Charleston: Going South with the Gals

Hotels editor Susan O’Keefe is just back from a weekend with her girlfriends in Charleston.

Charleston packs a punch for a girls weekend getaway. With its eclectic dining scene, chic shops and galleries, and its walkable streets filled with historic homes and English-inspired gardens, the city charms visitors with old-fashioned Southern hospitality. What’s more, Southwest Airlines launches service to Charleston (flight cities have not been announced) next spring. So grab your girlfriends (or your spouse) and put these must-dos on your Charleston intinerary….

See the full list after the jump.

King Street Shopping

You could walk up and down King and Broad Street all day poking in and out of the fine assortment of shops. Some of my favorites were Finicky Filly for fresh seasonal fashions like cashmere sweaters (the latest have feathered collars) and tasteful cocktail dresses. The sales ladies lavish shoppers with attention and will happily pour you a beverage or feed coins to your car meter while you shop. Handpicked boasts fun, trendy jewelery and accessories at inexpensive prices. South of Market is the place to pick up pillows, throws, and other accessories for your home or at the very least, get some really good ideas, and Lily offers beautiful stationery, vintage jewelery, soaps, and handbags, not to mention an overall aesthetic that makes you feel good to be in this lovely little shop.

Oui Oui

Gaulart & Maliclet Café, aka Fast and French, is a convivial café on Broad Street where during lunch, $8.95 will get you one of three house soups accompanied by paté, saucisson, and crostinis topped with ingredients like pesto and marinated red peppers, Brie and fig, and tomato with mozzarella and basil. The lunch special comes with a glass of house French wine. Dinner choices include an affordable chicken du jour, fondue (blue cheese, Swiss, seafood), and seafood paella.

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The Restoration on King

You won’t find any lace doilies among the decor at this chic new hotel that overlooks King Street. In fact, the modern loft-like condos come fully stocked with sleek kitchens, stylish living room areas and flat-screens, and bathrooms equipped with glass-enclosed showers. Large photographs of the Lowcountry grace the exposed brick walls and amenities like the pre-ordered continental breakfast brought to your room in a picnic basket are lovely touches. In the evening, sit on peacock-blue settees in the lobby and enjoy a complimentary wine and cheese hour or take your wine up to the rooftop terrace patio where you’ll find views of the “Holy City” and all of its church steeples.

House and Garden Envy on Legare and Beyond

I happened to be in Charleston during the Preservation Society’s Home and Garden tour and therefore was able to visit a dozen private estates and gardens on and off Legare Street. Several of these stately Revolutionary era homes still have their original outbuildings (kitchens and slave quarters), side porches, and ornate iron gates.

Check the website for this annual event and other tours or to inquire about historic homes and inns that offer a glimpse into Charleston’s past. The Preservation Society also has a shop on King Street that sells books about the area and edibles including benne (sesame seed)


Coconut Cake as High as the Sky

Start with a round of oysters on the half shell and a glass of Champagne at the Peninsula Grill

next to the Planter’s Hotel just off Meeting Street. Share a combination of appetizers like lobster served three ways (ravioli, tempura, and sauteed) then follow it with a main dish like peach-glazed shrimp served with green onion horseradish hushpuppies. But save room for the restaurant’s heavenly signature six-layer coconut cake, which you can also order online back home if you’re too full. 

Michael Lata Love

Taking Lowcountry cuisine to a new high, FIG restaurant

features a menu big on local ingredients like Anson Mills polenta and free-range chicken from Keegan-Filion Farm in Walterboro, South Carolina, but I was partial to the wagyu bistro steak served with agrodolce sauce, which is both sweet and savory. Not ever tasting the sauce before, I wanted the recipe when I got home and discovered that I wasn’t alone in my love for chef Michael Lata’s agrodolce sauce, which had been featured a few weeks earlier on Food Network’s sauce edition of “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” FIG’s menu changes frequently, so if you’re seeking the agrodolce sauce, check the menu before you go. 

Southern Comfort

Though the Hominy Grill

is popular for breakfast (who could resist those “big nasty biscuits”), I recommend staving off your craving until lunch or dinner time when the menu features fried green tomatoes, sesame-crusted catfish, and she-crab soup. Photos in the bathroom of Lou Reed and Anthony Hopkins dining at Hominy suggest that this off-the-King-Street-grid café is a draw for most visitors who come through Charleston.

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If you have wheels (and our 3-day rental was found on Priceline for only $106) venture out of the city about 25 minutes to Middleton Place

for a visit to the 18th-century home and landscaped gardens. Guided tours include the African American experience at Middleton and an overview of the terraces and gardens filled with camellias in February and azaleas and dogwoods in March. If you stay at the Middleton Inn your house and garden tickets/tours ($70 value for two people) are included in your room rate. Rent kayaks at the inn for a paddle on the Ashley River and its many creeks where we spotted alligators and graceful water birds.

MoonPie Heaven

If you have kids or just want to embrace your inner kid, don’t leave Charleston without making a stop at the MoonPie General Store (they are actually made in Chatanooga, TN) for a box of a dozen mini or regular-size marshmallow moonpies in flavors like peanut butter, chocolate, lemon, mint, and vanilla. Childhood candies–Zotz, Bit-O-Honey, candy cigarettes, buttons on paper–are a big draw too, as is the soda fountain, where you can get an RC Cola to wash down your moonpie.

Photographs courtesy of: Charleston CVB, The Restoration on King, Inn at Middleton Place.