Charleston, SC, Part 1: Charleston Gets Top Vote for Best City—Again

This is Part 1 in Dave Zuchowski’s three-part series on Charleston, South Carolina—voted the best city in the U.S. and Canada in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards for the second year in a row. Check out Part 2 here, and tune in for Part 3 next Friday.

Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards issue

Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards issue

Lucky Charleston! Maybe make that magnetic, alluring Charleston.

The South Carolina port city overlooking the Atlantic definitely has something going for it, and people are realizing it in large numbers. The latest figure provided by the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) claims that 4.76 million visitors dropped by in 2013 to soak in “The Holy City’s” Southern hospitality, charming architecture, trendy restaurants and Palmetto sensibility.

If that weren’t enough, Charleston took the top vote in Travel + Leisure magazine’s World’s Best Awards survey for “Top Cities, US and Canada” for 2014, an accolade it earned for the second year in the row. It also came in second place behind only Kyoto, Japan for the “Top Cities” in the world. The August 2014 World’s Best Awards issue, released on July 18, also gave Charleston the nod in other categories as well, including four of the ten winners in the “Small CIty Hotels” category (with fewer than 100 rooms).

Dan Blumenstock, chair of the CVB’s Board of Governors, said that winning the World’s Best vote two years in a row solidifies the vote and gives the designation credibility.

“Charleston is a very special place,” he said. “Some destinations may have one or two tourist assets; Charleston is much broader in that it has both a natural and man-made beauty and attracts a diverse group of people—families, couples, individual travelers, beach lovers, history lovers, foodies who come to enjoy our fantastic restaurants, and Lowcountry cuisine and people who appreciate our unique architecture.”

Golf course on Kiawah Island (Credit: Charleston CVB)

Golf course on Kiawah Island (Credit: Charleston CVB)

“Add to that our water resources—harbor tours, commercial fishing boats, four main beaches at Folly, Kiawah, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, a location on the Intercoastal Waterway and recreational activities such as paddleboarding, which has become very popular recently, parasailing, kayaking, canoeing, jet skiing and diving, and you end up with a very unique destination.”

More on the “World’s Best Awards”
First launched in 1971, Travel + Leisure published its first World’s Best Awards issue 19 years ago. This year, approximately 17,000 readers (the majority are from the US) cast their votes in the World’s Best Awards survey. According to a recent T + L reader profile survey, 53.9 percent are between the ages of 25 and 54, and the same percentage holds true for those with a household income of more than $150,000.

This year, readers were invited to participate in the World’s Best Awards survey through Travel + Leisure magazine (January, February, March, and April 2014 issues), T+L tablet editions and newsletters, and online at travelandleisure.com.

Deep sea fishing charters give visitors a chance to catch local species such as mahi-mahi, redfish, sheepshead, trout, cobia, grouper, tuna, snapper and wahoo, and at Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, visitors can watch the shrimp boats unload and even buy shrimp right off the boat.

Colorful example of Charleston architecture (Credit: Bill Rockwell)

Colorful example of Charleston architecture (Credit: Bill Rockwell)

Blumenstock claims that, compared to places like New York and San Francisco, Charleston is also a better bargain that gives you more bang for your tourist buck. For one, he said that hotel rates are lower and restaurants are generally less expensive.

“Our restaurant scene began gearing up in the late 1990s and escalated even more in the past seven or eight years,” he said. “We have a strong farm to table movement, and many local farmers often deliver fresh fruit and vegetables to the restaurants throughout the year.”

One big player in the Charleston culinary scene, Sean Brock, executive chef and owner of Husk, took home the James Beard award for “Best Chef in the Southeast” in 2010. A year later, Bon Appétit named Husk the “Best New Restaurant in America.” Most recently, Brock was a finalist for the James Beard “Outstanding Chef” award for 2013—and a semifinalist in 2014.

