Talk about winning a popularity contest! For the second year, Charleston famed for antebellum architecture and fine dining was ranked the No. 1 U.S. destination in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards survey, taken by more than 46,000 people. Great news for SC and the South! Rounding out the top five U.S. cities: San Francisco, Chicago, Santa Fe (really? huh.) and New York.

Shockingly, Charleston was also named the favorite city in the world. As charming as Charleston can be, I personally just don’t see how it can beat out some of the usual suspects like Paris, Rome or London.

Ranking criteria included atmosphere, friendliness, lodging, restaurants, culture, attractions and shopping.

View of the marshes leaving the airport
View of the marshes leaving the airport

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the area a couple of times recently. It is great for a weekend/long weekend. It isn’t the easiest/cheapest plane ride, but it is the most easily accessible quintessential Southern city. Charleston balances small town Southern charm with being a city big enough to attract great chefs and stores. For instance, Atlanta is too big and developed to have the same Southern charm.

Downtown Charleston is great to walk around.

English: Front of Old Slave Mart Museum, Charl...
Front of Old Slave Mart Museum, Charleston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Old town walking tour. Houses are beautiful, and you’ll see Rainbow Row. The porches are on the side of some houses, instead of the front, to get a better breeze from the ocean. Check out the Old Slave Mart (now a flea market of sorts) – the historical significance is worth the visit.
  • Stroll King Street for shopping and to see the old storefronts. A favorite store of mine is Seeking Indigo. I love jewelry with gemstones (Larimer, aquamarine, turquoise, etc.) and they have a good selection. It’s a holistic store and wellness center, so they have a spa in the back.

The city of Charleston is a must to explore, but I highly recommend going out to some of the adjacent Sea Islands (e.g., Kiawah, John, Isle of Palm, Wadmalaw, etc.) to get the full experience.

Photo credit: WorldAtlas.com

The islands around Charleston (north of Edisto) are about a 30-minute drive from downtown. The outer islands have beaches. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see some bioluminescent plankton in the water during night swimming! It was SO awesome to experience this.

One trip we rented a house on Folly Beach and drove into Charleston for day trips. Here’s a view from our house:

Folly beach house

The inner island/less beachy parts offer idyllic Southern settings.

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(I want to be in those Adirondack chairs right now!)

Everywhere are amazing old Southern oak trees that seem eons old (these photos are from James Island)

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… you drive through lots of “oak alleys” with Spanish moss hanging from the trees …

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… and you can buy produce from roadside stands or go to “pick your own” farms on Wadmalaw Island.

For a fun trip to Wadmalaw also consider:

  • The Charleston Tea Plantation – America’s last and only tea plantation. The tea is good – very smooth. The plantation dates back to the mid-1600s. Tours are free.
  • Firefly distillery and tasting room – only 15 minutes away from the tea plantation, go to Firefly for tastings of their awesome sweet tea vodka! They use tea from the plantation to make the liquor. Talk about a Wadmalaw marriage made in heaven. Firefly offers a tasting of their different flavored vodkas and other spirits for only $6.

On the way to or from Wadmalaw, make a quick stop to see the famous Angel Oak tree, which is on John’s Island and is about 500 years old. The branches are massive and gnarly – some have grown down into and then out of the ground!

Photo credit: Louis Dallara Photography

My friend MP’s parents retired to John’s Island. They live near the marsh area and have a crab dock that is perfect for lazy days, wine drinking and firework shooting (which is legal in SC).

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And there’s plenty of golfing options on the various islands. So just pick your pleasure and enjoy the Southern-ness and whimsy.

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(Photo from Isle of Palm. Love that someone wrote “whimsy” on the swing.)

Any other Charleston/island highlights you like?

There are great food options as well – even on the islands – and I will write about my experience in the next post!

Emmelle

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