The main artery of downtown, King Street is the thoroughfare where Charleston's past and present meet. Chic and edgy boutiques mingle with grande dame hotels and multi-generation owned local businesses. Antique shops from the 1920s are steps away from the ever-changing restaurant and sophisticated cocktail scene. To best navigate King Street, get to know its three informal districts: Upper King (from Calhoun Street to Spring Street), dubbed as the design and dining district; Middle King (from Market Street to Calhoun Street), the fashion district; and Lower King (from Broad Street to Market Street), the antiques district. The second Sunday of each month is the Second Sundays on King festival, when the street closes to cars, and pedestrians can enjoy outdoor dining, live music and deals from local retailers.
Traditionally known as the design district thanks to beautiful brick buildings, stunning churches, art galleries and housewares shops, the area has recently become a distinct culinary destination. Although it would be difficult to partake in the entire dining landscape on Upper King, there are a few standouts. The Ordinary, from Chef Mike Lata, is a fresh-from-the-Atlantic seafood restaurant housed in a former bank building with incredibly high ceilings and an oyster bar right in front of the old vault. Butcher and Bee is a favorite sandwich and small plates eatery among locals, thanks to their BYOB policy, late-night eats and daily menu offering only the freshest seasonal ingredients. The Macintosh is rooted in locally-sourced Lowcountry ingredients, and features a unique seafood charcuterie program. Head upstairs to sister lounge The Cocktail Club for a craft libation made with in-house prepared infusions and rare liquors. For even more cocktail creativity, the bar menu at Proof features traditional favorites like a Sazerac or Old Fashioned, and original creations like the Blood & Sand made with Dewar's White Label, Carpano Antica, Cherry Heering and fresh orange juice.
While fashionable Middle King is home to standard favorites like Michael Kors, Urban Outfitters and J. Crew, why come to Charleston to shop for threads you can find anywhere? At Worthwhile, regular buying trips around the world has led to a highly curated mix of high-end designs from Phoebe English, Rick Owens and Serie Numerica, and fragrances by Laboratory Perfumes, AESOP skincare products and pre-made detox bath concoctions from Pursoma. Year-old boutique Ibu features items expertly crafted by women artisans and designers from developing countries around the world, handpicked by store owner Susan Hull Walker. Walker's mission is to propel women into economic self-sufficiency through their beautiful handmade work, so expect to find unbelievably soft pashminas, intricate bead work and colorful textiles from Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Rwanda. To complete your look, pick up a unique piece of estate jewelry from Croghan's Jewel Box, the oldest family owned jewelry store in Charleston.
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Charleston is one of the best cities in the south for antique shopping, thanks to its history as a port city welcoming goods from around the world for centuries. George C. Birlant & Co. is one of the oldest and largest antique establishments in the southeast, specializing in 18th and 19th century furniture, silver, china, crystal and brass items for the home. The pieces also range from exorbitant to approachable, allowing the most novice antique hunter to find something they'll love. Nearby, John Pope Antiques offers conversation pieces like harps, elaborate sculptures and ornate chandeliers. Although not an antique shop, Berlin's menswear boutique on lower King is one of Charleston's longest-operating stores, with a bespoke collection of custom suits and designer labels.
Where to Stay
Francis Marion Hotel
It's easy to imagine horse and carriages pulling up to the stately front entrance of the Francis Marion Hotel when it opened its doors in 1924. Located on King Street, directly across from Marion Square Park and the Charleston Farmers Market, the historic property is in the heart of downtown, within walking distance to restaurants, beautiful gardens and colorful antebellum homes. Ask for a southeast-facing room above the 6th floor to enjoy views of Charleston Harbor.
From $209, 387 King Street, Charleston. 843-722-0600, www.francismarionhotel.com/
Fresh from a complete renovation, The Restoration boutique hotel just off King Street, reopened in early March to unveil The Watch Rooftop Kitchen & Spirits restaurant and bar, the crystal-themed Amethyst Spa, The Rise Coffee Shop and a luxury retail space called The Port Mercantile. The 54 sleek and sophisticated guestrooms incorporate design elements of exposed brick and calming shades of indigo blue, and feature oversized bathrooms fitted with exclusive Beekman 1802 amenities. The jewel of the property is the Culture Library, where guests can relax with a drink and explore the property's commissioned photography exhibit and their collection of Assouline luxury books on art, travel and fashion.
From $299, 75 Wentworth Street, Charleston. 843-518-5100, www.therestorationhotel.com/
Getting there: Charleston International Airport is serviced by six major airline carriers, but Delta Airlines is the only airline that offers nonstop flights to and from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
More information: explorecharleston.com