Home»Discoveries»Charleston’s Charms

Charleston’s Charms

view of city of Charleston from the air
Aerial view of Charleston. Photo courtesy The Spectator Hotel.

By Beverly Stephen

Supposedly “I can’t wait for spring” is the most popular phrase on the web.  Why wait? Hop a plane and spend a weekend in Charleston where peak blooming season is mid-March through April and early May when temperatures average in the ‘70s.

From window boxes in private homes to lush public gardens, the city is one big botanical garden. Camellias, azaleas, dogwood, wisteria, Confederate jasmine, magnolias—to name a few—set the city ablaze with floral color.

Go for the flowers and stay for the food and the history, the Southern hospitality, and the captivating charm that might have you considering relocating.

front of hotel in Charleston
The Spectator Hotel. Courtesy of the hotel.


The historic areas of the city are best seen on foot. French Quarter hotels, The Spectator and The Loutrel are a short walking distance to the City Market, where traditional crafts such as seagrass baskets are sold, on one side and Rainbow Row, a unique group of rainbow-colored Georgian row houses, on the other.


rooftop bar with church steeple in background
Rooftop bar at The Loutrel. Photo courtesy of the hotel.


Sweeping city views can be enjoyed from The Loutrel’s  rooftop bar, a prized amenity in the aptly named Holy City because no building is allowed to be taller than the numerous church steeples. Lovely downtown hotels such as the Dewberry, Belmond Charleston Place, and Hotel Bennett are conveniently located near King Street, known for shopping and as the city’s restaurant row.

A guided walking tour is well worth your time. On your own, you might miss many fascinating details. Wondering what those ornaments affixed to the outside of so many Charleston houses are? Informative tour guides like the exuberant Kay Abrams of Walk It! Charleston explains that they are earthquake bolts. “Only 20 years after the Civil War that devastated the city, we were hit with a 7.3 earthquake!  Many of our structures are brick, and Charleston sustained more damage from the earthquake than the one that hit San Francisco in the early 1900s.  You will see retrofitted buildings with earthquake bolts that helped secure many structures, so they were stable enough to move back into.”   And if you look down on certain brick sidewalks, you will see a more heart-breaking detail: tiny fingerprints on the bricks. “These were made by the enslaved children who laid the bricks,” Abrams says.

Spring offers rare opportunities to see inside some of the stately homes and their gardens along the Battery and the historic district South of Broad.  The Festival of Houses and Gardens runs from March 15 through April 16.

Visit a house museum for a look at the good life in the 1800’s,and for counterpoint, the Old Slave Mart Museum.


Museum on the Harbor in Charleston
The International African American Museum (IAAM). Photo courtesy of the museum.


The much anticipated and much delayed $120 million International African American Museum finally opens to the public on June 27, 2023. The 150,000 square foot museum is located on the site of the former Gadsden’s Wharf, overlooking Charleston Harbor, where as many as half of the enslaved Africans first entered the United States.

“Committed reckoning with history is a necessary stop on the road to healing and reconciliation,” Tonya Matthews, the museum’s president and CEO said in a news release.

With all the walking, you’ll need sustenance.  Oyster roasts reign supreme. Biscuits and BBQ are still important. Shrimp and grits and she crab soup are still traditional favorites, but local chefs have brought the cuisine onto the national stage.

Restaurant critic Alan Richman, writing for  “Broken Palate” just called Chef Jill Mathias’s Chez Nous “the most appealing small restaurant in America.”  In her idyllic space, Mathias serves a set daily menu of just two appetizers and two entrees featuring the cuisines of Northern Italy, Northern Spain, and the South of France.


chef in kitchen
James London of Chubby Fish. Credit Nanette Bedway.


Hungry customers are lined up around the block at Chubby Fish, arguably another best small restaurant in America, waiting to see what chef James London with create from the local catches brought to his kitchen door.

And the best burger in America is to be found at Little Jack’s Tavern according to Bon Appetit magazine.

Michael Toscana’s pasta at Le Farfalle could easily stand up to Italian competitors and he often ups the ante by adding a Southern twist to his dishes, for example, by milling sorghum and adding it to his buckwheat pasta dough for cacio e pepe. 

Greg Johnsman of Geeche Boy Grits fame supplies freshly milled grits to his popular restaurant Millers All Day.

At FIG, Jason Stanhope obsesses over every delicious grain of locally treasured Carolina Gold Rice and is also passionate about local sustainable seafood. (Reservations are hard to snag. So go early and grab a seat at the bar.)


chef with pulled pork
Chef BJ Dennis with pulled pork. Photop Nannette Bedway


Caterer/personal chef BJ Dennis (you might have seen him in the Netflix series “High on the Hog”) is on a mission to make the contributions of Gullah/Geeche culture and cuisine understood.

Pit master John Lewis of Lewis BBQ has recently opened Rancho Lewis, a Mexican restaurant inspired by the food he grew up eating in El Paso, Texas.

At Maya restaurant, executive chef Brett Riley oversees an ambitious in-house masa program.

Carrie Morey is a shining example of female entrepreneurship with her hand-made biscuits at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit on Upper King and in City Market.

You won’t go hungry.

While waterfront views are spectacular, it pays to actually get out on the water. Various cruises ply the harbor where playful dolphins breach. Some dock at Fort Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

As engaging as the city is, it pays to rent a car and spend one day in the country to see the magnificent antebellum plantations, the awe-inspiring 400-year-old Angel Oak on St. John’s Island, and the Charleston Tea Garden, the only commercial tea farm in the United States, on Wadmalaw Island. The 18th-century Middleton Place on the Ashley River is the oldest landscaped garden in the United States and the most luscious of all the spring flower gardens.


Beverly Stephen
Beverly Stephen

Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is now co-owner of Flavor Forays, a culinary travel company.

Previous post

John Wayne Rides Through Iceland

Next post

A Big Anniversary And 7 Other Reasons To Check Out Verona This Summer

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *