It started with a Travel Channel show at a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. The clips of quaint city streets, historic sites, unique architecture and ample restaurant choices were enough to entice us for a visit.
Charleston was originally founded in 1670 as Charles Town for King Charles II of England on a peninsula in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region. Three rivers converge there making it an important port town back in the day and to the present. At the bottom of the peninsula is the island fort of Fort Sumter, where the first shots were fired in the Civil War. Battery Park overlooks the fort on the waterfront, complete with cannons.
In fact, the whole area is immersed in history. Several companies offer tours of nearby plantations, harbor, city and horse carriage rides that are full of Charleston history. We did a trip with Adventure Sightseeing Tours to Boone Hall Plantation in nearby Mount Pleasant. Our tour started with a descendant of the Gullah, the name for the enslaved Africans there, with stories from her family about what life was like for slaves at the time.
One can also visit the Old Slave Mart in Charleston, now a museum that tells their story.
The historic district’s main pulse comes from the Charleston City Market. It’s one of the oldest running markets in the country with an array of tasteful tourist souvenirs ranging from artists prints of the city, Southern-style clothing and handmade goods to traditional sweet grass baskets originally made by the Gullahs. King Street is the main drag up the middle of the peninsula with many national and local clothing shops, restaurants of every ethnic variety, home shops, antique stores and more.
We tend to walk a lot on our travels and here it’s so interesting to walk by these historic buildings. Classic Georgia, Federal, Adamesque, Greek Revival, Italianate and Victorian-style homes are featured block after block throughout the Charleston peninsula. Colorful homes, tall narrow doors, gas lanterns, paneled wainscoting, side porches, lush gardens and Spanish moss are common features.
Since space is limited here, most are three to four stories tall with small yards. Located south of Broad Street lies Battery Row, filled with exclusive waterfront mansions, each with various architecture styles and magnificent to look at.
The Holy City
Charleston is home to a large amount of churches and became known as the “Holy City” because of its religious freedoms. Most churches have towering steeples over the city and are central in the city grid. You won’t walk a few blocks without passing one. What’s unique about them is their graveyards. There are no open grassy spaces outside of these churches. Graves are right up to the church walls and these are old – like back to the 1700s.
If we had a nickel for every time we said, “Now that’s old,” our trip would be paid for.
Of course, we had to go the restaurant that started it all: Marina Variety Store Restaurant. Located on the marina, out of the tourist area, the locals love it. Busy both times we visited. We tried the shrimp and grits, country-fried steak with biscuits and gravy, fried green tomatoes with crab cake, and chicken and waffles. All from the show and all of it was delicious!
The Charleston food scene is a seafood lover’s paradise, but it’s also Southern barbecue. We tried Home Team BBQ, which was a kitschy-type dive with great barbecue, beers and an array of barbecue sauces. They had outdoor patio seating, which on the weekends, looks like it would be pretty fun with live entertainment. There are so many unique restaurants to choose from in Charleston that culinary tours are offered.
Overall, we had a great visit. The economy is booming with large corporations like Boeing, BMW and Mercedes taking advantage of the business-friendly climate. Businesses are thriving and the people you’ll meet are full of Southern charm and very welcoming.