Don’t let the slow Southern drawl of its residents fool you—the historic port city of Charleston has a refined culinary scene that is developing at a rapid pace, making it a hot spot for haute cuisine and winecentric bars.
Get a feel for Charleston’s historic charms by staying at an inn or bed and breakfast, like the Wentworth Mansion (149 Wentworth Street). Built in 1885, the mansion is appointed with working handcarved marble fireplaces, Tiffany stained glass windows and intricate woodwork. Reese Witherspoon spent her wedding night here with Ryan Philippe—and though the marriage didn’t last, the two-room Grand Mansion Suite retains its romantic allure, sweetened by nightly Madeira and Sherry service. For more modern amenities, including a rooftop pool, opt for the upscale Charleston Place Hotel (205 Meeting Street), located inside a luxurious shopping and dining complex.
A terrific way to take in the sights in one swoop is via (comically) narrated horse-drawn carriage; try Palmetto Carriage. On the trip, you’ll scope out Civil War-era mansions along the harbor, ride through the quaint, colorful French Quarter and cruise for handmade crafts, like weaved sweetgrass baskets (a tradition brought by African slaves to the Carolinas) at the City Market near Meeting Street, housing four blocks of open-air vendors of all types. If time allows, linger for a day on the lush grounds at a nearby plantation, like the grand Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.