Charleston has been at the top of our list for a while. And for goodness sake’s, why wouldn’t it be? There’s the food — two words, Sean Brock; the history — one of the oldest cities in America; and the drinking — 3 distilleries, 21 breweries, and counting.
To be sure, 33 hours is not quite a “long weekend.” And it’s definitely not long enough to spend in the Holy City. Frankly, with this little time, it’s a bit bold to write a post about what to do in Charleston. Yet, it turned out to be enough time to be a kick-ass, power tour, food-coma-inducing weekend that Charleston was pleased to provide.
Hour 1: Arrival, lattes, and a farmer’s market
From the airport, its a 20 minute $35 cab ride to downtown. An early flight means that weekend brunch spots are not all open yet. But if you find Caviar & Bananas on George Street near the College of Charleston’s campus, it’ll provide something to tide you over. Think of the place as a high end Dean & Deluca. Opt for a quick bite to eat with a reasonably priced brunch bowl or just grab a flavored latte (hot or iced) to go.
From there, it’s a straight shot northward up shopping-friendly King Street to Marion Square.
The rectangular square is named for Francis Marion, who it can be said was a terrible person. Notable here only for being historical inspiration for the Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot. Back to the point. Marion Square is home to a huge weekend farmer’s market where locals sell their wares and you can score an awesome breakfast sandwich on a biscuit from the kind folks at Farm Biscuit. We jumped on the “country sausage” – featuring a crisp sausage patty, fried egg, and a delicious heaping of pimento cheese – and the “whole hot bbq” – featuring pulled pork, a fried egg, mustard coleslaw and tart pickles. Both were served on buttery biscuits that were toasted just long enough on the griddle. The mess was perfection. The shopping is just as grand. Handmade seasalt from Botany Bay to Jen Cruitt‘s designs featuring Charleston trolley car token to Molly & Me roasted pecans in flavors like “bourbon” and “sneaky spicy.” Really cool stuff.
Hour 3: Donuts, bourbon, and beer
In news that doesn’t need to be told, King Street in Charleston is cool. Upper King (where we are walking now) is filled to the gills with awesome looking bars and restaurants like Indaco (note: closed on Sundays), Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (lines out the door), The Ordinary (some of the best seafood in Charleston), and Closed for Business (hip beer pub). Middle King (where we came from) has all the shopping. Lower King has all the antiques. It’s an over 1-mile stretch of consistency that is unrivaled in any other city we’ve been.
Since we’re at Upper King and the biscuit sandie is fading into memory, we stop off at Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts. Three simple words: Apple Bacon Fritter. Okay, okay, there are way more choices available including “The Charleston,” which is filled with bourbon cream, toffee glazed, and topped with homemade pralines and “Berry Cobbler,” which is berry filled with a cinnamon glaze and crumb topping. Definitely worth stopping.
Just a few doors up is the Charleston Distilling Company. Blue laws make you take a $5.00 tour to receive a pour. Tours are offered every hour on the hour, but the distilleries are all closed on Sundays. Highly recommend drinking the Calhoun’s Straight Rye (one of the smoother ones out there) either at the tour or at a local bar.
A short walk on Ann Street toward East Bay Street gets you to the Bay Street Biergarten. This is a beer lovers place featuring German lagers next to a healthy sampling of local favorites. Set inside the old Wilmington Railroad Depot, the building has a neat history. It had been violently destroyed in an 1864 Civil War explosion. As the story goes, confederate soldiers planned to evacuate Charleston and they loaded the depot with weapons and supplies to ensure nothing was left for the incoming union soldiers. But when a storehouse on the grounds of the depot filled with gunpowder was set ablaze, a trail of gunpowder led to the Wilmington Depot, where over 200 civilians still inside were killed. The beer garden preserves the bones of the building but has filled it up with a state-of-the-art tap system, kitchen, a full-service bar and huge outdoor patio.
Hour 8: Check in to the rooftop pool and then some bi-valves
Comprised of five individual buildings that seamlessly form a single hotel of gorgeous suites, The Restoration is just enough hipster to make us happy. While lacking in traditional Southern charm (I mean it’s hipster, we guess), the amenities offered are super cool. After an early flight and a few hours of walking around in Charleston heat (it’s real), the cool rooftop pool (smallish by most hotel standards) was welcome (especially when we had it all to ourselves). More impressive were the room sizes: suites with full kitchens, a seating area, and large bathrooms. The most remarkable came Sunday morning when the included picnic breakfast was left at our door. Would we stay again? Not sure we can deal with the Millennial staff that does not exude the type of welcome the rest of the city offered.
