Charleston, SC

 

 

 

Charleston, South Carolina was founded in 1670 as Charles Towne, after King Charles II of England. By 1690, Charleston had become the fifth largest city in North America, and remained among the ten largest cities in the United States… and the South’s second largest city (behind New Orleans) through the 1840 census. The old city is located on a peninsula at the point where, as Charlestonians say, "The Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean." The entire peninsula is very low, and some of the peninsula is man-made, and therefore, frequently floods during heavy rains, storm surges and unusually high tides. Palm trees and other tropical foliage is abundant. Charleston’s climate is described as “humid subtropical”. Summers are hot and humid. Winters are short and mild. Snowfall is rare. Charleston has a “low-rise” skyline, with only a handful of buildings with 8 floors or more. The main streets are narrow and several streets retain their original cobblestone construction. The low-rise skyline is dominated by numerous church steeples. In fact 5 of Charleston’s 6 tallest buildings are 18th and 19th century churches, contributing to Charleston’s nickname, “The Holy City”.

On December 20, 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln with no support from the southern states, the South Carolina General Assembly voted to secede from the Union. On January 9, 1861, Citadel cadets opened fire on the Union ship Star of the West entering Charleston's harbor. On April 12, 1861, shore batteries under the command of Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard opened fire on the Union-held Fort Sumter in the harbor. After a 34-hour bombardment, Union Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort, marking the beginning of the American Civil War. Remarkably, the battle yielded no casualties on either side, however it was the first battle in what to this day is the bloodiest war in American history.

Despite being ravaged by war, fires, hurricanes and a major earthquake, Charleston’s historic district is exceptionally well preserved, serving as a model for historic preservation.

The Gullah are African-Americans living in the coastal area and sea islands roughly between Charleston and Savannah. Most of the Gullah’s early ancestors were brought as slaves to the Lowcountry region from what is now Africa’s Sierra Leone area, specifically for their knowledge and skills in rice cultivation. Because the Gullah had a higher resistance to tropical diseases than the European settlers, the Gullah were often left to oversee and operate the large rice plantations during the spring and summer months. Susceptible to malaria and yellow fever, the European settlers would leave the Lowcountry during these hot, humid months. With much less interaction with whites than slaves in most other areas, the Gullah developed a culture where elements of African languages and culture were well preserved. After the Civil war, the Gullah’s isolation from the outside world actually increased due to a variety of factors. The Gullah practiced their traditional African culture with little outside influence well into the 20th Century. Tourists are likely to encounter Gullah sweetgrass basket weavers and vendors during their visit. A 6th generation Charlestonian tour guide describes these intricate and durable baskets. Today, the resilient Gullah culture is the subject of study by historians, anthropologists and linguists as well as the subject of considerable media attention.

A visit to Charleston is best begun with a tour of the historic district and the downtown area. Many options are available. Horse and mule-drawn carriage tours are offered by several companies. A carriage tour is an ideal way to see the city. It provides an open-air view and a hint of historical authenticity. We experienced a terrific tour from Palmetto Carriage Tours. Our tour guide, Rebel, provided interesting and entertaining narration as she and Palmetto’s good-natured horse Butterfinger nimbly guided us through block after block of exquisite architecture and rich history. Over the course of about 90 minutes, we experienced houses, mansions, churches, gardens, parks, the Rainbow Row of homes, and the Old Slave Mart… the only building still standing that was used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina. Our guide’s passion and appreciation of the city was quite clear. In fact, Rebel Sinclair has authored novels based on Charleston’s colorful history.

Global sightseeing company Gray Line offers informative Charleston tours aboard comfortable 25-passenger buses, ideal for navigating Charleston’s narrow palm-lined streets and quaint historical neighborhoods… and air-conditioned for the hot, muggy summer months.

Charleston’s historic district is flat, compact and very walkable. Many guided walking tours are available, providing an up-close look at Charleston’s history and architecture, unimpeded by heavy traffic. Your AAA Tour Book also provides many self-guided options.

Ft. Sumter Visitor Center and Boat DockAlthough Charleston has much to offer to all travelers, many American history enthusiasts make the trek to Charleston to visit Ft. Sumter. Ft. Sumter is part of the National Park System, and Spirit Line Tours is the only authorized National Park concessioner providing boat transportation to the fort. Ft. Sumter tours departfrom Liberty Square, just north of the Historic District and from Patriots Point Maritime Museum in Mt. Pleasant, opposite the Cooper River from Charleston. The half-hour boat tour features a recorded narration explaining points of interest and historic significance each way. Upon arrival at the man-made island fort, visitors are invited to an informative 15-minute presentation from a National Park Service representative about the events that took place where they are standing. Afterwards, visitors may roam freely about the fort.

