My favorite thing to do anytime of the year is to show off my native city, Charleston. And to do so during the holiday season is an even greater treat! Decorations are up, there is a festive spirit all around, the weather is usually mild making it great for walks, and there are an abundance of opportunities to show off our culinary pride.
So when our very best friends from Paris (France!) announced their plans to visit for a birthday celebration, I couldn’t wait to plan a 24 hour food, wine, and city tour, from a local’s perspective. But as I started to think about it, I got a little nervous. Showing off Charleston to someone for their first visit, where to start? Our friends are world travelers and one is an experienced tour guide. How could I show off the best of this city in such a short amount of time?
If you only had 24 hours in Charleston, what would you do? Where would you eat? And if you were showing it off to friends coming from Paris, would that change what you did? There are the obvious choices ~ plantations, churches, historic mansions, parks, the best restaurants, and the usual suspects, the Battery, Rainbow Row, and Waterfront Park. But I didn’t want this to be your typically tourist trek through Charleston. So I narrowed down the list and used Paris as my inspiration to plan the merriest of times in Charleston.
My husband and I absolutely love Paris. And we have been fortunate enough to visit many times over the years. We love the café’s, the food, the museums, the parks, and the walkability of the city. In many ways, we wanted to show that Charleston has some of those same attributes, just on a smaller scale. So with Paris in mind, I planned a festive 24 hours that included a park, a view from a special place, locations with the distinction of the “oldest”, showing off the City’s French heritage, a French inspired restaurant and one with a passion for seasonal ingredients. This is a local’s version of the best of Charleston in 24 hours, inspired by our other favorite city, Paris!
First stop, Chez Nous for our French inspired restaurant. Not only is it off the beaten path, it is one of the best restaurants in Charleston. They post daily photos on Instagram of their menu. The same dishes for lunch and dinner, different daily, always fresh, always delicious, always leaving you with the thought that you can’t wait to come back. There was no better way to introduce our friends to Charleston than a French inspired meal.
Next, a quick tour and drive by of iconic Charleston spots (like the Eiffel Tower, you have to see it) which included Colonial Lake, The Battery, Rainbow Row, the Four Corners of Law. Then onto the French Quarter and a stroll down the Gateway Walk. This is a secret Charleston gem. Originated in 1930 by the Garden Club of Charleston, the Gateway Walk was inspired by Paris, “where in the midst of a busy city you can find respite in meandering through pleasant gardens”. It opened the same year Charleston celebrated its 250th anniversary and its plan was developed by noted landscape architect Loutrel Briggs. Instead of a typical sidewalk view of Charleston, this path gives you a perspective from walkways tucked between historic buildings and churches, and entrances and exits graced by beautiful wrought iron gates. Connecting the areas between Archdale Street and Philadelphia Alley, the Gateway Walk starts at St. John’s Lutheran Church and The Unitarian Church, and takes you by The Library Society, The Gibbes Museum, Circular Church and St Phillip’s Church, within a block of The Dock Street Theatre. I promise this path is the one less traveled in Charleston. A peaceful, beautiful, and joyful path in the heart of the historic district.
Next, a quick stroll down King Street to some of my favorite Charleston iconic shops. First, The Preservation Society Shop at 147 King Street. This is one of the best places to get a snapshot of all things Charleston. From the new purveyors of “made in” Charleston goods such as J. Stark (leather), and Brackish (artisan bow ties), to old favorites such as Carolina Plantation Rice. A great place for authentic and original gift ideas. We then meander to George C. Birlant & Co . Established in 1922, Birlants not only offers the finest in antique furniture, silver and porcelain, but it is also the home of the Charleston Battery Bench where you can get an authentic replica of the 1880s Charleston bench often seen adorning our public parks. Then onto Croghan’s Jewel Box, the oldest family-owned jewelry store in Charleston. Our friend owns his own jewelry and gem store in Paris so this was a special treat to be able to show off such a Charleston tradition.
For the best view of the city on a historical property, we head to Wentworth Mansion. Rated #4 Best Hotels in Charleston by 2016 Conde Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards, the Wentworth Mansion has a rich 126 year old history, built in 1886. This is also where my husband and I spent part of our honeymoon. Ghosts and all, this has a very special place in our hearts. We gather our aperitifs from Circa 1886 located in the original carriage house. Taking advantage of their “5 for 5 at 5” special, we head to the cupola for a champagne toast and sunset view. Breathtaking is the best way to describe this view of Charleston.
So many restaurants and so little time. Our next stop is FIG. Like Frenchie, our favorite restaurant in Paris, FIG is very difficult to get reservations. So when you do, and you arrive, there is a real merriment and festiveness in the air by all patrons. We made it! And it is worth the effort! Yes, we called 30 days in advance to secure our reservation. And, our French world travelers, well they declared FIG as the best evening meal they had ever had in America (note evening meal since lunch was at Chez Nous….).We wrap up the evening with our favorite hidden neighborhood gem. Not so historic, but a local’s secret surprise, The Faculty Lounge. Absolutely my favorite bar in Charleston for a special cocktail or beer and a nice chat with the bartenders, other patrons, and even the landlord. (But shhh, don’t tell anyone about it.)
The next day, before our friends had to leave, we tried to walk off the last two meals with a stroll to Allan Park and Hampton Park. Luxemburg Gardens is my favorite park in Paris and the inspiration for our stroll. Allan Park and Colonial Lake are some of Charleston’s most beautiful spaces. Allan Park with camellias in bloom and the traditional Charleston fountain and Hampton Park with over 60 acres of grand, old growth oaks and camellias, it is one of my favorite places in Charleston and one I love to share with friends.
At one point during our visit, our friends mentioned how much they loved lobster. With barely an appetite left, we couldn’t resist. One more meal? Could we work it in? Absolutely. So we embarked on our next culinary adventure, even though we were not hungry (and we learned a new phrase, “Ca se mange sans faim” (translation, so good it is eaten even without hunger).
167 Raw was the perfect choice for not being hungry. It is no secret in Charleston. Their lobster roll is simply the best (literally, lobster AND roll) and we didn’t hesitate to enjoy every last bite. We toasted our visit, gave thanks for such a special time with special friends, and begin planning our next visit (Paris in the fall perhaps….).