A Low Country Low Down
In all the cities I have been fortunate enough to live in, there is one city that stole my heart from the moment I arrived. With it's southern charm, wonderful history, beautiful architecture, and wonderful culture, it's continuously voted one of the World's Best Cities. Where in the world is Emptynest Adventures taking you today? Well to Charleston, South Carolina of course! This historic and beautiful city has withstood hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires, and today stands proud and beautiful for all that come to see her.
In today's blog I will bring you along on my 2016 trip that I shared with my son. Every year I let him choose a place to visit for our vacation, usually a city with a sports team that we could catch a game at. Imagine my surprise when he wanted to see my favorite city. There were no teams to see, just all the places I had talked about for years with him. Stay tuned for all our fun, as well as my best tidbits on where we stayed, where to eat, and what to visit while there to get the true low country experience. Oh, you may want to take the time to get a cup of coffee or tea as this will be a rather lengthy blog as I have a week's worth of fun to share!
Landing in Charleston at the airport early afternoon, we quickly secured our vehicle that Hertz had nicely upgraded for us to a Jeep, and off we went to begin our adventure. I recommend if you can, travel midweek. It's usually lower rates, and in this case we scored a free upgrade. With the use of a car and only a few miles away, I just had to take a quick peek at my old apartment. With only a few changes, I easily found my way. Looking exactly the same as all those years ago (at least one of us didn't age), we snapped a few shots of the building to share with our friends that lived at the complex too back in the days, and then off we went to find our hotel.
When traveling to Charleston you definitely want to be close to the city, as that's where the fun is to be had. However, hotels in downtown Charleston can be pretty pricey. Knowing the area, I was delighted to find the Marriott Springhill Suites. It's location is just a skip across the Ashley River on the outskirts of the city at half the price of the downtown hotels. It offered a spacious suite with a balcony and kitchenette, which was wonderful for our week long stay. With the rental car we made a quick pit stop at the grocery store and stocked up on drinks, snacks, and lunch items that we could carry with us on our expeditions. Free full breakfasts were included with the room which is a must when traveling with a growing son, and it helps out with your vacation budget too. They even offered an evening shuttle service daily into the city which made it nice for me to be able to have a few drinks and not worry about getting around in the evenings. The view from our hotel was gorgeous overlooking the marina and the west side of the Battery. I cannot recommend this hotel enough for your stay. It offers amenities such as a pool, life size checkers, and ping pong that I unfortunately learned is not my sport, in addition to the spacious rooms and wonderful service. This will definitely be my new place to stay in Charleston.
After a long day traveling we decided to make a quick jaunt down the road toward Folly Beach to Roadside Seafood to grab a bite to eat. This local restaurant was a great little hole in the wall place for a low country fish fry with all the southern sides and it definitely hit the spot.
With a week long itinerary that was jammed packed, I wanted my son to see all the things I loved about the city and the surrounding area. Unfortunately there were only so many days to do things, so I had to pick and choose a few favorites. He had a few requests as well that we worked into the week, which you will learn more about later on. Preplanning is very helpful when organizing a vacation. Tickets for many excursions were purchased ahead of time online, and some even with coupons I found through the local Groupon. If your more the spur of the moment kinda person, no worries. You can buy tickets that day as well, you just risk being at the mercy of first come first serve. When on vacations, I try to find things in the area that are free to do. It's a balancing act between those excursions that cost and those that don't. I always tend to find amazing free places to visit no matter where I go, so I highly recommend doing some research, ordering a visitors guide from the City, and take advantage of local events. Charleston is a perfect place to just wander around the city exploring. I never get tired of it. Years ago I purchased a Walking Tour Guide (which I'm sure they still sell), however you can find Free Walking Tours online, where you pay what you can afford. All you need to do is sign up online ahead of time. I'll share a bit more about our walking the city later on.
