Walk up and down King Street in Charleston and it’s easy to see that money flirts with charm. So many cobblestoned paths lead to high-end hotels, wine bars, antique stores, restaurants, and apparel boutiques. But no worries, you can still carve out a quality weekend at this Southern hotspot without blowing a lot of cash.
For starters, don't rent a car. Not only is parking in downtown Charleston pricey, it’s also difficult to find spots to slide into. After ponying up around $80 for round-trip transportation from Charleston International Airport, take advantage of the free trolley that runs up and down King and Meeting Streets, plus two other routes in downtown Charleston. Charleston Green Taxi charges a flat $7 fee for downtown trips.
Here, more tips for an affordable weekend getaway in Charleston:
Where to Stay
Some of the city's finest and most well-known properties include the posh Belmond Charleston Place and Francis Marion Hotel, whose weekend rates start from around $360-$460 and $309-$329 respectively. For the more cost-conscious, look to Charming Inns, a collection of boutique hotels charging $250 per night on average. Two are on Lower King Street: Fulton Lane Inn and Kings Courtyard Inn. Stays include a complimentary breakfast (of coffee, tea, juice, toast, fruit, yogurt, and pastries) either delivered to the room or taken in the courtyard, not to mention a nightly wine and cheese happy hour. Four-poster beds are draped in crocheted lace, and some rooms feature a fireplace.
Where to Eat
On King Street alone are numerous spots to imbibe and nosh. It's no exaggeration to say that new places open every month, but here's what's hot right now: Each menu item is named for a famous driving route at Motobar -- a motorcycle-themed sandwich, salad and smoothies place opened last November -- like the Auto Bahn Mi Dog ($7). You can also cut down on the bill with Union Provisions', which quietly opened inside a 114-year-old restored bank last summer, with a brand-new lunch service that includes local specialties like fried-oyster salad ($12) and grilled-shrimp flatbread ($13). Charleston native Jeremiah Bacon cooked at Le Bernardin and Per Se in New York City before becoming executive chef at the three-year-old The Macintosh. Drop by for the Bacon Happy Hour, featuring $5 plates and cocktail on weekdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Following that, the dinner menu includes everything from spring peas and carrots with lamb neck to a seven-ounce CAB Deckle with bone-marrow bread pudding.
Another insider secret: Downtown Charleston’s delis are very high-end. At Bull Street Gourmet & Market, which has two locations, a hearty sandwich and a really nice bottle of wine won’t cost more than $25. The playful name of Caviar & Bananas truly applies -- you can get everything from sushi to duck-confit panini, along with a sweets counter and coffee bar.
For a casual snack, two all-day, European-style coffee bars have recently opened along upper King Street. Bite into a flaky croissant, displayed with other pastries inside a vintage armoire, and sip tahini hot chocolate or a cup of Stumptown Coffee Roasters at The Daily by Butcher & Bee. Saint Alban evokes a Paris salon with mirrored columns, a tufted sofa, and a fireplace. Whether you crave a croque monsieur ($11) or hard-boiled farm-egg sandwich with your coffee, it’s all here.
Where to Play
It might seem kitschy to splurge on an hour-long carriage ride, but it's still recommended if you like the idea of stepping back in time (and, here, who doesn't?). Palmetto Carriage is just one outfitter, charging $25 per person. Or a self-guided walking tour on and near Lower King Street could include strolling through the city’s oldest church graveyard at the Unitarian Church in Charleston, rich with Spanish moss and tall grasses. To get caught up on history, be sure to stop to read the plaques and signs outside of the homes in the South of Broad district. And don't miss the landmarks of Charleston’s waterfront, with views from Battery Park of Fort Sumter (where the first shot was fired in the Civil War), and the “Governor’s pew” (#43) at St. Michael’s Church, where George Washington sat in 1791.