Looking to have an artsy adventure in Charleston? Book a hip three-day getaway at The Vendue, voted the #4 Best U.S. Small City Hotel in the Travel + Leisure 2015 World’s Best Awards.
Touch down at Charleston International Airport, which receives 69 direct flights each day from a variety of East Coast and Midwestern cities and head to The Vendue, a boutique hotel that re-opened spring 2014 with creative flair. The building dates to the 1780s but the décor is distinctively contemporary with more than 300 original pieces of art installed throughout the hotel.
Pick up some Starbucks coffee and a pastry at The Press, the hotel’s onsite coffee shop.
Your first morning packs a big adventure courtesy of Coastal Expeditions. Board the ferry to Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge, a 62,000-acre maritime wilderness preserve that includes pristine Bull Island. Here, loggerhead sea turtles, bald eagles, dolphins and a staggering 277 species of birds make their home. Hike the three-mile Boneyard Beach, where hundreds of oaks, cedars, and pines have been “skeletonized” by the salt and sun.
Pull into Butcher & Bee midafternoon for lunch with locals. The menu changes daily, but you can get a sneak preview of the fresh specials by checking Facebook and Twitter for a photo of the chalkboard specials. A dining tip: opt for Israeli born owner Michael Shemtov’s incredible version of hummus served along with house made pita. Also, Food & Wine magazine says Butcher & Bee is home to one of the Best Sandwiches in the U.S.—thin slices of cooked squash, house-made barbecue sauce, and hickory-smoked cabbage cole slaw on a freshly baked hoagie.
After exploring the Lowcountry’s raw natural beauty and eating fresh, local food, hit King Street to shop like a local. At Hampden Clothing, the collection of avant-garde designers has caught the eye of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, while the waiting lounge with a fully-stocked bar is a hit with husbands everywhere.
Dinner is the perfect time to show off your new shopping finds. Plates tend to be quite pretty at The Drawing Room, which gives classic ingredients a light dusting of molecular gastronomy presentation techniques. Try the gold rice gnocchi served with succotash, headcheese, and popcorn. Or perhaps the sea urchin custard with lump crab, Kurios farm cucumber, and rooftop herbs. Situated within The Vendue Hotel, The Drawing Room is an extension of the hotel’s art exhibition space and deftly melds creative flair into its food.
Start the day at Bakehouse, where the tempting array of freshly baked pastries, biscuits, and quiche are made with wholesome ingredients. Enjoy a delectable preservative-free breakfast at this popular bakery.
With cappuccino in hand, stroll to upper King Street. Look for a blue bicycle with a stack of books strapped to the back and step inside Blue Bicycle Books. With its modest ten-foot picture window, this tiny storefront winks at passersby. The narrow façade belies a deep and winding trove of books—more than 50,000 volumes, including the most complete collection anywhere of used, rare and new Charleston material.
Continue a cultural exploration with a visit to Redux Studios, a bustling center of contemporary art with 16 private artist studios, an artist-in-residency program, artist and curator lecture series, and free year-round art exhibitions. From there, wander over to The George Gallery, a contemporary space focused on American artists challenging artistic norms with cutting edge creativity.
Head off the beaten path and pop into Artisan Meat Share for lunch. Opened in 2014, this tiny, 15-seat spot showcases Chef Craig Deihl’s award-winning charcuterie. Enjoy sandwiches like porchetta with ‘nduja, pork cracklins, watercress, and caramelized onions on ciabatta.
Piracy and the rum trade left an indelible mark on the Lowcounty. Learn about this colorful history while enjoying libations during the Haunted Pub Crawl. Hear tales of Charleston’s historic speakeasies where local bootlegger Vincent J. Chicco parlayed the fortune and influence made from selling tickets to “Blind Tiger Fights” to win four terms on City Council.
After an afternoon spent exploring local pub culture, keep the festive atmosphere going with dinner at Hall’s Chophouse, the family-owned steakhouse located on upper King Street that is known for its “see and be seen” scene. The bustling bar is a good place to rub shoulders with a variety of locals. The menu features a variety of lavishly prepared steaks with standouts including a 28-ounce Tomahawk rib eye, the New York strip, and the slow-roasted prime rib.
After dinner, head to The Alley, a reclaimed warehouse-turned-retro bowling alley for some late night fun.
If your grandmother was an accomplished cook who spent every Sunday in the kitchen preparing a grand southern spread for the family, breakfast at Virginia’s on King will taste like a homecoming. Biscuits and gravy, country ham and eggs, and shrimp-n-grits all reign supreme at this classic Southern spot.
Wend your way through Charleston’s historic and hip neighborhoods on two wheels with Charleston Bicycle Tours. Pedal across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the western hemisphere, for a unique bird’s eye view of the harbor.
Double back downtown and tuck into lunch at Fleet Landing, the only restaurant situated over the harbor. Housed in a 1940s retired naval building with panoramic views of the water, Fleet Landing serves fresh seafood in a casual “maritime chic” atmosphere.
Enjoy scenic views of the harbor and a sundown cocktail at The Rooftop bar perched atop The Vendue. Elevate your senses with innovative cocktails, live entertainment, and salty breezes.
Celebrate your last evening in town with Chef Kevin Johnson’s southern fusion locavore fare at The Grocery. Take a walk on the wild side with the pigskin pad thai. Also popular is the Piggy Plate with its selection of five different house-cured meats. The menu is ordered by portion size with “snacks” followed by “bites” and “tastes” leading up to “plates” with “table” being designed for family-style sharing, so have fun trying a range of dishes at this popular spot.
BEFORE YOU PACK YOUR BAGS
No visit is complete without picking up a few special souvenirs. Make sure to leave room in your luggage for Bittermilk, a line of cocktail mixers made with organic ingredients; Charleston Mix, a bloody mary mix made with premium ingredients; sustainably harvested and solar evaporated Bulls Bay Salt; and Brackish bowties made from sustainably harvested turkey, pheasant, and guinea feathers.