Travel: Charm, History, and Superb Dining Come Together Charleston, South Carolina

The avenue of oaks is a sight to behold at Boone Hall Plantation. Photograph by Natalina Fickell

Readers of Travel + Leisure magazine named Charleston the best city in the world last year and the best city in the U.S. for the past five years in a row. And why not? With historic sites, James Beard Award-winning chefs, friendly residents, and mostly mild weather, this Southern getaway is a marvelous choice. A trip to the South is particularly relevant now, as the nation wrestles with its Civil War past. Whether you’re up for touring historic graveyards, jazz at Charleston Grill, or a bike ride across the stunning Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Charleston is the place.

Begin your tour of history at the site where the first shots of the Civil War were fired April 12, 1861. A tour of Fort Sumter ($13 to $21) takes about 2.5 hours, with the first of three daily boats in the fall launching at 9:30 a.m. Before you depart, meander through the exhibit at the visitors center to learn about the buildup to the war and South Carolina’s role in it.

Stroll through Waterfront Park, an award-winning space facing the Charleston Harbor, where you can relax on one of the pier’s six swing benches or luxuriate in the spray of the fountains on a hot day. The pineapple fountain is the focal point and an iconic landmark, representing Southern hospitality.

Established in 1807,  Charleston City Market is a collection of vendors that spans four blocks and is the place for authentic sweet grass baskets, a 300-year-old handicraft of woven marsh grass that began in West Africa. With baskets from dozens of artists, there’s one that will speak to you.

Hominy Grill’s seafood muddle topped with a poached egg. Photograph by Squire Fox

The Old Slave Mart museum presents a poignant narrative of the ugly history that must be told, and it does so in somber and compelling detail. The building itself was one of the South’s primary slave auction sites. The haunting audio interview with a former slave is not to be missed.

Can’t decide whether to dine under the stars or in a cozy, quaint space? 82 Queen has 11 separate areas including a courtyard with a huge magnolia tree, offering Southern charm to spare and encouraging guests to linger. The menu highlights local favorites such as fried green tomatoes ($11), Carolina crab cakes ($31), and Charleston bouillabaisse ($32).

If you want a welcoming place to try grits, Hominy Grill is for you. James Beard Award-winning chef‑owner Robert Stehling serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Try the amazing house-made banana bread ($7) and you will crave it forevermore.

“They’re really sugary outside and moist and scrumptious inside.”—Robert Stehling, Chef-owner Of Hominy Grill, urging visitors to go to Wildflour Pastry for doughnut muffins.

Noshes such as lobster and shrimp ceviche ($17) and duck confit nachos ($19) complement the harbor views at Pavilion Bar on the roof of the Market Pavilion Hotel. Enjoy the resort atmosphere across from the historic U.S. Custom House.

In the heart of the historic district, The French Quarter Inn is a boutique hotel ready to pamper ($310 and up). Take the Sound Sleep program in which guests choose from seven kinds of pillows including down, buckwheat, hypo-allergenic, Swedish massage, and more. Champagne welcomes you on arrival, and the hotel offers complimentary breakfast and a reception with wine and cheese.

The Vendue is a downtown hotel devoted to art ($204 and up). There are 300 original works throughout the property and daily art tours available. One of the buildings dates to 1780, and no two rooms are alike. The hotel’s unique public spaces are beautifully restored. Complimentary bikes are available.

Boone Hall Plantation ($12 to $24) offers the Black History in America exhibit—a self-guided tour through nine slave cabins with video, photos, audio, and historical artifacts—that shows the lives of black Americans from 1790 through the present. Don’t miss “Exploring the Gullah Culture”—storytelling, songs, and a peek at the low-country culture.

Sept. 28 through Oct. 8: The MOJA Arts Festival kicks off with a parade and features 10 days of food, theater, dance, music, visual arts, children’s activities, and more. Most events are free and highlight African-American and Caribbean arts.

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