After our free breakfast at the hotel on Day Two, which included some grits (of course), off we went to the city to experience a day of touring and shopping. We drove into town and parked at the Concord Parking Garage (off of East Bay Street) for the day for $10. A relative bargain if you have ever parked in Boston or other large cities. Wowza!! Once parked we were on foot the rest of the day so wear very comfortable shoes. To begin our day I knew we had to start with the carriage tour. There are many tours available along Market Street, but folks I highly recommend the Old South Carriage Tour. You can't miss them, they are the ones with the red sash's. They are knowledgable and witty in their narratives. When debarking on the tour, drivers pull up to pull a ticket to determine which area they will be taking you. This helps with traffic, and no matter which ticket you pull...you are in for a fun history lesson and a few chuckles.
After returning from the tour we made our way along Market Street and King Street. Shopping in Charleston is amazing. Locals wares are plentiful at the Market and along the sides, while high end shops and antique shops can be found along King Street. It's easy to spend tons of money in these areas, but if I were to recommend anything for a souvenir, it would be a sweet grass basket. Gulla women have woven these beautiful baskets for years, and although a little pricey, they are well worth the investment. For a quick refreshment I highly suggest taking a quick detour into River Street Sweet Shop to buy a one of a kind praline, and then make your way to Kaminsky's for a piece of key lime pie. Both are located on the north side of Market Street, and if heaven were a sweet, it would be Kaminsky's Key Lime Pie and River Street pralines. This will certainly take care of any sweet tooth you may have had while tiding you over for dinner.
As if we didn't have enough of a fun packed day in town...we found our way back that night to enjoy a great dinner at Southend Brewery (aka Lagunitas). Now closed for repairs on the structure of the building, I highly recommend making your way there once again when it reopens. The unique atmosphere and delicious southern cooking won me over years ago and brings me back time and again.
After dinner it was time to get our scare on as we made our way to the Bulldog Tours Haunted Jail Tour. It was the perfect time as we planned ahead and bought our tour tickets for after dark. Nothing spookier than touring a haunted jail in the complete dark, right? Whether you are or are not a believer going in, you will be a believer coming out. Cameras picked up tons of strange orbs (not mine unfortunately) while some had sensations of being touched while in there. Highly recommend this tour as it was more than just fun, it was quite informative.
On Day Three we found our way over to Mount Pleasant where we had reserved a tee time for Zach to play at Patriots Point Links. One of two things he really wanted to do this vacation, it was perfect weather for a round of golf for him, and for me? Well I decided to walk the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. When living in Charleston years prior, the Cooper River Bridge spanned the waterway and was quite the scary thing to cross. This modern more impressive bridge however has a great walking path for walkers, runners, and bikes and I was super excited to be able to walk this. A couple miles in total over and back, I loaded up my camera gear and headed across. I thought I was prepared with a bottled water and my good running sneakers. But note to self for next time: two bottles of water at least, less equipment, and sunscreen as it was super hot at high noon on that bridge. But in the end, it was so worth the trek!! Heck, look at that view of Fort Sumter and Patriot's Point!
After a quick trip down to the underpass, the Memorial Waterfront Park area, for a peek and some more photos, it was perfect timing for Zach's round of golf to be completed and to make my way back to him. He had a blast and great round of golf. He was super impressed with the course, and was placed with three others to make up a foursome for the round of golf. He felt the additional cost to play this course was well worth it, and was glad we reserved his tee time ahead online. One other observation he made, don't look for lost balls if you shoot near the water as he came across a gator by one water hole.
That evening we figured we would stay at the hotel and order in a pizza and have a swim. This is when I learned how ping pong was not my game, however life size checkers were. It was good to just relax in the room and look out over the marina at night. The view was beautiful and my dogs (aka feet) were extremely tired as I literally walked blisters on to the bottom of my foot (in sneakers at that). See I wasn't kidding about comfortable shoes folks. Next time gel insoles too.
