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Travel Stories

A Taste of Charleston, South Carolina

by Tia Delaney

[From Winter 2009]

A visit to Charleston, South Carolina is more than just a trip to the beach. Southern drawls, humid days and sultry nights, rich history, and foods flavored with both taste and heritage are the most recognizable ways to describe this southern city by the sea. Beneath the touristy surface there is a cosmopolitan feel without the stress of an industrial urban metropolis. Street traffic is minimal, everything is within walking distance, and when in need, rickshaws are readily available. The cobblestone streets evoke images of the eighteenth century, when some of the nation’s most important historical figures paved the way for independence.

For history buffs, Charleston is a veritable treasure. The mission of the Charleston Museum (founded in 1773) is to preserve the cultural history of Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. The old Exchange (Customs) House and plenty of historic homes are located throughout the downtown area. The Joseph Manigault House and the Heyward Washington House (under the umbrella of the Charleston Museum) are two fine examples of restored eighteenth century summer mansions, and offer a unique glimpse into the past. There are also guided carriage and walking tours throughout the city. Fort Moultrie and numerous plantations are located on the Islands that surround the peninsula, no more than an hour's drive from center city. Fort Moultrie, a seacaost defense for more than two centuries, defended Charleston Harbor during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

The city is filled with art galleries and museums. The Gibbes Museum of Art is located in the center of the first "Art Districts." The main gallery of the Gibbes currently features an exhibition of “The Eight,” examining the life and work of eight American painters of the early 20th century who rejected the academic establishment and created the first major exhibition of 20th-century American painting; Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan.

The South Carolina Aquarium is fairly new to Charleston and is another great place to spend the day, especially if you are traveling with younger children. Located on the waterfront near Fort Sumter and the shipping piers, it is quite feasible to explore both the Aquarium and the fort that "started the Civil War." Just keep in mind that you are in Confederate Territory now. The guides do not take lightly to Yankees contradicting their Civil War stories.

One of the best guarantees about visiting Charleston is that you'll never go hungry or thirsty. And in the current economic climate, specials abound all week long at some of Charleston’s favorite locals’ spots. At Coast on John Street, half-price wine by the bottle is available from 5-8p on Sundays. Carolina’s on Exchange Street offers half-price wine by the glass and half price on appetizers like truffled parmesan fries, mussels and shrimp wontons, 5 until 7p every Monday-Friday. On Mondays, Fish (on King Street) discounts by 50% wine by the bottle - wine lovers are encouraged to stay for dinner with delicious entrees like local palmetto bass, slow-cooked with snow peas, peppers, leeks and pad thai noodles. And on Tuesdays, Five Loaves (with two locations) offers half-price wine by the bottle.

The Farmers Market (Saturdays from 8a-2p, beginning in April) takes place in beautiful Marion Square, three blocks from the College of Charleston. The Market offers the freshest local produce, plants, herbs, cut flowers, live entertainment, delicious breakfasts, and juried arts and crafts produced by local artisans. The Charleston Farmers Market is produced by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and is dedicated to the support of Lowcountry Farmers and Growers.

Last, but certainly not least, is the beach. There are a few different options, including James Island's Folly Beach, Sullivan's Island, and Mt. Pleasant's Isle of Palms (typically called, I.O.P.). Folly is the classic local surfers’ beach and has a typical "beach bum" feel. If you are traveling with younger children, Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s are the safest bet. They are cleaner, parking is relatively easy, and the Islands have a few nicer restaurants as opposed to the sand-filled bars of Folly.

While you may or may not leave the city with a southern twang, or make "y'all" a regular part of your vocabulary, visiting Charleston should be a repeat experience. Steeped in history, Charleston is a vibrant and ever-changing American city.

Details:

Food and Wine:
Carolina’s Restaurant, 10 Exchange Street, 843.724.3800, www.carolinasrestaurant.com
Coast, 39-D John St., 843.722.8838, www.coastbarandgrill.com
Fish, 442 King Street, 843.722-FISH, www.fishrestaurant.net
Five Loaves (two locations), www.fiveloavescafe.com

What to See and Do:
The Charleston Museum, www.charlestonmuseum.org
Joseph Manigault House and Heyward Washington House,www.manigaultheyward.org
Exchange House, www.exchangehouse.gov
Fort Moultrie, www.fortmoultrie.com
Gibbes Museum of Art, www.gibbesmuseum.org
South Carolina Aquarium, www.scaquarium.org
Charleston Farmers’ Market, www.charlestoncity.info
For tour information: www.charleston.com

Where to Stay:
Charleston Place, www.charlestonplace.com
(Orient-Express hotel in historic district, doubles from $229), 205 Meeting Street, 888.635.2350,
French Quarter Inn, www.fqicharleston.com
(in historic district, doubles from $149), 166 Church Street, 843.722.1900 or 866.812.1900,

Photo Credits: preview page and middle above: © David Davis/Fotolia; top: © Beth Whitcomb/Fotolia; bottom: © Scott Shorey/Fotolia.

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