Travel + Leisure readers have always thought highly of Charleston when asked about their favorite cities to visit. But never this highly.
An annual poll by the monthly vacation magazine proclaimed Charleston as the No. 2 best city in the United States and Canada for the first time, unseating San Francisco from the second position.
New York remained in the top spot in that category, according to the newly released 2011 "World's Best Awards," which are based on a yearly survey of Travel + Leisure readers.
Charleston claimed a third-place finish in 2010, and it has been bouncing around the Top 10 for much of the survey's 16-year existence.
"We're thrilled. This is what we work for 365 days a year," said Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We want to see Charleston as one of the most popular places to visit in the country."
Culture and arts, dining, people, shopping and sights were some of the key categories and characteristics that Travel + Leisure used to grade the cities. Charleston seems to have done well in all of those areas, says Hill.
"The charm, hospitality, great food and accessibility helped us get the ranking," she said.
The ranking is significant indeed, for Hill said that it is a great opportunity of "spreading the word" and getting Charleston in the press. Indeed, the No. 2 ranking earned the city a dose of favorable publicity Thursday morning during a segment of NBC's "Today" show.
"The fact that we did so well is a compliment to our destination," Hill said. "It's good for us."
People from all over said they enjoy the city for their own reasons.
Jeff Woodrow, an Ohio native making his first trip to Charleston, said it's a great place to visit.
"The people are really nice," he said while shopping in the City Market. "The Market Street's awesome."
Steve Strickland, from Anderson, said that the food is one of the main attractions for him. He visits Charleston every year around the July 4 holiday.
Strickland said he has been to the only city that topped Charleston in the poll this year -- New York -- and he does not want to go back there.
"Traffic's bad up there. They don't have very much patience for my South Carolina tags," he said. "Traffic's bad here too, but I can navigate better here."
Don and Marilynn Massey, retirees from Texas who visit Charleston occasionally, say they prefer the South. The couple said they like to take the trollies and that they thought the food is different and good.
"People are friendly here. It's well-laid out," she said.
Three Charleston-area hotels also made the cut on the 2011 World Best survey. Travel + Leisure said the results will be published in its August issue, which will be available at newsstands July 22.
Travel + Leisure also gave a shout out to several South Carolina hotels, including three in the Charleston area.
Top 100 hotels
60) Inn at Palmetto Bluff*
97) The Sanctuary
Top hotels in U.S. and Canada, more than 100 rooms
26) Charleston Place
Top hotels in U.S. and Canada, fewer than 100 rooms
10) Planters Inn
*NOTE: Palmetto Bluff also was ranked No. 7 among top U.S./Canadian resorts
John P. McDermott of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.