If you’re already starting to think about your next winter getaway, consider Charleston. While the temperatures may not reach Caribbean levels of warmth, the charming Southern city makes up for it with a full calendar of music and food festivals throughout the entire season. Between that and some exciting new restaurant and hotel openings, you’ll want to book a flight right now.
Eat Sichuan at Kwei Fei’s new space
After a year in a weekend-only pop-up space in Charleston’s North Central neighborhood, Kwei Fei (pronounced kh-why fay) opened in a permanent space on James Island on November 7, 2018—and now serves dinner every night from Tuesday to Saturday as well as Sunday brunch. Its Sichuan-forward menu is both unusual and memorable for Charleston: Make sure to get the green beans, Sea Island noodles, Hong Yu Ji Kuai chicken, and Crescent dumplings with pork for your table. Even if you’re typically not a chicken-wing person, you’ll be missing out if you don’t order their juicy wings finished with a spicy-yet-sweet dry rub. 1977 Maybank Highway, kweifei.com
Take in Charleston’s thriving jazz scene
The fifth annual Charleston Jazz Festival takes place between January 24 and 27, 2019, at venues throughout town. Bobby McFerrin will perform with local group Ranky Tanky at the Charleston Gaillard Center on January 26; the festival’s full line-up will be announced soon. charlestonjazz.com
Head out to Boone Hall for the Lowcountry Oyster Festival
On January 27, 2019, Boone Hall Plantation will host the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival. With more than 80,000 pounds of bivalves shucked in one day, it qualifies as the world’s largest oyster festival. Expect shucking and eating contests throughout the day, in addition to lots of wine, live music, and more. 1235 Long Point Road, Mt. Pleasant, $17.50 in advance ($25 at gate), charlestonrestaurantassociation.com
Explore Charleston’s Art Museums
Thirty-five years after her first solo show at the Gibbes Museum, the Charleston art institute is revisiting the work of the late American sculptor Louise Nevelson. A Dark Place of Dreams focuses on Nevelson’s influence on three contemporary female artists—Chakaia Booker, Lauren Fenderstock, and Kate Gilmore—and features powerful, dark sculptural assemblages from all four women throughout the museum’s third floor. Through January 6, 2019; 130 Meeting Street, $15, gibbesmuseum.org
The largest photography exhibit about the U.S. South in the 21st century, Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South, showcases work from 56 photographers across two contemporary art spaces, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and the City Gallery at Waterfront Park. The photographs vary immensely in subject matter and offer a provocative look at what life in the South (in Charleston and well beyond) is like in the first two decades of this century. Through March 2, 2019; 161 Calhoun Street and 34 Prioleau Street, free, southboundproject.org
Get up close to regional wildlife (and dogs!)
If you’re in town over Presidents’ Day weekend, don’t miss the Southeastern Wildlife Expo (SEWE) that is being held at various venues in downtown from February 15 to 17, 2019. The largest wildlife and nature event of its kind in the United States, SEWE showcases fine art featuring animals, conservation efforts, as well as sporting demonstrations. Highlights include a Dock Dogs competition at Brittlebank Park where pups compete in water jumping competitions, and Birds of Prey Flight Demos in Marion Square with falcons, owls, and eagles. sewe.com
Eat your way through Charleston Wine + Food
The 14th annual Charleston Wine+Food Festival takes place at the tail end of winter, from March 6 to 10, 2019. However, some events are already starting to sell out, so it’s best to plan ahead for this popular event that celebrates the region’s unique food culture with excursions, classes, and special meals throughout the area. charlestonwineandfood.com
Check in to Hotel Bella Grace
Just half a block from Marion Square, Hotel Bella Grace opened in August 2018 adjacent to the restored 1830 Delaney House that serves as the property’s dining and meeting space (go in the afternoon for a glass of wine on the porch). Each of the property’s 50 rooms are in the new building and feature marble details and contemporary art by women artists. Anyone who plans on staying in Charleston for longer than a weekend can also put the fully equipped kitchens in each Studio Suite to use. As an added bonus, the hotel’s concierge service will do your grocery shopping for you. 115 Calhoun Street, hotelbellagrace.com
Cocktail bars to keep an eye out for . . .
Although not open as of publication time, two new cocktail bars are about to make their debuts in Charleston soon. The Citrus Club—the long-awaited rooftop bar at The Dewberry—is ready to start welcoming guests any day now. Go for tiki-esque drinks and epic sunset views on the expansive outdoor deck. With a select number of spots reserved for non-hotel guests, your best bet getting in here is to book a room at The Dewberry. 334 Meeting Street, thedewberrycharleston.com
Just a few blocks away on Upper King Street, a sophisticated cocktail and champagne bar called Bourbon N’ Bubbles is also nearly finished. The front room is decorated with brass light fixtures and dark wood—perfect for sipping bourbon—as well as a separate space in the back with a semicircular bar, cozy velvet banquettes, and sconces that bring to mind oversized champagne bubbles. 570 King Street, bourbonnbubbles.com
Lyndsey Matthews Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.