Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Travel with Terri to charming historic Charleston

Imagine this place – century-old, massive live oak trees, with sprawling branches, draped with silver-hanging moss. Over one thousand significant historic buildings and 400 church steeples dot the skyline. Regal historic homes that boast all the color hues of the rainbow. Countless stately mansions and vast plantations. Rich in history – the city where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Deep South warm and welcoming Southern hospitality. Exceptional accommodations and impressive, mouth-watering Lowcountry cuisine. There’s no wonder why Charleston, South Carolina is consistently voted as one of our nation’s most beautiful cities and one of America’s favorite vacation destinations, year after year.

This southern girl had not been to Charleston since childhood and decided I needed to check out this place because it just sounds magical and has all the things I love. It also sounds like the perfect romantic getaway, friend vacation or mother-daughter trip. I opted for a fun experience with one of my daughters, we had an outstanding time and are already planning on going back.

First, where to stay? Goodness, the choices are endless. There are so many options that we decided to try an old and a new hotel. We knew we wanted to be in the heart of the historic district, so the King’s Courtyard Inn it was. The inn offers rooms that surround two inner courtyards. Not only is it within walking distance of Charleston’s historic homes, gardens and churches, but also only a block away from the City Market area. Complimentary continental breakfast is offered, also an afternoon wine and cheese reception. Walk out the front door and you’re on the legendary, bustling King Street.

For a newer property, we stayed at the luxurious Loutrel which is located in the heart of the historic French Quarter. The Loutrel is a new luxury boutique hotel and has been named the best hotel in Charleston. It has The Veranda Lounge, a private club room for guests, and a picturesque large rooftop with spectacular city views. Here they serve hand-crafted cocktails and appetizers daily at sunset for hotel guests. The botanical inspiration lends itself to a curated trendy décor. We enjoyed a beautifully appointed spacious room, delicious breakfast, outstanding staff, and the Loutrel’s captivating signature scent.

The activity choices in Charleston are endless. As always, first on my list is to take a tour to get a broad-brush idea of the area and understand the lay of the land. Palmetto Carriage Works was ideal. In a horse-drawn carriage, we saw antebellum mansions, historic landmarks, and beautiful parks at a leisurely pace. Our licensed guide shared entertaining stories and local lore over the course of this one-hour tour. We learned lots of fascinating facts and history about Charleston. The tour gives leisurely, sidewalk-level views of amazing picturesque architecture throughout Charleston’s beautiful historic district.

Another great resource for learning about this fantastic place is the Charleston Museum – it was founded in 1773, making it America’s first museum. It features two levels of exhibits that recount the history of Charleston, Lowcountry Culture, the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Plus, surprisingly the skeleton of a forty-foot Atlantic Right Whale that swam into Charleston Harbor in 1880. The museum also owns two historic homes, that are open to the public.

The iconic Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park is a must-see. This park is an eight-acre linear park and pier along the waterfront at Charleston Harbor. It features scenic tree-lined walkways, spectacular views of the harbor and the famous Pineapple Fountain! The pineapple is a southern symbol of hospitality and it can be found on numerous wrought-iron gates, doors and homes around Charleston.

Nearby are 13 frequently photographed colorful homes that stretch from 79 – 107 East Bay Street in Charleston’s famed Historic District known as “Rainbow Row.” They look like a pretty watercolor painting and are an indelible part of the city’s character. The signature colors include shades of pink, yellow, green and blue. And more elaborate, larger and picturesque homes are just down the road in an area called “The Battery.” Honestly, that name did not translate much to me, so when we saw this area, our mouth’s dropped in awe at what we had discovered. Here are countless magnificent waterfront Antebellum mansions that are surrounded by lovely live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. The Battery, which was once a defensive seawall, is known to be one of Charleston’s most iconic historic sites. And at the southern end of the Battery is White Point Garden, another one of Charleston’s beautiful parks.

If you liked the movie “The Notebook” then you’ll love seeing where part of it was filmed. Boone Hall Plantation is epic. It was founded in 1681 when Englishman Major John Boone came to Charleston and established a lucrative plantation and gracious home. In 1743, the son of Major John Boone planted live oak trees, arranging them in two evenly spaced rows. This spectacular sight is the entrance to the plantation. We also were intrigued by seeing original slave cabins. Have you ever heard of the Gullah-Geehee people? I had not, this was all news to me. At Boone Plantation, you can hear from a true Gullah descendent at a fantastic and educational presentation. The Gullah woman passionately sang and taught us that Gullahs are African Americans who live in the South Carolina Lowcountry and Georgia’s coastal region. They are known for preserving their African linguistic and cultural heritage and making sweetgrass baskets. She also elaborated on the Gullah’s life being enslaved at Boone. It was interesting and impressive. Folklore, stories, and songs have been handed down through the Gullah for generations. This was truly a Southern cultural experience.

