Insider’s Guide to Charleston, SC

Explore Charleston Like a Local

Charleston is a city that prizes and celebrates its opportunities for leisure. Even the local dialect, considered by many to be the most patrician of the southern dialects, belies a relaxed gentility unique to the region. The people speak slowly, eliding their vowels, and in cadences more reminiscent of both the French Canadian and Sephardic Jews who were among the early settlers than the more nasal tones of Georgia or even western South Carolina.

1.Dinner at McCrady’s

McCrady’s Restaurant bills its fare as “the amalgam that is new Southern fine dining, concomitantly serving as a canvas for postmodern gastronomy.” Postmodern gastronomy? All we know is that the ambiance at McCrady’s (the building is listed on the National Historic Register) is incredible; the menu inventive, with locally-sourced food; and the service as good as it gets – anywhere. The menu was created by local celeb Chef Sean Brock, who was the recipient of the 2010 James Beard Best Chef Southeast award, no less. We’re leaving the scallop appetizer with cauliflower, black garlic and kumquat ($14) on our list because we must have that at least one more time before our regular runs to Charleston end.

McCradys Charleston
McCrady’s:  2 Unity Alley in downtown Charleston, Telephone: 843.577.0025,

2.Brunch at Red Drum

(and going all the way with the Dulce de Leche donuts)

Chef/owner Ben Berryhill is a Texan, who cut his culinary teeth at the legendary Café Annie in Houston, so it’s no surprise that Red Drum is the place in Charleston (actually Mt. Pleasant) “where South meets Southwest.” Dinners here are over-the-top good; the wine list extensive; and the flight of beers heady but it’s the Sunday brunch that makes our Bucket List many times over!  My dad Tom (who, as they say in the Lone Star State is a Texan “by the grace of God”) is nuts for the Take Me Back to Texas Huevos Rancheros while my mom Louise always enjoys the Breakfast Tacos with Monterey Jack, avocado and red and green chili sauces (dee-lish!). Other family members opt for to-die-for dishes like Wood-Grilled Quail with Texas Venison Sausage and Chile Cheese Grits.

Red Drum Charleston
Red Drum: 803 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant, SC,  Telephone: 843. 849.0313,

But what remains for the Bucket List are the aforementioned Dulce de Leche donuts, softly redolent of caramelized sugar, the scent wafting tantalizingly over to our table as they are served to other diners. Alas, to date, we’ve never left the room to try them. But there’s always another Sunday!

3. Drinks at sunset at the Pavilion Bar

If Charleston is one of the most romantic cities in America, the Pavilion Bar is surely one of its most romantic spots. In other words, you might want to park your student back in the dorm while you take in the rooftop scenery. Atop the Market Pavilion Hotel, the Pavilion Bar is open from 11:30 am to midnight but for our Bucket List, it’s sunset that we opt for to drink in the views of the harbor and the historic setting and possibly drink in one of the Pavilion Bar’s signature libations as well. Sophisticated casual dining is also available. Take note: There is a dress code and for prime seating at the bar, call for reservations.

Pavilion Bar Charleston
Market Pavilion Hotel: 225 E. Bay Street, Charleston, Telephone: 877.440.2250,

4. The Taste of Charleston

More than 10,000 guests annually make their way to the three-day charity event, Taste of Charleston, hosted by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association. Although the actual dates for 2011 have not been announced, the Taste of Charleston generally takes place in October. The Southeast Tourism Society places it in the Top 20 Events in the Southeast. Last year’s event took place at Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant with more than 50 restaurants offering culinary samples. A Waiter’s Wine Race is a traditional treat and last year, an Iron Chef competition stoked the gastronomic flames. To date, the GCRA has donated more than $1 million to local charities, including the Ronald McDonald House, Hollings Cancer Center and Charleston County Schools Science Materials Resource Center. For more information, visit the GRCA’s

Taste of Charleston
Taste of Charleston; phone: 843.452.6088.​

5. Get cultured at Spoleto

How could we have spent almost five years traveling regularly to Charleston and not once been to Spoleto or even Piccolo Spoleto? Spoleto is a world-class festival with 17 days and nights of theater, opera, ballet, visual arts, musical theater, contemporary circus and, of course, music. This year’s Spoleto takes place May 27 – June 12.

Spoleto Charleston
Tickets for any of the events can be purchased online at, phone at 843.579.3100

The line-up often features over 150 performances by numerous artistic ensembles. Among the past highlights is Ireland’s Druid Theatre performing Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan (this dark comedy is part of what was meant to be McDonagh’s Aran Islands trilogy and a favorite of my family). Also scheduled have been the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s opera Émilie;  Ángel Corella’s Spain-based Corella Ballet;  jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves; banjo icon Béla Fleck and the Original Flecktones, and New Orleans sensation Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. The heart of Spoleto, the Bank of America Chamber Music concerts will feature a changing roster of artists and 11 programs performed twice daily in the historic Dock Street Theatre. A number of performances take place at the College of Charleston, such as Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, which will be performed at Sottile Theatre. Singer/songwriter Sarah Jarosz, whose debut album netted a 2009 Grammy nomination, will be in the Cistern Yard on June 2.

