In South Carolina Lowcountry, you can walk in George Washington’s footsteps in the morning, eat a lavish lunch prepared by a James Beard-recognized chef, travel across the harbor to Fort Sumter, then dine on fresh oysters steamed over an open fire at dinnertime. But while history and food are the two pillars of Charleston’s tourist appeal, the Holy City's cultural offerings don’t end there.
Charleston’s theater scene has a rich history -- the first theater built in the American colonies, Dock Street Theatre, opened in the French Quarter in 1736. Rebuilt as a hotel in 1809 and reopened as a theater in 1937, the room still anchors the local scene (and received a $19 million restoration in 2010).
But just as Charleston isn’t resting on its culinary laurels (envelope-pushing eateries like the globally-flavored Tu and tropical-inspired Wiki Wiki Sandbar still open at a breakneck pace), its theatrical offerings have expanded, too. Startups like What If? Productions have joined original alternative outlets such as PURE Theatre to build a fertile environment where professional-quality shows are performed nightly. The buzz culminates each spring, when the Spoleto USA and Piccolo Spoleto festivals debut international works and showcase the city’s best theatrical talent.
A city with only 135,000 inhabitants (775,000 in the greater metro area), Charleston now offers a nightlife culture closing in on the likes of New York and Chicago, with over 15 production companies calling it home. It’s made South Carolina’s newly largest city a place where you can eat a terrific meal, take in a memorable play, and stroll home through historic neighborhoods preserved in time.