Charleston is a contradiction. The birthplace of the secessionist movement and the bloodiest conflict in American history also hosts one of the largest gay-pride parades and calls itself the most-liberal city in South Carolina. It's this unique spirit, along with centuries of history, a flourishing food scene, and some of the country's best architecture covered in spanish moss (don't touch!) that make Charleston a destination for engagements (including ours) and honeymoons (including part of ours) throughout the year.
While it's hard to go wrong in a city that sees as much tourism as Charleston, it's also hard to get it just right when it's time to choose a hotel. For a romantic ambiance in a prime location, The Vendue is the place to go. The buildings date back to the late 1700s, so if you're a history nerd like me, run your hands along the brick walls and imagine the conversations they've been privy to.
The hotel houses an impressive collection of art you're free to visit regardless of guest status, and the on-site restaurant, The Drawing Room, specializes in high-quality seasonal eats at below-average prices. You'll likely need a reservation on the weekend but it's been fairly quiet when we've visited on weekdays. On the first night of our honeymoon, it was the only place we could get a table (our flight was delayed in OHare's seventh circle of hell) and we were treated like royalty, being comped dessert and an entire bottle of champagne.
We recommend the Premiere King Room for its fireplace, street view, and New York City loft-sized walk-in shower, but it's a bit spendy if you're budget conscious. We've also enjoyed the cheaper Interior Queen rooms, which don't come with windows but more than make up for it with character and luxurious bedding. Don't forget to grab the Vendue's signature homemade chocolate chip cookies and milk in the evening!
For a different choice, the Belmond Charleston Place is a solid option. It lacks some of the same boutique appeals as The Vendue, but that's irrelevant once you're greeted by the overflowing floral arrangement centered between a double-staircase that leads to the hotel's large, open rooms.
When we stayed at the Belmond, our flight was trapped in O'Hare the night before, throwing our travel plans completely off. After three hours of rough sleep in a cheap Chicago hotel, a 6 a.m. flight to Charleston, and being encased in funk that starts to form when a person who hasn't showered in 36 hours melts into the South Carolina sun, the Belmond's staff were incredibly sweet, going out of their way to give us room access just a couple of hours after our arrival in the early morning. There were some a/c issues that persisted throughout our stay, but these were caused by the hotel's massive renovation project and should be fixed by now.
For breakfast, look to the Palmetto Cafe just across the lobby. If Charleston's essence could be encapsulated in a room, it's here. The decor is a unique blend of old-southern nostalgia and island paradise, the sweet tea never runs dry, and the pancakes have flowers on them.
This bed was AMAZINGLY COMFORTABLE. Also, those curtains could block out the light from an atom bomb. Don't close them or you'll go to sleep at 2:00 p.m. Their flower budget is ridiculous. I'm pretty sure I ate the flower for good measure.
Home of the should-be-world-famous Mike's Famous Duck Club, The Tattooed Moose is the dive bar of your wildest dreams, complete with a giant moose head adorning the spot above the bar. Don't let the kitsch fool you.
This downtown Charleston location has received numerous accolades, including from the Mayor of Flavortown, and you'll never be left wanting for beers from southern breweries. Try out our favorite, Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan, which pairs well with the Duck Club and the Duck Fat Fries. Don't be surprised if you eat here, take a nap, and then return for more. If you do and receive no flak for it, you'll know your partner is a keeper.
Though we're still pissed at Prohibition for taking their life-changing creme brulee off the menu (seriously y'all, what the hell?), it's hard to deny the love-making inducing atmosphere of the speakeasy-restaurant hybrid. If you've ever fancied yourselves the 21st century Fitzgeralds, we highly recommend you see therapists after settling in at Prohibition for award-winning craft cocktails and an upscale take on shrimp & grits. They also offer live music most nights, so check the schedule ahead of time if you wish to dance or avoid the youths and their ruckus.
Ignore the blurriness. The camera was drunk.
When a place calls itself toast, you expect them to have breakfast food. What you don't necessarily expect is a breakfast voted as one of the best in America by the New York Times. That's exactly what you'll get at this Charleston institution. We don't typically like telling people what to do, but here we must insist you get the Deluxe French Toast stuffed with peaches and topped with peach cider syrup. Unless you're really hungry, the dish can be split by two people, so it's perfect for cozying up and sharing on a lazy South Carolina morning. If you need a side, go with the biscuits & gravy.
This doesn't even come close to a complete travel guide for romantic Charleston, nor should you only adhere to it. Charleston, more than anything, is about finding your own rhythm and sticking to it. If you want to take a mid-day vacation nap on day one of your Charleston vacation, you should!
No matter what you do the next time you're in South Carolina, enjoy the weather (even if it's weird), eat way too much, and drink an ill-advised number of cocktails.
Do you have any travel tips for Charleston? Let us know!