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9 Cool Things to Do in Charleston

How much do we love Charleston, that sweet, sophisticated, soulful city of the south? It's impossible to count all of the ways, but the following list—our favorite things to eat, buy, and do in the Holy City—is a start.

See recent posts by Terry Ward

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Stay at The Spectator

From the lobby's handmade silk tapestries and gold elevator to guest rooms' personalized butlers, swanky Carrara marble bathrooms, and complimentary drinks and snacks, The Spectator takes a grand (and glamorous) approach to southern hospitality. While there's no restaurant on site, the 41-room hotel is right in the historic district, so you can easily stroll to restaurants and sights—not to mention its free-to-use cruiser-style bikes are an even more appealing way to get around town. Be sure to make time for a handcrafted cocktail or two in The Bar, the hotel’s Jazz Age-inspired lounge and one of Charleston's latest "it" spots.

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Take a cooking class

It won’t take more than a meal or two in Charleston, one of America's great food cities, to persuade you to learn the secrets to low-country cuisine. Cooking classes with lauded chef Bob Waggoner will have you preparing (and subsequently digging into) a seasonal tasting menu that spotlights ingredients—Charleston creek shrimp; forest-foraged chanterelles—from local farmers and fishermen. But forget about complicated recipes and stressful expectations: it’s the dinner party vibe that makes the experience so fun. Instead of assuming a student role, you learn as you go, crafting ingredient-focused dishes, laughing over wine, and getting your hands dirty—all before a communal meal with newfound friends.

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Slurp down some oysters at The Darling Oyster Bar

For show-stopping fruits de mer platters à la something you’d find in France, make for this fab little oyster bar, on the ground floor of a historic 1900 building in the Upper King District. Passersby are often seen stopped on the street outside its windows, ogling the piles of crab legs and bivalves cooling on ice. Grab a stool at the zinc bar, or settle into a booth at one of the worn wood tables, for a seafood feast to remember. Raw bar favorites include local littleneck clams, king crab, and oysters from the Carolinas and Virginia—though the menu's southern selections, such as fry baskets with flounder and spicy Creole shrimp, are just as tasty.

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Lighten your wallet at The Port Mercantile

For a unique Charleston souvenir with a true sense of place (beyond those sweetgrass baskets for sale all over town), hit this boutique on the ground floor of [The Restoration]() hotel. The shop’s well-edited collection of watches, eyeglasses, and jewelry is particularly impressive, and there's even a small selection of gourmet, made-in-Charleston food items that make great gifts for friends and family back home. For the stylish man in your life, pick up one of their delicate bowties from local designer Brackish, which are made of pheasant, partridge, and peacock feathers.

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Dig in at Sorghum + Salt

Headed by born-and-raised South Carolina chef Tres Jackson, this 40-seat restaurant on Coming Street is southern at its core but hides a few modern (and sometimes even low-brow) surprises up its sleeve. While distressed wood and exposed brick lend the interior an industrial-chic feel, old-school rap pipes through the speakers and the seasonal menu (which changes almost daily) features unusual combos like salt-roasted beets with yogurt, rose petals, coffee, and olive dirt and seared lamb in a smoked oyster purée. In addition to its excellent selection of local beers, the restaurant also pours one of the chef’s personal faves, Miller High Life. Yeah, it’s that kind of a place.

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Imbibe at a rooftop bar

Cocktails on high are a must in Charleston—perfect for getting a bird's-eye view of the Holy City’s spiky steeples as well as the iconic span of the distant Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The fourth-floor, 360-degree views from the aptly named Rooftop Bar at The Vendue, open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, also take in the Charleston Harbor and nearby Waterfront Park. Watch the sunset over a Pimm’s Cup or refreshing Peach Mule, made with peach nectar, lime juice, and ginger beer.

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Satisfy your sweet tooth at Candy Shop Vintage

The style tastes of Candy Shop Vintage owner and designer Deidre Zahl may have been informed in New York, where she worked in fashion for many years (psst: see if you can spot her pieces on AMC's period drama Mad Men), but Candy Shop Vintage’s retro and retro-inspired jewelry collection is pure southern sophistication. Her Charleston Rice Beads—one-of-a-kind necklaces coated in gold or candy-colored hues—give a playful nod to the port city’s rice-growing heritage and are a must-have accessory. Consider them pearls for those of us who don’t wear ‘em.

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Eat, drink, and play at Mercantile + Mash

This veritable food emporium, inside a renovated cigar factory on East Bay Street, is a prime spot for breakfast or Sunday brunch and for picking up gourmet food souvenirs such as locally roasted coffee and unique wines. Time your visit right to enjoy a pre- or post-dinner cocktail (or three) at Bar Mash, the quirky next-door bar known for its killer bourbon and whiskey selection as well as its old-fashioned games including indoor bocce and shuffleboard. Soak it all up with one of the snacks or small plates, like house pimento cheese and crackers.

RELATED: The 8 Best Food Markets Around the World

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Catch some sun at Folly Beach

Folly Beach is just a quick 20-minute drive south of downtown, but it feels worlds away from dapper Charleston, whose historic inns and cobbled streets give way to beach bars, food trucks, flip-flops, and a strong surfing culture. After a relaxing morning playing in the waves, break for breakfast or lunch at local haunt Lost Dog Cafe (psst: go for the huevos rancheros), then walk off the calories during a scenic coastal walk. Our suggestion? Follow the abandoned road that extends out from Folly Beach's northern parking lot to the end for great views of the decommissioned-but-still-standing Morris Island Lighthouse.

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