Over Memorial Day weekend, Jay and I took our first trip to Charleston, SC. His work sent him there for a seminar, so I joined him on Friday and we took two days to explore the city. Prior to our trip, I’ll admit to fairly high expectations. Everyone has only positive comments about Charleston. However, after Austin turning out to be a bit of a dud for us, I was hoping we wouldn’t have a similar experience. Turns out I had nothing to fear! We fell in love with the southern lifestyle, beautiful buildings, delicious food, and variety of things to do.
Lucky for us, Frontier has direct flights out of Trenton, so an hour and a half after boarding I met Jay at the Charleston airport. He actually arrived at the airport an hour early to get our rental car and was STILL waiting for it when I arrived. Lesson learned – DO NOT use Avis. For some reason, they were abominably slow both getting people through the line at the desk and then bringing the cars to the lot for pickup. I’m grateful he thought to get there so early because I was starving and requested we eat as soon as possible. No surprise there : ) We drove into downtown Charleston, parked, and stopped at the first place we saw. Southern BBQ! Located right next to our parking garage, it was convenient and tasty.
I made a reservation for a walking tour at 3, so we killed a bit of time just wandering after lunch. When the time arrived, we met our Oyster Point walking tour guide at the old customs building. Helpful tip, there are public restrooms inside. Our guide, Palmer, was enthusiastic and clearly full of knowledge. We walked through most of the historic downtown and all the way south to the Battery, stopping along the way as she pointed out places of interest. It was honestly one of the best tours I’ve experienced. She primarily talked about the history of the city, but also covered some current events, architecture, and fun facts about the families who live here. I highly recommend this company!! Two hours well spent.
For dinner, we browsed a few menus but felt a bit underdressed for many of the restaurants in the French Quarter. So, we ended up at Mac’s Place, a Chicago sports bar where we enjoyed beers and pub food. Can’t go wrong with that.
Since it was Memorial Day weekend, we had a bit of trouble using points to book hotels. So, we booked our first night at the Hampton Inn Charleston/Mt Pleasant, just outside the city. It was easily accessible by car, only about 10 min from downtown. The area isn’t terribly appealing though and the whole hotel smelled a bit musty. The room was fine, but not anything to rave about.
On Day 2, we enjoyed our free breakfast at the hotel before driving to Magnolia Plantation. I snagged a Groupon deal ahead of time for discount admission to the gardens. We also added on the house tour when we arrived. Jay and I were both impressed with the sprawling plantation. It is a gorgeous location with lush greenery and massive oak trees. The house itself featured an enormous wrap around porch and unique living areas inside. Our tour lasted 45 minutes while our guide regaled us with stories of the generations of families who live here. I always appreciate when the house is filled with period furniture and this did not disappoint!
The gardens are the pride and joy of this family, though. We spent a solid hour walking the paths and admiring the hydrangeas and other flowers in bloom. Apparently these are the oldest public gardens in America! The family came up with the idea to raise money after the devastation of the civil war. Genius. I highly recommend a visit to this plantation and suggest giving yourself two hours minimum. They also have options to add on additional tours, so you can easily spend half a day here.
For lunch we stopped by a Yelp recommended local café called The Mason Jar. It’s only about 5 minutes from the plantation and features a Southern home cooked menu. We shared pimento cheese with crackers for an appetizer then I attempted to eat a massive BLT while Jay tackled chicken fried steak. Everything was flavorful, fresh, and exactly what we hoped to find in the South. Go here!
After lunch, we quickly stopped by a local bookstore, Bicycle Books, because of course I can’t resist new bookstores! Sadly, I wasn’t impressed. The selection of books isn’t great and the prices are fairly expensive. I prefer used bookstores stacked high with lots of options. Oh well. Our second hotel this trip was at the Hilton Garden Inn Charleston Waterfront. We learned upon check in that they have an hourly complimentary shuttle to take guests downtown. Since there’s literally nothing to do within walking distance, this is a helpful option.
Unfortunately, we were heading to Patriots Point for our Fort Sumter tour, so we couldn’t use the shuttle. I’ll say a quick thing about parking in Charleston. It’s amazing. There are garages everywhere and they all charge the same rate – $1 / half hour. In a city like this, that was quite the pleasant surprise. I love not having to waste time trying to find the cheapest rate. So, even if you have a car, you’ll find parking in Charleston quite easy.
We ended up barely getting tickets to Fort Sumter, so I’d recommend booking them before your trip. The 20 minute ferry ride is pleasant and includes commentary about the city and the fort. There’s not exactly a lot to do on the island, but the hour they give you is just enough time to walk around and explore. We also enjoyed watching the flag lowering ceremony since we were on the last visit of the day. If you’re interested in military history, this is a fascinating site to see and I learned about its role in American history.
For dinner that evening we made reservations at the Lowcountry Bistro in downtown Charleston. It’s casual and rustic, but serves upscale food (at least compared to what we’re used to 🙂 ). I ordered scallops and Jay had swordfish. We both polished off our dinners and the cocktails we ordered to go with them. If you’re looking for a relaxed vibe with delicious Southern food, this is the place for you!
One Last Brunch
For once, we actually had an afternoon flight home! No early wakeup times or rushed breakfasts. I found a popular brunch spot in North Charleston called The Junction Kitchen & Provision. It’s in a bit of a rundown area, but the food is phenomenal. Portions aren’t large, but everything tastes great and prices are cheap. Plus, I finally got to eat a perfect Southern biscuit! A requirement every time we travel below Maryland 🙂
Thankfully everything went smoothly with our flight home and we were back in time to enjoy a leisurely Sunday night and Memorial Day! Overall, this is simply a wonderful city with a small-town vibe. You can easily make a week out of it and visit the beaches or take a day trip to Savannah. We’re eager to do just that next time!