I visited Charleston, South Carolina for the first time earlier this month, and it did not disappoint. It was more beautiful and lively than I could’ve ever imagined, and was EVERYTHING people said it was. I’m already planning my return visit for my birthday. We visited to attend their annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival, as it was an awesome occasion celebrating 10 years this year. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Charleston is a city full of rich history and it’s a culinary paradise for foodies. We got a chance to get out and do a little exploring, so we’re sharing with you a few of our favorite food finds in Charleston and 15 things you MUST experience for an epic foodie adventure in “The Holy City”. They aren’t in any particular order, but they are all fantastic and will make for a memorable trip and a true taste of the city.
1. BARBECUE – Did you know we were going to say that first? You know our heads were spinning when we stepped out of the car and smelled that smoke! There are several great places to get barbecue in Charleston, but we’ve got a secret. (The locals put us onto it, so you know it’s real. Lol!) There is a restaurant called Henry’s in downtown Charleston. Now ribs are not on the regular menu, the chef only runs them as a special and not everyday. It’s the best in town AND they even make their own sauce! So if you’re downtown and you smell the smoke, RUN!!! Once they sell out, they’re gone. Henry’s also has a really nice rooftop dining area so you can eat, and enjoy looking over beautiful downtown Charleston.
2. CULINARY TOURS – Take a culinary tour! Because Charleston is such a hot spot for tourists, there are several tour companies. Charleston Culinary Tours runs tours everyday that take you behind the scenes of the city’s food scene. You can take walking tour and taste the offerings at local restaurants, and even get a kitchen tour where you can go in some of Charleston’s top restaurants and see how the chefs run them and what they prepare.
3. WINE TASTING – The right wine pairing can take a good meal to outstanding! Learn about local wines, and have an opportunity to taste them and see where they are made. Irvin House Vineyards is Charleston’s ONLY domestic winery. They have a fantastic tour called a “Sip-and See”. You’ll eat lunch and get to taste their wines. You’ll also visit the tea plantation, the distillery, and the vineyard on Wadmalaw Island, and if that’s not enough, you get a souvenir glass AND they will pick you up on the trolley from downtown Charleston!
4. FOOD FESTIVALS – The BB&T Wine + Food Festival is held each March, but there are always food festivals going on in Charleston. They have the Taste of Charleston in the fall, and the Lowcountry Cajun Festival, and Gullah Festival are also great ones to visit. Everything from beer, to seafood, to flowers, there is something going on and guaranteed to be some good food. Check the visitor’s calendar with your travel dates to see what will be going on when you visit.
5. PICNIC AT THE BATTERY – Battery Park is a beautiful waterfront park downtown, that the locals simply call, “The Battery”. It’s a great spot to picnic, although it can get busy. If you don’t mind enjoying your picnic with others who are strolling, and sightseeing, grab a basket, a blanket and some goodies, and go! Old antebellum mansions line the park, you can see historic Fort Sumter from the park, and there are old war cannons and facts about Charleston’s war history. There’s plenty to see.
6. BRUNCH – Brunch is a huge part of Southern culture. I’m sure brunch is enjoyed everywhere, but NOBODY does it like we do in The South! It’s Southern Comfort y’all! You have to get at least one brunch in while you’re in Charleston. Our picks: The Grocery, Poogan’s Porch, and Stars Rooftop & Grill. Legend has it that Poogan’s Porch is haunted. We believe them. The food is scary good! 😉
7. BURGERS – Yup. Burgers. Sesame Burgers & Beer, lived up to all of the hype of Charleston’s best burger! I love that you can have any burger from black beans, chicken, turkey, and beef. Everything is organic, and they even make the condiments in house and serves big steak fries like my honey Buckaroo likes. I had the Napa Valley Burger, made with turkey topped with a fig spread, bacon jam, and a balsamic reduction. BOMB. DOT. COM.
8. CHARLESTON CITY MARKET – I learned on one of our tours that the city market used to be called, “The Slave Market”, and NOT because they sold slaves. The market was a place for slaves to come sell, buy, and trade, their own goods. Descendants of these slaves, as well as other vendors still sell in this market and it’s a great place to experience the history of Charleston and also buy local specialties such as stone ground grits, Carolina gold rice, and benne wafers.
9. DINNER CRUISE – Charleston Harbor Tours, had us at, ‘barbecue on a boat’! Watching the sunset over dinner and seeing the historic sights of Charleston on the water is a great way to end the day. They play live music, and if you keep your eyes peeled you may see a dolphin or two!
10. SHE CRAB SOUP – A Charleston staple. It was originally made with the roe (eggs) of the female crab. Now it’s made with any blue crab and a dash of sherry. Feeling fancy? Try it at 82 Queen. It will change your life.
11. CRABBING AND CREEK FISHING – You want a real fresh food experience? You can go fishing and crabbing at Palmetto Island Park and then take your catch back with you to prepare it. Buckaroo loves to fish and will often clean the fish as he catches them so when we get home all we have to do is cook. You will need a saltwater license to fish, but they are available to non residents for a few bucks. Just plan in advance. If you are visiting during the Food and Wine Festival they have a “Pole to Plate” event that includes a fishing outing catching fish, and learning about the local fish and seafood, and then chefs prepare the catch of the day for you with a gourmet, wine-paired meal.
12. GULLAH CUISINE – The Gullah people are descendants of African slaves who lived in the Low Country regions of South Carolina and Georgia. Their culture has been beautifully preserved to this day. In Charleston, you can still see them weaving baskets in the market or in front of buildings and along streets downtown. Reflections of Gullah cuisine can be seen on just about every restaurant menu in “The Low Country.” For a traditional experience, visit during the Gullah Festival or take a cooking class from Miss Charlotte, who owned Gullah Cuisine, a restaurant serving traditional “Geechie” fare for 17 years in Charleston.
13. SWEET TEA – Get on the “Sweet Tea Trail!” Summerville, SC “The birthplace of Sweet Tea” is just a short drive up the road from Charleston, maybe 30 minutes. Take a trolley tour through Summerville and learn the history of sweet tea and the receipt that started it all.
14. WATERFRONT DINING – If dining out ON the water isn’t your thing, Charleston has a great selection of restaurants that offer waterfront dining. It really is something you have to experience, and the preparations are so fresh with the seafood coming right from the local waters. Fleet Landing, Charleston Harbor Fish House, and Charleston Crab House are some good choices.
15. BENNE WAFERS – Benne Wafers are also a Charleston food mainstay. “Benne,” or sesame seeds were brought to Charleston like most other staples with the African slaves. The benne wafer is a thin cookie made with sesame seeds, unique to Charleston. They’re a must try! You can find them at the Olde Colony Bakery where they are said to have originated, sold in the city market, and even at specialty stores carrying local ingredients.
Also be sure to grab a bowl of authentic Charleston in Shrimp n’ Grits, and Frogmore Stew. You’ll find them on many restaurant menus that serve traditional Low Country cuisine. Don’t worry, there’s no frogs in it. 😉
If you’ve been to Charleston or are a local and I missed something, please tell me! I told you I’m planning my return and I can’t wait to add more foodie finds and adventures to the list. If you’ve tried anything I listed tell me in the comments below. I would love to know what you thought of Charleston. I think it’s my new favorite place!
May the Foodie Forces be With You,