What’s the best time to visit Charleston?

©iStock/sgregponosian

The Lowcountry is blessed with a sub-tropical climate, meaning Charleston has mild winters and hot summers. Tourist season peaks in May, for good reason — although the midday air temperature is still comfortably in the 80s, the water is warm enough for swimming and the evenings are cool.

Charleston’s beaches stay busy through September, despite sweltering and sticky July and August days. If you visit in mid-summer, allow time for afternoon rests and trips to the beaches. Fortunately, the long days allow for pleasant evening activities, from sipping drinks by the water to walks downtown.

Winter nights rarely freeze in Charleston, although February and March bring their share of frost. Those who make the trip this time of year are rewarded with major attractions virtually free of crowds. The flowers may not be in bloom yet, but having Middleton Place or Magnolia Gardens all to yourself is priceless.

  • On March 27, 2013
    Amanda Arnold answered the question: Amanda Arnold

    What are the best Charleston food experiences?

    Next time I'm in Charleston, I'd love to try The Ordinary, a seafood hall and oyster bar set in an old bank in downtown Charleston, which opened in December 2012. The menu is jam-packed with every possible hot and cold seafood delight, all purchased from local fisherman — peel and eat shrimp, clam cake, Maine lobster ceviche, lobster bisque — which can be washed down with a fine wine, craft beer or an aperitif.

    On Easter Sunday, downtown Charleston’s streets are filled with colorful ladies’ hats, I was delighted to learn when we headed to High Cotton for Easter brunch. This tidy, top-notch restaurant with lovely heart pine floors, exposed brick walls and knowledgeable servers offers contemporary low-country-style cuisine made with local ingredients. For brunch, try the Carolina Shrimp and Grits — Andouille, okra, tomatoes, garlic and serrano shrimp broth — or the Southern Breakfast Cassoulet — sunny-side up eggs over pork belly, shredded duck, butterbeans, red pepper jelly, sweet corn and tomatoes.

    But truth be told, my favorite Charleston haunt is The Wreck of the Richard & Charlene, a hole-in-the-wall, locals favorite set on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, S.C., just across the picturesque Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from downtown Charleston. The screened-in restaurant may look more shabby than chic, but it serves excellent, authentic low-country-style seafood — grilled, fried or broiled scallops, shrimp, oysters and crab (served with tartar and cocktail sauce) — and scrumptious South Carolina sides like hush puppies, fried hominy, red rice, slaw and she-crab soup. Even the banana pudding is exceptional. You won’t need to dress up for this beachy, creek-side eatery — the food is served on paper plates, beer comes in a can and every table receives a bowl of boiled peanuts to start. If there’s a wait, have a drink on the dock and take in the views of the marsh and the fishing boats.
  • On March 27, 2013
    Amanda Arnold answered the question: Amanda Arnold

    What are the best Charleston food experiences?

    Next time I'm in Charleston, I'd love to try The Ordinary, a seafood hall and oyster bar set in an old bank in downtown Charleston, which opened in December 2012. The menu is jam-packed with every possible hot and cold seafood delight, all purchased from local fisherman — peel and eat shrimp, clam cake, Maine lobster ceviche, lobster bisque — which can be washed down with a fine wine, craft beer or an aperitif.

    On Easter Sunday, downtown Charleston’s streets are filled with colorful ladies’ hats, I was delighted to learn when we headed to High Cotton for Easter brunch. This tidy, top-notch restaurant with lovely heart pine floors, exposed brick walls and knowledgeable servers offers contemporary low-country-style cuisine made with local ingredients. For brunch, try the Carolina Shrimp and Grits — Andouille, okra, tomatoes, garlic and serrano shrimp broth — or the Southern Breakfast Cassoulet — sunny-side up eggs over pork belly, shredded duck, butterbeans, red pepper jelly, sweet corn and tomatoes.

    My favorite Charleston haunt is The Wreck of the Richard & Charlene, a hole-in-the-wall, locals favorite set on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, S.C., just across the picturesque Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from downtown Charleston. The screened-in restaurant may look more shabby than chic, but it serves excellent, authentic low-country-style seafood — grilled, fried or broiled scallops, shrimp, oysters and crab (served with tartar and cocktail sauce) — and scrumptious South Carolina sides like hush puppies, fried hominy, red rice, slaw and she-crab soup. Even the banana pudding is exceptional. You won’t need to dress up for this beachy, creek-side eatery — the food is served on paper plates, beer comes in a can and every table receives a bowl of boiled peanuts to start. If there’s a wait, have a drink on the dock and take in the views of the marsh and the fishing boats.
  • On March 15, 2013
    Amanda Arnold answered the question: Amanda Arnold

    What are the best Charleston food experiences?

