Charleston, South Carolina is the place to be if you are looking for American history, modern takes on comfort food, and the epitome of Southern charm. Hubby and I celebrated our 2-year anniversary in Charleston this past weekend.
This trip was significant for a number of reasons. Mainly, as I’m 8 months pregnant, it’s our last trip as a couple. After my upcoming due date, we will be traveling as a group of three!
I put together a plan for a romantic Labor Day weekend in Charleston, complete with sightseeing, fancy restaurants, and late night outings. I hope this travel diary makes you swoon as much as I did!
Saturday, September 3
12:30 PM | Arrival @ The Mills House Wyndham Grand Charleston
After arriving, we checked into The Mills House, a historic hotel in downtown Charleston. Since this was our first time visiting the city, we loved that the hotel was close to King Street, Market Street, and the Museum Mile, which are full of attractions for tourists. The convenient location allowed us to walk almost everywhere – we only needed to hire a car once.
The lobby of the hotel was stunning, the staff was super friendly, and our room was clean. We scored a good deal on our room through Hotels.com, especially considering it was a holiday weekend and even Airbnb prices were driven up to extremes.
1:00 PM | The Confederate Museum
The Confederate Museum is the perfect stop if you want to take in some history and are short on time. Located above the famous City Market, the one-room museum costs only $5 to enter. Charlestonians used this building as a recruitment center during the Civil War. The space retains many of its old features. It even has its original hardwood floors!
There are a great deal of fascinating Civil War-era artifacts inside, including uniforms, weapons, paintings, furniture, flags, household objects, documents, and other donated items. Unfortunately, we could not take photographs here, so you’ll have to visit to see this collection.
2:00 PM | Lunch @ Husk
Husk is run by James Beard Award winner Sean Brock and serves elevated Southern cuisine that prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients. In fact, the menu changes daily based on the ingredients they have on-hand!
We booked a lunch reservation at Husk a month in advance (no dinner reservations were available at the time, believe it or not). We ordered Husk Puppies, Fried Chicken, Pork Belly, and split an Oatmeal Pie for dessert.
The Husk puppies (a play on hush puppies) had bits of pork cooked inside and were drizzled in honey mustard. The fried chicken had a unique coating that seemed to include cheddar based on taste and color – super juicy and served with a bean and cabbage slaw. The pork belly was extremely tender. As this is a “nice” restaurant, expect the portion sizes to be on the smaller side.
Their oatmeal pie was a dead ringer for Momofuku Milk Bar’s crack pie, kid you not. This might have been my favorite part of the meal just for nostalgia’s sake. Dense, sweet, and almost caramel-like in texture, I would eat a gigantic helping of this complete with the delicious pecan ice cream it was served with.
3:30 PM | Old Slave Mart Museum
The Old Slave Mart Museum is unique in that it is located inside of a building that was once used as an auction house for slaves. For us, this was the big draw. Being inside that building set the tone for our visit as I imagined what once took place there.
Once again, we could not take photos here. The two-floor museum did not offer as many artifacts and focused on written history instead. Its exhibits were text-heavy and detailed the history and evolution of the slave trade in the United States.
Admission was $7, but we got $2 off with a military discount. The building is not very large, so this is another good museum option if you are short on time.
4:00 PM | City Market
The Charleston City Market opened in the 1800’s, where fruit, meat, and fish were sold in an open air setting. Today, vendors still preside over stalls that sell a wide range of goods, making the market a great place to find a souvenir as well as take in some of the city’s history.
You’ll find artisans selling crafts such as soaps, sculptures, art, snacks, jewelry and the sweetgrass baskets Charleston is famous for. Definitely worth stopping by this landmark!
8:00 PM | Dinner @ FIG
I would recommend making a reservation at FIG (Food Is Good) as far in advance as you can. No reservations were available a month in advance. We tried our luck with a walk-in and managed to score bar seats with about a 45-minute wait. FIG’s chef, Mike Lata, is another James Beard award winner from Charleston. FIG also uses local, seasonal ingredients, with the biggest draw being seafood.
I had the Ricotta Gnocchi and Lamb Bolognese and Fish Stew. The gnocchi were plump and rich; the bolognese sauce perfectly flavored. The portion size was perfect for an appetizer. I fell head over heels for the fish stew, and surprised that more people online don’t talk about it! I loved that all the fish in it were low-mercury – mussels, squid, shrimp – so I could safely indulge in my pregnant state.
The real magic was in the rouille – a creamy, garlicky paste that magically transformed the broth into a creamy, complex bowl of love. Drinking that broth was like getting a warm hug. I wished I had, like, 10 pieces of bread to eat with it at the end.
The couple next to us got dessert, which looked downright incredible. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stay for very long, as we had a ghost tour to catch!
9:15 PM | Dessert at Peace Pie
…Okay, so after seeing those amazing desserts next to us I couldn’t not get something sweet to finish our meal. As we walked to our ghost tour meeting spot in Washington Park, we stopped by Peace Pie, an ice cream sandwich shop that layers its ice cream with pie filling.
Every single flavor looked tempting to me, so it was hard to choose just one. Because my baby craves strawberry-flavored everything, I got the Chocolate Covered Strawberry, which was strawberry ice cream and chocolate pie filling inside of chocolate cookies. Perfection!
9:30 PM | Ghost Tour with Pleasing Terrors
Charleston is considered one of the most haunted cities in the United States. After looking at numerous reviews, we booked a ghost tour with Pleasing Terrors and it did not disappoint! Our tour guide, Mike Brown, was engaging without being over-the-top cheesy, and his stories were not only spooky but full of information about Charleston history.