“The city also has many ‘hidden gems’ such a the small local restaurants out by Folly Beach, like Taco Boy,” Blumenstock said. “Another gem, the Wreck in Mt. Pleasant, is housed in what looks like a wrecked boat that serves some really great seafood, and the Tattooed Moose’s famous duck confit club and French fries cooked in duck fat was featured on Guy Fieri’s Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives on the Food Network.”

Bridge at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (Credit: Bill Rockwell)

Bridge at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (Credit: Bill Rockwell)

Downtown, other interesting eateries include the Cru Café and Butcher & Bee. Blumenstock is also high on the city’s craft beer scene and boutique breweries such as Palmetto, Westbrook, Coast, Frothy Beard and Holy City. Charleston comes by its sanctimonious nickname perhaps by virtue of the prominence of churches on the low-rise cityscape and perhaps for the fact that Carolina was among the few original colonies to provide toleration for all religions, though it was not open to Roman Catholics.

One of Charleston’s unique things to do is its carriage ride lottery system. To help make sure the mules and carriages don’t congregate in the same area and tie up traffic, the driver pulls up to a booth at the beginning of a tour and gets a small ball that designates one of three routes he should take.

“A benefit for the rider is that they may get to take a different route each time they take a tour,” Blumenstock said.

While April is high season when accommodations are harder to come by, spring and fall are the major “blooming seasons” when the bulk of house and garden tours are offered, temperatures are more temperate and the humidity is lower.

Azaleas in bloom on Charleston's waterfront (Credit: Charleston CVB)

Azaleas in bloom on Charleston’s waterfront (Credit: Charleston CVB)

“Winter is very mild in Charleston,” Blumenstock said. “”Since I arrived here in 1994, it snowed only about ten times, and it doesn’t last long when it does fall. I even remember golfing on New Year’s Day one year.”

I had my own high season experience when I had a difficult time getting a B & B at the end of April. I managed to reserve a room at the Cannonboro Inn (800-235-8039) for two nights but had to find another place to stay for night three. After phoning around, I discovered that some of the properties in Mt. Pleasant, just across the lofty Arthur Ravenal, Jr. Bridge, had openings. I enjoyed my third night stay at a new Red Roof Inn (843-884-1411), conveniently located just 4.29 miles from center city.

“Tourism is a number one industry, not only in Charleston, but also in the state, with its destinations like Greenville, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach and Columbia, the state capital,” said Blumenstock. “Charleston has a great airport to get people here. Southwest flies direct to cities like Nashville, BWI, Chicago and Houston. Delta does the same to Atlanta, and US Airways flies direct to Charlotte, Philadelphia and Washington. Our airport is currently undergoing a $206 million renovation. When completed in September 2015, the new design will be open and airy and have a Charleston look and feel.”

With all its charms, Charleston has achieved Hall of Fame status for having appeared among the top ten in the list of Top Cities in the United States and Canada for at least the past ten years. Previously, the CVB has created entire marketing campaigns surrounding the awards. This year, they did a special promotion with Travel + Leisure in New York the day of the World’s Best Awards dinner yesterday, on July 24, in which they gave away bowties with the tagline “Tie one on for Charleston.”

For more information on Charleston, phone 800-774-0006 or explorecharleston.com.

Dave Zuchowski

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About the Author

Dave Zuchowski
Dave Zuchowski has been writing about travel for more than 25 years, and his articles have made the pages of many newspapers and magazines across the country, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Tribune-Review, the Erie Times, the Hartford Currant, the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star, AAA, Pathfinders, West Virginia Magazine, Southsider, and Westsylvania. For 10 years, he was the travel correspondent for the 86 newspaper consortium, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., and his travel articles are posted to the cnhinews.com website.His travels have taken him to Europe seven times, to Mexico several times, to the Caribbean, Costa Rica, almost all of Canada's provinces from Newfoundland to British Columbia and Vancouver Island, and all 50 US states. Some of his favorite places are the Cote d'Azur, California, Portugal, France, Oregon, Mexico, Napa and Sonoma, New England and Quebec - both the city and province.

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