As you know, we just got back from a little last-minute pre-baby escape to Charleston last weekend! It was SO much fun, it was the second time we’ve been there together (and third time for me, I was there for a bachelorette party a couple years back!) If you’re looking for a beautiful domestic getaway, we can’t recommend it enough!
Charleston will always be a special place for us, because Neal surprised me with a trip there right after he proposed! It was the most magical weekend and holds so many memories! No matter what kind of vacation you want, Charleston has something for everyone.
This is by NO means an exhaustive list, but a compilation of spots we’ve loved (or heard about from others)–hopefully it’s helpful if you’re also planning a Charleston getaway soon!
Weekend in Charleston Guide
Getting to and around Charleston: (Spring 2021)
I don’t know how long this will be applicable for, but since we are still in the midst of a pandemic, there are obviously some things to be aware of.
First, PLEASE only travel if you’re vaccinated. I have never seen the airport (Midway, which is normally quiet) so busy–travel is definitely booming again, but airports are not a safe place to be for unvaccinated people, or those who might come into contact with those who aren’t able to be vaccinated.
Heads up on transportation:
Another pandemic implication is that Ubers are VERY expensive and hard to come by. I’m sure this is temporary and that it will improve again with time, but if you’re going to Charleston soon, it’s something to be aware of. The good news is that Charleston is VERY walkable, especially if you’re staying downtown, you may not need an Uber anyway. There are still Ubers running, they just take a lot longer and the prices may be much higher than you’re used to.
Cabs are another great option. Ask your hotel to arrange a cab for you!
Shuttle from airport to downtown:
There is an easy shuttle you can take that will drop you at any downtown location from the Charleston airport! It’s to the left of the rideshare pickup area by the cab stands. You can’t miss it. It’s $15 per person. Seeing as an uber would’ve required us to wait 20 minutes and pay $80, we were glad to find this option!
On pandemic protocols:
The day we got there was the day that the CDC lifted mask guidelines, and I will say it was pretty jarring at first. Pretty quickly, nobody was wearing masks–including crowded indoor restaurants. Again, we are vaccinated, so we were comfortable with this, but if you aren’t comfortable being around people not wearing masks, this is not the place for you to visit. Not a lot of masks, social distancing, etc. It feels very pre-pandemic compared to Chicago, even Chicago post-mask lift.
Where we’ve stayed in Charleston:
Our room at the Ryder Hotel
The pool at the Ryder Hotel
Brand new! We loved it! But had no idea how new until we checked in–we were two of their first guests! Haha! We could not have been more charmed by this immaculately decorated hotel and their wonderful staff who go above and beyond to accommodate you. The prices were really reasonable for Charleston, especially for having a pool! The rooms aren’t big but they’ve got everything you need–especially their LUXURIOUS bathrobes, their Malin & Goetz toiletries–they even had a STEAMER (instead of an iron, you know how much I love my steamer). Their coffee is also so, so good, and hanging out at their restaurant/bar was probably our favorite part of the whole trip.
I will admit they are still working out a couple kinks being brand new, but I’ve never met more welcoming staff, and there wasn’t a detail overlooked in terms of the experience they want their guests to have. Even if you don’t stay there, you must visit!
Where we stayed when we got engaged. It’s a BEAUTIFUL hotel with lots of historic charm. Definitely on the expensive side–but if you want a splurge, you will love staying here.
I am still dreaming of the heirloom tomato toast at the Little Palm
and the savory corn pudding at the Little Palm may be my favorite thing I ate all weekend
Where to eat & drink in Charleston:
First, a note on reservations:
You need them. Everywhere in Charleston is busy, packed, and their tourism business seemed to be back in full swing. For some of the most popular restaurants, you need to book reservations well ahead of time, but also keep checking Resy and OpenTable (and calling directly), because we lucked out a few places too being able to snag last minute spots!
The Little Palm:
The bar/restaurant in the Ryder Hotel, it’s small but SO cute. They have a stunning breezy tiki bar that is great for people watching and making new friends! The bartenders are incredible, and this was also one of the only places we found that approached mocktails the same way as their cocktails–true works of art. Both were INCREDIBLE.
The food was also SO good–don’t sleep on their heirloom tomato toast (basically an upscale play on a classic southern tomato sandwich) and the corn pudding (sounds weird, not a dessert, not a polenta–hard to describe, but one of the best things I’ve ever tasted). Great for drinks, dinner, drinks and apps, whatever!
The Bar at the Belmond Charleston Place:
I honestly don’t even know what this bar is called, but it’s swanky, beautiful and perfect for pre-dinner drinks or a nightcap!
