This year, the much-anticipated Charleston Wine + Food Festival returns March 2-6 after a hiatus in 2021. The festival has made some big changes, including moving the location of its Culinary Village from downtown to nearby North Charleston. But don’t worry about missing downtown; the move gives you the chance to visit Park Circle, a funky neighborhood that’s home to some of the area’s best new restaurants.
This itinerary offers you a schedule for a perfect weekend in Charleston that includes official CWFF events, must-hit restaurants, and a few things worth doing when you’re not at the festival.
Today’s the day the Charleston Wine + Food Festival unveils its newly redesigned Culinary Village in North Charleston’s Riverfront Park. While its previous location in downtown Charleston’s Marion Square had its charms (namely being in the center of town), this new waterfront setting promises more space and more things to do.
The lawn section of the Culinary Village should be familiar to previous CWFF attendees—this is where tastings happen throughout the day. You can explore the booths of vineyards, breweries, and coffee roasters, in addition to favorite artisan makers such as Caroline’s Cakes, Red Clay Hot Sauce, Toadfish Outfitters, and Middleton Made Knives. Make sure to stop by the Grey Goose booth for a custom spritz and the Stölze Lausitz booth to learn about their glassware and register to win your own set.
A stage in this area will host live music, chef demos, and the bartending competition Speed Rack, where women bartenders race to make cocktails to benefit breast cancer nonprofits. And if you’re in the hospitality industry, you’ll also find OpenTable’s Industry Lounge.
A new festival attraction this year is The Pavilion, a non-ticketed space open to the public—including pets and kids—that will host five to eight food trucks per day. Then there’s Nightcap, an evening concert series on Friday and Saturday nights with plenty of food and drink options. Headliners include Lake Street Dive and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
If you’re getting to Charleston a day or two early, but your festival plans don’t heat up until Friday, take advantage of being a tourist for the day downtown and explore some local favorites.
Walking downtown is one of the best things to do in Charleston. From historic homes and quaint neighborhoods to cozy coffeehouses and bustling food halls, downtown Charleston’s tourist-centric areas are full of treasures that are best found on foot.
If you’re exploring the bustling Market area, hit up the new Port of Call Food and Brew Hall. A former Bubba Gump’s, the space has been transformed into a two-story eating emporium with local vendors and breweries. You’ll find poke at Iaca Bowls, smoked heritage pork at Palmira Barbecue, and Asian fusion from Bok Choy Boy. In the evenings, Raw Lab offers an omakase experience, which allows the chef to craft your dining experience with an eye on freshness and seasonality. Reservations are required, so plan ahead.
If you’re looking for a quick cup of coffee to replenish your energy, you’ll find plenty of coffee shops in this area of town. Some favorites include Harken Café for homemade pastries, toasts, and light lunch options; Bakehouse Charleston for cookies, biscotti, cupcakes, and other seasonal treats; and Carmella’s Café and Dessert Bar for Italian treats such as gelato, espresso, and tiramisu.
Other nearby treasures include Brasserie La Banque, a new restaurant from the Indigo Road group (Indaco, Oak Steakhouse, Maya) located in a historic bank building. Serving French classics like steak frites, beef bourguignon, and bouillabaisse, Brasserie la Banque is open for lunch and dinner. If you’re in the mood for just a cocktail and snack, head straight downstairs to cozy speakeasy-style Bar Vauté, open evenings with a great cocktail list and the same menu as upstairs.
If you’ve got a free evening after spending the day at the Culinary Village, head over to nearby Park Circle, a historic North Charleston neighborhood that has several breweries and a handful of excellent restaurants to check out.
Park Circle’s main street is East Montague Avenue, less than a two-mile drive from the Culinary Village at Riverfront Park, where you’ll find an eclectic mix of neighborhood restaurants. Wine bar Stems and Skins boasts a list of natural wines, great cocktails, and a limited menu of creative snacks and tinned fish. This team recently opened another restaurant across the street called Three Sirens, with a focus on seafood and a carefully curated list of wine, beer, and cocktails.
Another Park Circle favorite is Paddock & Whisky, a second Charleston-area location for this bourbon-focused cocktail spot. The drink menu spans a wide selection of scotch, rye, and bourbon whiskies, and the small lunch, dinner, and late-night snack menu will help keep all that whiskey from going to your head.
Other highlights in Park Circle include Fratello’s Italian Tavern for Italian classics, EVO Pizzeria for wood-fired pizza and local vegetables, and JackRabbit Filly for creative Chinese-American dishes and a dim sum Sunday brunch.
