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48 Hours in Charleston

Fried Green Tomatoes at Magnolia's
The Christmas spirit in Charleston
Savory biscuits at 82 Queen
Shellfish tower at Hank's
Grouper with pea risotto at Hank's
Coconut Cake at Peninsula Grill
Smoked chicken slider at Home Team BBQ
Brunswick Stew, Mac-n-Cheese, Pork at Home Team BBQ
Ladies room door at Hank's:)

48 hours in Charleston...

My mission, which I chose to accept, was to entertain a family of seven ranging in age from 17 to 87, of varying interests and mobility, for two days in Charleston, SC.  This family being my own family, heightened the stakes considerably. 

Perhaps the most important trait we all had in common is a love to eat and Charleston is a superlative destination for our kind.  Food, history and architecture being probably the top three attractions in this fair city, some might argue the greatest of these is food.  We stuck to what I call “the shrimp & grits trail’, but there are many more sophisticated bites to be had for the connoisseur.  We’ll have to go back and do that 48 hour tour at a later date...

The New York Times regularly offers a travel feature called “36 hours in ____”, which I always glance at.  However, when it happens to be about a place I already know well, I am almost always amazed at how different the writers suggested activities are from that of my own ‘best of’ list.

Well, to each his own.  There is simply more to do in Charleston (or Nantucket or Sonoma...) than one can do in 36 or even 48 hours.  In that spirit, what are your top spots in Charleston??

DAY 1:
Lunch at  MAGNOLIA’S
Magnolia’s is a famous Charleston restaurant that opened in 1993 and one of the first to  elevate and modernize low country classics which has been copied all over town and beyond.  It is owned by a restaurant group that operates several restaurants, as is the case with many of the popular downtown restaurants.  It has well stood the test of time and continues to be one of the best in town.

Top hits: 
Fried Green Tomatoes with white cheddar & caramelized onion grits, country ham, tomato chutney, $10;  Parmesan Crusted Flounder with jasmine rice & creek shrimp pirloo, sweet corn, tomato & asparagus salad, lump crab, citrus beurre blanc, $15;  Our server, Mary Kate--the height of Charleston charm.

3:30pm--Shop the Market
The Market is a series of open air buildings featuring a variety of mostly touristy vendors selling things no one needs.  It is a must walk through if only for the Gullah women weaving and selling lovely sweetgrass baskets and a cup of Caviar & Bananas coffee.  Historically a food market, it is called the Slave Market because the slaves did all the shopping for the plantation owners there.

4:30--Check In
We stayed at the Meeting Street Inn, an ideal setting and price for our group.  A double with  a hand-tied fish net canopy bed was less than $150 a night in December and a suite with two doubles and a private deck was not much more.  The lobby was sort of tired and chintzy, but the desk was friendly, breakfast was included and perhaps most importantly, they have happy hour with complimentary wine & meatballs from 5:30-6:30 each day.  Centrally located across from the market, it made an excellent base camp.

5:30--Happy Hour
I passed on the meatballs but thoroughly enjoyed meeting other guests over a glass of vanilla-y chardonnay in the parlor-like setting.

S.N.O.B. is another iconic resident for visitors, serving souped-up southern classics as well as other inventive fare.  I’m not sure which came first, S.N.O.B. or Magnolia’s, but they are both worthy destinations on the shrimp & grits trail.  The name stands for Slightly North of Broad, a clever reference to its proximity to the area South of Broad, home of Charleston gentility.

Top Hits:
Maverick Shrimp & Grits--Sauteed shrimp, sausage, country ham, fresh tomatoes, green onions, garlic, Timms Mill yellow grits, $22;  BBQ Tuna with fried oysters, green onions, country ham butter, mustard bbq glaze, $25.

DAY 2:
9:00am--Casual self-serve breakfast at Meeting Street Inn

10:30am--Shopping at Charleston Place

11:30--Carriage Ride
A must through the old town.

1:00--Nathaniel Russell House
Charleston had the country’s most millionaires for nearly a century before nantucket took the lead.  This wealthy merchants house is a marvelous glimpse at that splendor.

2:30--Lunch at 82 QUEEN
That will be 7 bowls of of She Crab soup, 7 Ice teas and a couple of baskets of biscuits, please:)

3:30--Shopping on Meeting & Broad
We managed to find Charleston’s only downtown vintage store, Alice & Daisy--an adorable little boutique of curated vintage finds.  It’s located among the famed art galleries of Gallery Row.

In our group, we had plain eaters and more adventurous types;  Hank’s was ideal because they offer everything from fried seafood platters to fancy epicurean fare--everyone was happy:)
Top Hits:
She Crab Soup (the best I’ve ever had);  Roast Grouper with Pea and Lobster Risotto & Shrimp Basil Butter jus, $33

9:00pm--Dessert at PENINSULA GRILL
A trip to Charleston would not be complete without a slice of Peninsula Grill coconut cake.  I don’t know if they do this for everyone, but the owner allowed us to book a table in the dining room for dessert and cordials and the mile-high coconut cake was one of the highlights of the trip for several of us.

Top Hits:
Coconut Cake, $10; Banana “Panna Cotta” Pudding, $10.

DAY 3:
9:00am--A very, very light breakfast

10:30--Self-guided drive through historic downtown Charleston, including Rainbow Row, the Battery, College of Charleston,etc.  Zig-zagging the cobblestones and peering at the Charleston balconies and house fronts is a must.

The thought of eating again was far from appealing at this point, but we had heard there was great bbq on Sullivan’s Island and felt we would be remiss to confine our visit strictly to the downtown.  A 15 minute drive will get you to any of the several barrier islands around Charleston.  Sullivan’s Island is worth a look just to see another coastal resort spot but does not take much time to survey.

This divey bbq spot was a welcome alternative to the butter-laden seafood we had consumed for the past two days.  Our server practically brow-beat us into ordering the award-winning chicken wings--and we were most grateful that we did.
Top hits:
Fiery Chicken Wings, Ribs, Smoked Chicken, Smoked Pork, Mac-n-Cheese

2:00pm--Homeward bound
An epic eating adventure completed, for now.

173 Meeting Street  Charleston, SC 29401

185 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401

192 East Bay St., Charleston, SC 29401
Phone:(843) 723-3424

51 Meeting Street  Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 724-8481

82 Queen Street  Charleston, SC 29401

54 Broad St.

Corner of Church & Hayne
(843) 723-FISH

112 North Market Street  Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 723-0700

2209 Middle Street  Sullivan's Island, SC 29482

Lead photo painting by Jeff Pittman, courtesy of


Ema Hudson's picture

That's a lotta country ham!  Sounds like a delicious trip.  I enjoyed my visit to Charleston but that was years ago.  Now I can utilize your tips on my next visit.