Charleston was the first installment of my now yearly trips with my college roommate. The city has become such a popular destination, so we wanted to check it out. While we had an amazing time, it wasn’t my favorite city I have visited, contrary to popular opinion. I like to find those “hidden gem” cities that aren’t typical tourist locations so Charleston was a little “mass traveler” for me. The city was inundated with bachelorette parties over the long weekend that we visited, as well as with college students who had recently returned back to school. This made it a bit difficult to get around and get dinner reservations.
Our first day we explored downtown and went by the famous Rainbow Row, which was an array of pastel painted historic houses on East Bay Street. I would love homes in other areas to be painted these colors. It definitely gave the neighborhood a warm and welcoming vibe. Along the way, there were marker signs with information about what historical figures lived or worked nearby, or where historically significant events took place. We learned that the homes were not always so vibrantly painted and the area was actually considered a slum after the Civil War. In the early 1900s, in an effort to make the area nicer again, the homes were painted pastel to give it a cheerier feel. This certainly worked!
We bought tickets in advance for a dolphin sunset cruise that evening. We were fortunate enough to see several dolphins popping their heads above the surface and flipping back into the water. The cruise was BYOB. We felt just a little out of place since it was a sunset cruise and was overly romantic. We were the only platonic couple. Everyone else was either married or dating. However, we enjoyed the beautiful views over the water. It was a bit difficult to find restaurants off the main street downtown and closer to the boat cruise before embarking though. We happened upon a casual eatery and I enjoyed the food and was happy to find falafel on the menu. It felt much more local and less touristy, so I was glad we stumbled upon it as I do not think we would have found it otherwise.
We continued touring the city and found the ever-recognizable Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park. We were curious about the pineapple theme in the city and researched that it stood for hospitality. There was a story that sea captains would have pineapples on their front porches to signify that they were home, ready to entertain and used the fruit as a way to welcome neighbors over. The city still carries the pineapple motif of southern hospitality.
We came across another fountain sculpture as well in Charleston. It is not as popular as the pineapple landmark, but I think I liked it even more. It was very inspirational with birds flying up toward the sky. When in Charleston, I suggest visiting both.
The next day we ventured to the South Carolina Aquarium. It was not as expansive as some of the others I have visited, but they had exciting exhibits with river otters, sand tiger sharks and turtles. Afterward, we visited Magnolia Plantation which was a beautifully unique site, and probably my favorite attraction that we experienced. Since it is a plantation, it is not downtown in the main part of the city. We rode the city bus as far as it would take us, then had to get a taxi the rest of the way. It was definitely worth the trip to venture out to this site!
At Magnolia Plantation you have the option of taking several tours, in addition to a general admission ticket to walk the beautiful grounds. The tours are very popular and some of them fill up quite fast. There are several tours including a house tour, tram ride, boat tour and slavery to freedom tour. We chose the plantation house tour, which was a thirty or forty minute guided tour of the Drayton family home. It was incredible to see how the family lived on the plantation years ago in the 1800s. The house was filled with antique furniture and photos and the guide was very knowledgable. After the tour, we walked through the gardens on a path which also took us by the water. The grounds were pretty large and took about half an hour or more to walk through. You are able to stroll through the historic gardens with gorgeous flowers, marvel at the beauty of nature and pop into the conservatory stocked with semi-tropical blossoms.
The following day we visited Fort Sumter. To get there, you must take a boat ride over to the island, which is included in your admission ticket. If you like history, you will like Fort Sumter. The fort was very significant in the Civil War. It makes sense that it was secluded for protection of the troops and to be able to fire against invading ships. The fort is full of cannons that you can see up close. You can walk the grounds as well as venture into the museum onsite. There are tour guides, or you are free to roam as you please, which we did. It is surreal to be at such a peaceful site now when there was so much action on those same grounds years and years ago.
On the water we passed by the USS Yorktown which was the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the US Navy. It was named after the battle in the American Revolution, and commissioned during World War II. There are tours of the ship available, however we were happy to pass by it from the boat. If you are a true history buff, take a tour and explore all that it has to offer.
Our last stop on the morning before our flight home was the Ravenel Bridge. We walked across it on a beautiful morning when the weather wasn’t too hot. It is a cable bridge that towers over the Cooper River. It is long, spanning about two and a half miles from one end to the other. We did not traverse the entire bridge, instead we probably walked about a mile or so to the halfway point, took in the sights, and then headed back.
A long-weekend trip to Charleston is a good amount of time to spend in the city. If I went back, I would probably go later in the fall and not over a holiday weekend. It is full of culture, history and waterfront sights. There is also extensive nightlife with many bars and restaurants lining downtown. We ate at a historic hotel and also found a bar that served craft cocktails in an old-time speakeasy setting. As the pineapples represent, it is a city of true southern hospitality.