Charleston, South Carolina is one well-rounded city. This Southern Charm-er is the perfect blend of history, amazing food and fun things to do. As a girlfriends getaway destination, Charleston offers stellar shopping, exciting excursions, and a rich history to explore. The net result: Charleston wows with its Southern hospitality. It’s time to “spill the tea” on what Charleston spots would make the best places for girlfriends to gab, gather, and giggle. Special shout out to our contributor Sherry Boswell for this one.
How to Have the Best Girls Trip to Charleston
With a plethora of activities, restaurants, and sights, Charleston, South Carolina is a surefire bet for an epic girls getaway. From culinary charmers to historic haunts, it’s no surprise that Charleston wins top Southern city accolades every single year. Set sights on Charleston for a girlfriends getaway and use our list of all the Southern charmers in planning a girls’ trip to remember.
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Shopping on King Street
Tops on my activities to do with girlfriends is shopping, and Charleston does not disappoint! In fact, U.S. News and World Report named King Street one of the Top 10 Shopping Streets in the United States. Charleston is a shopping mecca and blends vintage shops, upscale boutiques, and modern trendsetters all in one area.
Divided into 3 distinct zones, King Street has Upper King (from Calhoun Street to Spring Street), known for the design and dining options; Middle King (from Market Street to Calhoun Street) is considered the fashion district; and the antiques district can be found in Lower King (from Broad Street to Market Street). Tops on my shopping list are Savannah Bee Company, Half-Moon Outfitters, Worthwhile, Candlefish, LUSH, lululemon, and Sephora.
Charleston City Market
Not far from King Street is the landmark Charleston City Market. Housing more than 300 artisans and their wares, the Charleston City Market spans 4 blocks in downtown Charleston. One of the nation’s oldest handicrafts of African origin are the sweetgrass baskets. More than 50 local Gullah artisans trained in this amazing trade can be found at the Market. The sweetgrass baskets are woven using locally-harvested bulrush, a flexible marsh grass that thrives in the Lowcountry soil. Tip: Chat with the sweetgrass basket artists. One of the local favorites is Corey Alston who incidentally also gave us a lesson on how to make a sweetgrass Confederate rose.
Charleston Walking Tour with Bulldog Tours
The best way to see Charleston and learn all about its history is on a walking tour. And none packs in the history than Bulldog Tours. Did you know Charleston is nicknamed the Holy City because it has 187 churches and temples? Neither did I before my tour with Bulldog Tours.
Other interesting tidbits learned on our walking tour: Charleston is home of the very first French quarter in the Unites States. Sorry, New Orleans! And the state tree, the Palmetto, is actually a grass! Incidentally, the Palmetto flag of South Carolina is the second most recognized flag in US (behind Texas).
History buffs will love to hear about Fort Sumter where the Civil War began in June 28, 1776. These same Palmetto trees were used to build Fort Sumter’s walls. When cannonballs hit these dense trees, they bounced off! Guess that’s a good reason to have the Palmetto as our state tree. Pricing: The Charleston Strolls tour is $29 for adults; Children: $19 (ages 7-12); and 6 & under are Free.
Carriage Ride with Old South Carriage Company
300 years of history in one hour? Yes, please! Discover the lore and charm of downtown Charleston with Old South Carriage. Pass by antebellum mansions, the Charleston historic district, and beautiful parks at the leisurely pace of a horse drawn carriage. What better way to explore the city than in a carriage pulled by horse?
What makes this experience special is the combination of fascinating transportation with a history lesson about the city. This is a great activity for girlfriends who want to see the city in a unique way and love horses.
This horse-drawn carriage tour will reveal over 300 years of history, including antebellum mansions, churches, and gardens. A licensed guide wearing the red sash will inform and entertain you with historical facts, lore, and humor. Our one-hour narrated carriage tour covers more than 2.5 miles and 30 blocks of historic Charleston. It really is the best way to see the “Holy City” and learn about its rich and vast historical areas and attractions. Cost: Adults $28; Children (4-11) $ 18; 3 and under are Free.
Spanning the Charleston Harbor is the 8 acre Waterfront Park. The park offers fountains, green space, a walking and jogging path and a long pier. The piece de resistance is the Pineapple Fountain, a symbol of hospitality in a genteel Southern city. The fountain is flanked by water spouts that beckon hot travelers to cool off in the spraying waters. While girlfriends will be less likely to splash around in the fountain than children, there’s something rejuvenating about watching people interact with the water and kids playing.