Day Four was another awesome weather day so to take advantage of it, after breakfast we packed ourselves a picnic lunch and headed to Folly Beach over on John's Island. For those of you that know me well, you know what I was in search of, the lighthouse!!!! Parking along the street for a few bucks was worth it. We were able to get pretty close to the beach itself. We walked around the few cute touristy type shops in town and then headed towards the pier to see what we could see. The beach was packed and although we didn't want to lay out or swim...it was really nice to just hang out and have our lunch along the beach area.
After lunch we made our way closer to the Morris Island Lighthouse. As it was down a few more blocks than my feet were willing to cart me, we drove and parked as close as possible. Hiking into the dune areas we were able to get right up to the shoreline across from the lighthouse. With a receding coastline over the years, the lighthouse now is actually located out into the water. If I had my kayak..it would have not been a problem to get closer to, but this was perfect just the same. I stood in awe of the majestic structure and how it sat so beautifully out past the dunes. For those of you just learning, I have a thing for lighthouses and would like to be able to take photos of all of them. Yes all of them, everywhere. There is something about them that calls to me. Maybe it's their history, or that they represent a beacon to those lost. The solitude of both the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers and the seafarers they guided has always peeked my curiosity, and therefore I am now on a mission to capture as many as possible. This one was another one checked off my bucket list! Whoo hoo!!
That night we stopped at another of our favorite watering holes, Panera. Yeah, I know, it's not local cuisine, but it's delicious and we wanted to save a few dollars so by eating out at a few chain restaurants on vacations, it allows us to eat as some nicer ones too. I've found it's definitely a budgeting trick to make the most of where you go.
Day Five Zach indulged me as I didn't have much of a chance our shopping day to actually meander through the streets and see the beautiful homes and architecture of the city. Sunday was the perfect day for a stroll too, as it was a bit overcast and that was perfect for what I had in mind. If you've never been to Charleston and want to stroll, may I suggest you begin in the Market Steet and East Bay Street area. You will know it as that is the front entrance of the Market and is directly across from the US Customs House. Trust me, you won't miss it. but just in case, I've attached a photo below.
Beginning on Market, we always make our way over to the Waterfront Park area. There you can sit and swing, and if you get up early enough to watch the sun rise, you can watch as the dolphins come into the area to eat and visit with those on the pier.
Making your way south through the park, you will see the beautiful Pineapple Fountain, one of two that welcomes guests to the park. The other flanks the entrance and you often see children and dogs running through that one cooling off and getting a drink as they make their way into the park. Following along the park path, I often cut across one of the small side streets and head down East Bay Street past the little shops. At the corner of Broad St. and East Bay you will see the Exchange building, as well as the building I used to work in when I was with NCNB. 52 Broad Street was my office. The beautiful old building was closed last time I visited sadly, as I wanted to show Zach. Just past that corner begins the beautiful and famous Rainbow Row. These brightly colored row houses welcome visitors and have become a favorite of photographers and painters. With flowered window boxes, and wrought iron side gates that lead far back to a secret garden areas, these are one of Charleston's most known sites.
Continuing down East Bay Street, you will find you have to pick up your chin as the homes get larger and grander as you make you way towards the Battery. Now all historically protected, these homes have withstood hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes and still look as majestic and beautiful as the day they were built. Notice the narrowness of their frontage. Once taxed on the frontage of their homes, homeowners would build narrow and deep into their lots. As you peek through the gates, you can see grand gardens and side porches with joggling boards.
As you round the bend of the Battery you come to Whitepoints Garden where you will find shady trees, monuments, old canons, and the coolest of breezes coming in off the ocean. The homes that flank this area are the biggest and grandest of the city. Their porches are inviting, and you can just see yourself sitting there with a glass of sweet tea visiting.
I find here is where I turn up Meeting Street and start to make my way north
again towards Broad Street. At Broad Street you will find the Four Corners of Law. They call it this, as all areas of the law are represented; Federal Post Office (Federal), County Courthouse (State), St. Michaels Church (Church), and Charleston's City Hall (City).
