Charleston, South Carolina has undoubtedly been on every girl’s “must-visit” list of locations in the U.S. at some point or another. Between the swaying palm trees, the seemingly endless rows of pastel-colored houses, and darling shopping boutiques around each corner, it is quite literally paradise.
It’s no wonder that Charleston is one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for Bachelorette parties and girls’ trips. As a girly girl myself, this beautiful city had been at the top of my travel list for years before finally visiting in May this year to celebrate my birthday and Mother’s Day. No stranger to the aesthetic gold mine of Instagrammable spots in Charleston, I did a thorough job researching which restaurants, coffee shops and cafes, historic spots, and shopping boutiques were worth visiting during our 5-day vacation.
Not only was I searching for the prettiest spots to stop and see firsthand, but I didn’t want to waste my time on anything that wasn’t just as noteworthy beneath the surface. I certainly wasn’t going to spend my precious PTO sipping on watered-down iced chai lattes, even if the interior decor was praised by my favorite influencer on IG.
Have kids or a husband who doesn’t have a whole lot of patience for hunting down the most “Instagrammable” spots? Fear not. My beau and I took this trip with our 1-year-old baby, and I can assure you that it was just as fun for the two of them as it was for me.
Without further ado, let’s get into my ultimate guide to Charleston, SC! Since I’ve truly got nothing to gain or lose from sharing my unfiltered thoughts on each experience, you can trust that these reviews are going to be as honest as it gets on the internet.
First, it’s worth noting that we stayed at one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing in person: the Grand Bohemian Hotel. Yes, this spot is a tad on the pricier side, but it's in the heart of where you want to be if you’re planning on walking everywhere during your trip. It also doubles as an art gallery inside, has a private wine mixing room, a stunning chandelier-filled outdoor patio, and a rooftop restaurant with some of the most delicious food we tried in Charleston. Needless to say, it’s well worth the extra cash.
Now, let’s get into where you should eat. My husband and I are both major foodies and prefer excellent food and cocktails above almost everything else. We’re kind of bougie in that regard, if I’m being totally honest. So, when we planned this trip, the very first thing on our list of priorities was to get a great restaurant reservation for dinner each evening. Depending on what time of year you’re visiting Charleston, I highly recommend making reservations as far in advance as possible to make sure that you get a table at the spots you’re dying to visit.
Church and Union
If you only visit one restaurant in Charleston, let it be Church and Union. If we could’ve eaten here every night, I may have just opted to do that. It was our favorite spot by a landslide. Between the ambiance of the restaurant being set in a former church, the creative cocktails, the incredibly attentive waitstaff, and the best pasta of my life, I can confirm that it was money well spent. Please, for the love of God, order the ricotta gnocchi featuring brie, arugula, tomato vinaigrette, and crispy artichoke (and overnight it to me so I can eat it again).
I’ll admit, the gorgeous photos online drew me in, but the food and cocktails did not disappoint. Basic Kitchen boasts a ton of great vegetarian and vegan options, and also had the best cocktail I had on this trip: the Beet Margarita. My husband, who lives by the rule that no meal is complete without meat, even enjoyed this restaurant and said he was “pleasantly surprised.” We loved the corn ribs, cauli wings, sweet potato fries, and the naughty burger.
The Darling Oyster Bar
Wow; talk about a “darling” aesthetic. The Darling Oyster Bar is incredibly beautiful from the moment you walk in. We ordered the lobster and king crab roll, the baked oyster trio, and oysters from the raw bar (single ladies, lowcountry cups, and halfmoons). All in all, the food was very good but not an entirely memorable meal. Although fresh and delicious, the oysters were a tad overpriced.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
Lastly, Xiao Bao Biscuit was listed on nearly every travel guide I had read on Charleston recommendations, but I can’t quite figure out why. It was the longest walking distance from our hotel, not in the best area for tourists to be wandering around, and a little overrated if I’m being honest. It was good enough for lunch and the flavor of the dishes were delicious, but nothing really that “wowed” us.