This is a sentimental favorite of mine since my great aunt once owned 87 East Bay Street, one of the iconic Rainbow Row houses. I have fond memories of staying with her and exploring that beautiful house as a kid. No wonder people flock to this area with these brightly colored and diverse homes. (Hers was the one in the far end of the photo with the bright red roof.)
The Rainbow Row idea came about in 1932 when homeowner Dorothy Porcher Legge thought that painting the homes with fresh coats of paint in a variety of tropical colors would spruce up the neighborhood. After Legge’s home received its new pink hue, other homes followed, and the rest as they say is history.
Where can you find a peacock and a water buffalo surrounded by the oldest landscaped gardens in America? It’s Middleton Place. This National Historic Landmark is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a lively stable yard that is also home to sheep, cashmere goats, Belgian draft horses, guinea hogs. With exhibitions like with pottery, weaving, blacksmithing, candle-dipping and open fire cooking methods demonstrations, touring Middleton Place is like stepping back in time to view the inner workings of a plantation.
General Admission includes access to the garden’s 65 acres of formal Landscaped Gardens, the plantation’s stable yards and the following seasonal guided walking tours: Garden Overview; Meet the Breeds; Beyond the Fields; and Nature Walks. Pricing: Adults (14 and up) $ 29; students 14 and up with student ID $15; children 6-13 $10; and 5 and under are Free.
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall Plantation is a mainstay of Charleston culture. It’s been open to the public since 1956 and has been the setting for many movies and TV miniseries as well as the nuptials of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. But what continues to draw visitors year after year are the educational opportunities as visitors embrace Charleston plantation living and Gullah culture via the interactive Black History in America exhibit and a live presentation of Gullah culture. These entertaining performances take place at the plantation’s Gullah Theater.
In 1955, the plantation was purchased by the McRae Family, and Mrs. McRae furnished the house with antiques and began giving tours. Today, the McRae Family still owns the property, and they continue to make improvements to the plantation so that our visitors can experience what plantation life was like.
Boone Hall Plantation admission includes House tour, plantation tractor tour, Black History In America Exhibit, a Slave History Presentation, Garden Tour, and Butterfly Pavilion. Cost: Adults (13 and up) $24; Senior Citizens 65+/Military/AAA $ 21; Children (6-12) $12; Children 5 and under are Free.
Best Restaurants in Charleston, SC
Get ready to grab some great grub with your girlfriends in Charleston! With 345 restaurants in the Charleston peninsula alone, it means not nearly enough time to try them all, not to mention room in the belly. So we’ve come up with a short list of great places to eat in Charleston for lunch, drinks, pre-dinner, and dinner.
But in a food city like Charleston, it feels WRONG to just choose one place per category, so we’ve come up with our top pick as well as a few honorable mentions.
Lunch at Home Team BBQ
When in the South, barbecue is a must! With an assorted menu featuring salads, tacos, and sandwiches, there is truly something for everyone at Home Team BBQ. One thing is for certain in the barbecue universe: people are very particular about their sauce choices. So it’s smart that Home Team lets guests choose the sauce they like. No matter your sauce preference, Home Team has an amazing variety from Red, Pepper Vinegar, Sweet Red, Carolina Mustard, and Hot Red.
When we couldn’t decide between the beef brisket, the pulled pork, or the smoked wings, the item that jumped off the menu was something called the Board: smoked wings, 1/2 rack St. Louis cut ribs, pulled pork, turkey, and homemade sausage alongside 3 sides, grilled bread, house pickles and pickled red onions.
Try my surprise favorite: Fiery Ron’s Smoked Chicken Wings with dry rub and Alabama white sauce. Pair those wings with sweet tea (a Southern staple), beer, or the Home Team Game Changer (gold Caribbean run, spiced Caribbean rum, orange juice, pineapple juice, cream of coconut and a dash of grated nutmeg) which sounds like the world famous Painkiller from the Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Van Dyke, BVI.
- Breizh Pan Crepes – Creperie with both sweet and savory crêpes, omelets & espresso.
- Fleet Landing – casual waterfront dining with Southern seafood favorites.
- Butcher & Bee – elevated lunch fare featuring fine dining food sandwiched between bread.
- Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit – serves a variety of hot biscuits, pimento cheese sandwiches, and other treats for breakfast, lunch, and late night treats.
- Xiao Bao Biscuit – converted gas station serving trendy dishes from China, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
- Melfi’s – a modern spin on classic Italian restaurant with fresh pasta, salads, larger plates, and thin crust pizza.
Drinks at Prohibition
No secret knock is required at Prohibition, although it may evoke the sensation of traveling back in time to a 1920s speakeasy. We chose this bar partially for its name and mostly for its reputation as being one of THE best places to grab a drink in Charleston. Boy, it did not disappoint!
