Ready and Roam / Charleston, South Carolina
Best time to GO: March- May or September-November
We decided to take advantage of a long break from school in October and visit this charming city (Memorial Day is also a great option). With it's historic architecture, cobblestone streets, spectacular ocean views, balmy weather, and all the fresh seafood you can eat, it didn’t take long for our family to be drawn to Charleston’s web of southern charm and celebration of the past. Because there are no direct flights to Charleston from MSP, we flew United with a short layover at Regan International Airport in Washington, D.C. After landing in Charleston, we were able to claim our luggage and pick up the rental car in about 20 minutes. The traffic was light which made the drive to our hotel quick, about a half and hour. We checked in, deposited our luggage in our room and headed outside to wander the streets of one our countries oldest cities.
Rtip: If you are hungry during your layover in DC look for &Pizza in terminal C. Delicious!
During our visit we came across many references to the Gullah people and culture. Unfamiliar with the term, I set out to learn more. The Gullah are African Americans who live in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina. In the 17th-century, the rice crop was introduced to Charleston, which increased the importation of slaves into this area. These African farmers, brought with them their skills of cultivation and tidal irrigation and made rice farming one of the most successful industries in early America. During the rice farming boom, Malaria and yellow fever became an endemic, and became more prevalent during the humid months. When the summer season approached, white plantation owners and their families would move inland for the summer to prevent exposure to these diseases. While they were away they would leave African drivers or overseers in charge of the rice plantations. With little European influence on the slaves during this time, they continued to uphold their African traditions and the Gullah culture continued to expand and strengthen through cherished traditions in spirituality, art, music, food and language.
HarbourView Inn / reservations
We loved that this hotel is located in the historic district of Charleston. Why? Because everything we wanted to see and do was within walking distance and because of the hotel’s splendid harbor views. Our room, in the historic part of the hotel, was spacious with exposed brick walls and pretty arched windows. A perfect size for the four of us. The rooftop lounge was a nice place to relax and take in the beauty of Charleston above the crowds. What did the kids like? The daily appetizer spread and fresh baked cookies and milk at night.
Rtip: Centrally located with a gorgeous outdoor pool, The Mills House is another great option with kids.
Wentworth Mansion / reservations
I heard this mansion calling my name! Originally built in 1886 as a private residence for Francis Silas Rodgers, this 21-room restored mansion, located in Charleston’s historic district, is home to the award-winning restaurant, Circa 1866. The restaurant is behind the mansion in what was once the carriage house. The Spa at Wentworth Mansion is located in the renovated, original stables. On top if it all, literally and figuratively, the rooftop cupola has unbeatable views of the city.
The Carriage House / booking exclusive to VRBO
There are a ton of great options available, if you prefer to go this route. We insist you consider this beautifully restored, charming brick carriage house, which rents very affordably in one of Charleston's finest neighborhoods - with great proximity for walking downtown to shops and restaurants. It sleeps a family of four comfortably and offers an elegant private garden.
Preservation Society Home Tours / website
I am an old home admirer. I love the history and stories that lie between the walls, and the attention and detail that went into building them. I was elated when I found out we would be visiting Charleston during one of the two weekends the Preservation Society does their home tours, once in the Spring and Fall. I bought tickets to their East battery tour on-line before our trip. The tickets are spendy, but the revenue supports Preservation Society projects and allows us the opportunity to tour some of the most historic homes in the country. We picked up wristbands at the Preservation Society on King street prior to the tour and were given a map with all the houses and gardens included. The tour was self-led, so we decided where to start and end. When we arrived at each home, we would wait briefly until there was a guide to walk us though and give a brief history. Some of these magnificent homes were built during the 1600's and survived wars and repeated flooding, a continuous labor of love from all their owners. If you are able to go on this tour be prepared for a bit of walking, our kids are 11 and 13 did well and really enjoyed it- they actually manned the map. My daughter was so good at it, that people who got turned around on the tour, began to follow us. It was a great way for all of us to get to know that area of the city a little better.
Rtip: Just down the street from the Preservation society is 82 Queen, a southern eatery with the most darling little courtyard nestled in the back. Stop in for a drink and a snack before you start you tour. 82 Queen is well known for their shrimp and grits.
