Virtuoso Life November 2019 Let's Celebrate Charleston

Let's Celebrate Charleston

The historic French Quarter of Charleston. 
The historic French Quarter of Charleston. 
Photo by Getty Images
On the eve of its 350th birthday, the South Carolina city is just getting started.
Charleston has been through a lot since its establishment in 1670: a pirate invasion, a trade boom, a handful of wars, a civil-rights movement – not to mention hurricanes and an earthquake. Nearly 350 years on, the waterfront city still looks like a set for a genteel period drama. But its five-square-mile downtown, lined with live oaks, landmark mansions, and pastel-colored Georgian townhomes, is more than just a beautiful time capsule. Forward-thinking chefs and entrepreneurs are making one of America’s oldest cities one of its coolest too.

Charleston’s reputation as a groundbreaking food city, for instance, dates to the early 2000s, when Mike Lata and Jason Stanhope launched Fig and Sean Brock opened Husk. Their modern, sustainable spins on Lowcountry cuisine paved the way for more innovation in the kitchen – and while Charleston’s food pyramid may be built on the three S’s (seafood, the South, and soul), the current diversity on the table here is a thrill. Over on King Street, one of the oldest, busiest, and prettiest thoroughfares in town, homegrown design collectives, colorful storefront displays, and hands-on classes showcase Charleston’s creative side.
A Rainbow Row home.
A Rainbow Row home.
All this innovation feels charming, thanks to strict preservation rules that have kept Charleston looking remarkably like it did 150 years ago. At its peak in the mid-nineteenth century, the volume of rice, cotton, and indigo coming through the port made it America’s wealthiest city. Prosperous landowners poured in, building elaborate mansions (which travelers can peek inside today). One unofficial Charlestonism: Every gorgeous home is backed by an equally arresting garden – many accessible on walking tours. The city was, of course, also the country’s largest post for the buying and selling of slaves. A long-awaited International African American Museum, dedicated to slavery and the African American experience, will open on Gadsden’s Wharf overlooking the harbor in late 2020 or early 2021.

Nobody’s trying to call this seen-all-over-Instagram town with a renowned dining scene a best-kept secret: Grab a seat in White Point Garden and you’ll hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn-carriage tours and stiletto-shod bachelorette partiers trotting down nearby cobblestoned streets. But even with a recent increase in visitors (an estimated 7.5 million in 2019), Charleston and its sprawling surroundings feel intimate – and easily accessible.
The 1876 Calhoun Mansion, now a museum.
The 1876 Calhoun Mansion, now a museum.

See

  • Calhoun Mansion: Built in 1876, the 24,000-square-foot Italianate mansion – Charleston’s largest private residence – is now a Gilded Age art museum filled with more than 2,000 antiques and surrounded by elaborate gardens. 
  • Mrs. Whaley’s Garden: A visit to this private backyard, designed by landscape architect Loutrel W. Briggs in 1942, feels like getting in on a secret. It’s open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. 
  • Rainbow Row: These 13 privately owned townhomes on the Charleston Battery are a favorite photo op. Snap away – we’re not judging. East Bay Street.
Basic Kitchen’s beet margarita and its Rainbow Bowl with mung bean noodles, veggies, and Thai peanut sauce.
Basic Kitchen’s beet margarita and its Rainbow Bowl with mung bean noodles, veggies, and Thai peanut sauce.

Eat and Drink

  • Babas on Cannon: This tiny downtown cocktail bar is popular with locals and known for its Contratto spritzes and extensive wine list. 
  • Basic Kitchen: Stop in for veggie-centric grain bowls, avocado toast (we’re not tired of it, especially when it’s done this well), and fresh smoothies in a bright space with a courtyard garden. 
  • The Establishment: Opened by two Fig alums last year, the black-marble-and-copper-embellished spot turns out inventive seafood dishes, all sustainably sourced from local fishermen. 
  • Fig: Lowcountry cuisine goes upscale at this downtown Charleston institution. The menu changes often; grilled triggerfish with red peppers and skillet okra with pomodoro and breadcrumbs have made recent appearances.
  • Husk: This fine-dining restaurant in a Victorian-era mansion is still one of Charleston’s most in-demand dinner reservations. 
  • The Obstinate Daughter: In a lively, wood-paneled dining room on Sullivan’s Island, a 20-minute drive east of Charleston, diners dig into Lowcountry-inspired appetizers, pastas, and pizzas. 
  • Renzo: Wood-fired pizzas and Italian staples rule in a moody, low-lit space from James Beard Rising Star Chef nominee Evan Gaudreau. 
Candlefish’s library of scents.
Candlefish’s library of scents.

Shop

  • Candlefish: This home-goods shop and candle library carries 100 scents. Sign up for a candle-making class, where discovering your go-to scent is more sugarplum and pine than rose and cedarwood is an eye-opening experience. 
  • Julep: The city’s signature style, which skews heavily to stand-out-in-a-crowd looks, prevails here, with citrus palettes and pineapple motifs aplenty. 
  • Preservation Society of Charleston: The historical organization’s shop stocks an array of significant-to-the-city goods, including feather bow ties by Brackish and a robust selection of regional literature. 
  • The Skinny Dip: Find swimwear, beachy accessories, cheeky home decor, local art, and more at this 4,000-square-foot design collective. Bonus: The rooftop bar is a nice spot for a mid-spree frosé. 

Go

Travel advisors can arrange a private walking tour with Virtuoso on-site connection American Excursionist for an in-depth intro to the city’s architecture. Scope out classic Charleston Single homes (narrow buildings with grand west-facing patios to capture the breeze), mansions, and more.
The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina.
The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina.

Stay

  • Charleston’s only high-end waterfront hotel – the 92-room Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina – is a ten-minute drive over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (or a 15-minute water-taxi ride across Charleston Harbor from Mount Pleasant). Its two pools, kids’ club, and roomy, nautical-chic accommodations make it a great base for families. Virtuoso travelers receive a welcome amenity, breakfast daily, and a $100 resort credit.
  • Housed in a former federal building on Marion Square, The Dewberry Charleston is a midcentury-modern splash of style in the middle of the city. In the 155-room hotel’s Living Room bar, patrons sip negronis in surroundings straight out of Mad Men. Virtuoso travelers recieve breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.
  • Check into the 434-room Belmond Charleston Place for old-school elegance – grand staircases, Italian marble floors, chandeliers everywhere. A rooftop spa and infinity-edge pool fuel lazy afternoon breaks, and King Street shopping is steps away. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.
  • The 16-room Zero George Street comprises a handful of nineteenth-century town houses and Charleston Singles converted to guest rooms with pine floors, custom millwork, and shared outdoor piazzas. The on-site cooking school offers crash courses in Southern cuisine. Virtuoso travelers recieve breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit or a class on cocktails or wine for two.

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