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The sun sets along Broad Street.
The sun sets along Broad Street.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Charleston, S.C.

The sun sets along Broad Street.
The sun sets along Broad Street.
  • By Shani Gilchrist
  • Photos by Alice Keeney
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There’s more to Charleston than “Southern charm.” Living here requires a love for adventure and a willingness to have all the senses engaged. The cuisine, the architecture and the soothing sound of the ocean can make a resident feel truly alive.

Explore the city on foot, taking in stories — old and new — along the way. The culture here is more than the shrimp and grits visitors often expect to see on their plates. Today’s Charleston holds reverence for music, theater, visual arts, literature and finding new ways to relax one’s soul.

In Charleston, one cannot avoid history — both the triumph and tragedy. To visit the city is to appreciate the richness of many of the cultures that are now part of America. There’s something for every taste packed into the city’s few square miles.

Meet Shani Gilchrist

Shani has lived in Charleston at full- and part-time intervals since 2015. She was born in a Wisconsin town located exactly halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago, but moved to rural South Carolina with her family at age 10. She’s been trying to find the balance between country girl and city girl ever since.

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IN THE ACTION
King Street
The King Street “shopping district” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s true that shoppers can find better-known hits like Louis Vuitton and Club Monaco, but this district is always buzzing with local music, food, dancing and some of the best people-watching in town as well. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Ansonborough
For a quieter night, Ansonborough is the place to unwind. Nestled between the busier City Market and King Street, it’s perfect for enjoying a quiet nighttime stroll among stately homes, 250-year-old churches, parks and intimate restaurants. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

Explore more of Charleston, S.C.

Eat

BREAKFAST
Saffron Restaurant & Bakery
A favorite morning haunt for peninsula residents, local politicians, artists and everyone in between, this is where you can check out what really makes Charleston tick. At Saffron, visitors can start their day with a strong cup of coffee and a plate of Charleston avocado toast (featuring a fried egg and a slice of the best local tomatoes), or give in to a little indulgence with a housemade pastry.
BTW: While it’s a place to see and be seen around town, there’s no need to dress up. Saffron is a diner with a come-as-you-are attitude.
Saffron Restaurant & Bakery, 333 East Bay St. Charleston, S.C. 29401
BREAKFAST
Cafe Framboise
Get your morning French cuisine fix and practice the language, if you desire. Owners Florence and Dominique Chantepie are known by locals and returning tourists for making customers feel at ease while serving up crepes and quiches. Smoothies, pastries and pre-made breakfast sandwiches are available for those on the go without skimping on authenticity.
BTW: “The Market” has everything needed to start the day. Think egg souffle made with garden vegetables and bacon, then wrapped in a warm crepe.
Cafe Framboise, 159 Market St. Charleston, S.C. 29401
LUNCH
167 Raw
Owner Jesse Sandole’s small, lively spot — named after his family’s Nantucket restaurant — is a seafood experience. Items from the raw bar are the freshest one can get, and the lobster roll is the perfect treat to satisfy a midday craving. For those in a sushi mood instead, 167 Raw’s sushi bar is just a few blocks to the northeast.
BTW: If you’d like a quick seating, plan on an early or late lunch. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations.
167 Raw, 289 East Bay St. Charleston, S.C.
LUNCH
Caviar & Bananas
For those in need of a sandwich on the go, Caviar & Bananas serves up gourmet sandwiches and prepared foods for every appetite. Most items are perfect for taking on a walk around the city. Try the chicken tenders (for the kids) or a more grown-up duck confit sandwich.
BTW: Hit the bakery counter on your way to the register. A butterscotch blondie is an essential treat.
Caviar & Bananas, 51 George St. Charleston, S.C. 29401
DINNER
Edmund’s Oast
This restaurant boasts charcuterie plates with carefully curated options that are often locally or regionally sourced, and delicious beer brewed on site. Entrees include pub-worthy items like cheeseburgers and roast chicken, but there are also plates for the adventurous eater, like “BBQ escargot” and grilled octopus.
BTW: There are two seating spots that can’t be beat: An outdoor space features a romantic atmosphere under string lights, and a seat at the bar inevitably leads to an education in mixology and international beers.
Edmund’s Oast, 1081 Morrison Dr. Charleston, S.C. 29403
DINNER
Muse
Set in a historical home on Charleston’s Society Street, Muse is anything but stodgy or stuffy. An eclectic crowd of locals and tourists pack the Italian restaurant and wine bar regularly for a bowl of tagliatelle bolognese or some crispy sea bass. The wine selection leans old world but features something for every taste.
BTW: For some of the most interesting conversations anywhere, sit at the bar.
Muse, 82 Society St. Charleston, S.C. 29401
LATE-NIGHT
The Commodore
A late-night drink at the Commodore is a step back into the Age of Funk. With black and white tile floors, green velvet bar stools and groovy red-toned lighting, the mood is always set for hitting the dance floor after indulging in one of the bar’s signature cocktails. Everyone rubs elbows together here in the name of good music and a good time.
BTW: Try to get there on a night when local band Lady & The Brass is headlining. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a musician get so into a set that he starts playing the trombone and the keyboards at the same time.
The Commodore, 504 Meeting St. Charleston, S.C. 29403
LATE-NIGHT
Cane Rhum Bar
Even in one of the most touristy areas of Charleston, Cane’s vibe stays laid back and local. It’s a respite from the crowded nighttime scene around the Market, and while there’s a diverse offering of cocktails to suit the rum theme (including tasting flights), the menu also offers a variety of beers and Caribbean street food.
BTW: Spicy beef empanadas and banana bread pudding are the best way to end a night out.
Cane Rhum Bar, 251 East Bay St. Charleston, S.C. 29401
(Charleston illustrator Silvana Diaz for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Charleston can be so beautiful that it may seem as though it were created just for visitors. But please remember that people do live here, and not all the beautiful buildings are public; don’t peek into our windows!
  2. While we’re at it, please don’t get too swept up in ogling the city’s beauty while driving, either.
  3. Shrimp and grits are great, but the local cuisine offers so much more. Look for things like pimento cheese and pickled okra on menus.
(Charleston illustrator Silvana Diaz for The Washington Post)

