Charleston is a tiny, Southern, coastal town with a brimming culinary scene, so it’s easy to try to attack in one day — but there are so many choices. Starting the day with a classic, waterside breakfast to ending the day with cool cocktails in one of the hottest new bars, here’s how to restaurant and bar hop to get the most out of your 24 hours.
8 a.m. — Marina Variety Store
Established in 1963, Marina Variety Store is part diner, part seafood house, and all stunning views. Snuggle up in a booth to overlook the Ashley River and watch the boats bob in the water. The placemats are paper, the coffee mugs don’t match, and condiments come in plastic containers, but a trip to Marina Variety is a trip back to a less-crowded, slower-moving Charleston. Go for a bowl of shrimp and grits or one of the eggs Benedict. It’s no frills here, but the hash browns are just fine without any fuss.
10 a.m. — Baba’s on Cannon
If cocktails before noon aren’t your thing (no judgement either way), Baba’s on Cannon also serves creative coffee creations like the iced peanut mocha or a solid iced coffee. Grab a seat on the sidewalk while you enjoy your caffeine and catch up on Instagram. For those with room for a snack, the breakfast tacos are a solid choice or the ham and butter sandwich on a crispy baguette.
11:30 a.m. — Bertha’s Kitchen
Long-standing Gullah restaurant Bertha’s Kitchen was knighted a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award winner in 2017, so the lines can get long — but they move fast. The purple-and-turquoise-blue North Charleston restaurant has been a favorite of locals in search of limas, fried chicken, okra stew, fried whiting, and red rice for over 30 years. Don’t skimp on the cornbread.
1 p.m. — Rodney Scott’s BBQ
Pitmaster Rodney Scott brought whole hog barbecue to Charleston by way of Hemingway, South Carolina, and it was an instant hit — he even won a James Beard Award for his work in 2019. Settle into a red booth at the North Central restaurant and order smoky pulled pork with a hint of vinegar or a comforting ribeye sandwich — don’t forget the collards and cornbread. Shove a bag of skins in your luggage for a great late-night snack.
5 p.m. — Chubby Fish
Find the tucked-away Chubby Fish on Bogard Street This no-reservations spot serves some of the most inventive seafood dishes in the Lowcountry. The nautical dining room is always full of diners looking for dishes like fish tail tempura or chili garlic shrimp. Get a few local oysters if they’re on the menu.
7 p.m. — Vern’s
Right down the street from Chubby Fish is hot new kid on the block Vern’s. First-time restauranteurs Daniel “Dano” and Bethany Heinze returned to Charleston from Los Angeles to build their ideal neighborhood spot in Cannonborough/Elliotborough. Dano draws from his work with hyper-local produce at McCrady’s, ingredient-based cooking in California, and travels through Europe with Bethany. He describes the food as “sharable American-style cuisine.” Early favorites from Vern’s include a perfectly roast chicken with brown butter jus, fresh campanelli with pepper-y rabbit, and escargot with pickled ramps.
9 p.m. — FIG
Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow opened FIG in 2003, and the Ansonborough restaurant continues to be a top destination for pristinely executed plates in Charleston. The kitchen is driven by what is local and available. Go for chef Jason Stanhope’s innovative takes on seasonal produce, like the tomato tarte tatin, and always opt for the chicken liver pate and ricotta gnocchi topped with lamb bolognese. Make a reservation far in advance for one of the white-clothed tables or try for a seat at the long bar up front. If you only have room for dessert, the sticky sorghum pudding is a classic.
10:30 p.m. — Last Saint
East Side bar Last Saint might be the hippest bar on the peninsula. Well-known Charleston bartender Joey Goetz (formerly of the Belmont and Bar George) opened the spot as a place for locals to get away from the raucous partiers regularly found filing into Upper King establishments most nights. Try the Bathhouse martini with a touch of sherry and olive brine or the Old Salt, a tequila drink topped with with grapefruit juice — both are well balanced and very much photo worthy.