Charleston, South Carolina has something for everyone. This picturesque city is rich in history, culture, shopping, and food. My husband and I had visited Charleston 16 years ago when our older daughter was almost a year old. This time, we tacked a four day Charleston vacation to our tour of Southern colleges with our two daughters — almost 13 and almost 17.
Since we were already familiar with Charleston, we skipped the Charleston Visitor Center. However, first timers might want to begin at the Center at 375 Meeting Street. You can also order a free visitor guide from their website. Another good orientation to the city is taking a carriage ride. We took ours with Palmetto Carriage Works. The 40 minute tour meets at Market and Anson Street and runs through the historic district. Tickets are $16 for adults and $12 for kids. Our horse was called FaceBook and our driver was funny and entertaining.
Next, we shopped at the Charleston City Market, 188 Meeting Street, established in 1807. The Market is composed of three open air sheds and one enclosed great hall. Vendors sell T-shirts, hats, jewelry, and specialty foods. All over, ladies weave the traditional sweet grass baskets. Although eateries abound on either side of the market, there are really only two places to eat in it — Caviar & Bananas, an upscale deli and Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits. For lunch, we had samplers of three mini biscuits with fillings for $5 at Callie’s. If you want to shop some more, King Street is the main drag.
Waterfront Park, only a 15 minute walk away from City Market, is a great place for little ones to take a break or cool off. This free park has two fountains, one shaped like a pineapple, for wading, and a number of long porch swings with a view of the water.
Most historic attractions in Charleston (six museums, five historic houses, a powder magazine, and houses of worship) are within the Museum Mile, making the city perfect for a walking tour. We only went inside of two of the sites – the Old Slave Mart Museum and the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon. A combination ticket to both attractions is available for $15 for adults; $8 for children. The Slave museum was the site of an enclosed auction and tells the story of the slaves and traders. I found the chart of the cost of slaves by age fascinating. The voice recordings of African-Americans recalling slave auctions were also very interesting.
The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon is a study in contrasts. The top two floors were a testament to Charleston’s wealth and status. It was a post office and center of commerce. Signage tells the history of the cash crops — cotton, indigo, and rice. A costumed tour guide leads you to the dungeon where American Revolutionary patriots were imprisoned by the British.
Other attractions in Charleston include the South Carolina Aquarium (a little pricey), Charles Towne Landing, a 600 acre historic site, commemorating the original settlers, and Fort Sumter (of great historical significance but not much there). No trip to Charleston is complete without a visit to some plantations (see Charleston Plantations article). We would love to return in May/June for the annual Spoleto Festival of the performing arts.
My younger daughter yearned for a beach day so we went to Kiawah Island, 45 minutes away from Charleston. The entry cost is $10 per car. The beach was beautiful with white, soft sand and warm water. Amenities include restrooms, changing rooms, showers, picnic tables, and the cheapest snack shop I have ever seen at a beach. The snack bar even had beach toys for sale. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer months.
Charleston has become known as a foodie city. We explored the Farmer’s Market at 329 Meeting Street, which is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, with local produce, food and crafts. We bought artisanal popsicles, coffee flavored cotton candy, and danish.
Although the tourist section of downtown Charleston is rich in restaurants, our three favorite restaurants were farther afield. Hominy Grill, two miles from downtown, specializes in Southern food like shrimp and grits. Their $3.50 sides of mac and cheese or grits serve as kid’s meals. We liked the desserts so much that we returned twice more. Artisan Meat Share a few blocks away serves charcuterie and sandwiches. We purchased a huge charcuterie platter for the four of us for $50. It was my daughters’ favorite meal of the vacation. Kid’s meals are $5 with $1.50 sides. Lewis Barbecue in a neighborhood in the middle of nowhere was worth a special trip. Their Wednesday night special of smoked prime rib and french fries for $25 was one of the best meals we have eaten anywhere. The brisket and Texas hot guts (sausages )were amazing too. We started off with one helping of the corn pudding and returned for two more.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites Charleston Airport. Our suite had a living room with pull out couch, a refrigerator, and a master bedroom. The hotel had a nice fitness center, pool and hot tub but a very disappointing breakfast buffet included in the price.
Leave a comment on this review and let us know your favorite thing to do while in Charleston!
Photos courtesy of Beth Meyer.