For The Examiner | There is no doubting the absolute “southern charm” experienced in every aspect of a typical day in the infamous “Holy City.” Charleston is simply unlike any seaside city destination you find throughout the United States. Like so many things in life, you often need to be absent from a place for a period of time before returning to discover a unique collection of old favorites and entirely new experiences. Having grown up in the Charleston area, I was eager to become reacquainted with this city in a brief, yet gratifying, overnight visit.
There is no denying the momentum Charleston currently has with the global attention on this casually elegant coastal escape. With the number of new hotels and restaurants being opened to capitalize on the number of tourists flocking into the city to capture their very own charming experience, I chose to re-visit several of the locations that have been gracing Charleston with their presence for a number of years. Places such as the Charleston Place Hotel and Magnolias Restaurant have continued to provide a modern-day experience while still preserving the historical values and high standards people come to expect from these local favorites.
Hotel: The Belmond Charleston Place
I will admit that there are a number of amazing boutique luxury hotels scattered throughout downtown Charleston, but with only 24-hours, I chose to stay with the over-the-top beautiful Charleston Place. With the collection of luxury shops and centralized location, it’s the perfect place to call “home” while enjoying downtown. I was eager to try one of the newly renovated Premier Rooms, but since it wasn’t ready at the time I checked-in, the very accommodating front desk manager offered one of the rooms on the Club level, which proved to be a fine substitute. Though not yet renovated, the room was bright, well laid-out with a large bathroom and one of the most comfortable mattresses I have experienced in some time. With only a limited number of hours, outside of a quick visit to the Club to enjoy a glass of wine while catching up on emails before dinner, this great perk sadly went largely unused.
Dinner: Magnolias Restaurant
Since opening in 1990, Magnolias has steadily maintained its place as one of Charleston’s must-experience restaurants. Knowing it had gone through a fairly recent renovation, I was excited to re-visit this restaurant that had always been, in my opinion, the place with the best grits around. The inviting interior atmosphere with the large windows overlooking East Bay Street and the caliber of service were exactly what I remembered from years before. The meal began with the Housemade Pimiento Cheese Charleston flatbread and my new favorite, the Housemade Potato Chips with crumbled blue cheese and scallions. Both items sound fairly basic, but the flavors were beyond compare. For dinner, the Shellfish over Grits (sautéed shrimp, sea scallops, and lobster with creamy white grits, lobster butter sauce and fried spinach) proved to be better than I remember. With the exception of a little grit in one of the sea scallops, I would without hesitation strongly endorse Magnolias to anyone visiting Charleston. It’s truly a unique, authentic and charming dining experience.
Things To Do: Breakfast, Lunch, Spa & More
Fortunately with the Club benefits at the Charleston Place, breakfast was available, but opted for an early morning walk in the city, and a visit to Whisk around the corner on Meeting Street. It not only offered amazing coffee, but also far too many expertly created pastry items, making it impossible to choose only one. A morning walk was then necessary to offset the morning carb-load.
Charleston is a really great city to have a full day of simply walking to explore all the small side streets and many hidden treasures, but with limited time, I at least made time to walk one of my favorite routes before the tourists were out in full force. I walked east on North Market Street towards the harbor, where the vendors are setting up their shops for the day; then south on East Bay Street among restaurant row (including Magnolias) with a short detour through at least part of Waterfront Park to see the iconic pineapple fountain and sensational views out over the harbor; then further down East Bay to Broad Street where I turned back to walk west past Washington Square Park; then north on King Street to catch an early morning glimpse at the many, many shops of King Street selling everything from home goods, clothes and infinite antiques; then arriving back to the Charleston Place, I was ready to start the day.
Knowing of all the awards and positive press the hotel receives for The Spa at Charleston Place, I elected to take a quick dip in the very beautifully refreshing pool with retractable glass ceiling and fantastic views of the city before a deep tissue massage to unwind. I was fortunate to have a really amazing massage therapist, who was actually able to rid me of several knots and sore muscles in my back. Unfortunately, the pool area was in shambles, the staff at the spa was much more interested in hard-selling products to other guests instead of tending to smooth check-ins and outs, and the co-ed relaxation room to wait for the massage therapist was both co-ed and much too bright with harsh lighting to be the least bit relaxing. However, I understand things happen, and the therapist was friendly, professional and very well trained, so was able to overlook some of the other issues.
Before leaving Charleston, I always have to stop-in to visit Hyaman’s Seafood, conveniently just down a block from the hotel on Meeting Street. Eli Hyman and his family has been in this location for more than a hundred years, and since opening the seafood restaurant in 1987, the location has continued to not only prosper, but expand to now include the restaurant, Aaron’s Deli and the General Store. Considering the lines can be somewhat ridiculous to get inside to enjoy the fresh and local seafood, the General Store has become the perfect place to entertain waiting guests and offer many of the t-shirts and other local Charleston gifts needed during a visit to this coastal city. Here, if there is something that is not done correctly, Eli Hyman insists that you give him and his team the opportunity to make it right, as they live and breath the “Attitude Statement” made famous at this Charleston institution.
A single day is hardly long enough to properly absorb all the amazing food, history and culture Charleston has to offer, but it’s plenty to “hook” anyone to then want to visit again and discover the many reasons Charleston continues to be rated as one of the best places to live, visit and simply experience the friendly locals. Overall, the staff at Charleston Place continues to make this a fantastic hotel option in the middle of all the action, and between the renovations and Club level, the caliber of service and amenities only increases overtime. Time permitting; a wonderful way to spend the evening without even leaving the hotel is drinks at the Thoroughbred Club and then dinner at the Charleston Grill.
For those who love food and/or history, Charleston is simply a must-visit destination.