Charleston was rated the #1 favorite U.S. city to visit by a Travel + Leisure survey in September 2021, which has happened for 10 consecutive years in a row!
This Southern charmer was also rated as America’s favorite small city and even the best place to propose. Charleston is a great town to indulge in all year long — from the holidays through the summer and fall. Bonus: Most people don’t realize it, but you can visit both historic downtown Charleston and also soak in the beach only 30 minutes away.
SO MUCH TO SEA
Wild Dunes Resort, part of the Destinations by Hyatt Collection, covers the northern tip of the barrier island Isle of Palms, about a half hour from downtown Charleston. The resort encompasses: the Residences at Sweetgrass, condo units that were built around 2007, 200 to 400 vacation rental homes, the Boardwalk Inn and the 193-room Sweetgrass Inn.
Opened in March, 2021, spring and summer are high seasons at the new Sweetgrass Inn and the time to enjoy the wide open private beach (just across the boardwalk). Book a spa service at the Sweetgrass Spa where highlights include a relaxing island massage and the outdoor patio featuring cold and hot plunge pools.
The Boardwalk Inn is a classic coastal boutique hotel where you can tuck yourself in quietly. As opposed to the Sweetgrass Inn, which is more modern, with trendy features like bathroom barn doors and extended sliding glass doors leading onto the patio..
The Wild Dunes property includes two golf courses that are open to the public. The Harbor Golf Course, known for being built into its natural surroundings, with the highlight being the intercoastal section around holes 16 and 17. The Links Course is one of the original Tom Fazio designs, which makes it a prized play for any golfer. In addition, resort guests enjoy a tennis center (rated #3 in the world), cruiser bike rentals, a pickleball course (a big trend!) and hiking and biking trails amid a very relaxed coastal vibe.
Dining at the Dunes
Coastal Provisions is a laid-back breakfast-through-dinner café in the lobby of the Boardwalk Inn. Here, they feature local purveyors with local ingredients and the fish is sustainably sourced. With an upscale menu including Butterbean Hummus for lunch, Crab Hush Puppies and Pistachio-seared Lamb, your tummy will be full of so many Southern greats! Pair the hearty goodness with a bold cabernet wine and finish off with a sweet dessert.
Hudson‘s Market, located in the plaza, is open for breakfast (deli items such as breakfast burritos and gourmet coffees) and any grocery needs you might have (wine, beer, crackers, desserts). The plaza connects both of the inns and is filled with shops and restaurants, including an art gallery that features all local artists, and a woodfired pizza kitchen.
Laughing Gull, a poolside café, offers pub grub choices like wood-fired pizzas, juicy burgers and fries, paired with local draft beer. This venue is perfect for lunch; enjoy with a view of the waterscape amid the beautiful weather the area is known for.
Wild Dunes Resort has some very special holiday traditions. During Christmas, they will celebrate with their Seaside Cinemas outdoors where they will show Christmas movies, serve refreshments and families can feel comfortable in their own outdoor “safety square.” There will also be Stories on the Stoop with Santa when Santa goes to homes and reads a story on the porch.
The culinary program offers a “dinner delivered” program where families can order meals if they’re staying in the homes, a popular offering during the holidays.
There is a great contrast between spending days near the beach and then coming into the heart of historic Charleston. The Emeline hotel sits in the middle of this bustling city, near the famous City Market, dozens of restaurants and bars and not very far from the water, where tourists will see the famous Pineapple Fountain and can walk down to The Battery at the southern tip of the peninsula.
The hotel worked hard to source locally for everything from the light fixtures and the custom circular staircase near guest check-in, to the locally-roasted Second State Coffee served in Clerks, the coffee shop. In this authentic Charleston location, built in the 1850s, you’ll find the original front door preserved in all its greatness.
This dog-friendly 212-room property includes 128 suites with separate bedroom, large bathroom and living space where there’s a fold-out couch, a four person table, and kitchen bar with a small refrigerator.
Eating at Emeline
Emeline’s restaurant — Frannie & The Fox — is a hit with the locals! With an indoor and outdoor section (the outdoor courtyard boasts a large fireplace), and a vintage collection of furniture, guests want to stay a while.
For breakfast, enjoy the Frannie Breakfast Sandwich — a perfect way to start your day. This Italian-flavored eatery also offers an evening takeout menu. Pick up a dinner of meatballs, wood-fired pizzas, rigatoni pasta or other comfort foods to eat in your suite.
Emeline offers advance rental reservations of a Mini Cooper car to get around town. Venture outside the main part of the city to see the Angel Oak Tree or Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Learn more about Emeline’s holiday happenings here!
Doing, Dining and Drinking
GetYourGuide’s Historic Downtown Tour by horse-drawn carriage, is a popular tourist attraction. While riding around, you’ll learn things like:
- Historic Charleston fills 98 square blocks, referred to as the low country.
- There are 189 churches, giving Charleston the term “the holiest city.”
- Charleston is the #4 U.S. city for drinking.
- The city has seen 5 “great fires” which denotes a fire that destroys 100 or more buildings.
- The popular building style of homes is referred to as “singles,” which originated because of the use of airflow in hot Charleston summers.
- Live oak trees abound around historic Charleston, with their root systems underneath sidewalks and roads. Be careful walking, as they call tripping “the Charleston shuffle.”
Dining and Drinking
The Citrus Club, a luxe rooftop bar at The Dewberry hotel, offers 360-degree views of the city. Enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine with apps like Crab Dip or Edamame Hummus. Said to be the highest rooftop in Charleston, it’s known for its citrus-inspired cocktails.
Little Palm, a restaurant/ bar on the second story of the Ryder Hotel, boasts a ‘60s beach vibe. Next to their small pool there’s a popular indoor space where you can sit in a diner booth and enjoy Grilled Shrimp or their Sweet Corn Hash. This is a very happening area to people-watch and enjoy a cocktail, draft beer or glass of vino.
Charleston Harbor Fish House overlooks the historic Patriots Point Harbor, next to the Naval & Maritime Museum, with the USS Yorktown and USS Clamagore right outside the restaurant’s window. This is where you want to go for traditional Southern fare paired with a cold local beer, which provides the perfect afternoon of waterfront relaxation.
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Cover photo courtesy GetYourGuide
Marika Flatt, Outstanding Austin Communicator 2021, is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She has had Charleston on her bucket list for two decades and finally visited! She can be seen on TV shows across Texas, offering travel tips, in addition to her long-running “Weekend Trip Tip” on NPR’s Texas Standard.