Visit Charleston in the spring for culture, kayaking and food
By LORI RACKL | Chicago Tribune | Published: March 31, 2017
You might have heard, oh, I don’t know, one or two thousand times, that Charleston, S.C., has got it going on. This historic port city has embedded itself at the top of many a “best” list for good reason. Its food, architecture, culture and charm make it an ideal getaway, especially in the spring.
Here’s where to stay and play:
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA
Culture vultures have been flocking to this stateside spin on the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, since 1977. For 17 days in late spring, a dozen of Charleston’s theaters, churches and outdoor spaces host operas, plays, dance productions and concerts at the popular performing arts festival. Highlights of this year’s installment include a lavish production of Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin” in the recently renovated Charleston Gaillard Center, jazz concerts by Grammy and Tony award-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Druid theater company’s rendition of “Waiting for Godot.” The shindig -- featuring more than 160 ticketed events -- is May 26 to June 11. Hotel and ticket packages are available at www.gospoleto.com.
This former federal office building went from eyesore to eye-catching, thanks to deep-pocketed developer John Dewberry, who spared no expense in transforming the boxy, seven-story structure into a luxury hotel that debuted last year. A bastion of midcentury modern design, the 155-room Dewberry Charleston (think “Mad Men”) is a disrupter in a hotel scene traditionally dominated by an antebellum aesthetic (think “Gone With the Wind”). Vintage furniture, bedding imported from Ireland and enough marble to build a mini Taj Mahal give the place a rich feel, but the vibe is decidedly unstuffy. The ground floor’s sprawling Living Room is a welcoming spot to camp out with your laptop and a cup of coffee, or sidle up to the brass bar for a handcrafted cocktail likely made by a mixologist with a formidable beard. The property sits across the street from Marion Square, home to the popular Charleston Farmers Market, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays as of April 8 (www.charlestonfarmersmarket.com). Overnight rates start at $299.
334 Meeting St.; 843-558-8000; www.thedewberrycharleston.com
Don’t be surprised to find clusters of people swarming around the outside of oyster bar 167 Raw. They’re waiting for a table or counter space to open up at this bijou Nantucket Island import that doesn’t take reservations and is “as big as a minute,” as one local put it. An ever-changing selection of expertly shucked bivalves and ceviche draws the hungry masses, who also pack the place for the equally tasty tacos, ahi poke and sandwiches. Closed Sundays.
289 E. Bay St.; 843-579-4997; www.167raw.com/charleston
Pork may be king in South Carolina, but Texas pitmaster John Lewis gives beef the royal treatment at his bold entry into the city’s barbecue scene. After making a name for himself in Austin, he built his own smokers out of propane tanks and drove them to his new home in Charleston last year to open Lewis Barbecue in the up-and-coming Half Mile North ‘hood. Ask a manager for a tour of the smokehouse before settling in at a picnic table under a shady oak tree with your cafeteria tray full of decadent beef brisket, Texas hot guts sausage and green chile corn pudding. Closed Mondays.
464 N. Nassau St.; 843-805-9500; www.lewisbarbecue.com
With 54 spacious suites spread across five buildings, The Restoration feels more like a collection of pieds-a-terre than a downtown hotel. The intimate vibe extends to the common areas, where guests gather in the library for pre-dinner noshing during the complimentary wine-and-cheese hour nightly 5-6 p.m. A couple of hours later, help yourself to fresh-baked cookies and port. Continental breakfast gets delivered each morning to the rooms, all of which have kitchenettes -- not that you should be cooking when surrounded by this many great restaurants. The decor skews rustic-chic with splashes of indigo, a nod to what was once one of the state’s biggest cash crops. The rooftop pool makes a relaxing spot for guests to survey The Holy City’s collection of church steeples -- a view that also can be had by anyone who heads to the upstairs restaurant and bar. Overnight rates start at $299.
75 Wentworth St.; 877-221-7202; www.therestorationhotel.com
The Lowcountry has no shortage of wildlife in and around its waters. The best way to take it all in is from the vantage point of a kayak. “Charleston’s natural wonders are often overlooked; there’s a lot more to this place than food and hospitality,” said Chris Crolley, owner of Coastal Expeditions. The company runs a slew of kayak tours out of Shem Creek on the other side of the iconic Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant. Usually about three hours long, the excursions are led by knowledgeable guides eager to explain the area’s ecosystem while shepherding paddlers past the creek’s working shrimp trawlers to various points of interest. Some tours are tailored to bird nerds, while others explore Charleston Harbor at sunset or stop at an island to scout for ancient shark teeth and fossils. On our mellow paddle, we spotted a bald eagle, egrets, a great blue heron and -- best of all -- Atlantic bottlenose dolphins a stone’s throw from our boats. Tours typically cost about $65. No experience necessary.
514 Mill St., Mount Pleasant; 843-884-7684; www.coastalexpeditions.com
ALSO WORTH NOTING
- The 40th annual Cooper River Bridge Run on April 1 has tens of thousands of people making their way from Mount Pleasant to downtown Charleston in a 10K race that includes 2.5 miles on the Ravenel Bridge; www.bridgerun.com.
- The 70th annual Festival of Houses & Gardens is your key to the private residences and green spaces of some of Charleston’s swankiest historic digs. March 16 to April 22; www.historiccharleston.org/festival.
- Creative works that tell Charleston’s story are showcased in the bigger and better Gibbes Museum of Art, which reopened last year after an 18-month renovation; www.gibbesmuseum.org.