Where: Charleston, South Carolina
Why: Its stellar location, historic charm, and views of the city can’t be beat
People travel to Charleston to soak up history, so one of its oldest hotels is an ideal choice to experience that step back in time. The Francis Marion Hotel opened in 1924 in the historic district, offering a “Goldilocks” location – just right, with its short walk to the charming streets and homes the city is known for, but without being in the midst of tourist overload. As a unique claim to fame, it’s Charleston’s only high-rise hotel in the historic area, so at 12 floors high and 234 rooms, there are plenty of wonderful views out the windows to spot famous landmarks.
We checked in mid-afternoon, and approved of the lobby’s elegant, traditional setting right off the bat. Guests were happily perched on comfortable chairs in the blue-and-gold lobby, filled with nice touches such as original painted columns and ceiling trim, crystal chandeliers, a grand piano and a patterned carpet that seemed to belong to another era. As one of those little amenities that means a lot, the lobby has spa water and cookies or coffee at times throughout the day, a way to get fortified while you plan your day.
See related story: Best Southern Hotels Where We Always Feel Welcome
Rooms are spacious, most with sitting areas and a desk. Bathrooms are on the small side, but quite functional with nice toiletries. Ask for a room on a higher floor, since having a view of the city from a vantage point like the 9th floor is such a treat; cities like Charleston tend to have historic covenants that prevent anything from being too tall, allowing the church steeples and stately trees to be seen. Waking up to a sunrise over the city is a welcome experience.
When it’s time to explore, the location works well. Turn right out the front door and head down famous King Street, overflowing with stores and pubs, then follow it down to South Battery Street and the gorgeous historic houses along Charleston Harbor.
Go left out the front door up King Street to a plethora of other sites and restaurants: well-known establishments such as Virginia’s on King and Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit. (Insider tip: Charleston is a foodie’s mecca, and and it’s fun to find a new gem such as The Establishment restaurant; locals love it, and the imaginative cocktails and fresh catches are top-notch.)
Marion Square across from the hotel is a grassy park and home to a Saturday farmers market. The hotel is only a couple blocks from The College of Charleston, often touted as the prettiest college campus in the U.S., so don’t miss that easy destination.
The hotel’s in-house restaurant, The Swamp Fox, is a big hit for hearty breakfasts, but it’s an easy choice for dinner, too, with Lowcountry specialties like she-crab soup and shrimp and grits. The other side of the hotel’s street level is home to a convenient Starbucks for grab-and-go items.
Charleston can be a visual overload, so consider this a worthy tip: pick a hotel such as The Francis Marion that can be a relaxing respite from the busy streets. Walking cities are the best, but even better with a quiet place to unwind afterwards.
– Lisa Mowry