Spring may bring blooming azaleas and magnolias to Charleston, but don’t overlook fall in this charming southern city—even though it’s not exactly a leaf-peeping destination. Once summer’s humidity tapers off, the autumn months bring mild highs of 76 degrees to lows of just 58 degrees with plenty of sunshine and clear skies.
The MOJA Arts Festival is an annual celebration of African American and Caribbean culture in Charleston. This year it takes place from September 30 through October 10 and will be scaled down to follow current CDC guidelines. Visitors can still look forward to public art initiatives, pop-up art exhibits, and smaller musical and dance performances hosted in outdoor park settings.
With more than 30 breweries and brewpubs—like Holy City Brewing and Edmund’s Oast to name a few—Charleston celebrates its beer as much as it does its cocktail scene. The eighth annual Charleston Beer Week takes place October 29 through November 7 and features more than 50 events over 10 days.
Romare Bearden: Abstraction debuts at the Gibbes Museum of Art on October 15, 2021, and runs through January 9, 2022, before traveling to other museums in the United States. The exhibit features some 55 abstract paintings and collages from the 20th-century African American modernist. While entrance to the museum’s first floor is free, tickets must be purchased for special exhibitions like this one. Admission for adults is $12, $10 for students and seniors 62 years or more, and $6 for children ages 4 to 17.
There are several new restaurants in Charleston to check out. Try Laurel, a relaxed pintxo spot (think boquerones, lamb meatballs, and grilled octopus) with plenty of wines from Spain and Portugal, located on Rutledge Avenue near the MUSC campus. JL’s Southwest Brisket Burgers opened in late summer in the trailer in the backyard of Lewis Barbecue, featuring food inspired by pitmaster John Lewis’s hometown of El Paso, Texas, including Hatch green chile cheeseburgers, queso, and frozen custards. Slated to open in mid-September, Brasserie la Banque will bring French brasserie classics like steak frites, bouillabaisse, and beef tartare to downtown Charleston.
Where to stay in Charleston
Finding a chic boutique hotel or charming inn located in a historic mansion isn’t hard in Charleston. But if you’ve been before and want to try something different, there are several new options in town in 2021.
The Ryder Hotel
Book now: from $251 per night, expedia.com
The Ryder Hotel opened on King Street in the Historic District in spring 2021. Designed by local firm Cortney Bishop Design, the 91-room boutique hotel features beachy decor like rattan furniture and earth-toned textiles. Be sure to head to the second floor for cocktails and snacks at Little Palm, a poolside bar from the same hospitality group behind Manhattan’s Death & Co.
The Zero George
Book now: from $371 per night, expedia.com
The Zero George has been an AFAR favorite ever since it opened in 2013 in three restored residences and two brick carriage houses in Charleston’s Ansonborough neighborhood. In summer 2021, the hotel debuted the Residences at Zero George—five suites designed for long-term stays with kitchens—in a 19th-century building across the street.
Book now: from $309 per night, expedia.com
Over in the French Quarter, the upcoming 50-room Loutrel is now taking reservations for stays this fall. Guests can look forward to decor inspired by Charleston’s public and private gardens, plus a rooftop terrace and bar.
Although the long-awaited International African American Museum (IAAM) and memorial to the nine victims of the Mother Emanuel church shooting both won’t be unveiled until 2022, there are many ways to explore Charleston’s African American history right now. For an unflinching look at Charleston’s role in the slave trade, visit the Old Slave Mart Museum or take a walking tour with Frankly Charleston. Visitors can also learn about the contemporary culture of the descendants of enslaved Africans in South Carolina’s Lowcountry with Gullah Geechee Tours.
A note on COVID in Charleston: As of August 2021, roughly 46 percent of South Carolina residents are fully vaccinated against coronavirus. While that rate is higher in Charleston County with closer to 6 out of 10 vaccinated, the city is back in its Phase 3 COVID response in August 2021. That means restaurants and shops can require masks indoors and limit the number of guests (masks are required indoors in city buildings). Certain indoor venues, including the Charleston Music Hall, will require proof of vaccination or negative COVID test results starting this September.
>>Next: The Best Cities in the U.S. in 2021
Lyndsey Matthews Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.