What makes the Holy City so appealing? With a history so significant to America’s makeup, Charleston ( www.charlestoncvb.com) has maintained its heritage and culture without stunting growth. You can walk past the grave belonging to a signer of the Declaration of Independence at St. Michael’s Episcopal on your way to some of the greatest new restaurants and music the country offers.
Check out the bustling Charleston Farmers Market ( www.charlestonfarmersmarket.com) in Marion Square on Saturday mornings, with fresh produce from more than 25 farms in the Lowcountry, food trucks – and vendors like PerlaAnne ( http://bit.ly/1qq2gh6), who sells folksy linoleum and wood-cut prints alongside The Scarlet Poppy’s reinvented antique jewelry ( www.scarletpoppy.com). On April 26, the market will coincide with the 11th annual Charleston Dog Show ( www.charlestondogshow.com).
While downtown, stroll through a residential area to soak in the full effect of Charleston’s architecture; heading south of Broad Street will give you the most stylized perspective. Several websites (including http://bit.ly/1fQsczj) provide lists of Charleston’s 400 places of worship, so if church architecture is your thing, you can take a self-guided tour of The Holy City.
Spoleto Festival USA ( www.spoletousa.org) – an international arts festival – takes over on the peninsula May 23-June 8 with dance, opera, theater and a variety of music, from orchestral and chamber to popular and jazz. Look for shows in the College of Charleston Cistern Yard – an idyllic outdoor venue under a canopy of live oak trees – like the Kruger Brothers or Kat Edmonson. The Piccolo Spoleto Festival ( www.piccolospoleto.com) happens simultaneously, and features artists from the Southeast in 700 performances. Together, the two festivals fill every nook and cranny of downtown Charleston.
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May 22-July 12, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at The College of Charleston ( www.http://halsey.cofc.edu) will exhibit work from two native South Carolinians in “The Insistent Image: Recurrent Motifs in the Art of Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns.” At the Gibbes Museum of Art ( http://bit.ly/1nBBsYU), John Westmark’s large paintings of strong, courageous women are on display through July 13.
While visitors often gravitate toward seafood and Southern cuisine, sticking to the obvious geographical specialties will cause you to miss the full picture of culinary offerings. Several fresh Asian restaurants have sprung up in recent years, including the sleek Japanese restaurant O-Ku ( www.o-kusushi.com) – order a bento box for lunch; Co Sushi’s five-spice pork belly banh mi is a local favorite ( http://eatatco.com/); and any of the daily concoctions at Xiao Bao Biscuit ( www.xiaobaobiscuit.com) will be a highlight of your trip – the okonomiyaki, or cabbage pancake, will blow you away whether you add the pork candy or not.
Charleston’s Italian offerings include Monza ( www.monzapizza.com) on King Street, with a killer selection of wood-fire pizzas and salads – try the chicken Milanese or butter beans; sit on the tiny back patio for an intimate evening. A few blocks north, step into Indaco ( www.indacocharleston.com) for the Brussels sprout pizza topped with thin apple slices and a side of cauliflower with mint pesto, golden raisins and pine nuts. For what may be one of your most memorable culinary experiences, head to locally-sourced Wild Olive ( www.wildoliverestaurant.com) on John’s Island and order whatever fish is on special, along with the suppli al telefono risotto fritters, named for the stretching cheese’s resemblance to telephone pole wires.
While each of the restaurants mentioned serve exciting drinks, don’t neglect several vintage cocktail opportunities. To sip a complicated invention while black-and-white movies are projected on the wall, go to The Belmont ( www.thebelmontcharleston.com); don’t forget the home-made Nutella and banana pop tart. If you want things like celery bitters and green chartreuse in your drink, head to The Gin Joint ( www.theginjoint.com) on East Bay Street. For a totally different feel, sit in the cantina courtyard with a margarita at Taco Boy ( www.tacoboy.net), just at the base of the Cooper River Bridge. Leah Harrison