An innkeeper's guide to Charleston

Fountains in Charleston

Travelers venture to Charleston, South Carolina for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, and flourishing culinary scene. The city is famous for its unique culture that blends together traditional elements from the southern United States, England, France, and West Africa, distinguishing itself from the distinct influence of the British and French found throughout the rest of the state. Visit the numerous historical sites and landmarks, see a show in the city’s vibrant theater district, or see if you can spot the locations around town that have appeared in various popular film and television programs, such as Army Wives, The Notebook, and The Prince of Tides. No matter what you choose to do, Charleston has something for everyone, and when you stay at a Charleston bed and breakfast, you get the insider’s guide to the best of the city. These tips from local innkeepers will help you make the most of your stay.

Things to do

With so many noteworthy sites to see in Charleston, many of our innkeepers recommend that taking a tour is the most efficient way to seeing everything the city has to offer. The Wentworth Mansion suggests leaving your guidebooks at home and signing up for a more interactive guided tour. You’ll be able to acquire in-depth information about the specific sites you’ll be seeing, and you’ll be able to ask more detailed questions as they arise over the course of the tour.

To tour the city at your own pace, the Kings Courtyard Inn recommends renting bicycles or exploring the Historic District via the Gateway Walk, one of Charleston’s hidden treasures. Located within three adjacent blocks bordered by Archdale Street on the west, Church Street on the east, and Queen Street to the south, you’ll wander past several historic churches and through some of the oldest cemeteries and secluded gardens in the city.

Trees in Charleston

Looking for more history and architecture? The Wentworth Mansion recommends visiting Drayton Hall, the oldest surviving example of Georgian Palladian architecture in the United States and one of the only pre-Revolutionary houses in the country that remains in near-original condition. Meanwhile, the innkeepers at The Elliott House Inn and the Kings Courtyard Inn suggest wandering through the area south of Broad Street for its range of antebellum mansions built in varying architectural styles, secluded courtyards, and Charleston-styled gardens. The John Rutledge House Inn advises you have your camera ready when you stroll past the historic houses of Rainbow Row that are painted in cheerful pastel colors. A local myth claims that the houses were painted in the varying shades to help intoxicated sailors coming in from port to remember in which house they were to bunk.

Creating your own progressive lunch or dinner, as recommended by the Fulton Lane Inn, is another unique way to tour the city, especially for foodies looking to let their taste buds be their guide as they eat their way around some of Charleston’s most popular bars and restaurants. From mid-April to mid-December, the John Rutledge House Inn recommends adding the Charleston Farmers Market as a stop on your eating tour. Located in Marion Square at the heart of historic downtown Charleston, the market is dedicated to the support and advocacy of Lowcountry farmers and growers. Not only will you find vendors selling breakfast and lunch items, but you’ll also be able to select from an assortment of local fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

According to the innkeepers at Palmer’s Pickney Inn, a trip to Charleston wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Firefly Distillery. Located 30 miles south of Charleston on Wadmalaw Island, the Firefly Distillery is the largest micro-distillery in South Carolina, where you can tour the facility, enjoy tastings, and purchase bottles to take home. While you’re in the area, head a few miles up the Millbank Highway to tour the Charleston Tea Plantation. The sandy soils, sub-tropical climate, and average rainfall of 52 inches per year on Wadmalaw Island make it the perfect location for cultivating the more than 320 varieties of black and green teas that are grown on the 127-acre grounds of the plantation.

Where to eat

One of the best ways to get to know a city is through its restaurant scene, and Charleston is home to plenty of places to taste the regional seafood specialties of Lowcountry cuisine, including gumbo, shrimp and grits, and Lowcountry boil.

The following restaurants have been recommended by multiple innkeepers:

Macoroni and Cheese

Circa 1886: Highlighting local, seasonal ingredients, Chef Marc Collins puts a healthy spin on traditional Southern dishes, using less butter and cream than normally called for and incorporating whole grains wherever possible. Customer favorites include the Crab Macaroni and Cheese and the Carolina Flounder, as well as anything that appears on Pastry Chef Scott Lovorn’s menu.

Kitchen 208: The bright and airy interior of this casual and incredibly affordable restaurant on lower King Street features walls made of reclaimed brick and floors laid with planks of heart of pine. Open for breakfast and lunch during the week and all-day brunch on the weekends, they don’t take reservations, so it’s best to get there early, especially if you’d like a table on the outdoor patio.

Other recommended restaurants:

39 Rue de Jean: Known as “Rue” by the locals, this popular neighborhood gathering spot emanates the characteristics of a late-19th-century Parisian brasserie. The impressive wine list and cocktail menu make this the perfect place to enjoy drinks with friends, while the romantic atmosphere makes it a great venue for date night.