On East Bay Street is 167 Raw. To say the service and staff are awesome would be an understatement. The place is so small (20 seats maybe?) that your name inevitably goes on a waiting list. But waiting here is easy because as soon as you put your name down, the folks at 167 Raw take your drink order. It’s easy to see why there is a wait considering the impeccable seafood. But we came here for the oysters and we admit that these were the best cleaned raw oysters we’ve had. All reasonably priced.
Hour 10: Shopping before a drink with a view
On Wentworth just off of King Street is Savannah Bee Company and Candlefish. Both of the names tell their tale. Savannah Bee Company has some awesome local honey to try and sells in 3 ounce sizes (thanks, TSA). Meanwhile, Candlefish has “make your own candle BYOB classes” for a group outing. Both are very cool and worth a stop. From there, an early evening walk around the French Quarter is highly recommended.
Head to Pavilion Bar in the Market Pavilion Hotel for an early evening cocktail. Come here only for the view, which at sunset is marvelous. The service is serviceable (at best) but nothing special. And because the rooftop has a pool, you get a $12 cocktail in a plastic glass. Our martinis were not strained well and was not discernible from a gin and tonic. Notably, the view is available without buying a drink.
Hour 12: Chef’s table
Sean Brock. Need we say more? While Brock is 1.A., Mike Lata of Fig is certainly 1.B, at the top of Charleston’s food scene. He’s a James Beard Award winner and chef-proprietor of Husk and McCrady’s. We couldn’t resist taking the thinking out of our meal and went to McCrady’s chef’s table.
There we enjoyed the wine pairing and inventive dishes featuring local pickled spruce, soft cooked cobia, aged beef cooked as if it were an Egyptian god being cooked over high heat and fanned down. Rather than have full stomachs from a seven course meal, we were light enough on our feet to take a long walk back to the hotel.
Hour 15: Dancing in the pews
But along the way back, the windows were open and the DJ was spinning so we went into Five Church. The party was a bit light but the bar was super cool. Fully supportive of closing out the night here.
Hour 24: Bike the bridge
The bridge is there. And cruiser bikes are a plenty. So, we biked the bridge.
The Ravenel Bridge towers 186 feet and stretches 4 kilometers over the Cooper River. It’s what we saw at sunset the night before and we wanted to experience it. Surprisingly – and truly – we were not alone up there. There were hundreds of people walking, running, biking, sitting on the built-in benches at each of the towers. We followed a similar route as the yearly Cooper River Bridge Run and ended up over at the Mount Pleasant Waterfront Memorial Park.
The park is located under the base of the Ravenel Bridge and features a 1,250 foot long pier filled with families and fisherman. It’s a special spot on a Sunday morning to sit and people watch, feeling accomplished that 2 and 3/4 miles are behind – er, just over – us.
Hour 28: “All Hail The King”
While awesome, the Ravenel Bridge is uphill both ways. On a cruiser, this is not easy (understatement of the year). Lewis Barbecue was waiting for us at the end of the bridge and just five minutes north of the underpass.
John Lewis is a self-described “master of barbecue.” He custom-design his own smokers and smokes 24 hours a day. John opened Lewis Barbecue in “NoMo” (North Morrison) in 2015 and the lines at lunch on a Sunday are a testament to the biblical nature of John’s barbecue. The staff was super friendly, providing samples of different meat options and coaching us on sides. Two sides, a half pound of pulled pork, and a half pound of brisket was ideal for two. The smoke ring on the brisket and the burnt ends almost (almost) made us take a brisket home.
In the same complex, Edmond’s Oast is unlike any restaurant we’ve ever seen.
After almost meat-coma-ing, we wanted beer. Edmond’s Oast is a combination of brewery, seasonal kitchen, and awesome bar spot. The brunch menu looks excellent but the 36+ beers on the wall on tap, including 10 of Edmond’s Oast’s own, nailed it.
Hour 30: Brews and football
It’s Sunday afternoon and we’re on mile 14 of cycling around Charleston.
Having seen The Citadel, Hampton Park, the French Quarter, Rainbow Row, and many of Charleston’s churches, we ended up back on King Street. People in NFL jerseys are spilling out into the street at Charleston Beer Works. We some more local brews (a couple interesting Hefeweisens) and have some more Charleston Distilling Co. Calhoun Rye before sightseeing some more on the way to the airport.
Why we’ll go back: To try Husk. To drink more local beers. Because its only an hour away by plane.