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Charleston, South Carolina is America’s Unlikely “It City”

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All photos by Elizabeth Rhodes

Every year, millions of travelers from the United States and abroad visit New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. While each of these cities offer unique experiences and are well worth a visit, a much smaller city has become a major US destination in recent years. Charleston, South Charleston has topped Condé Nast’s Reader’s Choice list as the best small US city, and other top international travel magazines are following suit, featuring the beautiful and historic city as the perfect destination for people from across the world. Even though Charleston has seen its fair share of tourists throughout the years, it reached international destination status through new growth that brought acclaimed chefs and world class shopping and art to the already culturally rich city. 

Charleston is an all-American city with a long, interesting history, as it was founded by colonists in 1670. Throughout the Revolutionary and American Civil Wars, Charleston was a prominent city and an important military base, and the remnants of this storied past are present throughout the city today. Charleston’s historic background makes this city a must-visit for history buffs because it has military forts, restored homes, and plantations dating back to the 1700s and 1800s.

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Charleston’s history has certainly made an impact on the city’s architecture. With residences and government buildings dating back centuries, the city has an unmistakable colonial vibe. You can find candy colored Gregorian-style houses along the famous “Rainbow Row,” and admire the perfectly preserved antebellum homes that line the Battery, an area along the Charleston harbor that once served as protection for the city. Charleston’s nickname is the “Holy City,” named for its reputation of religious tolerance and for the large number of churches found on the peninsula. Some of these places of worship date back to the 1600s! If history and architecture aren’t your thing, don’t worry. Although Charleston is an old, Southern city, it isn’t stuffy or boring by any means. Recent growth and additions to the food and nightlife scenes have created a dynamic environment with an old town feel that makes Charleston unlike any other city in the United States.

Charleston’s up-and-coming food scene has breathed new life into the city. Seafood has always been an integral part of Charleston’s food scene (due to its coastal location), and you can find iconic dishes like she-crab soup and shrimp and grits on practically every menu in the city. You can find plenty of delicious seafood at restaurants like The Darling Oyster Bar, known for its raw bar, or at one of the many restaurants that line nearby Shem Creek. James Beard Award winner Sean Brock is one of the key figures of the Charleston food renaissance. Brock founded Husk, a celebrated Southern restaurant that takes on the local flavors of the low-country. If you’re looking for Southern soul food that’s a little more down to earth, head to Bertha’s or Martha Lou’s for fried chicken and  sides like collard greens, sweet potatoes, and corn bread. Even though Southern food steals the spotlight in Charleston, you can find an array of other diverse food options, including excellent sushi at O-Ku and yummy Chinese dishes at Xiao Bao Biscuit. In addition to the booming food scene, Charleston’s nightlife has taken off, and there are a number of cool bars to check out when you’re in town (including several rooftop bars with stunning views of the city and the harbor).

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Charleston is not only home to comfort food (though there’s plenty of that). It also has excellent international dining like sushi at O-ku

Charleston is a major center of Southern culture and arts. Most notably, the city is home to the famous Spoleto Festival, which occurs every May-June. Spoleto features plays, ballets, and gallery exhibits from artists and companies from around the country, bringing some of the best American talent to the Holy City. There are also countless art galleries and museums, as well as several theater and dance companies that produce exciting performances throughout the year.

The heart of Charleston’s appeal will likely always be its idyllic architecture, slow Southern lifestyle, and proximity to the nearby beaches. With three different beaches within a 30-minute drive from downtown Charleston, the city makes a perfect long weekend getaway for fun in the sun with sophisticated food, nightlife, and culture. Charleston has received a lot of attention from international travel magazines like Condé Nast and Forbes recently, bringing more visitors to this South Carolina city. Despite fierce competition from cities like New York City and Las Vegas, Charleston is gradually becoming one of the hottest destinations in the United States. Go to Charleston for the history, beautiful architecture, and warm weather, and stay for the diverse foods, world-class art, and the Southern hospitality.

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Article and photos by Elizabeth Rhodes. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and her website.

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