A good decade after launching its first Food and Wine Festival, Charleston is long past being a “well-kept secret” and officially a destination food city. Award-winning chefs doling out trendy fanfare might have put the city on the national radar, but make no mistake: Food and drink has always been at the forefront of Carolina culture.
This is the heart of Lowcountry, where there’s rooted history in everything that lands on the plate from Carolina yellow gold barbecue to West African–derived Gullah and Geechee cuisines. Hoppin’ John, shrimp ‘n grits, grilled oysters and Lowcountry seafood boils down to one of the best places to find a Bloody Mary in America — and that’s only a slice of the kinds of foods you can find here. There’s literally hundreds of places worth visiting between downtown Charleston out to Folly Beach, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, but here are a few good places to get started.
Where to Stay
Zero George Street
If eating and drinking are a travel priority (why else would you be here?), this boutique hotel has you covered. Original historic architecture dating back to 1804 gives this a charming local feel firmly rooted in Charleston, along with plush bedding and outdoor furnished piazzas. Its secret weapon: a cooking school on-site, where you can rack up some kitchen skills to bring home after.
Wild Dunes, A Destination Resort
Hear me out: staying outside the downtown strip of Charleston on a resort is infinitely cooler. What Wild Dunes lacks in stumbling proximity to a French Quarter bar crawl, it makes up for tenfold with private access to the Carolina’s gorgeous coastline, swimming pools, biking trails, tennis courts and even local experiences like taking a blacksmithing class on site or taking a pontoon boat to Capers Island for a sunset Lowcountry boil on the beach.
Where to Eat
Everyone will tell you to eat at Husk, even when you haven’t asked their opinion. That’s okay, because none of them are wrong. Sean Brock’s award-winning flagship is a true ode to the Carolinas, featuring a daily-changing menu of elevated dishes firmly rooted in the South. Make sure to secure a reservation as the restaurant is perpetually booked, and should you pop in for brunch, the Bloody Mary topped with Benton’s country ham is easily a winner.
Leon’s Oyster Shop
Raw and chargrilled oysters are the gems that lend to this laid back restaurant’s namesake, but the fried chicken and vegetable sides here are unreal. The fried chicken sandwich, in particular, is done right with cult favorite Duke’s mayo, slaw, and bread and butter pickles.
Callie’s Charleston Biscuits
Be forewarned: No matter where you eat in Charleston, you are going to be perpetually full. Which is why Callie’s is an awesome snack to fit in hobbling around town, ensuring you can check off having pimento cheese, fried chicken, bacon or any other Southern staple you need shoved between a buttery biscuit.
Where to Drink
If craft beer is your poison, then this is your Charleston bar. Boasting about 40 taps alone (not even counting the bottles), you’ll be hard pressed to find something you don’t like in this sprawling brewpub. About a dozen of those belong to the brewery, including the bizarrely wonderful peanut butter and jelly that tastes exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread (it’s worth trying, trust me).
The Royal American
If catching a show is on your bucket list, do double duty at divey music venue The Royal American. The bar often books hot national punk acts like the Dead Boys, The Coathangers and Waxahatchee, along with local bands, best seen while drinking one of their signature punches served in a 32-ounce stadium cup.
The Faculty Lounge
Feeling FOMO from your favorite hipster dance party bar? Hit up this lil’ doozy, which features excellent craft cocktails and eclectic themed nights like francophone hits with chartreuse shots or rose specials to the sweet sounds of Chaka Khan and Diana Ross (hey, laydies!).