This is the iconic row of colorful, historic homes on East Bay Street, that is 79 to 107 East Bay Street. You will likely find several photo shoots going on when you stroll past these brightly colored homes #rainbowrow. Lucky for us, it was right around the corner from our hotel so we had many opportunities to take in these unique homes, dating back to 1740.
Dock Street Theatre / website
Love the theater? Dock Street Theater is one you won’t want to miss. Located in the French Quarter within walking distance of our hotel, this charming, historic structure, was built as a hotel in 1809 and converted to a theater in 1935. To Kill A Mockingbird was playing during our visit- ticket prices were reasonable and purchased online prior to our trip. The play was very well done, perfect timing for our daughter who was reading the book in her 7th grade class.
The Old Slave Mart / website
The Old Slave Mart was constructed in 1859 and is the only surviving building used for slave auctions in South Carolina. It is an important piece of history that recounts the story of Charleston’s role in the inter-state slave trade. The Old Slave Mart is open Monday-Saturday, 9:00am to 5:00pm and closed Sundays so plan accordingly.
The Charleston Farmer's Market / website
To avoid the crowds, we walked to the the Farmer's Market early Saturday morning and did some souvenir shopping at the Charleston City Market on our way. The Farmer's Market in Marion Square, is held rain or shine, every Saturday from April-November. It is stocked with fresh produce, homemade baked goods, local arts and crafts and much more. We wandered through the market, sampled local treats, and stopped for lunch at the award-winning, Roti Roll food truck. We ate our lunch listening to live music under a shaded canopy of trees.
Rtip: Try Mike's boiled Peanuts for a true taste of the South.
Sunset at Charleston Waterfront Park
Please take the time for Sunsets in Charleston! The Charleston Waterfront Park, located on Queen Street, was across from our hotel. In the evening we would pack a few snacks and head east to the end of the pier to watch the sun go down. The vibrant colors and canvas-like clouds, along with the backdrop of the cities architecture makes the Charleston sunset like no other. One of our favorite Charleston memories is witnessing a marriage proposal during one of our evening walks. If you are in need of some exercise you can take in the view while you walk towards the Battery (a fortified seawall) at the end of the peninsula in downtown Charleston.
Rtip: Take a quick walk to Goat. Sheep. Cow. and pick up some cheese and crackers before you head down to watch the sunset (closed on Sundays).
Hopsewee Plantation/ website
With so many historic estates to see in SC, it is hard to know which one to choose. We decided on the Hopsewee Plantation for a couple reasons, we were meeting family who were driving from Myrtle Beach and this Plantation was halfway. It was also important for us to visit a Plantation with the original house and slave cabins. Built in 1740, Hopsewee Plantation was one of the South's major rice plantations and the birthplace of Thomas Lynch, Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Now a private residence, the owners (The Beattie's) lovingly maintain the property and keep it open to the public, so everyone can share in it's history. After touring the property, we had lunch on the grounds at the River Oak Cottage Tea Room where we were introduced to and fell in love with the delicious and spicy Blenheim Ginger Ale. I hate to digress, but this is some seriously good Ginger Ale. Blenheim is a family-run boutique soda company and has limited distribution. If it can't be found in your area, I suggest you bring a six-pack home.
RTip: The other plantation tours we researched were Middleton Place and McLeod Plantation, both are in closer proximity to Charleston and were highly recommended.
Hagan Fine Art / website
I don't normally stop into art galleries with my kids in tow, but a painting in the window caught my eye. The owner, who ushered us inside, was gracious and helpful. She gave us a tour of the gallery and introduced us to many of the local artists, including the one that got me in the door, Betsy Havens. Her painting titled, On Saturday, is still on my mind.
Blue Bicycle Books / website
I love to frequent independent book stores when I get the chance, and this neighborhood gem was a treat. They have a great selection of new and used books that were easy to get lost in. Their collection includes almost every Charleston book ever written. Impressive!
