The Van Pattens ♥ Charleston something fierce. We love telling anybody that asks about our favorite Holy City restaurants, hotels, and beach spots. So what should you see and do when you’re not at the Legare-Waring House toasting Lauren and Cody at their wedding? Here are a few of our favorites:
You’ve probably read about the fabulosity of the Charleston restaurant scene. It’s true: it is fabulous. There’s a flavor and for every person (and every budget.) Dig in to this list:
Breakfast, Brunch and Coffee:
City Lights Coffee is downtown on Market Street in the shadow of the huge Belmond Charleston Place Hotel and across from the City Market, so it’s a great place to start a shopping excursion. Foamy lattes, crumbly scones and other pastries (including lunchtime sandwiches) will get your blood rolling just fine.
Marina Variety Store Restaurant is on the Ashley River and offers a seagull’s eye view of the marina. This is a good spot to dig into a big breakfast after a night on the town or before you hit the road. The Benedicts and omelettes are the bomb.
Lost Dog Cafe is a VP family favorite. It’s worth it to roll out to Folly Beach for their big, foamy mugs of coffee and their bagel sandwiches. If a beach day is on your agenda, this is the place to start. They’re open for lunch, too.
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is on King Street: basically, a closet that serves biscuits piled with fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and tomato pie. FYI: Callie’s is open for late-night “hangries” (Fridays and Saturdays only) from 10pm to 2am.
Gaulart & Maliclet (aka “Fast and French,”) on Broad Street is tiny. Its menu is limited. And it’s one of the best food finds in Charleston. Squish in at the counter next to your new BFF’s and enjoy a Croque Monsieur, soup of the day, and a glass of bubbles for around $12. Viva la France!
Cru Café is tucked into a side street near the Market, perfect for a shopping break. It’s popular, though, so you’ll want to plan ahead and make reservations or go early. You’ll love their rich, “Charleston comfort food” menu and adorable decor.
The Tattooed Moose . Duck club sandwich. Duck fat fries. Cheap craft beer. What else do you need to know? It’s north of the Historic District but worth the jaunt. Be careful where you park–space is limited and surrounded with “subject to tow” signs.
Fuel is on Rutledge street, off the traditional tourist path. It’s a converted gas station with a fun outdoor space (featuring bocce ball, a VP family favorite) and fresh, island-style tacos and burgers. Like the Tattooed Moose above, it was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Old Towne Grill on lower King Street figures significantly into Van Patten family history –it’s where Fred and Nancy dined the day Fred popped the question! It’s one of Charleston’s oldest restaurants, best known for its Greek rotisserie chicken and gyros.
Closed for Business isn’t. It’s the quirky name of an Upper King spot featuring one of the best craft beer lists in town and pork rinds to die for. Note: it’s a good place to leave the non-shoppers in your entourage (ahem.)
Taco Boy is smack in the middle of Center Street on Folly Beach. Fresh guac and lots of cool tacos will lure you off the beach! Citrus-y, salty margaritas don’t hurt.
Low Country Bistro is a good choice if dinnertime finds you in the City Market area. Ask to be seated on their second-floor piazza for a gorge view of the Market area. Expect fun specialty drinks with a Southern twist and farm-to-table Charleston dinner stalwarts such as shrimp and grits. It’s good for brunch and lunch, too.
82 Queen has played a big part in our family history, and we aren’t alone in our 82 Queen love; it’s one of Charleston’s oldest, most beloved restaurants. Three traditional single houses with an adorable and romantic courtyard patio make up the dining room. The bar is cozy and clubby with a good bourbon selection. The she-crab soup is legendary.
Hank’s Seafood is another Nance and Fred favorite. Conveniently located on Hayne Street near the Market, this fish house features a sophisticated bar with wood-paneled booths in the dining room. Their raw bar is large and diverse, and their broiled and fried plates are on point.
RB’s Seafood Restaurant is a tad touristy, but it’s forgiven for its gorgeous location on Shem Creek near Mount Pleasant. Watch kayakers, shrimp boats, and the occasional dolphin cruise the creek while you eat. The crab dip is a classic starter, and it’s good for traditional fried seafood dinners.
