhale it. Great choice but I am sure you can’t go wrong with either option!
Since Kevin enjoyed Kudu so much and discovered local beers that he enjoyed, I looked around for breweries around Charleston and was surprised to find a good number of them… Beer Christmas potential! One of his favorites that he tried was Charles Towne Fermentary not more than ten minutes away.
Upon walking in, we noticed the same group of brewers from the night before at Kudu – making good choices! Definitely look into stopping by a brewery or two when planning your trip here. Kevin tried a few deals and we enjoyed just hanging out for awhile.
Done with the car for the trip, we returned it and returned to the Airbnb to recollect and plan out the rest of the day. We decided to discover more about colonial Charleston by going to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and Old Slave Mart Museum… But not before grabbing an ice cream for the walk downtown!
Unfortunately the Old Slave Mart Museum was closed on Sundays so we visited the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. This establishment was completed in 1771 and served many purposes during its tenure. During the Revolutionary War, the British converted the basement into the “provost dungeon”, the main attractions here.
You can also view Half-Moon Battery – the original city wall. The top floor is famous as it is one of four remaining structures where the US Constitution was ratified in 1788. Up until the Civil War, The Exchange was also a location for slave auctions.
With no dinner plans, we sat at Waterfront Park and vetted dining options – we already ate through most of the dining locations I scoped out! Many places were not open on Sunday and others did not open until later. And Kevin had a strange craving for blue crab bisque. After much debate, we settled on Magnolias.
Super fancy inside, Magnolias is described as “uptown down south”. We were not starving so we decided to split several appetizers.
- Fried Green Tomatoes with white cheddar & caramelized onion grits, country ham, tomato chutney, tomato butter
- Pan Seared Sea Scallops with sweet corn hoe cake, pickled okra relish, brandy bacon cream
- Blue Crab Bisque
- Grilled Buttermilk Cornbread with maple honey butter
We were totally judged for getting the cornbread and it is unclear why! When we ordered the cornbread, the server replied “you know I am going to bring bread…” Then why have it on the menu sir, if you think it foolish to order the cornbread in addition to the house bread you will be bringing? Yes, we will have the cornbread – this thing have maple honey butter! And it was delightful. No regrets, just love.
For the other items we ordered, the blue crab bisque was so delicious – good call, Kevin! The scallops were over a sauce that was spicy so Kevin got to enjoy them. And the combination of ingredients for the fried green tomatoes was perfect. The grits have a great consistency, tomato chutney and butter served like a pasta sauce, and the country ham added a but if saltines to balance out the sweetness of the onions in the grits and tomatoes – not the mention wonderfully breaded and fried green tomatoes.
Overall, not a bad meal here at Magnolias, even if it was just for appetizers.
We started the walk back to the Airbnb and made another stop at Kudu as it sits conveniently on the way. Since the temperature had dropped, we sat inside cozy in the coffee shop turn craft brew heaven until we headed home to bed.
Last day in Charleston! Time to wrap up some loose ends. A frequent recommendation was Millers All Day for breakfast and I saved it for this particular morning. Another long and cold walk downtown, we arrived for the opening at 7AM with instant smiles when we walked inside.
Read all about the dining experience here!
I wish we could had unlimited stomach space or more meals in the trip to enjoy Millers All Day – definitely a winner for Charleston.
It was time to head over to the Fort Sumter National Monument for our 9:30AM tour to the fort.
Read about the tour of Fort Sumter here!
Arriving back to Charlestown mainland, we strategize the rest of the day before we had to head to the airport. Since the Old Slave Mart Museum was closed yesterday, we completed the short walk to visit this museum. Upon paying for the entrance, we were notified of a combo ticket pricing with the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon we did the day before – whomp whomp. Make sure to ask about combo ticket options when visiting these colonial sites to save a few bucks.
The Old Slave Mart Museum opened in 1938 as one of the main locations for slave auctions. Almost 40% of the slaves coming into the US entered through Charleston and many of them spent time at the Old Slave Mart. We spent a half hour reading through the exhibits and learning more about the dense history of this era.
Wanting a snack before heading home, I figured what better way to end this trip than to go full circle back to Husk. When we arrived, the bar area we were planning on visiting was closed and it was an hour wait to sit inside – not meant to be. We started walking back to the Airbnb, waiting to pass something that sparked our excitement, but ultimately ended up back at Kudu. One place we missed was Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit and while it was closing soon, we could make it in time. Kevin finished his beer and off we went.
We walked inside to the smell of a day’s worth of biscuits. Since it was end of day, they were already out of the large size biscuits and several other offerings. Luckily, the daily special for today was a goat cheese biscuit – sign me up!
With the choice of several jams, we went with strawberry and boy was it delicious – I just love goat cheese! I can only imagine all the biscuit options here are just as amazing.
Before grabbing our bags, we made one final stop at Jeni’s – it was right across the street, we couldn’t not go.
Charleston was a perfect weekend trip full of amazing food, southern culture, and rich colonial history. And for everything we did, ate, and saw, it was a very relaxing and stress free travel weekend. Everything is walkable and since it is not a large city, it is easy to adjust and change plans, or even have no plans (minus those Husk reservations). We certainly missed a ton of things – shopping (including the antique stores), the bar scene (Cane Rum Bar, Prohibition, The Rarebit), all the other plantations, and surrounding beaches. All things to look forward to on a future trip and ways to mix and match your own Charleston itinerary!