If, after spending a day at the waterfront, you get the urge to get out on the water, the Daniel Island Ferry might be your best option. The ferry departs downtown on Friday and Saturday evenings at 6:10 pm ($20 roundtrip). It’s a 30-minute cruise up the river, and once on Daniel Island, you can head to Kingstide for outdoor drinks and dining right along the water. The ferry returns downtown at 10 pm, capping off a great way to spend an evening and see the beauty of Charleston from the water.
End your Friday night with a bang at cocktail bar Proof on King Street. This team throws an annual disco dance party during the festival that attracts visiting bartenders, chefs, festival attendees, and locals, too. Meaghan Doreman from Raines Law Room in New York City and Charleston bartender Meghan Deschaine will be slinging specialty cocktails, so don your best disco outfit and join the fun.
The festival has lots of events going on all over the Lowcountry on Saturday. If you didn’t score tickets beforehand, you might still be able to find a few events with availability, and you can always get added to the waiting list on the ticket exchange.
The Cocktail Queens is an afternoon cocktail party at The Wonderer, an adults-only membership club with a pool and oasis feel on the outskirts of downtown. Expect great drinks, music, and drag queen hostesses. In the evening, Brittlebank Park, a fantastic downtown waterfront park, will host barbecue event Side Hustle that’s all about the side dishes that our favorite pitmasters serve up alongside the meats. Stars such as Charleston’s own Rodney Scott will be there alongside pitmasters from Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
If you’re planning to dine at some of Charleston’s restaurants, you’ll notice the food scene has undergone some big changes since the last Wine + Food festival in 2020. Many longtime favorites have closed downtown, but that’s paved the way for reopenings and new concepts. The Macintosh may have served its last bone marrow pudding in early 2021—but owners retooled the space and opened Maya, where you can find excellent margaritas and regional Mexican cuisine like pollo en mole and cochinita pibil.
A few brave restaurateurs went ahead with planned openings that have quickly become favorites, including Indian-inspired Coterie, Brazilian steakhouse Galpao Gaucho, late-night dessert bar The Honey Hive, the Spanish-influenced Laurel, and celebrity chef Vivian Howard’s Handy + Hot (hand pies!) and Lenoir.
And fortunately for us all, many favorites pivoted, adapted, and made it through the last few years even better than before. This list includes that temple of Southern food Husk, the Mediterranean-inspired Butcher & Bee, the fresh and innovative French bistro Maison, and some of Charleston’s best oyster bars, including Rappahannock, The Darling, and Amen Street Fish + Raw Bar.
If you missed out on getting tickets to the always-fun Waffle House Smackdown at the Culinary Village on Sunday morning, you might as well make plans for Sunday brunch, which is practically a sport in Charleston.
For a bit of a church vibe with your brunch, head to Church and Union on Market Street. Set in an old church building, complete with vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows, Church and Union’s brunch menu is stocked with local farm eggs, Anson Mills grits, and heritage pork sausage and bacon. For more seafood options, try sibling restaurant Tempest, located next door. The options here range from house-cured lox and deconstructed lobster rolls to shrimp and grits and smoked fish pastrami, with a stack of souffle pancakes and French toast thrown in for good measure.
For Southern breakfast lovers, Virginia’s on King takes a more traditional approach to Sunday brunch with hearty fare like buttermilk pancakes, country-fried steak and eggs, crab cake benedict, fried chicken biscuits, pimento cheese BLT—you get the idea.
Since it’s likely to be a beautiful spring day, head to one of the many restaurants with outdoor dining. Gabrielle Charleston, located in Hotel Bennett on King Street, has a patio that faces Marion Square and serves a classic breakfast menu until 10:30 am before transitioning into lunch at noon. Or, Stars Rooftop Grill & Room hosts a festive New Orleans-style DJ brunch from 11 am to 2 pm. Go early or stay late, so you have time for a drink on the rooftop, which offers a stunning panoramic view of downtown.
The festival closes out with a laid-back Finale on Sunday night. Expect plenty of barbecue from Home Team BBQ, Lewis Barbecue, and Rodney Scott’s BBQ along with tastes from both visiting and local chefs. It’s a fun night that wraps up the festival weekend with a final dose of great food, drinks, and live music.
Stephanie Barna is a food writer based in Charleston, SC. As the former editor of Charleston City Paper, she has chronicled the Charleston food scene for two decades and has been to every single Charleston Wine + Food Festival since it started. You can follow her on Instagram @stef_barna.