Any place that seamlessly melds Black history, culture, food and beautiful beaches is worth visiting — especially if you’re looking for a socially distant getaway that won’t break the bank. Long hailed as one of the South’s most beloved-tourist destinations from locals and those hailing from other regions around the United States, South Carolina’s historic city is filled with moss-covered oaks, picturesque squares, and historic plantation museums that lend it the quaint, but exciting atmosphere its known for.
And with world-class dining and sandy beaches (hello Folly Beach) to rival its neighboring Hilton Head and Kiawah islands, Charleston is also hip enough to play the backdrop to your girls’ getaway, baecation or family retreat.
If you’re thinking about adding it to your list of places to visit, here’s a rundown of where to eat, sleep, and—perhaps most importantly— learn our history with your friends and loved ones.
Charleston is lively any day of the week (especially during the summer), but if you visit on the weekend, the energy is palpable. Once you arrive, you’ll want to drop your bags at the hotel before you hit the town by foot. It’s not uncommon that you’ll leave your car parked in the garage for a full day (maybe even longer), because there’s no need to move it due to Charleston walkability (and you’ll want to stop every 10 feet for photos anyway).
Belmond Charleston Place is your best bet for lodging, because it’s known for its hospitality and charm. It occupies a prime location right on Meeting St, meaning you’re within walking distance to all the shops and many of the city’s most celebrated restaurants. Staying here, and staying on the club level comes with a lot of perks too — like the daily complimentary spirits, snacks and breakfast, not to mention its adored it for its hospitable staff and sheer convenience.
No matter where you stay, though, Bourbon N Bubbles is the perfect first evening stop to make to acquaint yourself with the city’s cocktail movement and classic southern tradition. And of course, who doesn’t love bourbon? And at a Black owned establishment nonetheless! You’ll need days to sip your way through the exclusive liquor and champagne names such as Buffalo Trace, Schramsberg, Taittinger and smaller specialized brands.
The problem with dining out in Charleston is that there are just too many restaurants to try—but alas, that’s a great problem to have. For your first night in the city, you’ll want to stop by the neighboring restaurant (with the same Black owner), Mesu, which is a Mexican and Asian fusion. The restaurant serves up Mexican and sushi-inspired fare alongside inventive cocktails that accompany a unique list of tequila and sake varieties, making it the perfect nightcap after your day of travel to the city.
For your second day in Charleston, you’ll want to wake up early and grab coffee and a pastry to fuel up for a long day of exploring the city. First, you’ll want to see the city from the best of the best, and there’s no one better than Alphonso Brown, the owner and operator of Gullah Tours and author of A Gullah Guide to Charleston. The popular tours explore all of downtown Charleston, with places, history and stories relating to Black Charlestonians. Visit Denmark Vesey’s home, Emanuel AME Church, Catfish Row, the Old Slave Mart, and the Market. Learn about the sweetgrass basket makers sewing their baskets, the Aiken-Rhett House slave quarters, black slave owners, and blacksmith Philip Simmons.
You’ll want to continue soaking up the history, with a visit to Mcleod Plantation. Encompassing more than 36 acres, McLeod Plantation boasts a riverside outdoor pavilion and avenue of oak trees, including the McLeod Oak, which is believed to be more than 600 years old. The plantation is open for tours and pays tribute to the enslaved Africans who had lived on the grounds from the 1800’s. Among the many opportunities to learn about the relationships between those who lived and worked on the plantation, guests may also tour homes built for enslaved families, and view a display of antiques owned by former slave owners. Trust us, it’s an absolute must visit.
Next, you’ll want to get your grub on (and use it as an opportunity to collect your thoughts after visiting McLeod). Head to Rodney Scott’s BBQ joint (another Black-owned spot) for his signature Hemingway-based whole hog barbecue that is loved by locals and visitors alike. Rodney Scott’s runs an all-wood operation that cooks between eight and 10 whole hogs per night to create pit-roasted pork, chicken and turkey.
From there (after you’ve stood in line for at least 30 minutes), you’ll head to see the Holy City skyline from the water aboard the Schooner Pride, for a harbor cruise. Sail past Civil War landmarks, barrier islands and the longest cable-stay bridge in North America for this cruise through history and one of the nation’s most picturesque harbors.
Looking for old school charm at dinner? Receiving the AAA Four Diamond Award, Hall’s Chophouse serves the best cuts in Charleston – from grass fed filet mignon to dry-aged tomahawk ribeye. Slip into the bar for a Lucid Peach cocktail or stop if you can’t make it in the evening, you’ll want to stop by for Gospel Sunday Brunch to enjoy live music and a steak omelet.
And on the late night tip, you’ll want to join Bull Dog Tours for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Old City Jail, where gruesome details and very dark ghost stories are told sans filter. And if you just want to dip your toe into the ghostly pool, here’s a few haunted spots you can tour on your own.
Up and at ’em! Your last day in Charleston will bring you to Magnolia Plantation. This 17th-century estate, acquired in 1676 by the Drayton family, features a history tour that takes you through the story and lives of the enslaved people. While vastly different from Mcleod, it’s important to take in all aspects of Black history that shape the city of Charleston.
Your final stop in Charleston will take you to Leon’s Oyster Shop — a restaurant that was housed in a refurbished garage. Providing good vibes, a laid-back, casual atmosphere and an exciting menu full of Lowcountry favorites, you’ll want to try the chargrilled oysters with parsley and parmesan and the fried chicken sandwich before you head to your next destination or back home.
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