The walking tour lasted for an hour and a half and took us throughout downtown Charleston. We learned about the ghosts that haunted cemeteries, the Old Jail, libraries, hotels, even parking garages and restaurants in Charleston. I’ll spare the details; it’s best to experience the stories firsthand.
I know the tour left an impression when I found myself waking up throughout the night to check for ghosts! Though I partly blame my third-trimester insomnia.
Sunday, September 4
10:00 AM | Gospel Brunch @ Halls Chophouse
Sunday brunch at Halls Chophouse is extra special because you get to listen to a live gospel choir while you eat. If you really want to enjoy the live music, I would say try to get a reservation. There were no openings for Sunday brunch a month ahead, so we did a walk-in. We got seated right away, just not in the room with the music. We didn’t mind too much, though – the food was our main reason for being there.
It was so hard deciding on an entree because everything looked tempted, but I decided to go with the French Toast and was so glad I did. Thick slabs of brioche coated with a crispy (cornflake?) crust and served with espresso marscapone and hearty slices of bacon made a sweet and caloric meal. I’ve never had a french toast like it. The portion size was huge and I surprised myself by finishing all of it. Surprisingly it kept me full until dinner later on.
It’s worth noting also that the staff was incredibly friendly, and several staff members went out of their way to greet us and chat with us.
12:00 PM | Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter is an island-bound former military garrison known for its significant role in the Civil War. Getting here takes some planning in advance, as it is only accessible by boat and the ferries to get there leave only three times a day.
You can purchase tickets for the ferry at Liberty Square (we got a military discount here!). At the loading dock, there is also a free exhibit where you can learn a bit about the circumstances leading up to the Civil War.
The ferry ride lasts for about 45-minutes and includes an audio tour of the harbor. Lots of great photo ops and views of landmarks such as the Ravenel Bridge, so come with your camera!
Once docked, you have one hour to explore the remains of the fort, which include another museum that details Fort Sumter’s role in the war. Climb all the way to the top of the fort for a grassy area to relax in and an unbeatable view of the harbor. There’s a good deal of stair-climbing and walking involved, so bring water and comfortable shoes!
3:00 PM | Boone Hall Plantation
There are so many plantations in the area you can go to – Magnolia, Drayton Hall, Boone Hall, Middleton, to name a few. And from what I read, you can’t go wrong with any of them.
We settled on Boone Hall Plantation because it seemed to be the one most written about by other travel resources. Boone Hall is famous for its massive oak trees and breathtaking grounds, making it a popular site for filming, celebrity weddings, and the like. In fact, while we were there, we snuck a peek at a wedding and an engagement photoshoot that were taking place at the same time. The current owners of the plantation still use it to farm crops such as apples, pecans, and pumpkins, too!
The plantation offers enough events and tours to fill a whole day, but we had to be more selective given the limited time we had. The Gullah Presentation can’t be missed – we initially knew nothing about Gullah culture and were surprised to find out how many popular songs, foods, and traditions originated from the Gullah people. The House Tour is the only thing that needs to be scheduled in advance. Lasting 30 minutes, you only see the first floor of the house, but learn a bit about the families who have owned the plantation and admire the antique furniture and decor. Be sure to visit the slave cabins for a self-guided tour.
8:00 PM | Dinner @ The Ordinary
We couldn’t stay in a waterfront city without at least one ~fancy~ seafood meal. The Ordinary, famous for its oysters, fit the bill perfectly. Normally I’m not an oyster “person” – the slimy texture was always strange to me. However I read about oysters being a food high in iron, a key nutrient when you are growing another person and increasing your blood volume by 50% I figured if anything could change my mind, it would be a place like The Ordinary.
We ordered a small Shellfish Tower, Broiled VA Oysters, and Hawaiian Rolls. This ended up being a perfect amount of food for us. The cold platter of seafood was refreshing after a day of being in the hot sun. The shellfish tower included oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster with a variety of dipping sauces. Everything was incredibly fresh, but I especially enjoyed the shrimp and, surprisingly, the oysters. I found the lemongrass cocktail sauce and the sauce bagnarotte to be super addictive.
I’m glad we ordered the broiled oysters as well, as they tasted so different from the ones served cold. These came with a crispy benne crust which provided a nice contrast for the slick oyster meat.
For dessert we got the Seasonal Fruit Tart. The seasonal fruit during our visit was fresh figs. It was lighter and much less sweet than the other desserts we’ve had, which perhaps was for the best. I happily indulged in a cup of (decaf) La Colombe coffee with my dessert – my favorite when I was a student in New York.
Monday, September 5
10:00 AM | Brunch @ Butcher & Bee
After checking out of our hotel, we wanted a casual spot to grab a quick meal before heading home. We chose to go to Butcher & Bee, an Israeli-American restaurant that uses, yep, locally-sourced ingredients.
We began with some Stumptown coffee and pastries – Ham and Cheese Croissant and Macadamia Pear Danish. Both pastries were buttery and flaky. I especially loved the unique flavors in the danish.
We continued our meal with small plates of Falafel and Whipped Feta. The crispy fried falafel was served in a delicious hummus, and the feta (which our server kindly told us was pasteurized) was drizzled in fermented honey and came with a doughy piece of homemade pita bread to dip in. We finished by splitting a Double Cheeseburger, which was juicy and served with the classic toppings and a side of fries. The ketchup that came with it appeared to be homemade, as it tasted strongly of fresh tomato and not at all like the Heinz ketchup we are used to.
Have you visited Charleston, SC?
What recommendations would you add? Let me know in the comments!
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Until next time,