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Designer's Guide to Charleston SC

Updated: May 9, 2022

Charleston streets are full of colorful and wonderful architecture

We had 10 days off from school for spring break and my good friend Linda, who runs a fabulous blog called KidFriendly DC, asked if we wanted to meet her and her fam in Charleston, SC. It was a great opportunity to catch up with good friends and explore a new city. I have always heard about Charleston’s reputation for great food and architecture, so I had to go and see for myself.

Linda and I at Folly Beach

Our crew. Look at this arch!

Sand, Surf, and Shark Tooth Hunting in Folly Beach

First up…a stop at the coolest little beach town called Folly Beach. Even the name is cool. It was actually named for the dense foliage that held these narrow stretches of sand in place.

This beach is a favorite for vacationers, thanks to its relaxed coastal vibe, quaint and colorful shopping and dining district. It has six miles of gorgeous wide beaches for plenty of sun, surfing and shark tooth hunting. The two of us met up in the mornings to look for shark teeth, as Linda finds it therapeutic and addictive! It was my first time and I was got super into it. She’s an expert at it - read about her fossil findings in the DC area here.

Center Street in Folly Beach

Best Places to Stay with Your Family in Folly Beach

We stayed at the Tides hotel, which stands atop the main street on the island, Center Street. This was the perfect place for us - the views from the hotel are incredible, and the staff was really friendly and attentive. The beach here is wonderful, not too crowded (went in April) with gorgeous surf.

Our view from The Tides Hotel

Best Eats in Folly Beach

In addition to getting some much needed sun, we relaxed while having drinks at the hotel bar and loved watching the kids swim in the ocean. It was just what the doctor ordered. Venturing outside the hotel restaurant, we explored this hip beach town and sampled the local cuisine. Our faves:

  • Jack of Cups - This is a neighborhood favorite where you’ll find delish vegan fare and a really great selection of beers.

  • Ritas - the kids LOVED this place for its huge french toast and yummy bloody marys. My little one tried grits for the first time. Not sure he’ll try it again but I loved that he was willing to try it.

  • Chico Feo - This was my personal fav. It’s a legit spot for tacos, ramen, and huge sandwiches. It has an eclectic, bohemian bar with live music, creating a quirky atmosphere. A must if you go to Folly Beach.

Chico Feo - amazing tacos

Rita's - who doesn't love a bloody mary with blue cheese olives?

Color & Cobblestones: The Best Sightseeing in Charleston

After that, it was about a 25-minute drive to Charleston. It always makes the top destinations list on many travel sites so I was eager to find out why. In the past, Charleston was known for its many churches and religious history, but now, it is one of the most exciting and diverse destinations in America. It's a paradise for tourists seeking colorful architecture on cobblestone streets, spectacular water views, and really some of the best food I’ve had in a while.

The city's numerous and varied places of worship have earned it the nickname "The Holy City". Since its founding as Charles Town in 1670, this charming city is full of history at every turn. Did you know that buildings are not allowed to be built taller than the highest steeple, the 297-foot Saint Matthew's Lutheran Church?

St. Matthew's Lutheran Church

It’s not hard to fall in love with this city. Every Instagram worthy street is packed with history and super friendly people wearing seersucker.

I was surprised to hear my video game obsessed kid say he wanted to go inside the Old Exchange building - one of the oldest buildings in Charleston. But then I read the sign…Old Exchange and Provost DUNGEON. What 12 year old isn't interested in seeing a dungeon? I think my son was picturing a dungeon that was filled with torture chambers and creepy monsters. It wasn’t like that, but what we did see was extremely educational and I loved seeing the brick supported arches throughout the space. An old report said at least 120 prisoners were held in the Exchange, which was actually a sad, dark, moist basement prison. It became famous for being where local patriot and martyr Isaac Hayne stayed before he was executed by British soldiers.

For me, I wanted to go past the typical tourist attractions and instead dive into the exciting design scene. Heading south of Broad Street, you will find some of the most amazing southern residential architecture and charming, perfectly landscaped streets.

How adorable is this house?

Best Places to Eat in Charleston, SC

Charleston has quite the food scene and Linda and I are foodies. We love trying new places in our home town of Washington DC, examining each menu item in detail, and then over-examining and rating each dish that comes out. Some of the places we loved and would go back again and again:

  • Church and Union - this is an old church turned into a restaurant that is STUNNING as soon as you walk in. You won't regret coming here for the food and the atmosphere!

  • O-Bar at Oyster House - great place for yummy drinks, huge shady outdoor patio and of course...raw oysters.

  • MIller's All Day - deelish breakfast food and has a really great relaxed mid mod interior.

O-Bar at The Oyster House

Church and Union restaurant

The best cinnamon roll you will ever eat at Miller's All Day

Best Shopping in Charleston, SC

The design didn’t stop at just the homes in this city - Linda, her daughter and I hit King Street to find some really unique decadent shopping for clothing, home decor, art and antiques. Art galleries abound in Charleston, where it's possible to peek into the artists' studios and see them working on their beautiful works of art. See below for the shopping that made us oo and ahhh - Etu Home, House of Nomad and Love Shack Fancy.

Etu Home

House of Nomad - such a cool space and I wanted to buy everything for styling!

Love Shack Fancy - the clothes are as beautiful as the space

Water taxi and Patriots Point

Last but not least, while we were doing some damage on King Street, the guys took a water taxi (great way to see dolphins!) to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. The guys were thrilled to see the USS Yorktown carrier and other massive historic aircraft. They said it was cool to see them up close and they even got to sit inside one of the planes. A must for little ones!

Travel Tips for Charleston, SC

First of all, bring walking shoes. It’s one of the best things to do in the city…just walk, explore and get lost for a couple of hours. Then do what we did: find a good place to rest those feet while getting a couple dozen oysters and a cold bevvie.

The downtown Charleston area is also good for exploring by bike or by pedi-cab on King Street. But by far, one of the most popular things tourists do in this city is to take a leisurely horse and carriage ride. I loved seeing the horses clip clopping through the quaint streets. So retro in a modern setting.

Imagine this beauty just stopping in front of your home!

What’s your go-to, must-not-miss stop in Charleston? Comment below! I'll make sure we hit it next time we're there because, for sure, this will not be my last visit!

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