Charleston has been named Friendliest Small Town, Best City in the World, and on and on. We just call it our second home. I am constantly asked for advice on what to do and see in Charleston so here’s a quick guide on what we love and what we recommend.
Let’s start with cake:
No seriously, I’ll tell you where to stay and blah blah blah after I tell you about the cake. You want to know this. This is life altering stuff people. Peninsula Grill, which is part of the Relais and Chateaux hotel Planters Inn, makes a cake that would make Marie Antionette drool.
Think I’m exaggerating? Here is praise for the Ultimate Coconut Cake:
Bobby Flay: “All-time favorite dessert”
Martha Stewart: “The richest filling, and the best ingredients…”
The New York Times: “A little slice of heaven…”
Bon Appetit: “… skyscraper high… light as a cloud…”
Southern Living: “One of the South’s Grand Desserts”
Delta Sky: “… a thing of beauty”
Charleston City Paper Editors’ Picks: “Best Slice of Heaven”
Featured on The Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay and Food Finds
Featured on The Martha Stewart Show
Featured on The Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets
Featured on Turner South Original Programs Blue Ribbon: “Best Dessert Cake in the South”
Lucky for you – and me -you can order this cake online -click HERE. I haven’t tried the mail order option yet. But my birthday is in two weeks so I really think I should, don’t you?
Where to Stay:
When we stay in Charleston we like the Cottages on Charleston Harbor. They are a quick drive to town but have water views and hammocks. Also, the two bedroom lay out and outdoor pool work for our family. You can read my review here. I have not stayed at Planters Inn but did tour the property. It’s lovely in a very old south charming way. It’s so perfectly situated right in the middle of Charleston it would make a great choice. It was voted #1 Small City Hotel in the Continental US by Travel & Leisure, so you know it’s good. However you would need several of these gorgeous rooms to fit a large family.
We have a home on Kiawah Island, which is a private beach community about a 30 minute drive from Charleston. We built it after vacationing here every summer and falling in love. Before we built we either stayed at The Sanctuary or rented a home through the Kiawah Island Resort. The Sanctuary is a stunning waterfront property that offers every southern amenity. The space can be tight (and expensive) for a large family. For long stays we rented homes and condos all over the island. You can rent through the resort-link HERE– and then you get access to their fabulous new water park pools. VRBO and other rental agencies can’t offer that. Read my review of The Sanctuary HERE.
The beach offers a ton of activities, you can ride bikes, dolphin watch, and boogie board, SUP or surf. Yes, real surfing. And with water that hovers around 85 degrees in the summer, you don’t need a wet suit. How you like them apples Malibu? My new obsession is paddle surfing. It’s bigger than a SUP board, you paddle out and then surf the waves back in. I still suck at it, but I’m getting better. Notice to Mr. LTM, this is board is on my birthday wish list. With the cake.
Where to Eat:
Where not to eat is more the question in Charleston. It’s a serious foodie scene. This is not all bacon and sweet tea people, but those do happen to be two of my favorite things. A few of our faves:
FIG (stands for Food is Good) – downtown Charleston
HUSK – they put bacon or essence of bacon in almost everything – you want to eat here -downtown Charleston
Jim-n-Nick’s BBQ on King Street-so good-so cheap-the kids menu items are less than NY bottled water
Circa 1886 – part of the Wentorth Mansion – super charming -super tasty
Water’s Edge – on Shem Creek -short drive from Charleston – great food – great view- great drinks
Cherrywood BBQ & Ale House – on Kiawah Island – best gator viewing and BBQ on island
What to do:
Charleston has world class shopping on King Street. It is not yet completely over run by the Gap and Abercrombie you can still find great boutiques in charming historic buildings. I love Moon and Lola for monogrammed jewelry (nothing is more southern than that) and Copper Penny for clothes that work for mom and daughter. There is a charming and touristy public market. It’s called the old slave market, not because they sold slaves, but rather because it was an unpleasant meat market that white owners were not fond of shopping at. It is now home to tchotchke and food vendors. It’s a great place to pick up one of a kind souvenirs.
Take a carriage ride with Old South Carriage. The guides give great history tours, and the history in Charleston is fascinating. The ride in the back of an old fashioned carriage while your guide sporting a Confederate cap will take you back in time. You can book by walking up or book ahead of time, take a peek at there website HERE.
Unlike the horses that ferry around NY tourists, these gentle giants live on a lush plantation and only work a few rides a day. I took a tour and asked if I could move in.
Capture every moment with Flytographer. This is the best money you can spend on any vacation. For a really reasonable price a local photographer will meet you and capture those special vacation moments. No more crummy pictures taken by a stranger with your iPhone. All of the above photos were shot in a quick session with a photographer booked through Flytographer. They provide you with all of your digital images and the turn around is lightning fast. A side bonus is that the photographer is a local and can act as a de facto tour guide. And yes, I think we have our Christmas card done now. Check them out HERE.
Get out on a kayak and see some dolphins. When I tell people that we have palm trees and dolphins in South Carolina they are always surprised. I start every morning in the summer on a kayak or paddle board in the Kiawah River. I always see a dolphin or two, I sometimes see mommys and babies, but I’m never disappointed. There are several kayak tours through Kiawah Resort and they also offer boat rides with a naturalist. The day we went on the boat we saw dolphins strand feeding which is one of the more magical things I’ve ever witnessed. Sometimes you even see the dolphins from the Shem Creek restaurants while you’re enjoying a cocktail. But nothing beats having them glide up next to your kayak and gently exhale.
You can find any kind of tour imaginable in Charleston; Pirate Tours, Ghost Tours, Graveyard Tours, Haunted Jail Tours. We did a few. My favorite is the graveyard with the headstone that says “I Told You I Was Sick”. We used Bulldog Tours for our Haunted Jail tour. The jail was built in 1802 and used until the 1939. The stories were gruesome and amazing at the same time. Bulldog is the only tour company that has access to the jail. Children are allowed, Keaton bailed halfway through tour. It wasn’t really that scary, but it was dark and hot, and he’s nine and gullible. If you go to the Bulldog Tours website HERE you can see the many and varied tours that are offered.
We have been hosted at the Sanctuary, never at the homes or condos, we paid for the cake, the tours were comped, the kids are expensive. How’s that for a disclaimer? Oh, and Flytographer comped our session and in turn we are letting them use some images for marketing. I would pay for their service every day and twice on Sunday though, they are that good.