A guide to Charleston, S.C., 4.5 hours from Raleigh
If you're ready to trade in oak trees for palms for a weekend, it might be time to visit Charleston.
Driving the news: Oyster season (for those who celebrate) is underway and temperatures have fallen to a degree that you can visit the city without evaporating immediately upon arrival.
- If you've never been to South Carolina, this is where you should start.
- If you've only ever been to Myrtle Beach, there's a support group for that, I'd imagine.
- Charleston is Savannah's older, classier sibling. It's OBX, but more photogenic (*ducks*).
A visit to the Holy City is a must. But don't take it from me — take it from Travel & Leisure magazine, who have named it the best city in the U.S. for ten straight years.
- Edgar Allen Poe wrote short stories about its shores; George Washington raved about its women; Bill Murray and Darius Rucker both call it home.
Getting here: Charleston is about 4-5 hours' driving distance from Raleigh. Flying might save you some time, but not much. Nonstop service between the two cities isn't currently offered.
Where to stay: Downtown, on the peninsula. If you're ballin' on a budget check out NotSo Hostel. If you're just ballin', go to Hotel Bennett.
Getting around: The peninsula is small enough that you can get around by foot, bicycle or rideshare. Don't worry about renting a car — we have limited parking spaces and a surplus of confusing, one-way streets.
Pro tip: Take a pedicab at least once. It's its own adventure.
Don't let lunch or dinner be an afterthought. Charleston is perhaps best known for its culinary scene, and numerous restaurants, chefs and bar programs have received national recognition.
Lenoir: North Carolina's own chef Vivian Howard, of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, opened two restaurants in Charleston in 2020. Lenoir, named for Howard's home county, offers Southern food that's elevated but in a way that doesn't stray too far from its roots.
167 Raw: This oyster and raw bar is right in the heart of downtown. Small plates are the way to go. Order the space potato — trust me.
Fleet Landing: Downtown's only true waterfront restaurant, its something-for-everybody menu includes Charleston classics, like shrimp and grits.
Little Palm: This trendy, poolside cocktail bar opened last year, and this year was named one of the Best Bars in America by Esquire.
Eleve: Though you can't go wrong with any downtown rooftop bar, this one atop the Grand Bohemian Hotel stands out for its Alice In Wonderland-esque aesthetic.
- Yes, and: The wine blending class at the hotel's downstairs bar makes for a fun evening activity. You can take home your own custom wine with a custom label as a keepsake.
Carmella's: The silver lining of being a city beloved by wedding and bachelorette parties is that they can support a high quantity of late-night dessert bars. Carmella's is the tried-and-true choice for grabbing an espresso martini and a slice of cake before calling it a night.
Tour: Take a harbor cruise, a walking ghost tour or visit one of our many museums.
- Of note: The International African American Museum is set to open early next year and will be located on the site of where some 40% of enslaved African people first entered North America.
Explore on foot: The best way to take in the city's architecture and natural beauty is to immerse yourself within it. Start in the historic district to see some of the oldest still-standing buildings in the country, then make yourself to White Point Gardens or Waterfront Park for harbor views.
- Or, walk up King Street for sights and shopping.
Hit the beach: I can't in good conscience recommend a trip to this little coastal city without a visit to its coast.
- Our closest beaches are within a 30-minute drive from downtown.
- Plan for at least a half-day there to have time to enjoy the beach, explore the island and grab a bite to eat.
For a no-frills, fried Lowcountry seafood dinner go to Bowens Island near Folly Beach. Avoid the line by getting there early. Stay for the sunset, if you can.
To pretend it's no-frills when there are actually plenty, go to Sullivan's Fish Camp on Sullivan's Island.
- Its atmosphere is designed to appear unassuming but is professionally done by a team whose former clients include Wes Anderson.
Yes, but: If you want to see the Lowcountry but don't like sand, skip the beach and go to Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant instead.
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