Charleston Plantations were an important aspect of the Southern economy, especially before the Civil War. Most of these plantations used slave labor to grow cotton, indigo, rice and tobacco. Many of these grand estates collapsed after the abolition of slavery, but some of these century-old properties still exist today and are excellent places to learn about the past. Hopefully, the list below will help you decide which ones to visit.

  • Most well-known plantation – Boone Hall
  • Best and oldest landscaped gardens – Middleton Place
  • Best wildlife – Magnolia Plantation
  • Best preserved plantation house – Drayton Hall
  • Best place for a picnic – Hampton Plantation
  • Most unusual plantation – Charleston Tea Plantation
  • Quick and free – Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
  • Best of the best – McLeod Plantation Historic Site
  • Best place to enjoy nature – Cypress Gardens

It didn’t take long to determine why Charleston’s restaurant scene is ranked as one of the best in the country. Downtown Charleston is only 4-5 square miles, and there are over 200 restaurants to choose from with several featuring James Beard Award-winning chefs and many earning AAA Four Diamond ratings. So, know you need to make your dinner reservations early.

Here are my Top 5 favorite restaurants:

Miller’s All Day is a brunch-centric casual restaurant on fashionable King Street. The menu is outstanding offering an all-day breakfast that focuses on traditional Southern fare. This is a great way to start your day. Everything on the menu is delicious, especially the cheese strata and housemade pop tart!  Millers All Day | Millers All Day | Charleston, SC | King Street

The Darling Oyster Bar celebrates the bounty of the sea with the freshest, best seafood. There is a space that features a 14-seat bar for viewing cracking oysters and shellfish preparation and faces King Street. They have a stellar cocktail program and a seafood-inspired menu including fried, raw and baked options. We tried one of their specialties – baked oysters with pimento cheese. Southern goodness!  The Darling Oyster Bar – Charleston, SC

Herd Provisions is a bit out of town, but worth the drive. This is a restaurant and butcher shop with live music. They offer grass-fed meat from the owner’s Leaping Water’s Farm. Herd offers a rustic version of neo-American bistro fare with menu items such as poutine with short rib gravy, excellent steaks and seafood, and my favorite…cornbread infused with graham crackers served with honey butter. HERD PROVISIONS

Slightly North of Broad, or the acronym SNOB as it is famously referred to, is where you can enjoy reinvented Lowcountry cuisine including shrimp and grits and butternut squash bisque. SNOB brings together an abundance of fresh, local ingredients and expert presentation and colorful decor. Their service was impeccable, friendly and energetic.  The menu is absolutely impressive. Our charcuterie board was a great starter and the ending was pure heaven, a homemade banana cream pie topped with a sugary crystalized banana slice on top. Slightly North of Broad | Fine dining restaurant in Charleston, SC (snobcharleston.com)

Church and Union might just be top of my list because of the 110-year-old church it’s in creating amazing ambiance. It has original stained-glass windows that tower over the main dining room with multi-level lighting creating a dreamy glow throughout the cathedral ceilings. We truly enjoyed the beet and burrata salad, truffle pork belly and collard greens. Church and Union has stellar service, an extensive wine menu and world-class food. Eating here is a unique culinary experience. Church & Union | C U there (churchandunioncharleston.com)

Founded in 1670, Charleston’s rich culture has a strong connection to the past—that lives in the hearts of locals, in traditions, the facades of homes and seasons of the food. While historic Charleston is indeed a veritable living museum, it is also a bustling epicenter of culture, invigorating outdoor activity, and sumptuous dining that welcomes visitors from around the world, southern style. Charleston is truly charming!

Follow @TravelwithTerri on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Terri is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers.

Helpful Websites:

Explore Charleston, SC | Find your Charleston (charlestoncvb.com)

The Loutrel Hotel | Official Site | The Loutrel

Charleston SC Hotels | Kings Courtyard Inn

Terri Guthrie
Terri Guthriehttps://travelwithterri.net/
Terri Guthrie is a member of Society of American Travel Writers, Texas Travel Alliance and International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Follow Terri on social media at Travel with Terri.

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