Rich Colonial history and even richer food have made Charleston, South Carolina, a true American treasure. Buildings in the Holy City cannot exceed the tallest church steeple, so you’ll find a demure skyline against a backdrop of sailboats and schooners in the harbor. Visitors can meander down cobblestone streets and peek through intricate wrought-iron gates into lush secret gardens. You can even tour some of these historic homes in spring during the month-long Festival of Houses and Gardens. King Street is the premier shopping destination here, with quintessential gifts like sweetgrass baskets, hand-painted oyster shells, cheese biscuits and benne wafers. And don’t leave town without savoring low-country classics like she-crab soup, pimento cheese dip, and shrimp and grits.
Bright nautical motifs and palmetto tree lamps create a cheerful charm at this 92-room, LEED-certified seaside inn situated at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina. Just across the water in Mount Pleasant, it’s a short water taxi ride from Waterfront Park’s famous pineapple fountain, and you’ll most likely spot playful dolphins along the way. After a day of exploration, lounge poolside with frosé in a private cabana or soothe weary muscles with a relaxing massage at Estuary Spa employing Naturopathica balms and oils.
For dinner, chef Cole Poolaw brings in whole flounder, grouper and trout from local fishers to whip up as ceviche, rillettes and dayboat seafood paella at signature restaurant Charleston Harbor Fish House. Post-meal, wrap yourself in a seersucker robe and snack on benne wafers before rolling into bed, or enjoy fire pit s’mores and a nightcap on your balcony overlooking the harbor and Charleston’s twinkling skyline.
Seasonal low-country seafood is the specialty here, and fresh fish and cold beer make the perfect casual combo for a fun night out. The dining room feels like stepping into the cabin of a 1970s sailboat with lacquered wood, bright yellow checkered linoleum tile and vintage sailing knick-knacks throughout. This beloved family-run institution on nearby Sullivan’s Island first opened in 1988; a recent renovation under new ownership preserves the neighborhood landmark’s nostalgia with a modern touch of whimsy.
Begin with a seafood tower to share and golden tilefish crudo with buttermilk leche de tigre and peanut chili crisp. Then dig into fried seafood baskets and heaping bowls of gumbo loaded with Tarvin shrimp, clams, okra and dayboat fish over Carolina Gold rice cooked in lobster broth. Kids will clamor over soft serve with rainbow sprinkles for dessert, while adults can opt for a final fruity frozen rum cocktail.
Every weekend, one of Charleston’s best chefs leads intimate cooking classes for up to eight guests in a beautifully appointed professional kitchen that will inspire renovations back home. Zero George Executive Chef Vinson Petrillo offers cooking tips while walking you through a three-course menu based on dishes from his current tasting menu, like lightly grilled halibut with corn and black truffle or Hunter Cattle Co. beef with taleggio and beets. His goal? To show guests how to translate restaurant techniques to home cooking.
The classes are purely demonstrative, not interactive, so you’ll just sit back, drink wine and savor the delectable fare. Questions are of course welcome, and private cooking classes are available upon request. Guests are sent home with signed menus and recipe booklets so that ambitious cooks can recreate their meals while dreaming of the Hestan cooking suite and Le Creuset pots and pans.
Whether you’re looking for a unique engagement ring, costume brooch or Victorian charm to remember your time here, Croghan’s Jewel Box is a veritable treasure chest of priceless wonders. The oldest family-owned jewelry store in town has been in business for more than 100 years and today boasts an incredible collection of antique estate jewelry sourced locally as well as from England and Italy.
At Croghan’s, these literal hidden gems are rescued from dusty obscurity and restored to full gleaming glory. From circa-1900 French Victorian bracelets and Edwardian-style diamond crosses to Tiffany gold collars and art deco sapphire bangles, these one-of-a-kind baubles are just begging to be tried on from their velvet pedestals. The uniquely Charleston gold bug collection references an Edgar Allan Poe poem, giving cockroaches a gilded spin with charm bracelets, stud earrings and cufflinks.
One of the most coveted reservations in the Holy City, FIG was once just a humble corner bistro that’s blossomed into a top U.S. culinary destination, garnering three James Beard Awards and countless other accolades. Chef/owner Mike Lata and Executive Chef Jason Stanhope serve honest, local ingredients with Southern flair. Signature dishes include chicken liver pâté, ricotta gnocchi alla bolognese, porchetta tonnato, and low-country bourride: a seafood stew with white shrimp, mussels, butter beans and Carolina Gold rice.
Service is stellar in the chic and modern dining room, as is the acclaimed wine program, which focuses on small family wineries who put as much love and care into their vinos as the chefs put into the food at FIG. Reservations are taken a month in advance and can go quickly, but the lively bar is first come, first served.
The College of Charleston varsity sailing team trains right at the harbor marina, and visitors can learn to sail from these champs. After completing a basic keelboat course, you’ll be prepared to skipper a J/22 keelboat, mastering the art of steering, tacking, jibing, and tying bowlines and clove hitches. A private beginner lesson takes just a couple hours, with a little classroom prep before donning a life jacket and heading out on the water. The vocabulary and whiteboard diagrams might seem daunting, but you’ll learn quickly with hands-on instruction from the skipper.
Weeklong youth spring and summer camps are available, including a STEM camp for teens that focuses on the math, science and engineering behind sailing. And if you just want to charter a sailboat for a leisurely sunset cruise around Charleston Harbor? That can be arranged, too.