Why Charleston Is The Ultimate Vacation Destination For Foodies

As cities like San Francisco and New York continue to steal the spotlight on food in the U.S., southern gems like Charleston effortlessly churn out dishes that inspire, delight, and bring American cuisine back to its roots. The Holy City of South Carolina (not to be confused with the church jurisdiction, Holy See) is an icon of the American South and has become a destination for Southern cuisine. Oysters, shrimp and grits, fried chicken, okra, barbequed brisket and pork ribs — these are just a handful of the classic southern foods you can find in Charleston. But believe it or not, it's not all about the food here. 

This quaint city has as much to offer foodies as historians, artists, and vacationers just looking for a fun time. Step back a century or two as you wander the cobblestone alleyways and colorful rows of houses. Hop on a horse-powered carriage and try to count the numerous church steeples that earn the city its namesake. Peruse the art galleries and vintage shops that pepper downtown Charleston and bring back a memorable keepsake from your trip.Take a break from the heat at one of the bars and enjoy an ice-cold local craft beer or cocktail. Stay out long after the sun has set to enjoy the frantic nightlife. There couldn't be a more perfect vacation destination.

But where, oh, where to start? Let's break down where you can find premium food and fun in Charleston, South Carolina.

Rev up your taste buds for a fun night on the peninsula

Let's start with where one might begin or end a night on the town in downtown Charleston: the bar. For every palette and beverage preference, there is a place for you in this peninsula's bar scene. For a more laid-back vibe, you can't miss The Griffon. This pub is as straightforward as they come. Sit down, order an ice-cold beer and some loaded tater tots, and admire the walls plastered with one-dollar bills and other curious currencies. Add one of your own with a note to future patrons (or yourself, if you wish to return) and leave your very own mark on Charleston.

Open your ears, whiskey drinkers. This one's for you! Prohibition is simply a cut above the many bars along King Street. Their selection of bourbon and scotch is about a mile long and sure to please even the most selective whiskey drinkers. If that's not your cup of tea, there are plenty of unique cocktails, an international wine list, and every shade of local craft beer.

Another King Street classic is The Cocktail Club. This is an upscale cocktail lounge where you can order classics such as a Paloma, Sazerac, or an Old Fashioned. However, if you're looking for something new, this is the spot. The low lighting and soft atmosphere will surely put you in the mood for something boozy and magical.

Upscale dining just got a whole lot more fun

The definition of upscale in Charleston differs from what you would expect in other big cities and towns. Yes, people may come dressed in a button-down and slacks or a brightly colored dress with a more conservative neckline and hem. However, you can just as easily wear clean shorts with a collared T-shirt or a blouse. 

Now, where do you go in your Sunday best? SNOB. No, we're not calling you a snob; this is the restaurant's name, Slightly North of Broad Street. As most major restaurants in Charleston are, you'll find SNOB on King Street. Its dinner menu features everything from shrimp and grits to a rack of lamb and duck breast. However, its weekend brunch has that same unpretentious vibe as its name. Cure that hangover with some fried chicken and waffles or a juicy cheeseburger.

Just around the corner and down the road is Husk. Though featured on Chef's Table, this restaurant doesn't just talk the talk — it cooks and does so incredibly well. The mastermind behind the eatery, Sean Brock, opened Husk as an example of elevating American cuisine using traditional Southern ingredients and cooking methods. All the dishes here feature high-quality, locally sourced, indigenous foods, and it shows in the final product! One meal here will reset your expectations of what southern cooking is.

Charleston sets the bar high for BBQ in the South

While local legend claims South Carolina as the birthplace of barbeque, Charlestonians say it wasn't popular until recently. However, it's certainly made its mark. There are now a handful of award-winning barbeque joints that are the perfect stop for families that need a quick and tasty meal that everyone will love.

First up is Lewis Barbeque. Boy, oh boy, are you in for a treat here! Even the lean brisket is mouthwateringly delectable. The pork spare ribs? Don't even get us started. Lewis Barbeque has its formula down pat with a cut-to-order system that quickly and efficiently filters patrons through the restaurant. Here, you'll order your meat by the quarter, half, or full pound and add on your sides as desired. You can then order your beers separately at the bar located at the entrance.

Rodney Scotts Whole Hog BBQ is on another level. Rodney Scott cooked his first whole hog at 11 years old. Since then, he has allowed his obsession with great barbeque to lead him to greatness, winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast in 2018. Its location at the top of King Street sets the bar embarrassingly high if you were to eat your way down the road. We recommend you go big or go home with the Whole Hog Pork Plate to get a taste of how good his cooking really is.

Charleston proves casual dining doesn't have to be boring

There's nothing better than sitting down for a nice big meal after exploring Charleston's best attractions, like the Magnolia Plantation, or a float down the Edisto River. You need something tasty, filling, and not too fussy.

After its feature on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, the Tattooed Moose went from a local favorite to a must-try for visitors. Its famous Duck Club is an audacious triple-layered sandwich featuring duck confit, applewood smoked bacon, and garlic aioli on sweet Hawaiian bread. Yes, it tastes just as good as it sounds. As you might expect from the whimsical name, the décor is as much a sensory delight as the menu, with stuffed deer and moose heads lining the walls and colorful murals inviting you in from the street.

Located in Mount Pleasant, just over the Cooper River Bridge (the tallest structure in South Carolina), you'll find this local haunt that will leave your taste buds begging for more. Page's Okra Grill is a staple in Charleston and well-known for its simple Southern cuisine. While the wait to get in can be long, especially for weekend brunch, it will be well worth it. Luckily, the kitchen has superhero chefs that can whip up your dish in no time, ensuring you get your fill as quickly as possible. We recommend you order either Ashley's Shrimp & Grits — voted best Shrimp & Grits by Southern Living — or the chicken and waffles.

The seafood scene in Charleston is unmatched

We save the very best for last, and that's because seafood in Charleston outshines nearly all of its other coastal competitors. The seafood here is plentiful, sourced locally, and offers a wide variety, including oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp, and crabs. And when it comes to seafood in the Lowcountry (the word for this area of South Carolina's marshes and swamps), freshness is mandatory.

Few places in Charleston do oysters better than 167 Raw. Their main restaurant, the 167 Raw Oyster Bar on King Street in downtown Charleston, somehow manages always to be bustling, and getting a seat can be difficult. So either beat the crowds and come early for an appetizer of raw oysters and little neck clams or stay late and nab one of their famous lobster rolls.

Per the Charleston City Paper, Hank's Seafood Restaurant is the best seafood in Charleston. The exterior seems a bit unassuming, but once you enter, you're in for an entirely unexpected experience of fine-dining seafood. The waiters and waitresses are decked out in white coats and ties, and the dark wood-paneled walls almost conjure a feeling of being seated in the belly of a ship. But all the fanciful accouterments will melt away as you experience the whirling dervish of incredible ways to prepare Lowcountry seafood. Try the ceviche, tartare, pan-seared scallops, oysters on the half shell, stewed or fried, or the she-crab soup — a local favorite.