Thanks to Charleston’s temperate climate, dining outdoors can be a year-round affair. With creeks and rivers defining the city’s borders, plus ample rooftop vantages from the peninsula, opportunities for leisurely al fresco meals abound. From Shem Creek to tucked away downtown courtyards, here are 12 of the best places to dine under blue skies and starry nights.
Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar (Downtown Charleston)
Despite its peninsular geography, downtown Charleston has surprisingly few waterfront dining options—most of it is residential or controlled by the port or the Coast Guard. Fleet Landing, set in a 1942 Navy building once used to offload ships, is one of the few that claims real estate on the harbor, and its patio puts you directly over the water. Gaze up at the Ravenel Bridge and watch birds and boats cruise by as you dine on local seafood gumbo or a hearty fried platter of flounder, oysters, and shrimp.
Bowens Island (James Island)
This homely oyster joint, in the marsh near Folly Beach, doesn’t look exactly like it did in 1946—a 2006 fire required a rebuild—but it’s pretty darn close. A grand ramp switches back several times, helping to organize the counter-serve line that builds up by 5 pm. But that’s part of the fun—send an emissary for beers, then enjoy the view while waiting to order platters of oysters steamed over an open fire, buckets of Frogmore stew (what the locals call Lowcountry boil), and generous platters of fried shrimp, fish and oysters. The crab cakes, heavy on crumbled saltines, are divine, as are the sunset views from the wraparound porch.
Stars Restaurant – Rooftop & Grill Room (Downtown Charleston)
Ambitious from the get-go, this three-story King Street space became a hot spot when it opened in 2013—and it’s held that momentum since. The ground floor dining room, heavy on wood and leather, is an elegant place for dinner; Stars was one of the first restaurants in Charleston to emphasize open-fire cooking. But it’s the open-air rooftop that gives the restaurant its appeal. Due to the rooftop’s popularity, food is served downstairs, so plan on drinks upstairs before—and after—your 16-ounce porterhouse pork chop.
Peninsula Grill (Downtown Charleston)
Just before the turn of the century, Peninsula Grill helped set the stage for Charleston’s international culinary cred. This is where chef Sean Brock cut his teeth before striking out on his own, and the high standards that shaped his kitchen are still in place today. To maximize the magic at this fine dining stalwart, feast in the tranquil courtyard that’s steps from Market Street, but immersed in greenery and lit by atmospheric lanterns. Embrace the experience—this is the place to go big, adding enhancements such as seared foie gras or a lobster tail to your already decadent lamb loin with pumpkin gnocchi and roasted pears.
Charleston Harbor Fish House – Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina (Mount Pleasant)
The best way to experience the Holy City’s steeple-filled skyline is from across the water, and the Fish House lets you do that with a cocktail in hand. The sprawling patio overlooks Charleston Harbor Marina at Patriots Point, just across the harbor in Mount Pleasant; the Charleston Water Taxi can take you there from downtown. Area staples such as she-crab soup and crab cakes highlight the seafood-heavy dinner menu. Outdoor seating includes both open air and shaded, covered sections, all with sweeping views of the marsh, harbor, and the Charleston peninsula—reserve an outdoor table for brunch on the weekends.
Coterie – Charleston (Downtown Charleston)
Sit underneath the pergola at Coterie, draped with greenery, and order the paneer malai curry. You’ll be transported to India, struck by the same inspiration that led co-owner Jeremy Buck to open this passion project after years of bartending and traveling the globe. The diverse menu ranges from lamb chops to an always-local catch of the day, served with Caribbean curry. Buck’s expertise behind the bar—and the abundance of shade on the patio and outdoor bar—also make this a welcoming place to drop in for a snack and a sip on a steamy afternoon. Start with the okroni, a negroni punctuated by house-made okra amaro.
MOMO (North Charleston)
You’ll feel like you’ve discovered a local secret at this serene spot along the Cooper River. The bright, airy interiors bring nature in, while the patio affords views of ships passing to and from the port. The seafood-centric menu is highlighted by blue crab stuffed flounder and smoked whitefish pate but also satisfies carnivores with a North Carolina-raised bison steak and a local roasted duck. MOMO also offers what may be the classiest oyster shooter in town, brought to life by tomatillo, cucumber, and a pepper-salt rim.
Eleve Restaurant & Rooftop (Downtown Charleston)
There’s a modernist, eclectic vibe to the rooftop at the Grand Bohemian Hotel that makes Charleston feel like an even bigger city. Neon lighting, synthetic turf, and futuristic furniture, reminiscent of The Jetsons, create a fascinating atmosphere when juxtaposed with the historic buildings that surround the open-air seating. The European-inspired menu is more conventional, but still inventive, with highlights such as a corn-and-mushroom ravioli and a sun dried tomato and basil tart flambe pizza (available for dinner or weekend brunch). On weekends, Eleve’s trendy backdrop attracts a fashionable crowd for killer cocktails—with a view.
The Kingstide (Daniel Island)
Two levels of wraparound porches contribute to this hot spot’s status as Daniel Island’s first true destination restaurant. An open kitchen and a central bar makes the blue-hued, wood-lined space feel extra large and welcoming. For the full experience, order the namesake seafood tower and gather friends to feast on raw oysters, steamed clams, boiled shrimp, and crab. Or savor a bacon-forward oysters Rockefeller and a spiced rum cocktail as the Wando River turns a golden hue at sunset.
Share House (Downtown Charleston)
Steps from King Street, this buzzy new hangout takes another shot at transforming Charleston’s old train depot into a profitable restaurant (several prior ventures here have lasted just over a year). Opened in February 2022, Share House is a hit with the college crowd, who appreciate the beachy vibes and flexible indoor/outdoor space conducive to mingling. Dine on blackened tuna sliders and coconut lime mussels on the raised patio before dancing to a soundtrack fueled by DJs, steel drummers, and full bands that perform nightly. The pièce de résistance: A magnificent bottle cap mural that forms an interior wall fronting the street.
Tavern & Table (Mount Pleasant)
Mount Pleasant’s Shem Creek offers Charleston’s highest concentration of outdoor dining opportunities, and Tavern & Table shines among them for its focus on local produce and seafood. The covered patio offers constant shade with a clear view of the waterway. Although the menu has its share of seafood, including fried shrimp with chile honey and roasted oysters, the kitchen also produces several flatbreads—the fig and prosciutto is a winner— and a mean bison burger grilled in the wood-fired oven. There’s also a popular brunch menu on Sundays, and a cocktail menu heavy on fruit concoctions, such as a sangria featuring local blueberry wine.
Gabrielle Charleston in Hotel Bennett (Downtown Charleston)
Developer Michael Bennett set out to make his namesake hotel the most luxurious retreat in Charleston, and that over-the-top elegance extends to Gabrielle, the lavish property’s signature restaurant. Its central location affords the opportunity to dine directly on Marion Square, the city’s most prominent greenspace. This is one of the best steakhouses in town, with options that feature a 40-ounce ribeye. In the evening, as the sky’s light changes, pair the house caviar with a plum-infused vodka and Earl Grey tea cocktail, and you’ll feel like King Charles himself.
Stratton Lawrence is a Folly Beach-based food and travel writer, and an enthusiast of oyster roasts, glassy waves, and sunset cocktails.
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