Their lunch menu was very limited and the biggest question we kept asking ourselves while there was “Why are there no baos or biscuits on the menu?” Maybe we would've felt differently had we chosen to have dinner there instead or if I hadn’t been patiently awaiting a delicious bao, but as it stood, it wasn’t the best meal of our trip. If you’re looking for something different from the usual seafood and American cuisine in Charleston, certainly give it a go, but I recommend trying out their dinner instead of lunch.
Other recommendations that we didn’t personally visit but looked beautiful and got rave reviews: Leon’s Oyster Shop, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, Miller’s All Day, Poogan’s Porch, Goat Sheep and Cow.
Coffee Shops and Cafes
Easily our favorite coffee shop of the trip: Harken Cafe. This adorable little cafe was beautiful inside, had an adorable outdoor patio playing smooth French jazz, delectable homemade biscuit sandwiches (fair warning: they are enormous), and the best pick-me-up. Although we vowed to not visit the same coffee shop twice because there were so many to choose from, we broke our rule because of how much we both enjoyed the Iced Turmeric Chai Tea Latte.
Such a cute spot! I actually broke our rule of visiting the same coffee shop twice with The Rise also because I needed to grab some caffeine and breakfast on our way out of town on our last day in Charleston. It’s a part of the Restoration Hotel, but they have their own storefront so it’s not as confusing as it appears to be when searching online. Don’t forget to grab their iced peach green tea (it is literally the best tea I’ve ever had) along with a lavender vanilla latte and a bagel with homemade cream cheese.
Clerks Coffee Company
Unsurprisingly, Charleston has its fair share of beautiful coffee shops (something I miss dearly since moving to the suburbs). Clerks came highly recommended, and after visiting myself, I can see why! The interior was cozy and stylish, and the iced matcha latte I got was refreshing, flavorful, and not too sweet!
Vintage Coffee Cafe
This quaint coffee shop reminds me of something that would be a staple in Nantucket. If the Coastal Grandmother aesthetic is your thing, trust me when I say you need a picture outside this place. It is certainly adorable, and they have an outdoor patio in the back where you can sit under string lights and enjoy your coffee and/or breakfast.
However, there’s a catch: it’s quite far from downtown Charleston because you have to cross the bridge to get to it, and compared to the other three coffee shops we visited, it was our least favorite taste-wise.
Other recommendations that we didn’t personally visit but looked beautiful and got rave reviews: Sugar Bakeshop, Brown Fox Coffee, Carmellas Dessert Bar, The Daily, Barbas on Cannon, and Black Tap Coffee.
Plan a photoshoot while you’re there! We did a 30 minute session with Sacia Matthews Photography one morning by The Mills House and when I tell you that I can’t stop staring at the pictures she took, I’m not kidding. After my experience, I have decided that planning a quick mini photo session while on vacation is going to be a tradition I keep going forward. It eased my mind knowing that I would have beautiful images to remember from our vacation as a family and lessened my feeling like I needed to pull my phone or camera out and document every moment myself.
Oh, the iconic Pineapple fountain! If you’re dying to get a picture beside this Charleston landmark, I recommend going early in the day before it’s surrounded by families and kids jumping in for a swim. Aside from the fountain, the park itself is relaxing and beautiful and will lead you straight to The Battery (which is where you really get to experience some memorable sights).
The Battery and White Point Gardens
If you want to see some of the most incredibly lavish mansions in Charleston, take a stroll around Battery Park and to White Point Gardens. We spent nearly two hours walking around and marveling at the gorgeous houses and dreaming up what it would be like to wake up on one of their wraparound porches overlooking the water.
I’m only going to touch on this for a second because every single Charleston guide out there has this sightseeing tip at the top of their list. If you want a colorful Instagram pic, head over to the pastel-colored houses that run from 83 to 107 East Bay Street! There’s no doubt that they are beautiful, but let’s be honest, essentially every single street you turn down in Charleston is this breathtaking.
