What To Do: The Best of Charleston
Black Cat Tours
Get to know the Holy City on a guided horse-drawn carriage ride. Charleston historian and author, and Black Cat Tours owner Mark Jones and wife, Rebel Sinclair, offer visitors an in-depth introduction to the city that’s lively and fun but always with reverence and respect for its significant story. 843-568-2285, blackcattours.com.
A National Historic Landmark located 22 miles upriver from Charleston on the Ashley River, this former rice plantation is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens, its 65 acres blanketed with camellias, azaleas, magnolias, crepe myrtles, roses, and romantic Spanish moss depending on the season. Tour the House Museum—built in 1755 and home to a vast collection of the Middleton family’s silver, furniture, books, and portraits—and watch historically accurate demonstrations by weavers, blacksmiths and potters in the Plantation Stableyards. 4300 Ashley River Rd., Charleston, 843-556-6020, middletonplace.org.
Charleston has experienced a culinary revolution of sorts over the past few years, and chef Sean Brock’s Husk has emerged the breakout star. The James Beard Award-winning Brock and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes win the hearts and palates of food-savvy patrons with their reinterpreted Lowcountry cuisine, which changes daily—and throughout the day—based on the supply of local purveyors’ ingredients. 76 Queen St., Charleston, 843-577-2500, huskrestaurant.com.
Spoleto Festival USA
For two and a half weeks each spring, Charleston’s historic theaters, churches, and outdoor spaces become hosts to international and American performers of opera, dance, and theatre, and chamber, symphonic, choral, and jazz music in what is heralded as one of the world’s’s greatest multi-arts festivals. spoletousa.org.
Piccolo Spoleto Festival Piccolo Spoleto coincides with its headlining parent event, showcasing acts from the Southeast in particular. Piccolo Spoleto’s program includes visual arts exhibits, classical music, jazz, dance, theatre, poetry readings, children’s activities, choral music, cultural presentations, crafts, and film. piccolospoleto.com.
Charleston’s Rodeo Drive, King Street is divided into three distinct areas: Upper King Street (Design and Dining District); King Street Fashion District; and Lower King Street (Antiques District). The integration of modern retail stores and architecturally preserved sites makes shopping here a study in urban design.
Take a ferry from downtown Charleston to this national monument, and enjoy an educational ranger-led tour of the site of the first battle of the Civil War in April 1861. 843-883-3123, ext. 20, nps.gov/fosu.
Gibbes Museum of Art
Located in Charleston’s Historic District, the Gibbes Museum houses permanent collections of fine art, as well as changing exhibitions, and offers guided tours of the museum’s works and themed walking tours in the city. 135 Meeting St., Charleston, 843-722-2706, gibbesmuseum.org.
The Gin Joint
This stylish spot offers an array of craft cocktails and elevated bar snacks (think soft pretzels with Sriracha cheese sauce and shrimp-and-grit fritters). It can get crowded and loud, but take that as a sign that these folks know what they’re doing. 182 East Bay St., Charleston, 843-577-6111, theginjoint.com.
Historic Charleston City Market
Open year-round at 188 Meeting Street, this historic market comprises four blocks of open-air buildings, where nearly 300 vendors sell everything from books and pottery to paintings, and Charleston’s famous sweetgrass baskets. Evening Art Markets are held every Friday and Saturday. 188 Meeting St., Charleston, thecharlestoncitymarket.com.
Toss a stone anywhere in Charleston and you’ll arrive at a historic home. With 35 rooms, Japanese water gardens, and a domed stairhall ceiling, the Italianate-style Calhoun Mansion is the city’s largest single family residence and, in turn, a must-see. Guided tours reveal stories behind the home’s vast collection of furnishings and antiques. 14-16 Meeting St., 843-722-8205, calhounmansion.net.