My selection was the Margarita Picante, which packs a punch with jalapeño infused Sauza blue tequila, Cointreau, blood orange, lime, agave, and…lookout…smoked chili salt! My friends got the Carolina Wren with apricot infused Cathead vodka, Rothman and winter apricot, lemon, honey, egg white, bolivar bitters; and the Bacon Maple Old Fashioned with bacon infused Makers Mark, maple syrup, Angostura, Scrappys orange, and citrus zest. What a way to start girls night out!
With its bourbon barrel ceiling and vintage inspired decor, Prohibition may feel like a blast from the past with a modern twist. Undecided on what to order? Then choose the casual tasting menu combined with with dealers choice beverage pairings. Sounds like the start of a decadent evening in the Holy City.
- The Rooftop at Vendue – city views of the Charleston Harbor with cocktails as props
- Élevé – French-inspired dishes and handcrafted cocktails in a rooftop garden setting at the Grand Bohemian Hotel
- The Belmont – curated cocktails accompanied by a menu of meats, cheeses, and homemade pop tarts
- Graft Wine Shop & Bar – when labeled as a “neighborhood wine shop, musical nostalgia trigger, & cool hang spot” it must be good!
- The Cocktail Club – King Street upscale lounge with farm to shaker beverages and punch bowls sure to keep the party going
Pre-Dinner at The Darling Oyster Bar
The Darling Oyster Bar lived up to its name as being a darling spot for pre-dinner noshing and people watching. There is truly no better seat in the house than a stool at the 14-seat raw bar overlooking King Street. There, we feasted on a sea bounty of oysters on the half shell, shrimp, and ceviche. However, be mindful that the oyster bar is first come, first served. Reservations for tables can be made in advance with The Darling Oyster Bar.
Oyster fans will applaud the varieties on the half shell, including local favorites like Bulls Bay Blades alongside Baysides, Pirate Cove, and Umamis. With vibrant energy, shuckers who earn their keep preparing boatloads of oysters, and a view of King Street, it’s like appetizers and a show. Wash down the seafood with concoctions like the Fish House Punch: Bacardi gold rum, cognac, créme de péche, and lemon.
- 167 Raw – hip seafood counter/raw bar featuring lobster rolls, oysters, and rosé. Did I mention the lobster rolls?
- The Ordinary – former bank now turned seafood hall and oyster bar that’s a shellfish lover’s mecca.
- Leon’s Oyster Shop – Old garage serving up fried chicken and oysters alongside cheap beer, rosé on tap, grower champagne, and cocktails.
Dinner: The Establishment
Two words define The Establishment: fresh and seasonal. Located in the historic James Gregorie House on Broad Street, The Establishment is a seafood-centric restaurant focusing on the fresh and sustainable ingredients surrounding the area. Blending on open kitchen, sleek bar, and live piano music, the Establishment seems to be hitting its stride even though it’s barely a year old to the Charleston dining scene.
My appetizer of Duck with crispy confit, kholrabi, pear and blackberry was divine. Not to be outdone, the entree of swordfish with white acre peas, butter beans, salsa verde, and brown butter was melt-in-my-mouth awesome.
Shane Didiney, the manager of The Establishment, told us how The Establishment got its name. Nope, it’s not them bragging on how well known or established the restaurant is (though they’d have every right to brag). Rather, it’s a playful reference to the fact that the restaurant is located between Church and State Streets–like the separation of church and state found in the Establishment clause of the First Amendment!
As a lawyer, when I heard this, I laughed out loud and found the place all the more charming. The name story aside, what will have me returning is the high caliber of the topnotch seafood and quality service.
- Husk-locally sourced and Southern inspired dishes taken up a notch.
- FIG-the name stands for Flavor, Ingredients, and Grandeur and is the creation of Mike Lata, renowned chef.
- 82 Queen-French Quarter grande dame featuring Lowcountry cuisine.
- Magnolias-upscale Southern cuisine like Shrimp and Grits to die for.
- Slightly North of Broad-eclectic bistro with the moniker SNOB.
Best Charleston SC Hotels
We stayed at the Hyatt Place (Historic District). It’s part of the Hyatt family and has an awesome location right on King Street. Kirsten recommends the Francis Marrion Hotel, also on King Street. If you’re looking for a little more charm, I’d recommend the French Quarter Inn or the Ansonborough Inn for boutique stays. For luxury hotels in Charleston, try the Belmond Charleston Place or Planters Inn.