Historic Charleston, a Traveler's Guide
Cabin fever got me. My trips to France, Israel, and Greece all got canned due to the COVID scare. A huge snow was headed to my hometown and it was time to do something for me. By the way, the storm hit Fort Collins two days before my departure, but I made it out successfully despite that.
My sister and niece had made plans to visit Charleston last summer, canceled due to COVID, and I was intrigued by their plan. Flip a coin, heads – go, tails – go. I won.
Charleston is the largest city in South Carolina, and just a bit smaller than Fort Collins, population wise. In 2016, it was rated as the best city in the world by Travel and Leisure Magazine.
It is worth a visit.
Settled around 1663, it was a tough life for those who chose this destination. Hurricanes, massive fires, artillery bombardments during three wars, yellow fever, earthquakes (yes, earthquakes), small pox, malaria, hostile Indians, and pirates, all made life here tough. It survived and thrived. The War of Independence played a role here, as well the Civil War. In fact, Fort Sumter was where the Civil War began when South Carolina seceded from the Union. Lots of history, but I won’t go into that. I just wish to share some tips with you, if you ever head this way, and I think you should.
First of all, if you have very limited time, you can do a quick tour in two full days. I would highly recommend more. In my world, three would be the minimum. There are plenty of things to see and do, and some very high-end shopping for you fashionistas on King Street. The food, out of this world. The downside, and there is only one I can come up with, is the humidity. Hot and humid, cold and humid, not always, but something to contend with.
What to eat? Everything. She Crab soup, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, oysters, fish, cornbread, greens, fried everything…
The itinerary I would recommend is as follows:
1) First thing – take a historical carriage ride through town and get a feel for it. The rides are approximately $30 for 45 minutes. Here is the kicker, they are so popular that you should book ahead. Also, you really don’t get a choice of what you are going to see. Each carriage as it prepares to make a circuit, must stop at the control shed and a bingo ball type machine dictates where your tour will visit. Now, those of you concerned about the horses, or mules, which pull the carriage, they are well taken care of by city ordinances, and get a 15-minute break every hour they work.
2) Second – take a walking tour, again to get yourself oriented. I prefer the ghost tours; they are at night and make for a quirky experience. The homes here are all over $1,000,000. They are original and quaint. Beautiful architecture. If you are into the supernatural, The Charleston Haunted Jail tour is for you.
3) Third – take the Fort Sumter tour. It runs about $30. A ferry will take you out on a 30-minute ride to the fort where you will spend an hour touring the remains of this historic site. The ride is a pleasure and as far as history, this is where the Civil War began. If you plan on taking this tour, arrive at the site at least an hour prior to departure. There is a small museum to keep you occupied until it is time to board the ferry. You absolutely want to be in the boarding line early. The choice seating in on the upper deck. First come, first served.
4) Fourth – It is an extremely walkable city. Do that. Watch the sidewalks. They are old and some not so forgiving for folks who fail to pay attention.
5) If you golf, bring your sticks. The courses are fantastic. Some of the private courses do allow visitors. Not cheap. Sea Brook is very well known in the golfing world. Runs $180 for 18. Tucked shirts with collars and sleeves, slacks or golf shorts not more than four inches above the knee. Soft spike golf shoes or flat-soled tennis/golf shoes.
6) Try and stay in the historic part of town. Hotels/B&B’s will run range from around $250 - $400 a night. Do this. I stayed at the Meeting Street Inn. GREAT location and the price didn’t knock my head off. The staff was just super.
7) The USS Yorktown is on display as a walk-in museum. If you have never been on an aircraft carrier, it is worth a visit.
8) The Slave Market on Meeting Street has a number of booths selling handcrafted items, actually, three blocks of booths.
9) Eat out, always. Too many great restaurants to list here.
1) SNOB – Slightly North of Broad. Do lunch here. Check their hours to make sure they are open. Great food, trendy, service – so, so. They could have done better.
2) Husk – rated as one of the top restaurants in the nation. Two of us, six drinks, two appetizers, two main courses - $190. As soon as you know you are headed to Charleston, start trying to book a reservation. It is somewhere you will want to dress up a bit to experience. Jacket, slacks, etc. Do have an “Old Fashion.” Make sure to get a pan of cornbread and an appetizer of baked oysters, to die for. Speaking of dying, Two ghosts there. One of the spinster sisters who owned the building will give a fright to female guests in the bathroom, and a dog who will brush up against your leg if you are sitting on the veranda.
3) Amen Street Restaurant - actually on Bay Street. Laid back, but not sloppy, seafood establishment. Happy hour is a must, if you like oysters. Named Amen street (no longer used) due to the number of churches in the area. Across the street from SNOB.
4) Some people enjoy Hyman’s Seafood. I didn’t go there as my friends I was visiting said it was a tourist spot, not for locals.
5) Poe’s Tavern (Edgar Allen), on Sullivan’s Island, if you are headed to the beach, is worth a stop. Great burgers! Be prepared to wait.
6) Palmetto Café at Charleston Place for breakfast. Dress nicely. Jacket, slacks.
7) There are a number of rooftop bars that one should visit at night to get a great view of the city. Stars Rooftop is recommended. I went to Vendue Inn, the bar is “R the Rooftop.”
The real highlight of this trip was visiting my friends, the Bouchers, who had moved here from Fort Collins.
That’s about all I can tell you at this point. I must leave something for you to discover on your own. If you do happen to make it to Charleston, please let me know your thoughts. I will be coming back sometime in the near future.