Kelly Amendola is the creator + writer of A Lovely Life, a fashion & lifestyle editor, and certified yoga instructor. The intention of the blog A Lovely Life is to discover, share, and celebrate topics that will help us all create a life we love. Check out the blog for wellness tips, healthy recipes, relationship matters, the latest in beauty + style, and travel spots. She believes that all of these can help us live the fullest, most authentic life possible!
Your city has been on my mind for a long time. Three years ago, I saw a long weekend guide to Charleston in the Wall Street Journal. I was immediately captivated by the deep history and horse-drawn carriages amongst trendy boutiques and innovative restaurants. A glimpse of successful contrast.
I was so excited when we decided on the “Holy City” as the destination for our first inaugural post-college (UCLA) girl's trip. It seemed like the perfect place for the six of us to spend time together with its (or do you call “it” her?) combination of beautiful scenery, laid-back vibe, and good food and nightlife. The excitement built as we researched restaurants to go to, where to stay, and things to do. I must confess (Shep, I see you’re a CHS Grit contributor), I binge-watched Bravo’s Southern Charm to get a “feel” for the city and, yes, some of its people.
As you know, Charleston is a visitors haven, so it’s obviously well liked. But, in case you’re curious about an out-of-towner’s view, this is your lovely and fun Charleston through our eyes:
Our first impression of Charleston: hospitality
Day 1, Thursday:
Most of us came from California, so we took an early morning flight out of LAX or SFO into the quaint and easy Charleston International Airport. While checking into the award-winning luxury hotel French Quarter Inn on Church Street in historic downtown, we promptly received a glass of champagne. We made it just in time for the evening wine and cheese reception, which we took advantage of our entire stay. We felt taken care of and oh-so dignified! A former Charlestonian recommended dinner at The Macintosh. It was a good first taste of the locally sourced ingredients from the Lowcountry.
We were all pretty tired from early flights, so we went back to the hotel and hung out with our matching PJs. Definitely a must on a girl's trip.
Pic by @nikkishum
Day 2, Friday:
We started the day with the impeccable brunch at the hotel. They even had coffee and tea available in the hallway outside of our rooms, which is a win in my book.
We wanted to do some exploring on our first full day, so we went to the Big Red Barn for a mule-drawn carriage tour (the guide made sure we knew it was a mule, not a horse) with Palmetto Carriage Works. We lucked out in the lottery with a yellow ball, meaning we got the South of Broad tour. The guide taught us why there are so many brick buildings, about the strict home-renovation approval process, why Charleston is the “Holy City,” the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery, and more. He took us past the antebellum mansions near The Battery and the famous, colorful Georgian row houses on Rainbow Row. I’m not typically one for city tours, but I thought this one was great! I highly recommend it to visitors and even to Charlestonians who haven't yet done it. It acquaints you with the city and its history that you might not know or experience otherwise. And there’s so much history in Charleston!
Pic by @annecutler
We shopped for the rest of the afternoon, starting with the Farmer’s Market and the shops on King Street. Did you know Archipelago makes a Charleston-scented candle? Some of my favorites were the adorable kids boutique Sugar Snap Pea, Pink Dot Beauty Bar, and Hampden. Hampden really impressed me with their tightly and thoughtfully edited designer-clothing selection. As a former fashion editor, it’s on par or surpasses the many clothing stores I’ve visited. It’s no wonder Vogue named it a top boutique in the country! The icing on the cake is the owner, Kenzie Kurtzman’s, pure Southern hospitality.
Dinner was at the highly recommended Husk (Note: we made reservations three months in advance). I love that the restaurant occupies a stately home built in the late 1800s, making us feel like we were in a Southern home for some Southern cooking. Farm-to-table restaurants are very popular in California (my friends and I prefer them), so it was great to see and try James Beard Award–winning chef Sean Brock’s interpretation of it. The pimiento cheese appetizer, the freshly caught flounder, and the Southern mule with homemade ginger beer were some of our favs. I had no idea the South does ginger right!
It was a beautiful night, so we walked over to the rooftop Pavilion Bar at the Market Pavilion Hotel for after-dinner drinks. Charleston at night is really fun with great energy. After dancing and closing down Republic Garden & Lounge, lots of people were out on King Street at 1:30 a.m. You can tell people take advantage of what the city has to offer and have a good time doing it!
Day 3, Saturday:
After a late night, we took the way too early Lowcountry Loop Trolley to Sullivan’s Island. Even though we were tired, I’m glad we went because the beach is gorgeous and much more mellow than California beaches.
Looking for brunch, we walked down the quiet and charming Middle Street to the recently remodeled, nautical-inspired The Obstinate Daughter. Try the Frogmore chowder!
Pic by @nikkishum
We hopped back on the trolley to one of America’s oldest working plantations, Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens. What’s most striking is the long drive leading up to the mansion (you’ve seen it in Gone with the Wind and The Notebook) lined in live oak trees that were planted in 1743. You can literally feel the history of the plantation. It existed even before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
That night, we had another local-ingredient, Lowcountry-inspired dinner at another James Beard Award–winning restaurant, FIG, by chef Mike Lata.
Day 4, Sunday:
Lovely blue home
The rest of the girls left, but I stayed an extra day to take in more of the city. It was so nice to go for a long, leisurely walk and just wander along The Battery, Rainbow Row, and back to King Street. Rainbow Row is different to experience on foot than by carriage.
After working up an appetite, I went to The Daily for lunch. Being a fan of cold-pressed juices and quality coffee, this place was ideal for me. I wish I had the chance to go to Butcher & Bee, but it was packed by 1 p.m. Even if you don’t go to either of those places to eat, go to see the America-inspired mural by Charleston native Shephard Fairey in the parking lot.
I always love when I have the opportunity to take a yoga class in other places. I heard about Charleston Power Yoga, affectionately called "CPY" by the locals. I went to the downtown location and took Bethany’s class. It was packed with a youthful and positive vibe. That night I dined solo at Minero (another James Beard Award–winning restaurant by Chef Sean Brock). I liked the casual vibe and the simplicity of the menu—one of my favorite meals in Charleston.
Day 5, Monday:
On my final day and after a really long run, I went to Hominy Grill for lunch. Basically every blog I read about Charleston said to go there. The shrimp and grits with a side of lima beans was delicious, and I felt like I was eating real Southern food. At least “grits are good for you” there.
As you can tell, we basically ate, drank, and walked our way through Charleston. I think with it being our first time there, that was the way to do it. What stood out to me is that everything from the arts and culture, architecture, and shops to the food fully embody Charleston. There seems to be so much pride. For example, the talented chefs use fresh, local ingredients and pair it with traditional Southern cuisine in a way that perfectly elevates it. They’re not trying to be somewhere they’re not, but they’re improving what they have. The same description can be used for the people, boutiques, and hotels. I absolutely love the city. The Southern charm has definitely charmed me!