Liberty Square is also the home of the South Carolina Aquarium. A Triple-A Gem attraction, the South Carolina Aquarium highlights the distinct aquatic regions of the state’s watershed… mountain forest, piedmont, saltmarsh, coastal plain, coast and ocean. Signature exhibits include a huge albino alligator and the Ocean Gallery the massive, two-story Great Ocean Tank containing hundreds of animals, including sharks, pufferfish and a 220-pound sea turtle. The Touch Tank is particularly popular with kids. It allows visitors to touch a variety of live South Carolina creatures like horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, and stingrays.

The Charleston Museum is also located just north of the downtown historic district. Founded in 1773, the Charleston Museum is America’s oldest museum. The museum is full of well-described exhibits and artifacts offering a comprehensive overview of the city’s rich history. Signature exhibits include 19th Century firearms, Charleston furniture, textiles and ceramics and Egyptian artifacts.

Venturing beyond Charleston’s downtown historic district… Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms and Beachwalker County Park provide relaxing options for a day at the beach. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Boone Hill Plantation and Middleton Place are among the area’s most visited plantations.

Founded in 1676, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens offers visitors a look at a restored plantation house and slave cabins. They also offer a slavery tour, boat tour, petting zoo and swamp gardens. The number and diversity of attractions make it possible to spend an entire day there. Most of the attractions are a-la-carte, however, access to Magnolia Gardens is included with general admission and is not to be missed. Sections of the gardens have been added over the generations, but the original garden has been intact for over 325 years. Framed by majestic live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, reflective lakes and scenic bridges and architecture, the gardens are in bloom year round. Springtime is especially colorful, when gigantic red, pink and white azaleas provide a powerful burst of color among the tall trees and reflective water. The trails are perpetually lined with professional and amateur photographers, looking to capture the indescribable beauty of this scenic place.

Charleston has also earned a tremendous culinary reputation. Virtually all types of cuisine are available, but visitors often enjoy dining of regional favorites like shrimp and grits, hoppin’ John and she-crab soup. A meal featuring Gullah cuisine or fresh local seafood would complete the Charleston experience.

Charleston has an abundance of lodging facilities. Generally, the hotels in the historic district are costlier, but they are convenient, close to all of the downtown action and provide an opportunity to freshen up during a hot day of sightseeing. However, more affordable options are available within a 10 or 15-minute drive of downtown. We chose Comfort Suites West of the Ashley. This AAA 3-Diamond hotel is centrally located for travelers who will visit both the plantations and the downtown Historic District. It’s an easy drive east on US 17 from the downtown area and an easy 15 minutes south of Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place and Drayton House. As the name implies, Comfort Suites is an all suites hotel. Each room has a fridge, microwave, large desk, small sofa and flat screen TV as well as plenty of room to move around. Comfort Suites provides a complimentary hot breakfast, indoor swimming pool and free parking, perfect for on-the-go travelers.

Charleston takes historic preservation very seriously, rewarding visitors with the opportunity to experience block after block of immaculately restored homes and structures in a variety of styles… with virtually no modern structures within sight. Charleston’s unique blend of history, cuisine, beaches and subtropical climate make it an ideal destination.

RAVENEL BRIDGE & USS YORKTOWN
SOUTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM
SOUTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM
RAVENEL BRIDGE FROM FT. SUMTER
RAVENEL BRIDGE
CARRIAGE TOUR
CHURCH
COBBLESTONE STREET
DOLPHIN SIGHTING
FT. SUMTER FERRY
EMMANUEL AME
CIVIL WAR SUBMARINE
HISTORIC DISTRICT
HISTORIC DISTRICT
HISTORIC DISTRICT
HISTORIC DISTRICT
HISTORIC DISTRICT
HISTORIC DISTRICT
HISTORIC DISTRICT
HISTORIC DISTRICT

HISTORIC DISTRICT
COBBLESTONE
HISTORIC DISTRICT
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
SWAMP GARDEN
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION
SWAMP GARDEN
SWAMP GARDEN