    My favorite Charleston haunt is The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene, a hole-in-the-wall, locals favorite set on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, S.C., just across the picturesque Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from downtown Charleston. The screened-in restaurant serves authentic low-country-style seafood — grilled, fried or broiled scallops, shrimp, oysters and crab (served with tartar and cocktail sauce) — and scrumptious South Carolina sides like hush puppies, fried hominy, red rice, slaw and she-crab soup. Even the banana pudding is exceptional. You won’t need to dress up for this beachy, creek-side eatery — the food is served on paper plates, beer comes in a can and every table receives a bowl of boiled peanuts to start. If there’s a wait, have a drink on the dock and take in the views of the marsh and the fishing boats.

    On Easter Sunday, downtown Charleston’s streets are filled with colorful ladies’ hats, I was delighted to learn when we headed to High Cotton for Easter brunch. This tidy, top-notch restaurant with lovely heart pine floors, exposed brick walls and knowledgeable servers offers contemporary low-country-style cuisine made with local ingredients. For brunch, try the Carolina Shrimp and Grits — Andouille, okra, tomatoes, garlic and serrano shrimp broth — or the Southern Breakfast Cassoulet — sunny-side up eggs over pork belly, shredded duck, butterbeans, red pepper jelly, sweet corn and tomatoes.

    Upscale beach town Sullivan’s Island, just 15 minutes from downtown Charleston, is populated with the most gorgeous historic beach homes and its beaches are unusually peaceful. I recommend visiting for lunch at Poe’s Tavern, which sits just a couple of blocks from the beach and serves a creative selection of gourmet burgers (the Annabel Lee is topped with a Charleston-style crab cake) and fish tacos. Plus, its outdoor seating allows you to breath in the salty air.

    And last but not least — the Jack’s Cosmic Dogs hotdog (and fries … and soft serve sundae). This Isle of Palms roadside hotdog eatery set in a cinderblock building that’ll take you back to bygone era serves some seriously delicious dogs. Try the Galactic dog — homemade chili, cheddar cheese, cole slaw and spicy mustard — and the restaurant’s fresh-cut fries, made with 100 percent peanut oil. And don't forget some soda pop — a little Cheerwine is sure to refresh after a day at the Isle of Palms beach. 
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  • On February 12, 2013
    Sarah Gleim answered the question: Sarah Gleim

    What are the best places to stay for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival?

    Charleston chefs and restaurants aren’t the only ones getting in on the culinary action. Many of the hotels and boutique inns are participating as well, providing a variety of packages with festival tickets. The historic Elliott House Inn’s Sip and Savor offer includes accommodations for Friday and Saturday, two tickets for the Vineyard Voyage aboard SpiritLine Cruises on Saturday, and the Lowcountry Jazz Brunch on Sunday, plus a wine and cheese reception. The Inn just completed a two-year renovation and is located in the heart of the Historic District.

    You can’t get much closer to the festival than the Francis Marion Hotel — it’s across from the main tent’s entrance. Book the hotel’s two-night Food and Wine Lover’s package, and choose two tickets (per night) to some of the most popular events, including the Grand Tasting Tents, the Jailhouse Shake-Up party, Every Day with Rachael Ray + Manchester Farms Quail Present At Home with Celebrity Tastemakers, and the SieMatic Presents Passport to Pairings at the historic Thomas Bennett House downtown.

    If you love history as much as food, consider the John Rutledge House Inn’s Food + Wine Gastronome package. The historic inn is just one of 15 surviving homes once owned by a signer of the U.S. Constitution, and the only one that welcomes overnight guests. Built in 1763, the John Rutledge House Inn is a few blocks from Francis Marion Square. Booking a room here gets you two nights at the inn, plus tickets to the SieMatic Presents Passport to Pairings event, Every Day with Rachael Ray + Manchester Farms Quail Present At Home with Celebrity Tastemakers, Saturday morning at the Culinary Village and Grand Tasting Tents, and the Lowcountry Jazz Brunch on Sunday.
     
    But the most exclusive package is probably the Wentworth Mansion’s Food + Wine Gourmand — it includes three nights in a mansion suite at the historic Wentworth Mansion. The fully restored inn was built in 1886 as a private residence and is in downtown Charleston’s Historic District. Tickets to the festival include Thursday night’s Opening Night Party: Salute to Charleston Chefs at the South Carolina Aquarium; access to the Culinary Village and Grand Tasting Tents on Friday afternoon; and seats at Wentworth Mansion’s Circa 1886 restaurant’s Perfectly Paired Dinner prepared by executive chef Marc Collins and New York’s Jesse Schenker from Recette Restaurant. You’ll also get passes to Saturday’s Vineyard Voyage and Republic Reign’s Cocktail Dinner, as well as the Sunday morning Jazz Brunch at Lowndes Grove Plantation.
  • On February 12, 2013
    Sarah Gleim answered the question: Sarah Gleim

    What are the best things to do at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival?

