panish moss drips from old oaks on the lawns of restored plantations, azaleas blaze in the sun of a lazy afternoon, a horse and carriage clops by on an old cobblestoned street.
Welcome to Charleston, South Carolina, a city where the old rests easily alongside the modern, and where manners are important. America’s most-published etiquette expert, Marjabelle Young Stewart, recognized Charleston in 1995 as the “best-mannered” city in the U.S, a claim lent credibility by the fact that it has the first established Livability Court in the country.
If you like a little history alongside your vacation this city was made for you. And if you don’t care about history at all? Then this city was still made for you.
A very walkable city, (but take a carriage ride for the best tidbits of info) Charleston is a delight to the eye, the ear, the nose– and especially the taste buds.
Charleston’s Historic Downtown District has stood throughout history as the cultural capital of the South and is considered by many to be a living museum, with a wonderful variety of things to do and see. In this beautifully preserved city you can experience tours through historic landmarks, including 18th century homes and plantations, the Battery, museums, churches and the city market. Charleston also boasts numerous art galleries that display the city’s impressive appreciation for the visual arts.
People come here, soak up the ambience, visit all the historical sites, shop till they drop– and when they go home what do they talk about? The food. A commonly heard phrase in the city is “Who cooks in Charleston?”
“Oh yeah,” they say, “we saw this and that, we went here and there– but this is where and what we ate, and boy oh boy was it great!”
Possibly one of the first American cities to enjoy a distinctive regional cuisine, Charleston has many influences. On menus around town, guests will notice French, Mediterranean, Vietnamese and other international tastes. You’ll find variety ranging from casual southern fare to the finest renditions of the world’s great cuisine–with a local flair! Many of the local specialties are derived from fresh-off-the-boat seafood and locally grown produce. Be sure to try some perennial lowcountry favorites: shrimp & grits, roasted oysters and Frogmore Stew (also known as “Lowcountry Stew” and “Beaufort Boil“).
Charleston is also known as The Holy City due to the prominence of churches on the low-rise cityscape, particularly the numerous steeples which dot the city’s skyline, and for the fact that it was one of the few cities in the original thirteen colonies to provide religious tolerance, albeit restricted to non-Catholics. Many Huguenots found their way to Charleston. Charleston was also one of the first colonial cities after Savannah, Georgia to allow Jews to practice their faith without restriction.
WHAT TO DO IN CHARLESTON?
If you like golf with your vacations, go ahead and haul your clubs along. South Carolina has played a key role in the development of golf in the United States from its very beginning. The South Carolina Golf Club, founded in 1786, was the first golf course built and chartered in America. Unlike many other golfing destinations, Charleston has not been discovered by the masses, resulting in more accessible tee times with an unhurried pace. There are at least 16 courses in the area to choose from.
Some of the places you might want to visit while you’re there include:
- Audubon Swamp Garden– located on the grounds of Magnolia Plantation, encompasses 60 acres of black water cypress and tupelo swamp, accessible by boardwalks and dikes, herons, egrets, alligators, anhingas, wood ducks, otters are commonly spotted here; binoculars are provided. Director Wes Craven made use of the site while filming the 1982 horror movie Swamp Thing.
- Boone Hall Plantation– a magnificent estate of 738 acres with a majestic avenue of live oaks planted in 1743 by Captain Thomas Boone, this plantation is used so extensively in motion picture and television filming, as well as in worldwide publications, it has become known as “America’s Most Photographed Plantation”. You will find slave quarters preserved here as well. One of America’s oldest working, living plantations; Boone Hall has continuously grown and produced crops for over 320 years.
- Charles Towne Landing– where South Carolina was born. Today it is a park at the original site of the first permanent English settlement in South Carolina. Originally opened in 1970 to commemorate Charleston, South Carolina’s tricentennial, this 80-acre state park showcases animals indigenous to the state in 1670, with exhibits designed by naturalist Jim Fowler. There is a 17th-century village typical of what the original settlers might have constructed. There is also a 53-foot (16 m) replica of the trading ketch “Adventure”, a vessel typical of what the young colony would have used for trade on the eastern coast and in the West Indies. Charles Towne Landing has much to see and do including the Animal Forest, Living History and Archaeological sites, as well as many more attractions.