Folly Beach Crab Shack allows you to dig into seafood on a casual patio steps from the beach. The menu features hushpuppies (get a basket!) as an appetizer. Their seafood buckets feature snow crab, shrimp, steamed seafood, and a huge pile of fish known as a “cluster shuck.”
Bowen’s Island Restaurant is perched on a spectacular spit of Lowcountry, a screened porch seafood shack that just happened to win a James Beard award. We eat here almost every time we come to Charleston–the view, the oysters, and the fried shrimp make the long bump down the dirt road worth it every single time. It’s magic, and the breathtaking sunsets can make you cry.
High Cotton is on Meeting Street, and has a brick-walled, high ceilinged dining room and a clubby, fun bar. With its extensive wine list and high-end Southern cuisine menu, it’s perfect for a dressy dinner. One of our faves! Ask for Jessica, she’s awesome.
FIG (Food is Good) is constantly on every food critic’s “Best of” list. If you get reservations, we’re jealous. It’s small, so the best bet is to try to slip in around 5pm and grab a seat at the bar. Drinks are perfect-o, and you can order off the menu, which includes an amazing chicken liver pate and a bowl of gnocchi that’s legendary stuff.
Coast is part of the Holy City Hospitality Group, whose restaurants occupy charming Johns Street Alley off King Street. It’s casual and fun and offers a big menu of fresh seafood.
Fish offers a twist on the traditional seafood menu with Pan-Asian influences. It’s a quick stroll from the hotels down King Street. It’s a good place to order a series of small plates.
We’re going here as soon as we can: Chez Nous, the Darling, the Ordinary, the Fat Hen, the Glass Onion, and Hall’s Chophouse for the Gospel Brunch.
Seeing the Sights
The best way to tour the Historic District is on foot. Park at one of the convenient decks, or if you’re staying downtown stroll out of your hotel and just WALK. Grab a map at the Visitor’s Center between Meeting and King, or snag one at the hotel or shops downtown.
If this is your first time visiting Charleston, you might want to let someone else do the planning for your sightseeing. There are many walking tours, carriage tours, and bus tours. If you’d like a guided tour, ask at your hotel or Visitor’s Center for details.
Our Charleston beach of choice is Folly Beach. It’s funky and quirky and so dang much fun. It’s the closest beach to downtown Charleston, so it’s an easy half-day trip. Great food is within walking distance of the sand, parking is easy (just don’t leave any part of your tires on the road AT ALL,) and the pier is gorgeous at sunset.
There are so many historic homes and sites in Charleston; you’d have a hard time hitting them all in one trip, so save some for the return visit. We recommend Boone Hall in Mount Pleasant and the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon downtown for 2 different eras in Charleston’s history, and a visit to the Charleston Museum for more complete exhibits.
The location of Lauren and Cody’s wedding, Charles Town Landing, is where a group of English settlers landed in 1670 and established the Carolina Colony. The Legare-Waring House has an interesting history; read more about it here.
And then there’s SHOPPING. So. much. shopping, and most of it is on King Street, Market Street, and Meeting Street downtown. Here are our favorite places:
Charleston City Market–the one-of-a-kind heart of a visitor’s Charleston and the best place to find unique souvenirs and gifts at all price points.
Charleston Place Hotel Shops are high end, but it’s a good place to duck into air conditioning (and one of our go-to bathroom spots downtown!)
Charleston Gold Creations in the Historic Market is the best place to buy authentic “rice” bead bracelets at a reasonable price. The ladies that work there are super-sweet!
Candlefish is candle heaven!
Charleston Shoe Company for when cute and comfy is a MUST.
Sweetgrass Baskets are the grace legacy of a bleak but important part of Charleston’s history. First crafted by slaves in the 17th century, their descendants still practice this ancient art. The baskets are crafted and displayed all across the city, most notably in the City Market and at the corner of Meeting and Broad (also known as the “Four Corners of Law.” ) The smallest and simplest baskets are affordable, but some of the larger works of basketry art are worth thousands of dollars.
King Street Fashion District is probably the most comprehensive guide to the fashionable overwhelming-ness that is King Street. From local goods to worldwide chains, it’s here.
Want more Charleston details? Visit the CVB’s website or ask a Van Patten!