    With more than 85 food-related events, you’ll have no trouble finding one that speaks to your taste buds. If you want to learn about Charleston’s food history, the Soul Food Shuffle day trip is for you. Local farmer and food writer Jeff Allen leads you on a tour through the celebrated soul food Charleston is known for. You’ll make several stops, including Ernie’s for okra soup and flavorful lima beans, and Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston for its famous macaroni and cheese, turkey prioleau (a slow-cooked rice-and-meat stew) and bread pudding. $150, March 1, 10:30 a.m., various restaurants.

    You won’t want to miss the Culinary Village and Grand Tasting Tents. This is where you can indulge in cuisine and cocktails from more than 80 food and beverage vendors. But it’s also home to the SCE&G Celebrity Kitchen, where you can view live cooking demos; the Avalon Wine Outdoor Living + Grilling Area, which also features live grilling and tastings; a Book Signing Tent; and the Whole Foods Market Wine Shop. $85, various times March 1-3, Marion Square Park.
     
    Neighborhood restaurant and bar Closed for Business hosts the best bash for beer lovers. The Allagash Brewing Company Craft Beer Dinner is a five-course tasting of Closed for Business’ Southern pub grub paired with Allagash’s Belgian-style ales. $125, March 2, 7 p.m., Closed for Business, 453 King St.
     
    End the festival on a high note at the traditional Lowcountry Jazz Brunch at the historic Lowndes Grove Plantation. The three-course brunch includes fare from a variety of Charleston’s top restaurants, signature Southern Bloody Marys and mimosas, and live music from local favorite The Mark Sturbank Group, featuring Quiana Parlor and Quentin Baxter. $125, March 3, 11 a.m., Lowndes Grove Plantation, 266 St. Margaret St.
  • On October 11, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is Charleston’s restaurant scene like?

    Charleston’s restaurant scene exhibits Darwinism at its finest. Dozens of almost-good-enough establishments come and go each year, while the cream of the crop remains afloat. Three consecutive Best Chef Southeast James Beard Award winners came out of Charleston (Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill in 2008, Mike Lata of FIG in 2009, and Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk in 2010), raising the bar for kitchens across town.

    The presence of Johnson and Wales culinary school contributed to the boom in Charleston restaurants during the 1990s, a tradition that continues with culinary schools established at the Art Institute and Trident Technical College. Quality dining is so entrenched in the Holy City now that people often visit just to eat. There’s enough of a scene to support stores like King Street’s Heirloom Book Company, a bookstore focused specifically on cookbooks and culinary inspired literature.

    The city offers fine dining of every style (i.e. Trattoria Lucca for Italian, Halls Chophouse for steaks), but when it comes to Southern cuisine, Charleston has established itself as the standard bearer.
  • On October 11, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best Charleston food experiences?

    ©iStock/msheldrake Narrowing down the five best Charleston food experiences is akin to picking out the top five football highlight reels of all time — there are enough heavy hitters to fill a week of footage. If you’re lucky enough to be in Charleston in early March, the BB&T Charleston Food and Wine Festival attracts chefs and foodies from around the country for specialty dinners and tastings. But if you can't make it to the fest, start with these:

    1. Shrimp and Grits at Hominy Grill. There’s hardly a menu in Charleston without this ubiquitous dish, but nobody does it like Hominy Grill. Lunch lines can be lengthy, but it’s worth it for a taste of Best Chef Southeast James Beard Award-winner Robert Stehling’s elegant take on the classic recipe.

    2. Steamed oysters at Bowens Island Restaurant. Perched over a tidal creek down a dirt road on the way towards Folly Beach, Bowens Island is a chance to step back in time. The oysters are served like it’s still the 1950s, sprawled across a wooden table with a hole in the middle to toss your shells. Don’t be afraid of the laidback, rustic atmosphere. Bowens is authentic.

    3. Husk. Because the menu changes daily, drawing from local ingredients sourced exclusively from the South (a huge chalkboard by the entrance shows the origin of everything on the menu), it’s impossible to recommend one thing at Husk. Fortunately, you can’t go wrong. James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Brock will tell you to order the burger, an amalgamation of ground beef, bacon, and rib meat. We still can’t get the smoky flavor of the Buffalo Pig Ear Lettuce Wraps out of our minds — decadent and divine.

    4. Monday Family Supper at Trattoria Lucca. From 6 to 10 p.m. every Monday, chef Ken Vedrinski offers a four-course prix fixe menu for just $38. Lucca is arguably Charleston’s best Italian restaurant and the chance to dine communally while Vedrinski excitedly explains the day’s offerings is priceless.

    5. She-Crab Soup. You’ll find versions of this classic at every restaurant offering Lowcountry fare in town. Our favorites? The bisque at 82 Queen on Queen Street, and the thick and creamy offering at Saffron Café and Bakery on East Bay Street.
  • On October 11, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Which five Charleston restaurants are best for brunch?