6. Explore rare beers at the Charleston Beer Exchange

Part old cavern, part beer heaven. CBX is pretty cool, like a super well-stocked wine shop, only for beer. Open every day of the week, the Charleston Beer Exchange has Rare Beer Tuesdays when they tap “something extraordinary” for your growler. (Knowing what a “growler” is separates a craft beer aficionado from his parents, evidently). AND, they Twitter so you can find out the moment a new beer has arrived or an out-of-stock one is back. If you’ve been searching in vain for Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel , Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 Yr or Ridgeway Insanely Bad Elf, CBX is your place. They also ship (state laws permitting).

Charleston Beer Exchange
Charleston Beer Exchange: 14 Exchange Street, Telephone: 843.577.5446, Check out their incredible inventory list at

7. Stay at the Charlotte Street Cottage

One of the great treats of visiting Charleston, of course, is the fantastic assortment of lodging. We’ve stayed in lots of them – Planters Inn, King’s Courtyard Inn, Meeting Street Inn, Indigo Inn, Hampton Inn, and the Vendue Inn (which is pet-friendly, for a fee). But just once we’d like to stay in a 1820s carriage house tucked behind the main house on a tree-lined street in the heart of the historic district and pretend we are Charlestonians.

Charlotte Street Cottage Charleston
32 Charlotte Street. Charleston, Telephone: 843.577.3944

The owners rent Charlotte Street Cottage by the night, week or month. Not only does it have two bedrooms (and can accommodate four) but also a fully-equipped kitchen with original fireplace, living room, dining room and all the absolute necessities of modern life, ie, cable, high-speed Internet access and two-zone A/C and heating. But the best part is the private garden. According to guest comments on the website, we want to book a stay when fragrant jasmine is in season.

8. Go on the Spring Festival of Houses & Gardens

March 17 – April 16, the Historic Charleston Foundation is hosting its 64th Annual Spring Festival of Houses & Gardens. Set during the peak of the blooming season, the tour features seven to 10 properties each day in one of 11 neighborhoods and offer faux-Charlestonians like us (see #7 above) a rare opportunity to go inside the private homes and gardens of some of America’s most beautiful and historic residences. Tours and events vary daily. Glorious Garden tours ($45) are featured each Thursday of the Festival and include a wine and lemonade reception at the Nathaniel Russell House, 51 Meeting St., from 4-5 p.m. Meanwhile, walking tours with volunteer guides at each house explore Houses of the Civil War on April 9 and 12 and such areas as Anson Street, Church Street, East Battery and South Battery on other days. For a calendar listing of daily tours and prices plus ancillary events (such as the Charleston International Antiques Show),

Spring Festival of Houses Gardens
Spring Festival of Houses Gardens, Telephone: 843.722.3405​

9. Play the Ocean Course at Kiawah

Officials at the 2012 PGA quoted an old Scottish expression, ‘If there’s nae wind, it’s nae golf.’ “Those playing The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resorts can expect plenty of both.“ Rated “America’s Toughest Resort Course” and the #4 Public Course in America by Golf Digest, the 7,937-yard Ocean Course is considered one of Pete Dye’s most superb designs. But in order to enhance the panoramic Atlantic Ocean views, Dye’s wife Alice suggested raising the course above the dunes, which not only provided spectacular views but brisk, unpredictable winds as well. “Probably no other course in the world, outside the United Kingdom and Ireland, is as affected by wind,” suggests Kiawah’s own website. It is a walking-only, links-style layout and also starred in The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Ocean Course at Kiawah
Ocean Course at Kiawah, 1000 Ocean Course Dr, Kiawah Island, SC 29455

10. Pig Out at Melvin’s

Melvin’s has been a South Carolina landmark since 1939, and for eight years in a row, readers of Charleston’s City Paper have voted Melvin’s the best barbeque joint in town. It is a joint: food comes served on Styrofoam plates. The pork and ribs combo is the Best!….but then, he was raised in barbeque-less Connecticut. Meantime, my parents grew up in the ‘que capitals of Memphis and Dallas. So, their suggestion: get Melvin’s cheeseburger, which Chef Emeril Lagasse voted the Best Cheeseburger in America. It’s also one of the only places we know where they have Nehi Orange and Nehi Grape (as well as Oreo milkshakes). But if you do try the ‘que and find you can’t live without their Special Golden Recipe sauce, Piggly Wiggly in South Carolina and Georgia as well as the local Whole Foods stock it. Melvin’s is open every day except for Sundays from 10:45 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and has two locations.

melvins bbq charleston
Melvins BBQ, 538 Folly Road Charleston, SC 29412, 843-762-0511

Other Charleston Attractions

Some of Charleston’s leading attractions for tourism include the South Carolina Aquarium, the Audubon Swamp Garden, Cypress Gardens, the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, the American Military Museum at Aquarium Wharf, the Old Exchange Building, the Jewish Coming Street Cemetery which was established in 1762 by the Sephardic community that began to arrive in Charleston shortly before, Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, Patriot’s Point where the U.S.S. Yorktown is moored, Boone Hall Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place, and the White Point Park and Gardens, better known as Battery Park. The U.S.S. Hunley, a Civil War era submarine – the first in the world – that was both commissioned and lost in service to the Union, was raised from the ocean floor a few years ago and has been conserved for viewing is on display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Laboratory.

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