Travel Thursday: Charleston, S.C. - Home to Southern Charm, Comfort, & Hospitality.
“Why did you come to Charleston, South Carolina?” I asked a nice couple having a drink at the rooftop deck of the Belmond. They stated that they had traveled down to Charleston from Maryland, because they had never been and they heard some great things about the city.
Why do we visit a place? Why do we choose to spend our time and money going somewhere we've never been? One of my main reasons for going to Charleston was because my siblings had been born there and spent a couple of years of their early years while my father was stationed there during the Viet Nam War. Besides my mother saying “you’re gonna love it” over and over again, others have stated it is one of the great cities of our nation and a true gem. It was time for me to find out.
THE SIGHTS –
- CARRIAGE TOUR - During our stay, we were able to squeeze in a city tour. I’ve been to New Orleans over 15 times, but never taken a horse carriage tour. Jumping at the fact that the carriage tours are one of the more popular ways to see Charleston, we could not wait to see which sector of the city we would see. The structures around Charleston are quintessential southern architecture. From the churches, meeting houses, government buildings, and the hospitality doors, my camera was very happy. The guides for the Old South Carriage CO. dressed in Confederate garb, a red sash around the driver's waist. Our guide entertained us with both historical facts and humor. They guarantee satisfaction and we were satisfied.
CARRIAGE TOUR WITH OLD SOUTH CARRIAGE CO. | @oldsouthchs 12 Anson Street, Charleston (843) 723-9712, oldsouthcarriage.com
- HAUNTED JAIL TOUR -
Bulldog Tours runs many tours in the city. One we were excited to attend was the Haunted Jail Tour. As seen on Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and The Travel Channel, we went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Old City Jail, which housed some of Charleston’s most infamous criminals, 19th-century pirates, and Civil War prisoners. The Old City Jail was in operation from 1802 until 1939, and most of the building’s original structures — like the cells and warden’s quarters — remain intact. If you want to learn the history behind the haunted, take our new Charleston Jail History Tour. Our tour guide was Eric Lavender. I am sure the guides are all good, but Eric was perfection. I even had a little paranormal experience that I will remember forever.
- MIDDLETON PLACE - Besides the history downtown, we were fortunate to have some time to tour Middleton Place. This National Historic Landmark is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a lively stableyard with free-grazing sheep, cashmere goats, Belgian draft horses, guinea hogs, peacocks and majestic water buffalo. We did not stay for all of the demonstrations on making pottery, weaving, blacksmithing, candle-dipping, and open fire cooking methods. I was astonished to find out that this land was used for growing rice, a crop that made Charleston the wealthiest colonial city during the eighteenth century. I’ve been to several plantations in Louisiana and they all had a different “take” on the history of the land, the people that lived there, and the people that worked or were enslaved there. Take a tour like we did or do a self-guided tour of the gardens and property. Catch up on some of the history in a video below.
Downtown … check. Out in the countryside … check. Where else should we see Charleston? How about from the water.
- COASTAL EXPEDITIONS -
We were lucky enough to secure a boat tour from Coastal Expeditions. While heading out into the bay, it was evident that shrimping was very popular and important to the local economy. Our captain and fellow guide Henry Brandt III and T.J. Chavis were great on the journey. Their enthusiasm and knowledge were great to have as we learned about the history, present, and future of the Charleston and the water that surrounds it. As a history major, teacher, and lover, it was a chilling moment to see Fort Sumter along with other historical landmarks, ships, etc.
Since 1992, the basic mission of Coastal Expeditions has been to take people to beautiful places to experience meaningful things. Being that Charleston is a water town, the best ways to get to these spots are by kayak, canoe or powerboat. Our guides delight in showing you dolphins feeding in a saltwater creek or the Holy City skyline at sunset. And they can't wait to take you to the Boneyard on Bulls Island at daybreak or share Charleston history with you as you paddle by historic rice fields. We offer something for everyone- kayak and paddleboard rentals, daily tours, blackwater adventures, camping and more.
As we toured around where the two rivers met, the Ashley and Cooper, we were flanked by dolphins. Henry even pointed out that we were seeing them mating. Of course we would be the group that would see that. I would definitely book another excursion with Henry and T.J. and Coastal Expeditions.
