24 Hours in Historic Charleston, SC: Where to Eat, Play, & Stay
In this guest blog post, weekend traveler Kellie Smigel shares what's possible with just 24 Hours in Charleston, South Carolina, the port city with antebellum houses in pastel shades, and horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping along cobblestone streets.
Located just below the halfway point along South Carolina’s coast - south of the tranquil lowcountry - historic Charleston, SC is renowned for its charm and historical tradition. Founded in 1670 by English settlers, the city has blossomed from a colonial seaport into one of the most traveled destinations in the country.
Visitors from all corners of the world are enchanted by its cobblestone streets, vibrant architecture, beautiful beaches, and innovative cuisine (it’s one of our favorite food destinations in the USA). Perhaps this is why The Holy City has been voted the #1 city in the U.S. and Canada by Travel + Leisure time and time again.
Where to Eat & Drink in Charleston
We loved the lively food truck scene in Charleston, which is always a good choice for lunch. One of the more popular food trucks and a favorite of ours is Queology BBQ....but why wait for lunch?
Any time is a good time for BBQ!
If you're looking for fresh and healthy, Five Loaves Cafe is a great lunch place downtown with a healthy and sustainable menu. They source their ingredients from local farms and provide fresh veggies everyday. Farm fresh and delicious never tasted so good. Try the Black Bean burger with greens, tomatoes, and red pepper jam. Mmm!
Tucked away in Unity Alley in downtown Charleston is McCrady’s Tavern, an historic and upscale American farm-to-table restaurant furnished with high-backed booth seating under brick archways and rustic ceiling beams. Private events are held in the Long Room upstairs, an intimate dining space which once hosted George Washington during his tour of the south.
Keeping with the historical charm of the city, James Beard award-winning Chef Sean Brock has an affinity for historical cookbooks and draws much of his inspiration for the tavern’s daily-changing menu from such finds. “A Pie called Macaroni” – his Mac n’ Cheese inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s own recipe – makes a heavenly side to any entrée. Tempting as it is, after you order, try not to fill up on the fresh-baked pretzel rolls from a local bakery and homemade butter garnished with sea salt.
For the perfect after-dinner drink, The Gin Joint is just a two-minute walk away on East Bay St. Thumb through the 23-page list of spirits, all proudly displayed on shelves around the bar, or get creative with a choice off the ever-changing cocktail menu. With interesting combinations such as honey, cucumber juice, and habanero tincture, these originals will not leave you bored.
Feeling adventurous? Check out the Bartender’s Choice, where guests can select two adjectives off the list – from “sour” to “sweet” and everywhere in between –for a custom-made drink that fits their flavor description. For some great deals, swing by between 5-7pm Monday through Thursday for Cocktail Hour.
Where to Play
Located in the Historic Downtown District, Waterfront Park is a must-see for first-time visitors to the area. This eight acres of scenic land makes a picturesque attraction overlooking the waters of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor. Benches line the waterfront and make the perfect place to relax and enjoy the views – boats going in and out of harbor, children splashing in the fountain, and people lounging on the green. A short walk along the pier allows for a better glimpse of Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War rang out in the late 19th century. Don’t forget to stop and snap a photo in front of the famous Pineapple Fountain on your way out.
Where to Stay
When it comes to choosing a place to stay in Charleston, there's a unique place to stay for every taste. We loved the charming B&Bs and boutique hotels downtown, but two very cool properties do hospitality really well, and you may be surprised.
Casual chic defines The Restoration, a modern property as hip as they come, with a comfortable urban feel. Check out the loft living space (below) that we're crushing on. We didn't expect this elegant urban vibe in Charleston, did you? Check details and availability.
If southern charm is more your style, the 86 Cannon has a modern meets coastal feel going on (below). It's a place you can feel right at home in. Check rates and details.
Just a short drive from downtown on Charleston Harbor (a short Uber ride can get you just about anywhere you need to go) lie the Cottages on Charleston Harbor, possibly the ultimate expression of southern charm and hospitality. Just take a look at this view! Check availability and more details.
Is 24 Hours Worth It?
Yes and No.
Of course it's not ideal, but 24 hours is better than no hours in Charleston, right? And we enjoyed quite a bit in our short amount of time. This up and coming US city makes a great travel destination and had my heart from the moment I arrived. The breathtaking views, innovative food and drink, relaxed atmosphere, and friendly locals made me feel instantly at home. Charleston is truly unlike any other, and though we just scratched the surface in 24 hours, it doesn't long at all to fall in love with everything it has to offer. We'll look forward to meeting again soon!