Charleston is a historic city on the coast of South Carolina — it has a very laid back feeling to it, with plenty of southern culture to offer to visitors. Downtown Charleston is very walkable, with plenty of sights to see along the waterfront and surrounding areas. We enjoyed our first real visit to the Deep South.
See & Do
- Charleston Waterfront Park: We really lucked out in terms of weather for this trip — it was a beautiful 75 degrees on this late December day, which allowed us to really take advantage of the scenic waterfront area. There is a pier where you can walk out to see Fort Sumter and the Arthur Ravenel bridge. Or if you’d prefer, you can just sit back and relax on one of the many porch swings. Also not to be missed is the famous pineapple fountain — there were a few kids taking advantage of the weather to play in the fountain.
- Battery & White Point Gardens: The Battery is the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula in downtown. This area was an important landmark during the Civil War, emphasized by the Confederate Memorials and cannons strewn throughout the area. There is also a small memorial in the Southwest corner of the park for the Korean War (?) that contains stones from several different states where soldiers were killed.
- The Calhoun Mansion: There are some really huge and beautiful historical mansions in Downtown Charleston. Generally you need to pay admission to enter the actual home, but you can walk through the gardens free of charge and admire the architecture and classical southern style of the buildings.
- Nathaniel Russell House: Nathaniel Russel was a wealthy shipping merchant from Rhode Island who lived in the early 1800s — he commissioned the building of this Neoclassical style house. The garden is immaculately maintained and contains a variety of different plants from different parts of the world (Taiwan, India, etc) — plants from areas which have a similar warm and humid climate where they can thrive over here in South Carolina. One thing, however, has to be made clear — while the architecture of this house and other nearby houses is beautiful, you can’t help but feel a bit of sadness walking through this area as it’s painfully clear exactly how the money was made, and exactly who was exploited, for these businessmen to afford these kinds of places back in the 1800s.
- Rainbow Row: There are plenty of theories about this row of houses that are different colors — sailors who were too drunk to properly read addresses is one, or slaves who were illiterate and could only identify buildings by color is another — but in the end all that’s left today is a colorful remnant of the past. Curiously enough, we noticed that some of the buildings in this area of Charleston have European style number plates on their doors.
- College of Charleston: Beautiful historic campus in downtown Charleston. Class was not in session when we went (probably due to the holiday/winter break). This is a nice and peaceful respite if you’re starting to get burned out from all the high end shopping on King Street — it’s only a block or two east.
- The Market: A looooong covered/outdoor marketplace that runs along (wait for it…) Market Street. Kind of like a big flea market with random knick-knacks for sale. Makes for a good stop for some souvenirs to bring home. We also picked up some lemonade to cool us off on this warm day.
- Marion Square: Nice park on the northern end of the King Street shopping area. The echoes of the church bells on the hour were a nice surprise. There was a big conical Christmas tree set up in the middle of the park — definitely looked better at night when it was all lit up. There were also a bunch of smaller trees decorated by some local businesses/organizations. My favorite was a tree decorated by a bunch of old CDs (spotted a few AOL CDs, and even a Quicken 2003 CD).
- Moon Pie General Store: Stop on in and grab a moon pie (remember those?) for a few cents — I think it’s 75 cents now, but it used to be 5 cents back in the day! Definitely a tourist trap, but a fun one, and seriously, who doesn’t like moon pies?
- The Charleston Beer Exchange: Nice beer shop with beers from all around the world, with an emphasis on craft beers, as well as a solid Belgian section. The helpful staff member there pointed us in the right direction to pick up a few local brews that we then enjoyed later in the night.
Eat & Drink
- Bakehouse Charleston: Grabbed some seasonal lattes and a cake to go — pretty good. The weather was great so we enjoyed our lattes on the porch swings on the waterfront. Apparently Bakehouse Charleston has catered several Hollywood weddings.
- Brown Dog Deli: Wow, this place is crowded. We ordered some sandwiches for lunch to go and enjoyed eating them in the nearby Washington Square (reminded me of a Parisian park for some reason). We ordered the (?) and the Big “Mac” sandwich (four cheese macaroni, ribs, bacon, bbq sauce, and caramelized onion). So fattening but so delicious.
- Magnolias: Our first night in the deep south called for some authentic southern food.
- Pearlz Oyster Bar: Raw oysters, fried oysters, and beer. Super long wait during happy hour (4-7pm), seemed like we weren’t going to get a table. Sat down at an unoccupied table outside, when they initially said they were not going to serve the outdoor tables due to an impending storm. We eventually convinced them to serve us, and we would assume the risk of losing our meal to a sudden storm (fortunately it never rained–special thanks to the super accurate radar of the Weather Underground smartphone app!).
- Craftsmen Kitchen & Tap House: Not too crowded and had a huge beer list. We picked up a flight of local beers (4 x 4 oz), plus a pint of habanero beer (name?). Now, I’m a huge fan of both beer as well as spicy food so I figured this would be right up my alley, but it was really more like just straight up drinking hot sauce — not exactly the most pleasant experience. Who knew beer could be this spicy? I would probably pick something else if I had another chance. Nothing against the bar though, it’s actually pretty cool that they have such a diverse selection of beer on tap.
- Holiday Inn Express Charleston Downtown – Ashley River: Pleasant enough hotel that’s just outside the walkable downtown area. It’s a standard Holiday Inn, so you know what you’re getting. Since Charleston has plenty of uber cars available, we were able to quickly get to the center of the city within about 10 minutes (cost was ~$9 each way for the ride). This hotel was $50-100 cheaper per night than more centrally located ones, so thanks to uber, it was money well saved and still quite convenient.
- 12/27/2015 Evening -12/28/2015