    In a town that prides itself on shrimp-and-grits, brunch comes naturally. Here are Charleston’s five best restaurants for brunch:

    1. Hominy Grill. With a kitchen manned by James Beard Award winner Robert Stehling, Hominy dishes out the city’s original shrimp and grits — Stehling got his training at Chapel Hill’s Crooks Corner, where the dish is said to have originated. Still, don’t be afraid to order the ‘Big Nasty,’ a steaming fresh biscuit loaded with a fried chicken breast and a dollop of cheddar and sausage gravy. Waits are often long at the popular spot, but a Summer 2011 renovation added more inside table space and moved the waiting area off of the sidewalk and into a cozy patio.

    2. High Cotton. In walking distance of the Market Street shopping district, this restaurant serves an excellent Sunday brunch. In addition to the requisite Carolina shrimp and grits and crab cakes benedict, the banana bread french toast (with bourbon aged maple syrup and bacon) will have you crawling back to your hotel for a nap.

    3. Poogan’s Porch. For a true classic, pull up a table at this living-room-turned-dining-room on Queen Street. This is the place to try fried alligator (just $6.95 as an appetizer, with honey-jalapeno sauce) or the Charlestowne fry, an omelet laced with oysters, bacon, and remoulade. Just look out for the ghost in the bathroom (ask your server).

    4. Fat Hen. Off the peninsula, chef Fred Neuville has garnered attention at this restaurant on Johns Island. Making the trek is a great excuse for a Sunday drive around the historic sea island, but it’s worth it alone for the crème brûlée french toast or the layers of crepes, egg, and sausage in the duck and apple sausage gratin.

    5. Triangle Char & Bar. Just across the bridge from downtown on Highway 17 in West Ashley, this restaurant is a Charleston brunch staple. Don’t miss the Lowcountry eggrolls, packed with mustard-based pulled pork BBQ and collard greens. Still, it may be the $1 mimosas that bring in the Sunday crowds of locals.
  • On October 11, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best romantic restaurants in Charleston?

    Food, romance and Charleston are a trio cut from the same cloth. There is no shortage of romantic restaurants in the Holy City, but here are the five best:

    1. Fulton Five. This tiny, candle lit dining room serves Italian food with serious sex appeal. It’s been winning local “most romantic restaurant” awards for years.

    2. Circa 1886. With its outdoor courtyard tables and cozy indoor cubby hole seats, this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant is best followed by a trip to see the view from Wentworth Mansion’s cupola.

    3. Sermet’s Corner. In the middle of it all on King Street, Sermet’s Corner shows off its Mediterranean flare in the bustling dining room, perfect for people watching on the sidewalk and the conversation starters that the environment provides.

    4. McCrady’s. Just down the street from his newer restaurant, the much-acclaimed Husk, chef Sean Brock still mans the kitchen at McCrady’s. Molecular gastronomy reaches new heights in this kitchen. After Brock’s creations find their way into the spacious dining room, advanced sommelier Clint Sloan is ready to pair a wine from McCrady’s fabulous, award-winning list.

    5. Anson. Just off of Market Street, Anson quietly remains one of Charleston’s best romantic restaurants. Anson rarely makes headlines like its flashier peers, instead opting to consistently serve some of the finest Lowcountry inspired cuisine in the city in a converted classic Charleston home.
  • On October 11, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best romantic restaurants in Charleston?

    Food, romance and Charleston are a trio cut from the same cloth. There is no shortage of romantic restaurants in the Holy City, but here are the five best:

    1. Fulton Five. This tiny, candle lit dining room serves Italian food with serious sex appeal. It’s been winning local “most romantic restaurant” awards for years.

    2. Circa 1886. With its outdoor courtyard tables and cozy indoor cubby hole seats, this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant is best followed by a trip to see the view from Wentworth Mansion’s cupola.

    3. Sermet’s Corner. In the middle of it all on King Street, Sermet’s Corner shows off its Mediterranean flare in the bustling dining room, perfect for people watching on the sidewalk and the conversation starters that the environment provides.

    4. McCrady’s. Just down the street from his newer restaurant, the much-acclaimed Husk, chef Sean Brock still mans the kitchen at McCrady’s. Molecular gastronomy reaches new heights in this kitchen. After Brock’s creations find their way into the spacious dining room, advanced sommelier Clint Sloan is ready to pair a wine from McCrady’s fabulous, award-winning list.

    5. Anson. Just off of Market Street, Anson quietly remains one of Charleston’s best romantic restaurants. Anson rarely makes headlines like its flashier peers, instead opting to consistently serve some of the finest Lowcountry inspired cuisine in the city in a converted classic Charleston home.
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