The historic, walkable, (pleasantly) spooky Lowcountry port city of Charleston, SC, earned the No. 1 spot on Conde' Nast Traveler's 'Top U.S. Cities' list for the past two years, and in 2012 readers named it their favorite city in the world.
Charleston is truly a 'best of' the South: Flickering gas lamps adorn pastel, antebellum mansions; cobblestone streets offer views of colorful, formal gardens; horse-drawn carriages clip-clop alongside cars; and polite shopkeepers and hotel staff ask, 'Is everyone 'round here treatin' y'all right?' at every turn. Sealing the deal are a slew of festivals happening thought out the year, Charleston's Food + Wine Festival, the Spoleto performing arts festival, and many more sightseeing tours and an energetic, sophisticated culinary scene.
The Charleston food set can't stop talking about The Ordinary, the classic oyster bar and seafood hall in a former bank building. The chef is Mike Lata, whose first endeavor a decade ago was the wildly popular FIG (Food is Good); its regionally sourced menu still draws a crowds. While Lata won the James Beard award for 'Best Chef: Southeast' in 2009 Charleston chef Sean Brock earned the title in 2010 with his first restaurant, McCrady's. These days, Brocks second venture, Husk, is one of the city's hardest reservations, a restaurant known for its indigenous Southern fare and beautiful bar, located in a separate building adjacent to the dining room. For sumptuous, classic dishes, the white-tablecloth Charleston Grill at Charleston Place can't be beat, while tiny, casual Cru Cafe' is the kind-of darling, off the beaten path eatery that serves comfort food-from mac and cheese to poblano-and-mozzarella fried chicken-that makes Lowcountry-philes swoon. If the sight of the young, good-looking throng at the hip Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer doesn't wake you up in the morning, the shop's tasty dark roast will. Weekend afternoons, there's often live music in the courtyard, best enjoyed while sipping a local microbrew like Westbrook Gratzer. Bar hop downtown with stops at the Bin 152 for wine and cheese, the breezy rooftop at Stars for the view and The Belmont for perfectly crafted cocktails and sultry vibe.
Get your bearings with an hour-long horse & carriage ride throughout Charleston's most scenic blocks, well-trained and tested guides. There's no need to plan ahead, as one leaves every 10 minutes. You might pass the grand, Federal-style Nathaniel Russell House, a National Historic Landmark built in 1808 that's worth a closer look-for it's free flying staircase alone. The antebellum home has undergone renovations, and reopened for tours in March or 2013. Charleston is known as both 'The Holy City,' for its many churches, and as a haunted city, thanks to its macabre past. After dark, take a scary tour of a haunted jail, dungeon, and/or graveyard.
Hit Kings Street's international chains, Calypso, Roberto Coin, Billy Reid, Yves Delorme, plus and few good, high-end local boutiques, such as shoe store Bob Ellis and multi label clothing stop RTW. Venture a mile north to Upper King Street in Elliotboroug, neighborhood to visit the Old Charleston Joggling Board Company, and another city-specific gem, award-winning milliner Leigh Magar's 'Magar Hatworks.'
Charleston golf offers exceptional variety and challenges in one of the world's most acclaimed vacation destinations. World-class courses situated on breathtaking coastal terrain range from true links style to tight wooded Lowcountry layouts.