Ride the Waves in Charleston

1. Where to Stay

Restoration on King offers apartment-size suites with outdoor patios.Photo: Courtesy of Restoration on King

Sleep inside a meticulously-restored historic building at The Wentworth Mansion (from $380), originally a four-floor home built for a wealthy cotton producer in 1885. Prop your surfboard up under twelve-foot ceilings in one of the 21 spacious rooms and suites, many of which are outfitted with chandeliers and original gas fireplaces. In the evening, grab a bourbon from the honor bar and sip it on the rooftop cupola or enjoy complimentary wine and canapés in the sunroom.

Skip the hassle of planning for a beach day at Restoration on King (from $299), where chairs and towels are available to borrow and the staff will pack you a lunch from nearby gourmet provisions shop Caviar & Bananas (prices vary). Spread throughout four connected buildings on historic King Street, the hotel consists of sixteen sprawling suites with exposed-brick walls and modern, fully-equipped kitchens. In the morning, enjoy complimentary breakfast featuring pastries from Saffron Bakery delivered to your door in a picnic basket.

Soak up rays on the roof deck of the Charleston Place Hotel (from $245), the grand dame of the city with 444 rooms and suites in the heart of downtown. Take advantage of the summer promotion that provides guests a $75 voucher for use at the in-house spa and the Charleston Grill, where chef Michelle Weaver serves highbrow takes on traditional Lowcountry cuisine.

2. Where to Eat

Hominy Grill is a popular brunch destination that serves award-winning Southern fare.Photo: Courtesy of Hominy Grill

Find late-night eats and a restaurant-industry crowd at Butcher & Bee, where hearty sandwiches (from $8) on the ever-changing menu featuring ingredients like barbecued squash and Korean short ribs are served between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., Thursday through Saturday (slightly lighter fare is served daily, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Add a side of juicy chicken wings ($5) brined and spiced like pastrami, and grab a vintage tractor seat at the enormous communal table. The industrial space, tucked underneath an overpass at the north end of King Street, is also the only BYOB option in town.

Indulge in Southern fare pushed to James Beard Award-winning heights at Hominy Grill, headed by owner-chef Robert Stehling, one of the pioneers who helped revitalize the Elliotsborough neighborhood in the nineties. Make a reservation for the popular brunch and attempt to finish the Big Nasty ($9)—a fried chicken and cheese sandwich loaded onto a buttery biscuit and smothered in gravy.

Experience a low-key take on Charleston’s locavore trend at Two Boroughs Larder, an amalgam of a market and a gourmet watering hole. The regularly-changing menu features nose-to-tail-inspired plates like corned lamb tongue ($9), fried pig ear ($13), and roasted lamb neck ($29). From the market, you can pick up provisions like local craft beers, charcuterie, and artisanal cheeses.

3. What to Do

Charleston's beaches offer well-formed breaks for surfers.Photo: arbuford24, via Flickr

Get schooled by experienced wave-catchers at Rogue Wave Surf Shop, which opened late last year. Private lessons ($40) are ideal for beginners looking to learn how to surf in Charleston’s modest but well-formed breaks. In the shop, you’ll find boards and wetsuits as well as a selection of surf-stylish plaid shirts, pocket watches, and wing tips.

Follow the laid-back instructors at Charleston SUP Safaris on stand-up paddle boards in brackish water near the ocean ($45 for two hours). Wear a bathing suit, flip-flops, sunblock, and a hat; they’ll provide everything else you need to glide along the glassy surface of the Folly River after a brief introductory session. Cool off from the sun by taking a tumble into the water, but watch out for shallows so you don’t end up knee-deep in mud.

Learn how to take to the skies on a kiteboard from the specialists at Catch Some Air ($99). Local beaches have perfect side-shore winds that blow almost year-round, allowing gentle pushes along the coast instead of offshore gales that drag you out to sea. The instructor-to-student ratio is kept low, making it easy for beginners to quickly master the necessary skills of balance and control.

4. Insider’s Tip

Folly Beach can get crowded but it has bigger waves than you'll find elsewhere.Photo: arbuford24, via Flickr

Charleston’s beaches offer a variety of surfing experiences, so choose according to your skill level. At Folly Beach, the most straightforward of surf spots, you’ll find bigger, more challenging breaks well suited to short boards, while the Washout, where Hurricane Hugo wiped out a swath of shoreline, has quick, tubular waves. Make the trek out to Sullivan’s Island or Isle of Palms for more solitude and waves that are better suited for long boards.

5. Oddball Day

Awendaw Green hosts bluegrass concerts and weekly hoedowns. Photo: Courtesy of Awendaw Green

Spend a day out of the water exploring the traditions of Lowcountry cuisine and checking out local fashion. Grab coffee and a banana-Nutella turnover ($3.50) at Hope and Union before driving downtown on King a couple of miles to the historic Thomas Elfe House. There, native Charlestonian Annie Mayo conducts demos ($40 per person) of Lowcountry recipes like pimento cheese and red rice, and explains the origins of each dish. Afterward, walk about six blocks north to the Bike Shoppe, which rents wheels by the hour ($7). Weave through the tiny streets and alleyways along East Bay Street and the Battery toward Bull Street Gourmet & Market, where you can load your baskets with jars of pickled okra and hot pepper jelly to bring home. Next, swing by The Library for some Southern-inspired vintage dresses or pedal up to Cannon Street where guys can suit up in the updated preppy styles of Indigo & Cotton. If you’re in need of some sugar, grab a pecan cupcake ($3) from Sugar Bakeshop before stopping in next door at the tiny workshop and millinery museum Magar Hatworks (appointments required), where Leigh Magar uses over 400 antique and vintage hat forms to create fedoras, bonnets, and fezes. Head back down King Street to share a Lowcountry boil ($17.99) for supper at Virginia’s on King. Return your bike and get back in the car to head to Charleston Outdoor Adventures for a 90-minute sunset ride on a small boat ($40 per person) through low-lying marshes. If you’re hungry again, stop by The Grocery for small plates of updated Lowcountry fare like house-pickled green tomatoes ($4), but otherwise try to catch a bluegrass performance at Awendaw Green. Their main hoedowns take place Wednesday nights, but occasionally there are Saturday night concerts in the barn. If it’s an off night, console yourself with a handcrafted drink or two (from $9) on the rooftop patio of The Cocktail Club, where ingredients include locally grown concord grapes and strawberries.

6. Links

Get a detailed report on surfing conditions for all of Charleston’s beaches at Magic Seaweed.

Preview the swells at Folly Beach with the Tides Hotel’s surfcam.

Find out about local surfing events at Carolina Coast Surf Club.

Visit the Charleston Place Hotel’s Hidden Charleston blog for staff picks on what to do, see, and eat around town.

Ride the Waves in Charleston