We had been looking forward to our stop in Charleston, SC since we left NY, and it did not disappoint. It was the first stop we really felt the history and charm of the South. Despite two days of rain, we packed as much as we could into our long weekend.
So many people gave us great recommendations we didn't know where to start! One thing we like to do when getting to a new city with a lot of things to see is to take a walking tour to get our bearings. We knew Charleston would be a more expensive stop for us, so we tried to save $$ where we could and opted for a self-guided walking tour we found online by Free Tours by Foot (the audio tour for Charleston is only $1.99) So, we set out with our headphones and visited the 17 stops, while getting a great overview of Charleston's history. It helped orient us and we saw a lot of the popular destinations like Rainbow Row, the Four Corners of the Law, the Old Slave Mart Museum, and the Dock Street Theater.
Walking around the cobblestone streets, seeing the beautiful old architecture and colorful houses, the historic buildings and the battery waterfront had us quickly throwing around the idea of moving to Charleston.
There are so many houses, plantations and museums in Charleston to tour, and it can get pretty pricey. In doing our research we came across The Heritage Passport. Purchasing a passport gets you into: Middleton Place, Drayton Hall, the Edmondston-Alston House, Nathaniel Russell House, Aiken Rhett House, Joseph Manigault House, Heyward-Washington House, Gibbes Museum of Art and Charleston Museum. You can get a 2 day pass, 3 day pass or 7 day, we went with the 2 day for $62.95. Considering how costly each of these are individually (Middleton Place is $29, house tours are $12 each) if you plan on visiting a few, buying the passport is your best option.
As far as plantations, we went to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (not part of the passport) and Middleton Place, both of which were so beautiful, even in the winter. Magnolia plantation has a romantic style garden, meaning it cooperates with nature and there is a relaxed flow to it, where Middleton place has more formal and shaped garden and "controls" nature. We can only imagine what they looks like in full bloom in the spring.
We walked the Magnolia Gardens on our own but at Middleton Place, they offer free walking tours at different times of the day which was great. Our guide explained all of the different types of flowers and trees like the camelias, crepe myrtles and azaleas; highlighted some of the different focal points of the gardens such as the lakes shaped like butterfly wings; and explained the reasoning and purpose behind the different designs in the gardens. The stable yards are also open and if you walk through you can get blacksmith and carpenter demonstrations.
We toured the Nathaniel Rogers House, Edmonston-Alston House, and the Joseph Manigault House. We like learning about the history and people much better with these types of tours rather than museums (We both tend to struggle a bit with museums, we get bored easily since there's no interaction and its harder to get a feel how life really was. So, we weren't impressed with the Charleston Museum). We found that the tour guides were very knowledgeable and were excellent story tellers. We were impressed with the free standing staircase at the Rogers house, the harbor view from the 2nd floor piazza of the Alston House and the spiral staircase and beautiful entrance way of the Manigault house. All three houses were slightly different styles of architecture and we were shocked by the detailed plaster work in each, it must have taken forever to do by hand.
The only other tour we did was the Haunted Old City Jail Tour with Bulldog Tours ($28 a person), which we recommend. It isn't any crazy haunted house stuff, but is a very interesting walk through a jail built in 1802, tales about some infamous criminals who were incarcerated there, a bit of history about the conditions and punishments prisoners experienced all in a pretty creepy environment.
We stopped in at Gin Joint for a drink. It's a bit hard to find, as its a small place and pretty tucked away on E. Bay Street. But if you are looking for a good old fashion or a unique cocktail, this is the spot. It has a 1920's vibe, and the bartenders take a lot of pride in what they create and whip up some pretty crazy drinks. Kevin opted for "The Corner Store", a seasonal take on an old fashion, and I went with Bartenders choice (I got a Haitian Divorce), both were delicious.
We splurged on two dinners, one at Magnolias and the other at Husk. Magnolias was our favorite, it was so good, true Southern comfort food at its finest. We started with boiled peanut hummus and for our entrees Kevin tried catfish and I had a roasted brussel sprout salad. We also had cornbread and an amazing pecan pie (we have eaten so many pecans since arriving in the south, it is becoming a problem). Husk was more of a fine dining experience, so it was pricier than Magnolias. We both really enjoyed our meals, I got a vegetarian platter and Kevin had shrimp and grits and a strip steak. Definitely expect to pay decent money for your meals in Charleston but the food is outstanding and definitely worth it.
Between the history, the tours, the beauty of the gardens, the grand old buildings, and the food, we really enjoyed our time in Charleston and would love to go back someday in the spring to see all of the gardens in bloom.
Have you been to Charleston, SC? Let us know your favorite parts!
By Ashley Quiambao