Personally, the French Quarter was more up my alley in regards to an Instagram aesthetic. The cobblestone streets, historic homes and buildings, and cute cafes were worth swooning over. It is home to the 19th-century Charleston City Market which should also be on your list to wander through at least once, if only to see what the local artisans are selling.
Many guides I read prior to visiting Charleston recommended taking a detour to Folly Beach. Well, I’ve got some thoughts on that. If you want to spend the day actually lounging on the beach, enjoying the waves, and the sunshine – go for it. If you’re heading to Folly Beach to soak in the “beach town” for a full day and expecting it to be lively and full of entertainment like Charleston, but beachier...maybe don’t.
In my opinion, there just wasn’t much to see or experience in the area. We spent about 30 minutes on the beach before grabbing lunch at Taco Boy (which was delicious, but not worth the drive alone) and heading back to Charleston.
I can confirm that I went into nearly every women’s shopping boutique in Charleston. We spent two whole days dedicated to shopping on King Street and around the city, and it honestly lived up to every one of my expectations. As a fashion writer and influencer over the years, I am extremely picky when it comes to purchasing new items to add to my wardrobe. I have a very specific feminine, Parisian-inspired aesthetic, and lucky for me, the ladies of Charleston said “I got you, girl.” Here’s my list of boutiques you should visit:
Underrated and my personal favorite: Finicky Filly! Sure, most of the clothes were out of my budget, but their jewelry is surprisingly reasonable when it comes to the price tag. I snagged a vintage Chanel button necklace and a dainty pearl bracelet that have quickly become my new favorite accessories.
If you’re searching for a summer sundress, this is going to be your spot! Magnifique has gorgeous dresses that are affordable (mostly under $200) and second-hand designer purses like classic Chanel flap shoulder bags and Louis Vuitton carryalls.
Something About Me
We discovered this boutique on our way to lunch at Xiao Bao Biscuit; it’s a bit of a walk from the main shopping area on King St. However, it’s worth checking out if you would describe yourself as an LA or NYC fashion girlie. Between their Selkie dresses, boyfriend shorts, and oversized tees, this spot has cute and trendy clothes for a fair price.
Now, I know LoveShackFancy is obviously on the higher end budget-wise. Side note: please tell me who can afford to buy an $825 dress? That being said, it’s still worth checking out because of its over-the-top storefront and insane design inside. Snap a pretty picture with their pink florals outside and try on an overpriced dress or two!
Shoes on King
Hello, new favorite shoes! I snagged a gorgeous white pair of slide-on loafers for under $150 at Shoes on King, and I cannot stop wearing them with everything from linen shorts to Mom jeans. They’re going to be my go-to shoes this summer for sure. They had a great collection of different designers from Chloe to Sam Edelman with a range of prices.
Hampden Clothing and Small by Hampden
Both of these are wildly popular and were recommended in nearly every guide I read, however, none of them mentioned how expensive everything in the store was. If buying $600 sandals is your thing, this store is for you. If not, no worries! There are plenty of other options in Charleston to choose from.
Did I go into Candlefish solely for the Instagram photo? Guilty. I found their unique candles, stemware, and coffee table books to be super chic, but as a new mom with a baby walking around and knocking down everything he can reach, I wasn’t about to splurge on any of this pretty decor (for the time being, at least). However, one thing I did take note of while I was perusing was that they host candle making classes in their studio room which would be a such a cute and creative activity for a Bachelorette or girls’ trip.
One final thing I’ll say about shopping: I didn’t find any cute kids' stores that weren’t overpriced and, quite frankly, cheesy. However, it’s important to note that I have a boy, which undeniably makes shopping for clothes more difficult. I saw some adorable baby and toddler girls’ clothes, but if you have a boy, don’t expect to snag any gems.
Whether you’re planning a trip to Charleston for your upcoming bachelorette party, babymoon, birthday, or simply a summer vacay, these spots are the ones to keep on your list. Make sure to stop in and indulge in the greatest gnocchi of your life, treat yourself to a vintage Chanel necklace, or sip on my favorite iced turmeric chai latte – and snap an Instagrammable pic while you’re at it!
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