25 Reasons We Love Charleston

Gracious! America's most genteel city is behaving like a frisky debutante.

10. Preserving the past
The Old Slave Mart Museum has the last intact slave-auction gallery in South Carolina. The museum has been closed to the public for the last 20 years, but it has plans to reopen this fall. It will acknowledge the city's disturbing history: Roughly 40 percent of all slaves who were shipped to this country between 1700 and 1775 disembarked in Charleston Harbor. 6 Chalmers St., 843/958-6467, oldslavemart.com, $7.

11. South beach
Folly Beach, just 12 miles south of downtown, has a laid-back vibe, authentic crab shacks, trinket shops, and a surfer-friendly stretch known as the Washout. follybeach.com.

12. And the food is good
Mustard- and olive-colored walls, rustic hutches, and dreamy landscapes by local photographer John Duckworth set the stage for the elegant fare served at FIG, short for Food Is Good. Popular dishes include a garlicky frisée salad garnished with lardons, and South Carolina lamb with a goat cheese and potato puree. 232 Meeting St., 843/805-5900, eatatfig.com, entrées from $20.

13. Bridging the gap
In 2005, the 2.5-mile, eight-lane Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge was completed, connecting downtown Charleston to the suburb of Mount Pleasant. (It's named after a former state senator whom many South Carolinians affectionately know as Cousin Arthur.) Bike the Bridge Rentals offers three-hour, self-guided tours. 360 Concord St., 843/853-2453, bikethebridgerentals.com, $15.

14. Better homes and gardens
Each fall, the heavy wooden doors and garden gates of the city's private historic houses swing open to the public. Throughout late September and October, around 180 residences participate in the Preservation Society of Charleston's Fall Tours of Homes & Gardens, some of which are evening walks (147 King St., 843/722-4630, preservationsociety.org, $45). Certain homes, such as the Edmondston-Alston House--where Robert E. Lee took refuge during the Civil War--offer tours all year long (21 E. Battery St., 843/722-7171, middletonplace.org, $10).

15. The telltale tavern
Sullivan's Island is a sleepy town (population 1,873) with wide, sandy beaches. It's also the site of Fort Moultrie, a significant battleground during the American Revolution and the Civil War (1214 Middle St., nps.gov/fosu, $3). Edgar Allan Poe was stationed as a soldier on the island from 1827 to 1828, and Poe's Tavern pays the author tribute--of a sort--with such dishes as Edgar's Drunken Chili and a Pit & Pendulum burger made with applewood-smoked bacon and sharp cheddar (2210 Middle St., 843/883-0083, poestavern.com, sandwiches from $8).

16. Have a Pleasant day
Little has changed in Mount Pleasant's old town over the last 70 years: Thick malted-milk shakes and mortar-and-pestle-ground prescriptions (called compounds) are still sold at Pitt Street Pharmacy (111 Pitt St., 843/884-4051, pittstreetpharmacy.com), and the Old Village Post House remains the best inn in town. The B&B's six rooms have original hardwood floors, 10-foot ceilings, and soothing whirlpool tubs (101 Pitt St., 800/549-7678, oldvillageposthouse.com, from $145).

17. Here's the beef
Charleston's revered downtown burger shack, Your Place, recently relocated to Mount Pleasant. Die-hards may bemoan the new nautical-themed decor--life preservers and photos of lighthouses cover the walls--but the monstrous cheeseburgers topped with bacon and jalapeños are still drawing them across the bridge. 217 Lucas St., 843/388-8002, burger $6.50.

18. This little piggy went to market...
The stalls at the Charleston Farmers Market, held Saturdays from 8 A.M. to 2 P.M., aren't limited to fresh produce. Vendors sell everything from pulled pork sandwiches at the Omelette Station to sweetgrass scrubs at The Charleston Soap Chef. Marion Square, 843/724-7309, closed late December to early April.

19. On the sauce
Barbecue in Charleston is all about the right base, but Ciarán Duffy, the chef at Tristan, has added an unexpected ingredient to the mix: cocoa. His sauce comes in three flavors--chocolate, chocolate chili, and chocolate pomegranate. 55 S. Market St., 843/534-2155, tristandining.com, entrées from $17.


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