Hi friends! Words can’t capture how excited I was for our return trip to Charleston, South Carolina, this summer. All winter long I found myself craving its sandy beaches and ocean breezes! The charming southern atmosphere of Charleston draws us back again and again to try out new restaurants, take in all the beauty and history of the area, and relax on the beach with our daughters, their hubbies, and our two granddaughters.
By the way, Charleston was once again voted the #1 city in the world and the U.S. in Travel and Leisure’s 2017 World’s Best Awards, which is no surprise to me!
Below you’ll find a quick recap of our recent trip as well as my latest restaurant recommendations and travel tips for what to see and do in this charming city. I hope you’ll also check out last year’s Charleston family vacation guide for even more ideas for a fun and memorable trip.
Where to Eat
A trip to Charleston isn’t complete without sampling the local cuisine!
Most Charleston restaurants feature freshly-caught seafood and locally grown produce on their menus. You’ll also see lots of southern fare–mac & cheese, grits, chicken fried steak, pulled pork, fried chicken, bbq, and cornbread.
A few of our favorite spots to eat — by the way, our 2- and 4-year-old granddaughters came with us to all of these restaurants and enjoyed the food as well:
- Agaves Cantina on Daniel Island — amazing guacamole and great fish tacos — they also do take-out if you’re local
- Poogan’s Porch — great low country specialties and local fare in a quaint old house in downtown Charleston
- Craftsmen Kitchen — amazing handcrafted burgers, pizzas, and sausages — south of Broad in old Charleston
- 167 Raw — a very small and trendy place downtown serving fresh seafood, lobster roll, and fish tacos — we loved their carnitas tacos and guac! No reservations here — it’s first come first served–and when I say small, I mean it seats only about 20 people at a time. However, my daughters, granddaughters and I went early–around 5:00 p.m.–on a Friday and only had to wait around 15 minutes for a table.
- Crave Kitchen — in Mt. Pleasant features “the most life-changing mac n cheese in America,” as well as wonderful fried green tomatoes, seafood, steaks and amazing dessert options. I loved their lobster risotto!
- Water’s Edge — sitting right on the banks of Shem Creek, this restaurant specializes in seafood and has amazing sunset views. You might even see some dolphins!
I highly recommend calling ahead either the day before or early in the day for dinner reservations at almost any Charleston restaurant–especially during summer when tourist season is at its peak. Another tip is to use the Yelp app on your phone to find area restaurants with high ratings and take a look at their menus.
For dessert, we loved:
- Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe — has a rotating assortment of amazing cakes, pies and ice cream, all of which are guaranteed to make your mouth water! In downtown Charleston
- Jeni’s Splendid ice Cream — one of our go-to spots for unusual and delectable ice cream flavors like Sweet Corn & Raspberry — downtown on north King Street
- Beard Cat’s Sweet Shop — our favorite place to stop for ice cream before or after a sunset stroll on the beach on Sullivan’s Island
Where to Stay
I have to admit this is one area in which I don’t have a lot to share, because when we visit Charleston we usually borrow a friend’s home on Daniel Island. My daughter and her family recently stayed at The Bea’s Nest, a stunning vacation rental home on Isle of Palms and raved about it!
Which Beaches to Visit
Once again, our trip wouldn’t be complete without several trips to the local beaches.
Isle of Palms is our favorite beach for daytime visits because it’s family-friendly, easy to get to, and has plenty of parking, restrooms, showers and places to eat. The sand is fine and white and the water is amazingly warm!
We usually set up near Coconut Joe’s beach grill, so we can just walk up to their take-out area, Island Joe’s, and grab some burgers and fries for lunch. There’s something about being near the ocean that makes you extra hungry! We always call ahead to rent chairs and umbrellas, which I highly recommend. We also take along a portable beach shade for the girls to play under as well as a couple of extra folding chairs.
We also love Sullivan’s Island for relaxing evening strolls as the sun sets. The only downside is there are no restrooms and no place to wash off your feet as you leave the beach, which are minor inconveniences compared to the tranquility and beauty of this beach.
What to See & Do
Boat rental: This year we did something a little different and rented a boat from the Isle of Palms Marina. The first day, we took the boat through the harbor and stopped at Water’s Edge on Shem Creek for lunch.
It was so relaxing to just be out on the water and see the area from a different viewpoint, and we all had a great time. I’d recommend making sure there’s someone with you who knows how to handle a boat and is acquainted with the tides and the area.
You might even have a few dolphins join you as you make your way through the channels.
On our way back to the marina, we stopped at a little deserted island that was covered with gorgeous sea shells. We each brought home quite a haul! I’m not sure what the island is called, but we’re calling it Shell Island.
Another great thing to do in Charleston is visit Waterfront Park. With amazing views of Charleston Harbor, it’s a wonderful place to take a walk or just sit on a bench or swing and enjoy the beautiful fountains and scenery.
On a couple of days, the guys rented a boat again and went fishing while the girls and I shopped and had lunch downtown!
I just love strolling through the streets enjoying all the window boxes and beautiful architecture!
On one of our visits downtown it began to rain, so we popped into the cutest store, The Skinny Dip, on King Street.
They have an entire area upstairs devoted to pieces curated and sold by Society Social. We ended up spending a long time perusing the store’s unique clothing, gifts, souvenirs and home décor, and by the time we left the sun was shining again!
Another favorite stop is the Mitchell Hill Gallery on King Street, which has an amazing selection of local artwork as well as beautiful furniture, lighting and home décor.
A trip to Charleston wouldn’t be complete without a trip down East Bay Street through the French quarter and along the Battery.
That’s where you’ll find Rainbow Row, as well as those gorgeous, stately homes you only see in the south!
Another new place we visited on this trip was the Magnolia Plantation.
If you want to get a taste of the old South, this is the place to go! Its miles and miles of gorgeous gardens and beautiful water areas leave you breathless (in more ways than one)!
Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes (or take the train tour), and have plenty of room on your phone or camera because you’ll want to take lots of photos! You might even see an alligator or two!
Or perhaps a silly goat hamming it up for visitors to the petting zoo! Tip: make sure to check out Groupon for deals on tickets to the Magnolia Plantation.
One of my favorite things about Charleston, if not the favorite, is the abundance of flowers you see, whether they’re in window boxes:
Or on trees:
On our last morning we took a long walk along the trails on Daniel Island and enjoyed amazing views of the water and marshlands. It was a fitting end to a beautiful week!
What to Pack
My tips from last year still stand–due to the heat and humidity of summer, take clothes made from breathable, lightweight fabrics.
For more tips on what to pack, check out these resources:
The Vacation Essentials guide from Nordstrom
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As you can see, there’s so much to see and do in this gracious southern city! I hope this inspires you to start planning your own Charleston getaway soon!