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The Wonders of Charleston

Todd D. Smith shares the virtues of this charming Southern city, where gardenia and honeysuckle scent the air and horse-drawn carriages roll down cobblestone streets.

A dish from McGrady's

When Todd D. Smith was named last year as one of Orange County’s most influential people, an interviewer asked about his most important possession. Smith, director and CEO of the Orange County Museum of Art for the past year, quickly responded that it’s his passport. He loves to travel, to “feel something new, feel connected and alive.” But his passion for travel doesn’t extend just to foreign destinations. As a matter of fact, one of his favorite cities is Charleston, S.C.  Smith, a Virginia native who attended school in North Carolina, knows Charleston well. And he likes to share the virtues of this charming Southern city, where gardenia and honeysuckle scent the air and horse-drawn carriages roll down cobblestone streets.

Why Charleston?
If you love history, architecture, art and amazing food, Charleston delivers more in its small pedestrian-friendly downtown than most cities triple its size. It is no wonder that Charleston always ranks at the top of the list of U.S. destinations.

Time is right
Fall is a perfect time to visit. The brutal summer heat is over and the oyster roasts are in full swing. Thanksgiving in the city is magical, and Thanksgiving dinner at S.N.O.B. (Slightly North of Broad restaurant) has been a tradition for more than a decade.
Spring is full of history as the Historic Charleston Foundation presents its Festival of Houses and Gardens (March 16 – April 24, 2016) and the Charleston Antiques Show
(March 18 –20, 2016).
And if you happen to swing a trip during the Spoleto Festival USA (May 27 – June 12, 2016), you are in for a real treat as it is truly one of the best arts festivals in the world.

Must do
See the city. There are few other places in the country where you can spend a day wandering around the streets and side streets and experience such beautiful architecture and gardens. Stop in any of the wonderful historic homes, especially the Aiken-Rhett House Museum, built around 1820 (48 Elizabeth St., historiccharleston.org).

Buy in
Shopping in Charleston combines the best of the independent retailer with important national brands. An afternoon on King Street will take you from exquisite antique stores to clothing boutiques, including one of my favorites, M. Dumas & Sons, (294 King St., mdumasandsons.com).
Further off King Street, you’ll discover art galleries with something for everyone.  I would, of course, encourage anyone visiting Charleston to return home with a work of art created by the wonderful artists who call the area home.

Secret tip
Head to Mount Pleasant, just across the Cooper River from Charleston, for dinner. My favorite is Langdon’s, with a great cheese board (778 S. Shelmore Blvd., Mount Pleasant, owensdininggroup.com). The drive over the new Ravenel Bridge is so worth it. (OK, the bridge is more than a decade old now, but in Charleston that’s really new.)

Best bite
FIG (which stands for Food Is Good), McCrady’s and Two Boroughs Larder are my favorites in downtown Charleston; Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island has delicious hamburgers; and of course Paolo’s Gelato, where you can get treats for humans and canines.
Also, pick up a copy of Charleston magazine once you arrive. It is one of the best city magazines around  and will steer you in the right direction.
Oh, and don’t watch that train wreck of a show, “Southern Charm” on Bravo about Charleston.

After dark
Honestly, the best nightlife is found in the many private house parties. Or at an oyster roast along the coast.

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