- Cypress Gardens – created by owner Benjamin R. Kittredge in the late 1920’s. Early one spring, as the story goes, Mr. Kittredge saw a red maple reflecting in the black water swamp. From this inspiration, he created the beauty of the surrounding Cypress Gardens. There are boat tours, hiking trails, a butterfly house, a “swamparium” and more.
- Drayton Hall – built between 1738 and 1742, this is one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in America. Through seven generations of Drayton ownership, this National Historic Landmark remained in nearly original condition and is the only Ashley River plantation house to survive the Civil War intact. Today it is being kept in near-original condition just as the National Trust received it from the Drayton family in 1974. Instead of being restored to the vision of those who lived centuries after it was built, Drayton Hall is an artifact that has survived the American Revolution, the Civil War, the earthquake of 1886, hurricanes like Hugo, and maybe most surprisingly today, urban sprawl.
- Magnolia Plantation and Garden – a 300-year-old ancestral home of South Carolina’s illustrious Drayton family, ten generations have been utilizing it since the 1670’s. Internationally famous, and open to the public for over a century, it is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry, and the oldest public gardens in America, opening its doors to visitors in 1870 to view the thousands of beautiful flowers and plants in its famous gardens.
- The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon – over 300 years of pirates, presidents, patriots and preservation make the Olde Exchange and Provost Dungeon one of the most historic places you’ll see on your visit to Charleston. Charleston’s first customs house and exchange was built by the British in 1771. Considered to be one of the three most historically significant Colonial buildings in the United States, the Old Exhange Building is a “must see” when visiting Charleston.
- Charleston Museum – Inspired in part by the creation of the British Museum (1759), the Museum was established in 1773 by the Charleston Library Society and is commonly regarded as America’s first museum. First opened to the public in 1824, the Museum developed prominent collections declared in 1852 by Harvard scientist Louis Aggasiz to be among the finest in America. Operations were temporarily suspended due to the Civil War, but began again shortly after the conflict. Progressively acquired from the late 18th century to the present, the Museum’s collections now present the oldest-acquired and the most comprehensive assemblage of South Carolina materials in the nation, and it includes a large selection of Civil War artifacts. Modern collecting emphases include natural science, ornithology, historical material culture and both documentary and photographic resources. Kids will like this museum, too, so take them along.
- Fort Sumter
– where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired on April 12, 1861 when Confederate artillery opened fire on this Federal fort in Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter surrendered 34 hours later. Union forces would try for nearly four years to take it back.
If you think you might like to give this beautiful, charming city a try, there’s an excellent timeshare resort you might want to look at. In the very heart of The Old City’s famed Market area– within two short blocks of the harbor and Waterfront Park, the theatre and shopping districts, and the city’s best restaurants and bistros– are thirty-one handsome townhomes.
This landmark downtown hostelry, owned and operated by Festiva Hospitality Group, is on one of the city’s most prominent and scenic streets. By walking out the door, you can take a carriage ride around town or visit all of the city’s fine attractions. Discounted country-club packages are available at nearby clubs, including golf, tennis, and swimming. Across the street is the old City Market, which is full of specialty shops, modern restaurants, and a market for bargain hunters.
An urban RCI Gold Crown Resort, the plush Church Street Inn townhomes are all 2-story “apartments”, which affords maximum privacy since even in the 1-bdrm unit the bedroom is upstairs, and there is a half-bath downstairs to insure privacy for guests. A nice balcony overlooks the market. Downstairs there is a nice kitchen and a small common area, with a pull-out leather sofa bed and dining table. The word “cozy” comes to mind. Each unit is decorated in colonial style and is named after a famous person from South Carolina and a history of what he did. While the accommodations are on the small side, as is common in urban resorts, they are more than comfortable and the resort’s location more than makes up for it.
With more than 4 million visitors a year confirming it, everything you’ve heard about Charleston is true. Start packing!
Websites with more information:
- http://www.charleston.com For general information on Charleston, including restaurants, sights, etc.
- http://www.southcarolina-info.com For general information on South Carolina (including Charleston)
- http://www.charlestoncvb.com/ Charleston Convention & Visitor’s Bureau
- http://www.charlestonmuseum.org/ America’s first museum
- http://www.historiccharleston.org/ Historical Charleston
- http://www.charlestondining.com/ Dining in Charleston
--by InsideTheGate.com staff