The idea of “stepping back in time” is such a cliché at so many destinations with a link to history. In Charleston, S.C., however, reality almost mirrors the conceit. It really is possible to picture yourself in the antebellum South amid the stately residences that line the streets overarched by giant live oaks. Combined with the pleasant springtime climate that bursts out in April, it’s no wonder that Charleston continues to charm its visitors into returning year after year. Throw in some soft shell crabs for dinner and the picture is nearly complete. They’re awaiting your arrival.
Blooms are bursting out
Charleston gets lost among abundant blooms in springtime. Now through the end of April the city and surrounding Low Country provide a blaze of color—azaleas, camellias, wisteria, dogwoods, redbuds and yes, magnolias, both saucer and star varieties—will all be putting on their spectacular shows, along with all the early flowers.
The Garden Club of Charleston’s 80th Annual House and Garden Tours will take place April 10-11. The tours of private homes and gardens allow visitors access to properties in different historic districts. Friday’s tour will be in the Ansonborough district and Saturday’s tour will be South of Broad. Each tour includes tea in a spectacular garden. Tickets, though limited, can be purchased here.
The Old Plantation
One of the best places to see Charleston’s spring in bloom is at the nearby Magnolia Plantation, founded in 1676 by the Drayton family. It is the oldest public tourist site in the Low Country, and the oldest public garden in America, opening its gates to visitors since 1870 to view the thousands of beautiful flowers and plants in its famous garden. Something is always in bloom with azaleas reaching their peak in early April. Tours of the Drayton house are conducted on the hour beginning at 9 a.m. each day.
The Gateway Walk
One of the best ways to explore Charleston is on foot and walking aimlessly through the city’s back alleys is highly recommended.
Springtime brings more people, and some byways become almost highways. Escape the crowds with this little-known walk, the Gateway Walk, which connects several of Charleston’s most historic churches. Along the way, you’ll see hidden gardens, ancient cemeteries, and painfully cute cobblestone streets. The walk starts at St. John’s Lutheran on Clifford Street, which offers a brochure detailing the walk’s sights, and ends at St. Philip’s on Church St.
The Battery and Rainbow Road
The fattest cats of 19th-century Charleston—mostly sea captains and shipping merchants—built their ornate mansions at the tip of the city peninsula known as the Battery. A stroll through the area is a definite must, as it has some of the most impressive architecture in town. Houses look like wedding cakes complete with ruffled trim, and curliecued wrought-iron fences. Overlooking the water, White Point Gardens has stately oak trees, antique cannons and a monument to the notorious pirate Stede Bonnet, who was hanged here in the early 1700s.
Golfing the Lowlands
The area around Charleston boasts nearly two dozen golf courses open to the public. Ranging from true links courses to Lowcountry forests, there’s a style and challenge for nearly everyone. One of the best is Wild Dunes Resort Links on the Isle of Palms. Designed by Tom Fazio, it meanders through massive dunes with beautiful oceanside finishing holes. All courses can be explored at here.
Where Shopping is King
Charleston has been a shopping destination ever since its founding, and the long King Street has always been the center of the mercantile scene. Today, King Street is home to international luxury brands like Gucci, BCBG and Saks, as well as dozens of local boutiques, jewelers and antiques stores. Near the College of Charleston, the Upper King district is increasingly becoming the go-to place for hip young shoppers. You’ll find trendy home-goods stores and graphic design studios, boutiques showcasing local designers, art galleries displaying edgy contemporary works, tiny bakeries and cafes that wouldn’t be out of place in Paris. It pays to wander. During the afternoons on the Second Sunday of each month, King Street is closed to vehicle traffic to celebrate Southern Sunday afternoons by welcoming everyone to stroll, shop, dine and enjoy Charleston alfresco.
The Best Boutique
No visit to King Street would be complete without stepping into Hampden Clothing, 314 King St., considered by many as one of the best boutiques in the country. You’ll have more choices than in most trendy SoHo shops in New York as well as friendly service from the owner and employees. Hampden Clothing carries the entire Rag and Bone line, as well as Alexander Wang, Derek Lam, Helmut Lang, Tibi and Thakoon to name but a few designer labels.
WHERE TO STAY
Andrew Pinckney Inn
Circa-1840 inn expanded with all modern amenities, adjacent to the market area and waterfront. Great views from third-story terrace. Rooms from $399/night. 40 Pinckney St.
The Francis Marion Hotel
Dating from the 1920s and located in the heart of downtown Charleston, The Francis Marion is a full service hotel and offers a variety of special packages ranging from $222 night. 387 King St.
French Quarter Inn
A full-service luxury hotel also full of charm and well located in the heart of the French Quarter overlooking the Market Square. Rooms from $279/night. 166 Church St.
The Mills House Hotel
The epitome of true Southern hospitality, the Mills House Hotel is located in the heart of the historic district, with a history more than 100 years old. Standard guest rooms from $299/night. Suites also available. 115 Meeting St.
All of the 65 rooms in this boutique hotel are uniquely decorated—intimate, luxurious and warmly residential. Located in the original French Quarter within walking distance of the Battery and the entire historic district. From $215/night double. 19 Vendue Range
A tiny hidden gem for seafood lovers. Noted for its raw oysters and ceviche, it also has a wonderful lobster roll. 289 E Bay St., 843-579-4997
One of Charleston’s best contemporary restaurants. New takes on classic French, Lowcountry and Asian dishes. 167 E. Bay St., 843-727-0111
One of Charleston’s top steak houses, they know their beef. In the Market Pavilion Hotel. 225 E Bay St., 843-723-0500
A very modern and elegant restaurant that is a favorite of the locals. Sophisticated and sumptuous Southern dishes and desserts. 185 E. Bay St., 843-577-7771
Considered one of the best dining experiences in Charleston, this restaurant is known nationwide. You can’t miss with the seafood or the steaks. 112 N. Market St., 843-723-0700