Photos Courtesy of Explore Charleston
Check into your hotel, grab a map and head down King Street toward the harbor to get acquainted with this beautiful city. Start with a one-hour horse drawn carriage tour through the winding streets that begins at the Big Barn, just a block away from the old City Market (also worth a visit) and continues with a sidewalk-level view of the historic district’s wonderfully picturesque Ante Bellum architecture. The guides are well versed in the city’s history and attractions and you’ll finish your hour-long sojourn with a lot of ideas about what to do in the next few days. From $40. Palmetto Carriage Works Tours, 8 Guignard Street, 843-723-8145, palmettocarriage
Use the time left before dinner to wander down to the Battery to admire the many beautiful private private homes, many now owned by seasonal residents, which explains why the streets are somewhat deserted (except for tourists) in the warmer months. Take a right on King Street, the “Soho of the South,” where you’ll find an interesting mix of national and international brands along with locally-owned businesses. Lower King is known for its antiques stores, although some have closed due to Covid. Drop by George C. Birlant & Co. (191 King Street), a third-generation establishment specializing in 18th-and 19th-century furniture, silver, china and crystal as well as bench made reproductions. Middle King is fashion oriented with a number of distinctive high end boutiques that are well worth a visit, while Upper King (above Marion Square) qualifies as a design district with a mix of furniture stores, art galleries and bookshops mixed in with trendy bars and restaurants, many favored by a younger (and noisier) crowd.
After a hearty breakfast at your hotel, head back downtown to join The Two Sisters Tour, a not-to-be-missed opportunity to explore the historic neighborhood guided by Mary Helen Dantzler and Therese Smythe. Both siblings are guaranteed to captivate customers throughout a truly entertaining two-hour trek that includes details about the many grand and beautiful homes as well as the “secret gardens,” back streets and alleyways hidden in plain sight. Their amusing anecdotes and personal insights about Charleston’s history and many colorful characters, from colonial times to present, are as humorous as they are fascinating. $25. twosisterstours.com.
Hotel Bennett may be new but few would deny that it exemplifies much of what passes for Low Country grace and charm, albeit with a classic European touch. Strategically located on fashionable King Street at historic Marion Square, it is within walking distance of many of the city’s best shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. Custom furnishings and local artwork ensure a feeling of total luxury in the public spaces and an attentive staff is always available to fulfill most any request.
Average guest rooms are comfortably plush and include all the amenities one might expect (seating area, flat screen TV, refrigerator, coffee maker, safe, electrically operated blackout curtains) but seem on the smaller side for a property of this category although plus-sized bathrooms centered by huge soaking tubs in addition to separate walk-in showers more than compensate.
Many face a narrow interior courtyard or side streets so be sure to ask for one that faces the landmark views of the square. A small rooftop swimming pool provides a refreshing interlude much of the year but access is often hampered because so many of the seats are reserved for guests occupying the pricey cabanas.
At some point in your stay you will want to sample the delightful pastries and sandwiches served in the adjoining La Patisserie cafe, a popular favorite with guests and non guests alike. 179 rooms including 17 suite from $549. Hotel Bennett, 404 King Street, Charleston, SC 29405. 877-496-8934, www.
The Hotel Bennett’s Gabrielle restaurant features locally-inspired fare that is truly decadent and unlike many fine restaurants that have cut back on menu choices during Covid times, there is no shortage of choices here. While there are many varied soups and salads from which to choose, seafood starters predominate, including oysters on the half shell, mussels with fennel in a white wine broth, Togarashi-seared tuna and blue crab cakes in a spicy remoulade in addition to an impressive caviar service. Mains include a second wave of surf (Carolina flounder, fish and gold rice grits, crispy red snapper) plus turf (Berkshire pork chops, Colorado rack of lamb, duck confit and three kinds of prime beef). Vegan/vegetarian diners will appreciate well-rounded and equally tasty Earth options: Carolina gold rice risotto, blue corn grits in a smoked tomato cream and a roasted garlic panna cotta with beet couscous and shaved asparagus salad. Wine options are exceptional with an especially lengthy list of vintage Champagnes on offer. Be sure to sample the snappy dessert menu (especially the lemon-almond-strawberry Camellias Cake) but do ask to be served next door in the ultra glamorous Camellias Bar, a pink marbled refuge with an etched mirror ceiling for which a separate reservation is highly recommended on busy nights. Lunch $35-$50, dinner $75-$100.
Darling Oyster Bar , a trendy eaterie on busy upper King Street, is well known for both its ambitious crafted cocktail program and an extensive seafood-inspired menu where lobster rolls, clam chowder and oysters, which are the true center of attention (of course). Patrons love to sit and watch local shuckers prepare vast numbers of the succulent bivalves on the icy mountain raw bar before they are consumed. It’s always crowded and service can be spotty but it’s well worth a visit. Dinner $60-$75, 513 King Street, 843-641-0821, thedarling.com.
The Grocery , another popular neighborhood restaurant in the upper King Street corridor, is where you’ll want to watch executive chef Kevin Johnson work his open kitchen magic with a menu based on seasonal produce, seafood and meat from local and regional farmers and fishermen. A vegetarian for a decade, Johnson is noted for his Mediterranean-inspired farro tabouli, harissa steamed carrots, field peas and other delights although that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give the phenomenal house made charcuterie a sporting try. thegrocerycharleston.com, 4 Cannon Street, 843-302-8825 , Dinner $50-$65
A team of “passionate Southern chefs, a farmer and miller of great grains and an enviable Southern address” is what you’ll discover at Miller’s All Day , one of Charleston’s favorite breakfast (and also lunch) haunts. Located not far from The Battery, this beloved eatery is a not-to be-missed spot to start the day before heading off to see Fort Sumter or one of the nearby historic homes. The “small stack” of cornmeal pancakes (actually not that small) with hickory syrup is a major favorite. Biscuits and rosemary sausage gravy with two eggs, tomato jam and pickled okra are a close second. Don’t be too surprised when patrons toss back bloody marys as soon as the doors open at 8 a.m. Breakfast $20-$30. 120 King Street, 843-501-7342 millersallday.com.