Muse Restaurant & Wine Bar: Inspired by the Villa of Mysteries in the ancient city of Pompeii, this restaurant features a menu that highlights local ingredients and dishes influenced by the numerous cultures of the Mediterranean. To pair with your meal, choose from 100 different wine varieties available by the glass or from 500 different varieties available by the bottle from wine producers from all over the world.

-Recommended by Kings Courtyard Inn


82 Queen: Nestled in Charleston’s Historic French Quarter, this restaurant focuses on serving fresh, local dishes with a gracious helping of unforgettable Southern hospitality. Their original menu offered a fusion of the culturally diverse flavors of African, French, Caribbean, and Anglo-Saxon cuisines before the designation of the term “Lowcountry cuisine”, and they continue that tradition today.

Husk: Centrally located in historic downtown Charleston, James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes operate under a strict rule when it comes to choosing the ingredients for their dishes – “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.” Putting a modern spin on Southern classics, signature dishes include South Carolina Shrimp and Choppee Okra Stew with Carolina Gold Rice and Flowering Basil.

-Recommended by The Elliott House Inn


Charleston Grill: This restaurant offers elegant dining in a comfortable atmosphere and provides live jazz seven days a week to accompany your meal. Chef Michelle Weaver’s regularly-changing menu is divided into four categories (Pure, Lush, Southern, and Cosmopolitan) and features dishes created with unexpected ingredients and classic techniques.

Halls Chophouse: At this steakhouse located in Charleston’s Upper King District, Executive Chef Matthew Niessner focuses the restaurant’s menu around cuts of USDA Prime and Choice beef provided by Allen Brothers of Chicago. Also featured is an extensive wine list emphasizing Napa Valley Cabernet. Vegans and vegetarians, fear not – upon special request, the kitchen is equipped to prepare dishes that align with your specific dining preferences.

-Recommended by John Rutledge House Inn


Cru Café: Located in a classic 18th-century Charleston single-style home off the beaten path, this café serves some of the best comfort food in the Lowcountry. Offering indoor and outdoor porch seating, the restaurant features daily specials in addition to customer favorites like the famous Four Cheese Macaroni, Thai Seafood Risotto, and Duck Confit Salad.

Shrimp and grits

Magnolias: Led by Executive Chef Donald Drake, this restaurant is a forerunner in upscale Southern cuisine, combining traditional ingredients and cooking techniques with modern and artful presentations. Innovative dishes include the Shellfish over Grits, featuring sautéed shrimp, sea scallops, and lobster served over creamy white grits and dressed with a lobster butter sauce.

-Recommended by Palmer’s Pickney Inn


F.I.G.: Collectively, the interior of this downtown restaurant is reminiscent of a retro diner, casual neighborhood café, and an elegant French bistro. Chef Mike Lata uses local and sustainable ingredients to create seasonal, straightforward dishes that highlight the bounty of the Lowcountry region, demonstrating to customers that “Food Is Good” when ingredients undergo minimal preparation.

Peninsula Grill: The lush velvet walls, custom-made chandeliers commissioned by noted designer Amelia Handegan, and luxurious Champagne Bar create a sumptuous, supper club setting at this elegant restaurant in Charleston’s Historic District. The menu features elevated Southern cuisine, while the wine menu offers more than 300 selections.

-Recommended by Wentworth Mansion


The Grocery.: Calling upon memories of the small-town grocery, this warm and welcoming restaurant located in a former furniture warehouse offers a menu based on seasonal ingredients from local and regional providers. The in-house canning program preserves the summer’s bounty for use in the winter months. Choose from customer favorites like the house-made charcuterie, Seared Scallops and Pork Belly, and Cassoulet made with Ossabaw pork loin, duck confit, and duck sausage.

-Recommended by Fulton Lane Inn


Where to shop

While developing your strategy for exploring what Charleston has to offer, don’t forget to add some of the local shops and markets to your must-visit list.

The following shops have been recommended by multiple innkeepers:

Blue Bicycle Books: This King Street bookstore offers 50,000 volumes, including the most complete collection of new, used, and rare books covering local Charleston history and culture.

Lily: Located in Charleston’s Antique District, this boutique sells vintage jewelry, handbags, and other accessories that will make women of all ages want to play dress-up all afternoon.

Charleston baskets

Historic Charleston City Market: The Historic Charleston City Market has become a beloved part of life in the city for over 200 years. Just beyond the entrance in the Market Hall Building, you’ll find more than 100 stalls with vendors selling a wide variety of items, including clothing, jewelry, artworks, foodstuffs, souvenirs, and crafts.

Other recommended shops:

Affordables Apparel: As the first discounted fashion retail stores in Charleston, this clothing boutique on King Street offers a selection of affordable hand picked women’s apparel, shoes, jewelry, handbags, and other accessories.

-Recommended by Palmer’s Pickney Inn


Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier: Owned and operated by Christophe Paume, a third-generation French chocolatier, this artisan chocolate shop located on Society Street in downtown Charleston offers delicate hand-painted chocolates, as well as decadent truffles in flavors such as Peach Pecan, Cappuccino Cheesecake, and Honey Dark.

Copper Penny: This upscale women’s boutique on Kings Street showcases a collection of designer clothing, footwear, jewelry, and accessories, making this the perfect shop for women looking to create a distinctive wardrobe that embodies the quintessential cosmopolitan style of Charleston.

-Recommended by Fulton Lane Inn


Alpha Dog Omega Cat: Pet-owners will definitely want to stop at this exclusive boutique located in the heart of the historic district that caters to “people who like to indulge their pets and themselves”. They offer the finest selection of luxury pet items, gifts, and accessories, as well as items that allow you to showcase your love of animals tastefully.

Indigo: This shop features artwork and jewelry crafted by local artists, as well as handcrafted items that will complement the décor and design of any home.

-Recommended by John Rutledge House Inn


goat. sheep. cow.: With 200-year-old brick walls and a hand-hewn exposed beam ceiling, this tiny specialty food shop in historic downtown Charleston offers cheese, charcuterie, wine, and gourmet groceries carefully selected from all over the world by shop owners Trudi Wagner and Patty Cohen.

Rapport: This high-end women’s clothing boutique stocks a variety of labels from American, French, and Italian designers such as Eli Tahari, M Missoni, and Fabrizio Gianni.

-Recommended by Wentworth Mansion


Indigo & Cotton: Situated on Cannon Street, this small storefront in historic downtown Charleston is a favorite among locals for its curated selection of fine and casual men’s clothing, footwear, and accessories from brands dedicated to producing items of the highest quality.

Kids on King: This appropriately named upscale boutique on King Street specializes in children’s clothing and footwear, special occasion wear, and unique gifts and accessories perfect for kids of all ages, from newborns to preteens.

-Recommended by Kings Courtyard Inn


Where to go for nightlife

To fully understand the intricacies of any city, you need to balance your daytime activities with some nightlife. Our innkeepers have come up with a list of must-hit hot spots to visit once the sun has set for the evening.

The following venues have been recommended by multiple innkeepers:

Copper Cups

The Cocktail Club: This bar on King Street dedicated to the art of the craft cocktail features a cocktail menu including an extensive selection of house-made infusions, rare spirits, and farm-to-shaker beverages made with freshly-squeezed juices and modern ingredients. Try and get a seat in the custom garden on the rooftop terrace.

Historic Dock Street Theater: Located in the French Quarter neighborhood of downtown Charleston, the Historic Dock Street Theater was the first building in America constructed exclusively for theatrical performances. It is now the home of Charleston Stage, the resident professional theatre that produces more than 120 performances each season, as well as the Spoleto Festival USA, America’s premier performing arts festival held annually each spring.

The Mezz: This jazz listening room and bar located upstairs from Sermet’s is popular with those looking to experience the best the local jazz scene has to offer and is this home of the Jazz Artists of Charleston Jazz Series.

Music Farm:

The Mezz: This jazz listening room and bar located upstairs from Sermet’s is popular with those looking to experience the best the local jazz scene has to offer and is this home of the Jazz Artists of Charleston Jazz Series.

Theatre 99: This theatre above the bicycle shop on Meeting Street specializes in improv comedy but also offers sketch and stand-up comedy, cabaret, and other “raucous entertainment for people who groove to something saltier than the mainstream”.

Other recommended venues:

Beer taps

Bay Street Biergarten: As Charleston’s first contemporary Biergarten, Bay Street combines the communal atmosphere of a traditional Bavarian Biergarten with the newest in beer technology. They have 24 beers on tap behind the bar, 60 taps throughout the building, select tap table booths, communal tap tables, and a beer wall offering brews to fit all tastes.

The Belmont: The Belmont offers an ideal drinking atmosphere that has all of the elegance without any of the pretense. Sip your way through quality cocktails and snack on charcuterie and cheese plates while engaging in scintillating conversations with the friendly and welcoming staff.

-Recommended by Fulton Lane Inn


Bin 152: Located in the heart of downtown Charleston in the French Quarter, this wine and cheese bar also serves as an art gallery and a small antiques market. Choose from more than 30 wines to sip by the glass or more than 130 wines to enjoy by the bottle and pair your wine with more than 40 different cheeses and charcuterie served a la carte with their freshly baked bread.

-Recommended by John Rutledge House Inn


Pavilion Bar: This oasis in the center of downtown Charleston is located on the rooftop of the Market Pavilion Hotel. With its sophisticated and stylish atmosphere, the bar features a signature cocktail list along with a cascading pool and stunning views of the city’s spectacular sunsets.

-Recommended by Kings Courtyard Inn


The Thoroughbred Club: Tucked into the lobby at the Charleston Place Hotel, the Thoroughbred Club offers an extensive menu of beverages and a tempting selection of small plates every day beginning in the late afternoon. Listen to the nightly live entertainment while sipping on a craft cocktail and dining on a delightful meal of appetizers and tapas.

-Recommended by Wentworth Mansion


Events

While planning your trip to Charleston, check the dates on the following popular events so you don’t miss them while you’re in town.

The following event is recommended by multiple innkeepers:

BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival: This four-day culinary event is an annual celebration of the Lowcountry’s best food and wine and is recognized internationally as of the top events of its kind in the United States, attracting top chefs, food professionals, and winemakers from all around the country. Proceeds benefit local culinary charities and scholarships.

Cooper River Bridge Run: Held annually on the first Saturday in April, this 10K road race has participants running one way across the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge that spans across the Cooper River between the South Carolina cities of Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. It is the only running event in the state sanctioned by USA Track and Field as an elite event, attracting runners from all around the world.

Family Circle Cup: Every April, Charleston welcomes close to 100,000 spectators and more than 70 world-class female athletes to participate in the Family Circle Cup, the largest women’s-only tennis tournament in the world. In between matches, attendees can shop in the Merchandising Tent and taste some of the local cuisine offered at one of the many on-site dining locations.

charleston home and garden tour

Festival of Houses and Gardens: Set in Charleston’s Historic District, this series of award-winning tours showcases the city’s distinctive architecture and gardens, as well as its rich history and culture. Guests on the tour are given the opportunity to go inside the area’s private houses and secluded gardens of some of America’s most beautiful historic residences dating back to the 18th century.

Lowcountry Oyster Festival: Highlights of the world’s largest oyster festival include contests designed to measure oyster-shucking skill and oyster-eating abilities, as well as live music and entertainment and a “food court” showcasing some of the city’s favorite restaurants.

Southeastern Wildlife Exposition: The largest nature event of its kind, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition is held annually over President’s Day weekend in multiple venues throughout downtown Charleston. The event features educational wildlife shows and lectures, falconry and retriever demonstrations, and conservation exhibits, as well as artwork displays by 120 wildlife painters, sculptors, and carvers.

Southern Living Taste of Charleston: Hosted by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, Inc., this three-day culinary event showcases the cuisine from 50 of the Lowcountry’s favorite casual and fine dining restaurants.

Where to go for day trips

Many of our innkeepers suggest taking a day (or two) to explore some of the area’s historic homes and gardens. The Wentworth Mansion recommends visiting Middleton Place for a guided tour of the House Museum, at which you’ll learn about the members of the Middleton family who made the property their home for over three centuries as well as the slaves and freedmen who served them. From the House Museum, proceed to the Plantation Stableyards where you can watch costumed interpreters demonstrate the skills and tasks once performed by enslaved Africans. Just be sure you leave time to stroll through the gardens, recognized by The Garden Club of America as “America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens”.

The innkeepers at the Fulton Lane Inn advise taking a trip to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, founded by the Drayton family in 1676. The plantation is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry, while the gardens are the oldest public gardens in the country, first admitting people to view the variety of plants and flowers on the grounds in 1870.

Fort sumter

For more history, the John Rutledge House Inn recommends visiting the Fort Sumter National Monument, which encompasses three separate sites in Charleston – the original Fort Sumter, the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center, and Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. The museum at Fort Sumter focuses on the activities at the fort, as well as its construction and role during the Civil War, while the Visitor Education Center features exhibits explaining the disagreements between the North and the South that led to the infamous battle.

If you’d like to spend some time on the water, the innkeepers at Palmer’s Pickney Inn suggest kayaking the Barrier Islands or taking the Bulls Island Ferry to Bulls Island for an afternoon of exploring. Or, you can take the recommendation of the John Rutledge House Inn and cruise around the Charleston Harbor before disembarking at Patriots Point to visit the Naval & Maritime Museum, the home of the USS Yorktown, one of the 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy.






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