My sister Sarah put it perfectly on our last day in Charleston: This city is like Disney World for adults. The booze flows freely, you can eat with abandon, stroll King Street for unparalleled shopping, and you can walk pretty much anywhere you need to go. Charleston, South Carolina, is made for pleasure, an epicurean city with a history as rich as a bowl of She-crab soup.
Our first stop upon arrival was The Oyster House on Market. Just in time for happy hour, we ate hushpuppies with praline butter, fried shrimp and oysters, and She-crab soup, a Charleston specialty.
The next morning, we took a guided two hour walking tour to get a solid overview of the city and learn more about its history. Charleston is one of the most historic cities in America, being an early American settlement by the British as well as the location of beginning of the Civil War when first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. Charleston Sole Walking Tours provides a fascinating look at major historic and architectural points of interests.
No place does quaint alleyways, cobbled streets, and gaslight facades better than Charleston. The entire city looks like a movie set. If it weren’t for the luxury cars parked outside, the homes could be those of socialites from the Antebellum age or British aristocrats setting up shop within the walled city. Modernity is nowhere to be found — in most cities you have unique architecture mixed with sleek skyscrapers and a bustling Financial District. You won’t find that in Charleston — instead you’ll find piazzas overlooking Charleston Harbor, Victorian flourishes, and window boxes filled with “thrillers, spillers, and fillers.”
After our walking tour, we grabbed a bite to eat at Henry’s, across the street from our hotel (try to grab a drink or lunch on the rooftop terrace). My mom, sister, and I decided to go for a bike ride, which to our surprise was rather challenging. Surprisingly, Charleston is not a huge biking city — between the heavy traffic and cobblestone streets (which are hard enough to walk on, let alone bike), it took some effort to navigate the city, especially for first timers. Despite this, we biked throughout South of Broad, the area south of Broad Street, down the Battery and along the waterfront.
That evening, we had our first glimpse into what the big fuss about the Charleston food scene is all about. PSA: If you can’t get into Husk (they were closed for our trip dates), don’t fret. There are alternatives that are also true Charleston dining experiences. We ate dinner at The Ordinary, a beautiful restaurant on King Street (reservations suggested). Here is where you'll find some of the best oysters in South Carolina (order the “Phat Ladies” just for the name alone). We ordered the lobster roll, Blue crab toast, oyster sliders, Carolina Gold rice pudding and coconut creme pie.
We were up early the next day and headed to Magnolia Planation, about 11 miles northwest of Charleston. There’s a dark side in the history of this city and to a larger extent, this region of America. The charming dimensions of the city of Charleston are shadowed by its brutal engagement with the slave trade in America and look no further than the multitude of plantations surrounding Charleston for evidence of this trade.
Today, Magnolia Planation is a museum with extensive gardens and sprawling land. Giant oaks draped with Spanish moss can found all over the property as can its renowned azaleas and camellias, blooming even in December gloom. We took the nature tour, spotting alligators, ibis, egrets, and turtles, and marveling at the quintessential South Carolina low country scenes. The planation’s "From Slavery to Freedom" tour gives a deeper look at the lives of enslaved individuals on the property from the time they arrived via boat up the Ashley River to post-Civil War freedom. From the abundance of alligators to the stifling humidity, these individuals faced death around every corner working on the planation. We were pleased to find that the way the planation portrays this makes no attempt to sugarcoat or gloss over the brutality of the slave trade.
That evening we dined at FIG, another buzzy restaurant, on par with Husk. Order from their extensive Negroni menu to start and try the fish stew for essentially the ocean cooked to perfection in one pot.
One week prior to our trip, Pounce Cat Cafe had opened off Meeting Street. For $15, my sister and I had champagne and played with adoptable cats and kittens, taken directly from the shelter. A genius establishment that has adopted out 30 cats in just one week and a relaxing post-dinner evening activity.
Having been to Nashville, Atlanta, and New Orleans, I had been wanting to visit Charleston for a while, to round out the top cities of the South. I enjoyed Charleston immensely, but to me seems very much like a place to visit rather than live. (We joked that we would develop gout if we stayed there longer than a week or two.) This city is rich in many ways with a genteel, welcoming spirit and a charming elegance.