Calling all of my fellow food-loving, travel-going, cash-strapped, brethren! If you’re itching for an excuse to ditch the city, rotate those tires, and test out your newest playlist, consider Charleston, SC for your next weekend getaway.
If you haven’t heard about the amazing food coming up in this bustling (pseudo) metropolis, then you’ve been living under a proverbial rock. Lucky for me, I’ve been able to call this southern slice of historical heaven, home, for the past 6 months. And now, lucky for you, I’ve had just enough time to overindulge in the cuisine, explore the extracurricular goings-on, and assess the best places to post-up for an affordably brief but blithe seaside stay.
Most important first, food. When coming to Charleston (affectionately, “Chucktown”) check your culinary preconceptions at the door. These days, the city is on the map for more than just its decorated history. It’s rapidly gaining notoriety for its eclectic cuisine. Here’s the best I’ve found for your precious (and I mean that) buck.
- Gaulart & Maliclet Fast & French Café – this quaint bistro harkens back to the authentic cafés that lined the streets of Paris. In business in downtown Charleston for more than 30 years, this cozy establishment offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. An assortment of pastries, coffee, cheeses, and meats that will satiate most anyone. Classic dishes like Croque Monsieur, Bucheron Salad, Burgundy Escargot, and a host of nightly fondues complete the experience. The only dishes that exceed $10 are the seafood plates and fondues and even those don’t stretch past the high teens.
- Mustard Seed – Pop over the Arthur Ravenel Bridge from downtown into Mount Pleasant for eclectic brunch, lunch, and dinner cuisine. Don’t let its unassuming exterior and seemingly random menu fool you, the folks at Mustard Seed know what they’re doing. Known for their Pad Thai, I’d sooner recommend their Shrimp Linguine or Pasta Crudo since we Atlantans have no shortage of good Thai food. Their Pan-Roasted Asparagus is the salad that eats like a meal and its warm toppings offer a welcome departure from your typical leafy dish. Finish off the meal with a giant slice of cake from their pastry cabinet. The red velvet and coconut cakes come highly recommended, not that I’ve had both of them in the same night…You can easily get out of here with apps, dinner and dessert for 2 for under $60. Add a bottle of wine and you’ll still be under $100.
- Lana Restaurant & Bar – Slip out of the hustle of the French Quarter and downtown toward the outskirts of town – 210 Rutledge Ave. to be exact – to find yourself at one of the coziest eateries in town. Lana offers an array of Mediterranean dishes with a southern twist. Open for brunch, lunch, and dinner, Lana’s Lamb Spanakopita, Mussels, and Pappardelle are all safe bets. Keep an ear out for their tasty, rotating specials. Most all of the apps and pastas are less than $20. Meat and fish entrées are in the low $20s with their duck and steak around $30.
- For a catalog of more affordable local bars and restaurants, take a look at Eater’s list, published in June of 2016.
- And because everyone reading this adores food, you’ll likely cut corners elsewhere for an exceptional meal or two. In that case, consider these in the mid to upper price range:
- The Darling Oyster Bar $$ – It’s oysters served from an in-town-meets-oceanside oasis. Need we say more?
- Fulton Five $$ – This quaint, unassuming storefront houses one of the cities best Italian restaurants. Think: homemade pastas, brimful plates, and grappa. I digress…
- Hall’s Chophouse $$$ – I’m not going to sugarcoat it, you might have to sleep in your car after you eat here, but trust me it’ll be worth it. If not for the fact that you will have been so well fed that sleep will be the obvious next step then because it’s truly the most remarkable steakhouse experience you’ll ever have. I know so because it’s the most remarkable steakhouse experience I’ve ever had….and I make it my life’s mission to have many.
The history that you’ll find in Charleston is next to none, the beaches are pristine, and the landscape is deserving of a Nicholas Sparks film locale. (In fact, most of the area around Charleston is the setting for Sparks’ work.) Let’s chat about how to enjoy the city without wallowing in unnecessarily pricey pursuits.
