I was privileged to spend a few days in Charleston, S.C. last week.  It was a short business trip, but there was time to explore the fascinating city between meetings and events. A popular tourist destination, Charleston has been named “Most Friendly City” by several publications, called “most polite and hospitable city in America” by Southern Living Magazine. Travel + Leisure went even further. They ranked Charleston the “World’s Best City” in 2016.

I had long been fascinated by this quintessentially southern city’s history. But Charleston’s future looks even brighter than its historic past. The oldest and largest city in South Carolina, Charleston is growing three times faster than most cities in the U. S. The city’s population in 2017 is estimated at 761,000. Even better, Charleston is attracting well-educated, talented young people eager to contribute to the local economy.

The original Charles Town was founded in 1670, in honor of England’s King Charles II. In 1774 South Carolina declared independence from Britain from Charles Town’s Exchange steps. During the war the town was attacked three times, and Col. Moultrie’s regiment defeated the Royal Navy in 1776. The city’s present spelling was adopted after the Revolutionary War, in 1783.

Charleston was thrust back into the spotlight in April, 1861, when Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and his soldiers took Fort Sumter from Union troops. Fort Sumter went down in history books as the place where the shot that launched the Civil War was fired.

With a rich history and interesting architecture, there’s lots to see and photograph in Charleston. There is also a lot of delicious but often fattening food to try. I had just started a diet that didn’t last long on this trip. Charleston’s cuisine is a mixture of the cultures that founded the city. Based heavily on rice and seafood, it’s a spicy stew influenced by Southern U.S., English, French, and West African elements. Specialties include gumbo, she-crab soup, fried oysters, deviled crab cakes, and shrimp and grits. We tried all of these dishes, plus some great Carolina barbecue.

I stayed in the center of town at Belmond Charleston Place, an elegant, very traditional Southern hotel. The hotel fronted on Meeting Street, within walking distance of historic places like the Slave Market Museum, the old Exchange Building, and Waterfront Park. Horse-drawn carriage rides were everywhere, for those who tired of walking. One walking trip took my friend and I through Market Hall, built in 1841. The huge market continues for blocks, housed in sheds that draw craftsmen and vendors of all types. Tourists flocked to buy everything from art to shoes to games to food.

You can get a sugar high just walking through downtown Charleston, with sweet shops specializing in fudge, pralines, ice cream, sugared pecans. They even have a Moon Pie store. Being on a diet not only saved me some calories, but lots of money. My friend bought boxes of delicious hand-made pralines to take home to her family. Before the diet, those pralines wouldn’t have lasted the trip home with me.

On one of our drives we saw mesmerizing scenery with old-growth trees providing a canopy of green on winding roads. We crossed a long bridge over Charleston Harbor that looked a lot like the one to Galveston Island. My favorite drive was to Sullivan’s Island on Charleston Harbor. The island holds Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter Historic Monument. It draws tourists with its beaches, specialty stores and restaurants. I especially loved ogling the magnificent mansions lining streets on the island’s high-end residential streets.

Charleston has always been rich in culture, with the country’s first theater built on the dock in 1736. A Library Society was started in 1748, and a college in 1770. Their music scene, with heavy jazz influences, has been lively for years. The annual performing arts Spoleto Festival USA takes place in the spring.

There are so many great reasons to visit Charleston. Any one of them is enough for me. I would love to return for a longer visit to this history-laden, vibrant city–but not until my diet ends.