Do

The Gateway Walk
The hidden path that officially begins in the churchyard of St. John’s Lutheran Church leads visitors through the graveyard of Charleston’s Unitarian Church to a quaint street on the other side. As they would in a mysterious and storied secret garden, smells of jasmine and Spanish moss drip from angel oak branches above. After passing by 200-year-old headstones, the path deposits visitors at the front of the church, where a marker acknowledges the indignities suffered by the enslaved workers who built the site in 1772.
BTW: Bring a small meal or snack with you and sit on one of the benches to eat, think and take it all in.
Gateway Walk, Charleston, SC 29401
Charleston farmers market
Saturday mornings should be reserved for the market at Marion Square. Find local produce, eclectic food vendors, milliners, artists, live music and everything in between — but only until noon! Many locals get their entire week’s produce here, and many of the handmade wares for sale make perfect gifts.
BTW: Some of the best tomatoes in the world come from Johns Island, S.C., and this is the place to find them and swoon over their salty perfection.
Charleston farmers market, 329 Meeting St. Charleston, S.C. 29403
Fritz Porter Design Collective
The antique and design center provides booths to designers, artists and dealers while also offering a hefty array of its own home and lifestyle goods and services. You can find interesting items as antique poker sets and unique fabrics. The collective is located in the old Cigar Factory, which was once a production facility for the American Tobacco Company.
BTW: Ask to see the building’s plaque commemorating the spiritual “We Shall Overcome.” The song was popularized here during a factory strike in 1945.
Fritz Porter Design Collective, 701 East Bay St., Suite 106 Charleston, S.C. 29403
Blue Bicycle Books
This independent bookstore is a cozy space featuring new and used titles. The displays highlight South Carolina’s rich literary tradition by featuring authors from around the state. The shop holds regular readings by state and national authors. In the fall, it plays host to YALLFest, a young adult book festival that has drawn national acclaim.
BTW: Head toward the back hallway, where some of the most interesting pre-loved titles on the most random subjects can be found.
Blue Bicycle Books, 420 King St. Charleston, S.C. 29403
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
The crossing has become one of Charleston’s most iconic landmarks. It runs 2.5 miles across the Cooper River, connecting the peninsula to neighboring Mount Pleasant. While it’s mostly an eight-lane highway, there’s also a popular path for walking, biking and running. Expect a full-on cardio session rather than an easy jog, however, as the incline and wind add a bit of a challenge.
BTW: Go at sunset. If the exercise doesn’t take your breath away, the view will.
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Morrison Drive and Cooper Street, Charleston, S.C. 29403
PURE Theatre
This is where theater gets real in Charleston. Before settling into its current location on Cannon Street, PURE was located just a half mile from Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The summer after Mother Emanuel became better known to the world following a mass shooting, PURE staged the East Coast debut of the stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric,” a work that takes a difficult look at racism in America.
BTW: Watch for plays that include talkbacks with the audience afterward. The members of PURE’s ensemble are brilliant and engaging.
PURE Theatre, 134 Cannon St. Charleston, S.C. 29403
Shani Gilchrist
Shani has lived in Charleston at full- and part-time intervals since 2015. She was born in a Wisconsin town located exactly halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago, but moved to rural South Carolina with her family at age 10. She’s been trying to find the balance between country girl and city girl ever since.
Alice Keeney
Alice is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post. She has called Charleston home for almost 20 years, loving its small-town, community feel in a city setting. When she’s not biking with her husband to restaurants, visiting parks with her daughters and seeing friendly, familiar faces along the way, Alice enjoys exploring her neighborhood, North Central/Hampton Park/Wagener Terrace.
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CITY GUIDES