- Sullivan’s Island – Home to the Revolutionary Wars’ Fort Moultrie, Poet Edgar Allan Poe, a quaint stretch of beachy abodes, a small handful of independently-owned eateries, and over
3 miles of public beach, Sullivan’s Island is a one-stop shop. I recommend a whole day out there. Tour Fort Moultrie for free, pack a lunch for the beach or grab a bite at the local Poe’s Tavern, Home Team BBQ, or Taco Mamacita. Ten-minute drive to downtown.
- Folly Beach – Folly is the beach for the boys of summer. It’s your quintessential surf town.
Complete with beach bungalows, a vibrant bar and restaurant scene, and year-round, sun-kissed skin, Folly is the incarnation of its SoCal counterparts. Food’s cheap, beaches are deep, and the people are impossibly friendly. Just keep your car off the pavement and on the grass/sand when you park. Twenty-minute drive to downtown.
- Angel Oak Tree – Located on Johns Island, the Angel Oak Tree is one of Charleston’s most prized, natural institutions. Estimated to be at least 500 – and up to 1,500 years -old, this legend stands 67-feet tall. But, it’s arguably not even those statistics that make it so impressive; it’s the over 17,000 square feet it covers and a single branch that measures longer than most private yachts – 187 ft! You have to check out this stunning piece of America’s history – and it’s free.
- Improv at Theatre 99 – After an early dinner, swing by Charleston’s beloved laugh factory, Theatre 99, where (depending on the day) you can catch either a free, $5 or $12 show that’ll have you in stitches!
- Stroll The Battery – Known for its rich and colorful history, arguably no place in downtown Charleston is as scenic and representative of old-world grandeur and Civil War sightings as The Battery. Its giant, stone seawall houses a brick-laid walking path and outlines the
stunningly historic antebellum real estate that Charleston is known for. Peruse the surroundings on your own for free or sync up with a reasonably priced walking tour for a full download of the history. Charleston CVB is a great place to shop around for the perfect tour for you and your crew. Most tours are between 1-2 hours and cost $25/person. But don’t forget to check Groupon! A lot of these walking (and carriage) tours are available steeply discounted!
- Visit The Market –The Market, located in the city’s French Quarter between East Bay and Meeting streets is a Charleston institution. Originally erected in 1841,
the land was ceded by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and was intended to be utilized expressly as a public marketplace. Today, you can find The Market bustling all times of day, with purveyors from around the city – from sweetgrass basket weavers and artisanal eats to leather and jewelry makers, there’s no shortage of perusing to do and fun to be had!
After all of that eating and activity, you’re going to be tired. No need to post up at one of the pricier places downtown, instead, check out these options for getting yourself some good shuteye:
- Airbnb – Cliché by now? Maybe. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring it up. Airbnb spots are plentiful in the lowcountry. From rooftop apartments downtown to beachside escapes, there’s no reason to be confined to a hotel room. If you’re wanting to stay within reasonable driving distance to the center of the city, I’d recommend the following areas: Downtown (of course), Mt. Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, or James Island.
- Harborside at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina – If you’re looking for a way to get out of dodge and away from the hustle but still enjoy the views of Charleston, look no further
than the Harborside. This seaside resort is located at Patriots Point next to a beautiful 18-hole golf course and the Naval and Maritime Museum.
In fact, add that to your list of things to do in Charleston! With off season room rates around $150-$250 a night and the prime location that’s south facing toward the Battery and downtown Charleston, this spot is the perfect way to admire downtown without being in the thick of it all. The Charleston Water Taxi picks up right at the Harborside dock and will usher you into downtown in just about 10 minutes.
- Not So Hostel – As it’s name suggests, the Not So Hostel is a Charleston staple that operates with hostel fares and a like mentality but honest-to-goodness charm and character.
With internet and wifi in each room, private parking, and a mere $32 a night rate, this place is a humble yet cozy abode just on the outskirts of town. Check out their video for a taste of that hostel mentality I was talking about. In it, you’ll appreciate the poignant and “not so” rambling nature of the experience they seek to create for their guests.
Regardless of what others might tell you, when you come to Charleston, you don’t need to pack your savings, just a sense of adventure and a good appetite! Have a blast and maybe I’ll see ya somewhere around town.