GETTING THERE: United, Delta and US Airways offer nonstop service from the D.C. area to Charleston, with round-trip fares from $160, with restrictions.
WHERE TO STAY: Options include the Planters Inn (112 N. Market St., 800-845-7082, www.plantersinn.com), with an excellent -- if potentially noisy -- location in the historical district and near several bars; doubles from $170 per night. The Kings Courtyard Inn (198 King St., 866-720-2949, www.kingscourtyardinn.com), also in the historical district, has an afternoon wine tasting; doubles from $130.
Just off Marion Square, the 12-story Francis Marion Hotel (387 King St., 877-756-2121, www.francismarioncharleston.com) has a spacious lobby with a baby grand piano. Doubles begin at $229, but steep discounts may be available -- I've paid less than $100.
WHERE TO EAT: For Sunday brunch and Lowcountry cuisine, try Poogan's Porch (72 Queen St.); entrees range from $4 to $24, with good breakfast prices. The Peninsula Grill (112 N. Market St.) is a good choice among the various fine-dining restaurants. It has a classy atmosphere and food described as "traditional Charleston style with contemporary accents," entrees start at $19.50.
On Sullivans Island, stop by Poe's Tavern (2210 Middle St.) for a gourmet burger and a beer. Poe's has a porch and an outdoor seating area that catches a bit of the sea breeze. Entrees $7 to $12.
Nearby Mount Pleasant has several good restaurants, most with decks. One good, hard-to-find option is the Wreck of the Richard & Charlene (106 Haddrell St., 843-884-0052) . With paper plates, a concrete floor and no sign, the Wreck serves excellent seafood, with entrees starting at $11. Call for directions.
NIGHTLIFE: To plan your night out, pick up the free Charleston BarFly, a guide to the city's nightlife. It's available around town at hotels and restaurants. Places within Charleston I visited include:
* Charlie's Little Bar (141 E. Bay St.), with a dark, intimate atmosphere. It's on the second floor of the Saracen Restaurant; enter through the small gate off the parking lot.
* Blind Tiger Pub (38 Broad St.), with a nice interior courtyard and laid-back vibe.
* Meritage (235 E. Bay St.), a wine bar with a vine-covered porch.
* City Bar (5 Faber St.), a sweaty dance club that's probably the most popular place in town to get your groove on.
* Trio Club (139 Calhoun St.), a club/bar in a storefront across from Marion Square that attracts a slightly older crowd with a variety of live dance music.
For something more laid back, check out the bar/restaurants along Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. Red's Ice House (98 Church St.) has a huge two-level deck that's great in the evening.
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES: For kiteboarding, the hot spots are the north end of Sullivans Island and the south end of Isle of Palms. If you're a novice, get a lesson from Half-Moon Outfitters (843-881-9472, www.halfmoonoutfitters.com) or Air (843-388-9300), both in Mount Pleasant. Half-Moon charges $225 for a four-hour lesson and offers a $300 package that includes a trainer kite. Air charges $345 for a four- to five-hour lesson, or $295 if you've already used a trainer kite.
For other activities, surfing lessons and rentals are available through McKevlin's Surf Shop (843-588-2247, www.mckevlins.com). Coastal Expeditions (843-884-7684, www.coastalexpeditions.com) offers kayak rentals, tours and lessons.
INFORMATION: Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800- 774-0006, www.charlestoncvb.com.
-- Ben Brazil