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The Essentials: A Local’s Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

A trip to Charleston presents limitless opportunities to immerse yourself in culture, culinary delights, nature, and jaw-dropping architecture. Gorgeous, historic mansions sit proudly amongst the live oaks’ expansive canopies with cascading moss that sways in the sunlight. It all feels surreal, but no need to pinch yourself. This top destination is very real, and you should romanticize every moment. Use this list of essential Charleston experiences to inspire your visit.

Winni Wanderer | Charleston Spotlight

First, Oysters

With a harvest season that spans from September to April, oysters aren’t a delicacy in coastal South Carolina—they’re a savory, briny staple, and it’s impossible not to find a phenomenal spot to slurp them by the dozen while you’re here. There are oyster bars everywhere you look in Charleston, plus countless restaurants that dedicate a portion of their menu to local and imported bivalves. Head to a trendy, Instagram-worthy spot like 167 Raw and curate a dish of iced, raw oysters on the half shell or roll up your sleeves to shuck a platter of freshly roasted mollusks at the rustic, down-to-earth Bowen’s Island Restaurant (a 2006 James Beard winner).

Winni Wanderer | First, Oysters

Salt Life is the Best Life

Summer weather enters the chat in April and doesn’t wane until Thanksgiving, so there’s ample time to sunbathe at one of Charleston’s famed beaches. Each boasts miles of pristine sand and a distinct personality.

  • The shortest drive from town is picture-perfect Sullivan’s Island. Prepare to fall under its spell and want to live there but take heed: the majority of Charleston metro’s most expensive real estate is on Sullivan’s. The bustling foodie village maintains its undeniable charm by keeping hotels out and people who desire serenity and opulence in.

  • If you want to rent a place on the beach, Isle of Palms (IOP to locals) options are endless: choose from houses, villas, condos, and hotels. IOP is home to beloved dive bars, family-friendly restaurants, and fine dining.

  • Folly Beach is set apart from Sullivan’s and IOP (which are neighbors) and is known for its laid-back vibes and tight-knit community of full-time residents. Pack sandals, shorts, and tees for Folly. Bonus points if tie-dye is involved.

Winni Wanderer | Salt Life is the Best Life

Shop Charleston’s Version of Rodeo Drive

You may want to check an empty suitcase on your way to the Lowcountry. King Street is a shopper’s paradise and the place to treat yourself (just how many treats is your business). The vibrant street runs the length of Charleston and features local, regional, and national stores, boutiques, and museum shops that offer whimsical and artsy gifts.

There’s nothing you can’t find on King Street: flirty, fluffy dresses at LoveShackFancy, one-of-a-kind antiques, vintage denim, Tecovas boots (grab a free beer while getting sized), paintings, jewelry … Looking for luxury? Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Rolex are conveniently located near each other. Want to make a (literally) big purchase? Peruse the unofficially named Interior Design District on Upper King and ship furniture home that your neighbors will covet. Keep your energy up with wine and snacks at any of King Street’s myriad restaurants.

Take Advantage of Happy Hour

Refresh at the hotel following an afternoon of shopping, sightseeing, and lunch al fresco, then find daily food and drink deals. Happy hour in the Holy City is an opportunity to experience even more restaurants without ruining your appetite for dinner.

  • Stop by the legendary Pearlz for peel-and-eat shrimp, fried oysters, and $3 bubbly.

  • For a visually stimulating experience, take the Grand Bohemian Hotel’s elevator up to Élevé. Not only will you feel as though you’re in Wonderland, you’ll also benefit from specially priced Wagyu sliders, house-made chips with blue cheese dip, and inventive cocktails.

  • To celebrate happy hour like a local, Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. is the place to be from 4-5 p.m. for their “Power Hour,” during which time everything on the menu—food and beverage—is half price.

Award Winners and Local Favorites: You’re Here to Eat

The culinary scene is, without doubt, a top reason to visit Charleston. Don’t worry about the calories—they’re worth it and you’ll walk them off (more on that later). Yes, making reservations has become a competitive sport, but you can always claim first come, first served seats at any restaurant’s bar. From legacy establishments like 82 Queen, Magnolias, and Poogan’s Porch to James Beard winners and nominees that include Rodney Scott’s BBQ, FIG, and Chubby Fish, you will leave the Lowcountry in a blissful haze induced by she-crab soup, mac & cheese, smoked ribs, and butter-poached seafood.

To get a comprehensive taste of Charleston, visit places that aren’t as overtly renowned, too. Blind Tiger is a local favorite with craveable steak frites, strong drinks, and a patio that goes on forever. Another top pick for Charlestonians is Xia Bao Biscuit. Housed in a converted gas station, it pays delicious homage to traditional Asian favorites and looks cool doing it. Don’t bother calling ahead for a table, their tagline is: No reservations. Just come.

Winni Wanderer | The Essentials: A Local’s Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

Take in the Views by Foot

The Holy City is wholly walkable. Its flat topography encourages hours of exertion-free strolling and though you can metaphorically “get lost” in the historic, lantern lined streets, the city is small enough that you can always find your way back to where you started.

  • Walk the entire battery while keeping an eye out for dolphins, Fort Sumter, and student sailors, then swing by Rainbow Row—it’s one of the most photographed spots in Charleston.

  • Not often encouraged in cities, you must explore every alleyway you come across. They are architecturally, historically, and aesthetically rich (your footage is all but guaranteed to make you a travel influencer). Seek out paths like Philadelphia Alley, Fulton Lane, and Stoll’s Alley: they connect lively city streets, but feel like secret worlds.

  • Despite the beauty found at eye level and above, don’t forget to glance down while you walk—you’ll find the city repurposes discarded oyster shells for gravel paths and sidewalk pavement. I told you they’re a staple.


By Nicole Foster


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