Leon’s Oyster Bar:
We didn’t make it to Leon’s this time but loved it on our last trip. Not just for seafood! They also have tons of outdoor seating and amazing atmosphere.
Little Jack’s tavern
Little Jack’s Tavern:
Same owners as Leons, right next door–totally different vibe. We went here on our last night and randomly snagged a last minute reservation (which is hard to do) but so glad we did. It’s got an old-school tavern vibe, so cute, and love the simplistic menu. Famous for their burgers–but they’re the perfect size. Bigger than a slider, but not huge! Neal and I both got a burger and shared fries and their chopped salad, which was the PERFECT order. They also made a delicious virgin spicy margarita!
Bistronomy by Nico:
This is an upscale French restaurant with an Asian twist. The dishes are super creative and inventive, and a LOT of artistry has gone into developing the menu. That being said, it is NOT traditional French food–far from it–so make sure to look at the menu beforehand.
The vibe of the restaurant is beautiful, and we sat at the bar, which is one of our favorite things to do! I wouldn’t say the service was fantastic, but they also seemed very understaffed (which wasn’t their fault). All in all, if you want something totally different (I’ve never seen a menu quite like it)–you will probably love your experience here!
Fried green tomatoes at Virginia’s on King!
Virginia’s on King:
If you want some real southern cooking, you will love this spot! It’s cute, but not trendy–which we appreciated. We didn’t need another instagrammy spot, we just wanted somewhere we could get into brunch without a reservation. It does get busy, but nothing like a lot of the other brunch places where you don’t stand a chance without making a reservation weeks in advance. I would definitely make sure to strategically plan something lighter for dinner though–this will stick to your ribs all day. The service here was also fantastic, and they were able to get us in without a reservation, which was big!
I feel like Husk is the #1 restaurant you hear SO MUCH about. We went for brunch on our last trip and we loved it. Again, home-style southern cooking (like the above) but with a much more upscale twist. The restaurant is beautiful, and I like the refined spin on comfort food. Definitely worth a visit!
We went here for brunch but have also heard good things about their lunch and dinner! LOVED the atmosphere here–we sat in the garden area and it was beautiful. The service was great, and fast! I appreciated that they had a little bit of everything–lots of dishes with southern flair but also some lighter options as well.
The Griffin–our favorite dive bar (covered in dollar bills–we tried to find the one we left when we got engaged, but no dice.)
We went here for post-dinner drinks with Grace and LOVED it. Such a pretty bar and lively atmosphere. (Tip: Make a reservation on Resy, there were people waiting but we got right in because Grace had booked a table a half hour in advance.) It reminded us of a Manhattan bar–amazing wine list and great cocktails.
Total dive bar, and dive bars are our jam! A great place to stop for a drink at any time of the day. The food is just bar food, but it’s good bar food–and if you’re starving and you can’t get in anywhere else because everything else requires reservations (which is real) then it’s a good option! I also appreciated that they had Heinekin 0, because no other bars we went to had non-alcoholic beer.
One of Grace’s favorites–we went here with her! We were glad to go here after we’d had brunch at Virginia’s on King–the fare is very light and vegetable forward! Great for a girls dinner especially. The beet margaritas, buffalo cauliflower, and salmon bowl are their mainstays!
We made friends at The Palm and they made sure to reiterate that “this place is fun for drinks NOT FOR FOOD” So we listened, and went there for drinks during the day. It was fun!
A beautiful bar, great for cocktails!
Grace and I at Vintage Lounge
Places we never made it to, but came highly recommended:
167 Raw and The Darling Oyster Bar: Both the top recommended spots for oysters!
Circe’s sandwiches: A popular sandwich spot
Queen Street Grocery: Our friends just got back from a weekend trip and said they loved this place so much for lunch they went back twice!
Butcher and Bee: Great for lunch and dinner! Their menu kind of reminds me of a mix between Chicago’s Beatrix and Abba and would be a good reprieve from all the Southern Home Cooking that other Charleston restaurants are so famous for!
Hotel Bennet Champagne Bar: SO many locals we met in passing told us to check out Hotel Bennet’s champagne bar–so I’m bummed we didn’t make it here, but next time, it’s at the top of our list.
Other things to do:
Walk through College of Charleston’s campus:
Right in the middle of downtown, and not very big, but definitely worth a walk through their beautiful campus! It’s a nice place to find a shady bench under their gorgeous canopy of trees!
Get lost admiring the old historic homes:
We didn’t have time to do an actual tour, but if you love history, definitely look into that! I did find this website that lists out a self-guided walking tour, that could be really cool! But seriously, grab a coffee, have no agenda, and just wander around the city admiring how beautiful everything is!
(Dress is old, but highly recommend these low block heels–comfy to walk in and so cute!)