Charleston City Market / website
Home to over 300 vendors, the City Market is a lovely place to browse for unique local treasures. Promised yourself one souvenir only? Make it a sweetgrass basket, one of the oldest art forms of African origin in the United States. Award winning, Corey Alston's Gullah Sweetgrass Baskets are sold at the market. And if you want to design your own basket, Alston has created an app for doing just that.
King Street Fashion District / website
So much shopping and never enough time. My return trip will include more time on this street, specifically Middle King (from Market Street to Calhoun Street). The Fashion District includes national chains like Anthropologie but my favorites were the locally owned boutiques sprinkled throughout.
Pearlz / website
My husband and I, sans kids, found Pearlz just around the corner from our hotel. The place was packed, but we were able to grab two seats at the bar. We grabbed a house beer, sat down and talked oysters with Mike, one of the shuckers. His first question, do you prefer table salt or sea salt? I thought I would prefer sea salt but after 3 dozen oysters, it turns out table salt is my thing. Another place for oysters worth mentioning is The Darling Oyster Bar, on our list but we ran out of time. If you can, give it a try.
The Ordinary / website
This was our first meal in Charleston and it did not disappoint. A stunning restaurant with huge arched windows and soaring ceilings in a renovated bank. The service was outstanding, mindful of making the experience great, not only for us but for our kids. A fresh seafood mecca, we had a shellfish tower and crispy oyster sliders that I still think about. We made reservations prior to our trip, but they welcome walk-in's in the dining room and bar, where they offer a full menu.
Husk / website
The best known restaurant in Charleston, we made reservations prior to our trip to have brunch before our show at the Dock Street Theatre. Husk is situated in a charming Victorian-era home. The Southern comfort food was delicious. Brunch favorite? Why, southern fried chicken, bless their hearts.
The Rooftop at the Vendue / website
We read great things about the Vendue and the Rooftop Lounge. Just across the street from our hotel, we went to have a peek and enjoy a late lunch. The bar was crowded and although it might be on my list to visit on a return trip, it would be with adults not kids.
Jeni's / website
Yes, Jeni’s deserves a scream for its ice cream. Why? Unlimited samples, interesting flavor combinations such as Sweet Potato Eclair and Salty Popcorn, and homemade waffle cones. Our favorite? Salted Caramel. We also felt good about Jeni’s environmentally friendly use of metal spoons instead of throw-away plastic.
Rtip: If you decide to have dinner at the Ordinary, walk down the street to Jeni's for dessert.
Leon’s Oyster Shop / website
Not walkable from our hotel, we took an Uber to Leon's on our last night in Charleston. Located in a former auto body shop, this quirky oyster bar’s delicious oyster specials-no we were not sick of them yet- black eyed peas, and vanilla soft serve for dessert, made our last night in South Carolina a grand finale.
The Obstinate Daughter / website
On Sullivan’s Island and only a 20 minute drive from Charleston, this cute, casual restaurant and bar was definitely worth the trip. The mediterranean cuisine, pizza, seafood and service were excellent. Try the heirloom tomato Bloody Mary, so unique. Make reservations if you can, it fills up fast.
The Gin Joint / website
This cozy spot was a perfect escape on a raining evening. Home to much more then just gin, we had a hard time deciding what to choose. We figured we couldn't go wrong with the bartender’s choice which encourages picking two words to describe the flavor you’re going for. My words? Spicy and smokey and yes, the bartender nailed it. This is an adults only establishment-not for the kiddos.
RTip: Proof, was also on our list but we ran out of time. I was intrigued after reading about their Knuckleball, a whiskey drink with pickled boiled peanuts in it (Old Grand Dad, cola reduction, orange bitters, and pickled boiled peanuts). If you aren't up for a craft cocktail, they also have an impressive beer and wine list.
Comfy shoes, a crossbody bag and clothes that I could layer when the temperature dipped at night, and as always a good book.
Next time we will use the bikes available from our hotel or rent from The Bicycle Shoppe and cruise around Downtown Charleston near the Citadel and Hampton Park or bike in the other direction across the Ravenel Bridge for a view of the Charleston Harbour. Use the city's interactive bike map to plan your ride. Alternatively, you can rent a bike from one of Holy Spokes many bike hubs around the city.
Click to see where we explored and more in My Maps