As you make your way north this is where I loose myself as I make my way down all the little side streets. These homes and historic buildings welcome you with pretty flowers, secret areas that you long to know what they hold, and historic charms you wish you knew more of. Never does this get old to me. And never has this ever seemed like the same walk as I constantly find new things to see. There are way to many areas of this city to cover here as I share my walk about the city. That could be a few blogs in itself. But I will share below a few house tours I suggest going on while you are in the City. Each offer different things, however all are equally as interesting and beautiful.
It was this evening that we made our way finally to our favorite watering hole, Sticky Fingers on Meeting Street!!! Here we sat at the same table as Al Roker, and ordered our favorite BBQ in the city. Yes it's a chain, but it's the best dang BBQ I've had in Charleston for sure. Definitely worth a stop in.
As we came to our final full day, Day Six was going to be one for the record books. Because this was the day we did Zach's final request, a Segway Tour. Didn't this kid know me at all? Hadn't he seen how utterly clumsy and accident prone I was? Well, he hadn't asked for much and was so very patient with me and my photo taking, so it was the least I could do for him. So off we went for our Segway of Charleston Tour, a name that was rather misleading as they weren't exactly in Charleston. Because the crowds are too dense in Charleston, these tours are done over the bridge at Mount Pleasant. We met our guide and our machines in the back of a shopping mall area where we parked and had our first lesson. Seemed a little sketchy at first but was rather thankful there were no people around as I learned how to ride these things. Zach must have called ahead and warned him. Thank goodness there were helmets provided. I was feeling rather better at this point. Then came the lesson. Hey, these things are a lot easier than they seem. Once you get your balance, you can start and stop with no issues whatsoever!! So off we went. Our guide was quite knowledgeable and took us all through Mount Pleasant giving us a history of the island and it's inhabitants that I had never heard before and was quite impressed by. Pointing out areas of interest within the town, the hour flew by. Before we knew it, he brought us to a place in which we had time for "Free Segwaying". It was here I raced Zach and lost of course because even on these, I still drive like a Grandma. All I can say is, Paul Blart, move over as I love those things and would happily do another tour. Try it, you'll like it too.
Taking a quick detour to grab a bite to eat, we made our way to a place called Vickery's. Right on the water, this cozy little restaurant had great food and great views. Was the perfect thing for hungry segwayers. (Yes, it's a thing).
After recharging with burgers and sweet tea, we were off for our final exploration, Boone Hall Plantation. Boone Hall Plantation is quite well known for being in several movies over the years, including North & South, Queen, and the Notebook. With it's majestic "Avenue of Oaks" greeting you as you arrived, it's no wonder this picturesque homestead has found it's way on the big screen.
With the price of admission, you are given a house and grounds tour, and several areas are open for self tours on the grounds. It's a great value, as well as a wonderful learning experience. During certain times of the year you can take in special presentations and events like the Oyster and Strawberry Festivals, as well as see how this now is a working farm with special education tours. I highly recommend this tour as it is one of my favorites in the area.
You can't help but loose yourself in the history and beauty of this plantation, and is a perfect place for weddings, even Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds got married here, so I'm in good company thinking so.
Wow, so that was our week long vacation, and boy did it fly by, making that saying about 'time flies when you are having fun' so very true. Would like to thank my son for asking me to take him here so that I could share this awesome city with him. I think he had a good time exploring with me. I know I did.
All in all it was not one of my cheaper vacations, but I hope I helped you find a few short cuts and money saving ideas should you decide to go on a trip to the Low Country. I'll list below some restaurants and places to see that weren't mentioned this trip. Some I've been on and eaten at, some are still on my bucket list of places to see. Until next time my friends, Slainte'
Restaurants I Recommend
Poogans Porch, Hanks Seafood, & Hominy Grill
Other Sites to See:
Magnolia Plantation (do the all inclusive pass $52 to see it all)
Houses in the City to Tour