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Charleston, South Carolina

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Charles Towne Landing was the first permanent English settlement in the Carolinas (1670).
  • The real Catfish Row in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” is a place in Charleston called Cabbage Row.
  • The opening shots of the American Civil War (1861) were fired at Fort Sumter, in Charleston.
  • The Charleston (the dance) got its name because its roots are linked to a black community that lived near the city.
  • The Charleston Museum (1773) was America’s first museum.

Charles Towne

As can be true of any place along North America’s shores where there is a sizeable, functional harbor, Charleston is a place where there is a lot of history to recapture. Its original Charles Towne settlement was not America’s first, but its founding in the 17th century marked the beginnings of life for a major colonial port city. It was built on the exports of cotton, indigo and rice.

The city has known its ups and downs, importantly including periods of sufficient prosperity for the construction of houses and other buildings now deemed historically important.

Down times, particularly the losses associated with the Civil War, were important, too. After that war’s conclusion in 1865, the city was too poor to do much other than adapt existing buildings for the needs of the time. In this way, despite some losses in a major 1886 earthquake, Charleston retained a 789-acre historic district, much appreciated these days by visitors — not to mention by locals. The city counts some 3,500 historically important buildings including the Heyward-Washington House, so named because President Washington really did sleep here.

Other points of historical interest include the site of the city’s 1670 settlement, the former slave market building and Fort Sumter where the Civil War began, plus several antebellum plantations where the grounds and surviving buildings are on view.

A visitor could spend quite a lot of productive time exploring and enjoying visible reminders of Charleston’s history. However, geography and hospitable hosts dictate additional selling points for the city. Specifically, the coastal city boasts, besides its port and the Atlantic Ocean, ready access to several rivers, a national forest, several wildlife preserves and a series of barrier islands. Lake Moultrie isn’t too far away either.

The natural features, with modern development in some cases, invite the most active travelers to explore by bicycle, canoe or kayak. Or to see the wildlife preserves on foot, or to get out on the water for some fishing. The area’s resort islands lure their fans with beaches, golf courses, sunset cruises and a natural beauty of their own. This mix underlies the city’s favorable ratings.

Things to do for Venturers

  • If this tickles your fancy, you can drive inland a ways to attend St. George’s World Grits Festival in April. Enter foot races — or other competitions (corn shelling, corn toss, rolling in the grits or grits eating) if you have talents along those lines. Taste grits offered as samples and collect grits recipes.
  • Take a ferry to Bull Island in the coastal Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Hike the island’s 16 miles of trails. Look for dolphins.
  • For an educational, and sobering, session, visit the Old Slave Mart Museum, in the building where slave sales took place. Exhibits recall the city’s role in the slave trade.
  • Rent the appropriate gear and travel the Edisto River Cruise and Kayak Trail. Or, paddle in the private Edisto River Refuge and overnight in a tree house. Or, in Mount Pleasant, sign on for a guided kayak tour to coastal barrier islands, salt marsh creeks or old rice fields.
  • Join a crabbing session. Learn to catch and clean your own dinner, then enjoy the feast. Similar shellfish sessions, focused on harvesting oysters and clams, are available for groups, with feast to follow.
  • At Goose Creek (the town), outside of Charleston, sign up for a swamp tour through waters of the colorfully named Chicken Creek, Back River and Bushy Park. This is the habitat of the American bald eagle, wild turkey, deer and others — including the alligator. Or bump up the excitement and take the tour at night (April through October).

Things to do for Centrics

  • Drive up the road a bit to McClellanville for its springtime Lowcountry Shrimp Festival. The town is within the boundaries of the Francis Marion National Forest.
  • Buy tickets to attend an event, or several events if you are a fashion devotee, at Charleston Fashion Week in March.
  • Go fishing in Charleston Harbor. Or fish farther off shore. These can be daylong experiences.
  • Sign on for one of several tours that detail African-American history, ranging from the lives of free and enslaved people of color to the unique Gullah culture which developed on the area’s coastal islands.
  • Take a sightseeing tour that acquaints you with the ghosts of Charleston. Or make that a tour focused on the pirates (including Blackbeard).
  • See the original Charles Towne site. Also, review your history at Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston Harbor, the place where America’s bloodiest war, the Civil War, began.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Drive the Ashley River National Scenic Byway. The ride takes you past relics of a long-gone way of life: Drayton Hall for a guided tour of the plantation home; Magnolia Plantation for a look at gardens and a boat tour, and Middleton Place for America’s oldest landscaped gardens, from 1741.
  • There are several plantations to tour for an understanding of antebellum lifestyles, but for a unique focus, visit the Charleston Tea Plantation and see how tea is produced.
  • Take a day trip to the local Irvin-House Vineyards, located on Wadmalaw Island. Taste the wines and stroll the lovely estate.
  • Bring the youngsters to the South Carolina Aquarium where in a kid-centered Camp Carolina they are encouraged to crawl and climb through exhibits to get a closer look at nature’s wonders.
  • Tour Charleston’s historic district in a horse-drawn carriage. Then, buy woven sweetgrass baskets, a local specialty, in the Charleston City Market or in other area markets.
  • Board one of several boats that operate sightseeing cruises in Charleston Harbor. Or take a sunset cruise on a catamaran. Or book a dinner cruise in the harbor.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.charlestoncvb.com