THE NIGHT LIFE –
- DUDLEY'S - We had some time to play around and the place we decided to spend our fun money was at Dudley’s. The full name of the bar is Dudley’s on Ann – Charleston’s “Everybody” Bar. All the staff was great From Daniel Brinker , to bartender Chris, to DJ Matterhorn, to the other bartenders I saw hustling in this small and lively place, BRAVO. It was a great spot to spend a couple nights in. The nights consisted of drag shows full of great talent, performers all around, fun groups, yes, bachelorette parties, but they didn’t hang all night, and a mixed crowd of all members of society. Tuxes with bowties next to shirtless boys next to silver-spooned preppies next to the shy silent types. Pick a person, they were there and that made the nights very enjoyable. There seems to always be a line to get into Dudley’s for it’s one business in from King Street and the straight bar nightlife. I did want to check that out, but we were too busy enjoying ourselves at Dudley’s.
THE FOOD –
People rave about many things when it comes to Charleston and food is right around the top of the list. We had our opportunities to taste a great deal of what Chucktown has to offer.
- HOMINY GRILL - Our first wonderful instance of mouth happiness took place at the Hominy Grill. James Beard Awarding winning chef Robert Stehling takes this single home with charming courtyard and envelops it with offerings like a Southern-style cocktail, shrimp and grits, or the infamous Charleston Nasty Biscuit. This last option called my name and reminded me of the Biscuit Bitch in Seattle, Washington. When something calls you, you need to go with it and I’m so glad I did. It was great to fill me up as we all ogled over the men in scrubs enjoying their meals in the courtyard. That’s another thing that Charleston has going for it. There’s a good amount of young professionals, new growth, and great options for every age bracket, but it is nice to see a vibrance of post collegial peeps enjoying the city.
- MAGNOLIAS - This seems to be a must-eat-at locale when visiting. Honestly, every place we dined at was impressive and satisfying. Nestled on East Bay Street, Magnolia's combines old world charm with contemporary excitement. Chefs Kelly Franz and Don Drake are recognized as pioneers in the creative use of the Lowcountry's bounty. What is Lowcountry? It’s a term I feel is used instead of local and fresh. I’ve had fried green tomatoes before, but these had to be the best that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and eating. The home made chips were very crisp and the blue cheese was powerful, just how it should be.
- LEWIS BARBECUE - When in the south, anywhere in the south, you need to try the barbecue. Lewis Barbecue was the site of our meat coma of an experience. They opened their doors and their smokers to us and we were very appreciative. They didn’t have corn bread for us, but we had the corn pudding, which we all wanted to bathe in. The service was the type we have grown to experience in Charleston, from our first beer served to us at the Club Level at Belmond Place to the airport, the amazing southern hospitality lived up to his name. We were all very appreciative of the great food, good little gift corner, and the tour of the smoking room. All the barbecue was perfect, but my favorite offerings from Lewis Barbecue, which surprised me, were the sausage and the turkey.
@lewisbarbecue 464 North Nassau Street, Charleston (843) 805-9500, lewisbarbecue.com
Former pitmaster at award-winning Texas restaurant La Barbecue, John Lewis brings his signature barbecue to Charleston with the opening of Lewis Barbecue.
Named “The Brisket Evangelist” by Garden & Gun magazine, Lewis welds his own custom-designed smokers to create expertly smoked beef brisket, pork spareribs and beef ribs.
- THE DARLING OYSTER BAR - And then there was brunch before we flew home after our wonderful long weekend. No good gay goes without brunch. Executive Chef Joe DiMaio, former chef at the Old Village Post House and Stars Rooftop & Grill Room, opened The Darling Oyster Bar, a space featuring a 14- seat bar, a vast cocktail program, and a seafood inspired menu including fried, raw, and baked options.
Even if you are not an oyster fan like myself, there are plenty of options. Maybe you could even start off brunch with the massive “The Captain” which contains vodka, hose mix, celery, pickled shrimp, hushpuppy, a king crab leg, and a lobster claw. Some in our party had two, glushes!
@darling_oyster_bar 513 King Street, Charleston (843) 641-0821, thedarling.com
LGBT HIGHLIGHTS -
- AFFA - I recommend making friends while in the city for it’s easily done. Meeting up with some of the LGBT citizens in Charleston, we were invited to the home of Doug Warner, Director of Media Relations, Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The evening was to honor Linda Ketner, Founder of Alliance For Full Acceptance (AFFA). It was interesting to learn about AFFA for its history highlights the Charleston LGBT community and how it has changed and grown over the past 25 years.
- LGBT TOURS - You can also check out this resource - New map highlights gay history in Charleston. One of our new friends took a walking tour by Bulldog tours that was focusing on LGBT history. It's good to see that there are options to learn about Charleston's history and it's homosexual side.
My last post on Charleston (Travel Thursday: Our First Visit to Charleston, SC.), highlighted where we stayed, Belmond Place, but this post hopefully filled in what else you can do during your stay in one of the best cities in the United States.