Way back in April, we took a vacation to Charleston, South Carolina. It was just the two of us on a road trip-our favorite kind of vacation. We also prefer traveling at the end of Spring or early Fall to avoid families vacationing. As it turns out, April is a perfect time of year to visit. In fact, one local told us that all Charlestonians think people who visit in the summer are crazy. He indicated that the only way to stay alive in Charleston in July and August is to stand in the ocean with a gin & tonic. Thankfully we weren’t there in the summer…Jeremy wouldn’t have made it!
Charleston is a beautiful, classy city with so many stories and such rich history. When we were there, there was plenty of activity but it wasn’t too crowded. We were able to find parking downtown and did not have to wait much at all to get into restaurants. We found that almost everyone there seemed to be around our age…or retired. It was especially fun to walk around downtown at night. There is great night life even on week days. The weather was in the upper 70’s, mostly muggy, with a rain storm at least once a day (which is more rain than normal according to locals). People are really friendly and polite. We enjoyed the southern accents (Jeremy liked to try to imitate them) but eventually grew weary of the y’all’s & country music. 🙂
Being the adventurers that we are, we packed each day full of exploring all that Charleston has to offer. So as not to bore you completely, we’ll just share some of the highlights:
Our first full day we walked around Downtown Charleston. This is something that can not be missed. If you only have a day, do this. We took our camera and walked to the end of the peninsula, then did all the streets in the French Quarter, saw the many historical buildings, enjoyed the waterfront park and marveled at the incredible, extravagant homes with fascinating architecture and huge porches that they call piazzas. Just about every day after this we returned downtown for dinner and more exploring. We also did a carriage tour of downtown, which was well-worth it. We learned tons of history and some good stories too. We especially enjoyed our tour guide and the company we chose, Classic Carriages Works, LLC. On this same first day, we grabbed breakfast at the Charleston Farmer’s Market, which takes place in a park each Saturday, seasonally. Besides food stands, there was tons of local produce, and art from local artisans.
There are lots of homes to tour downtown. We visited the Aiken-Rhett home, which is preserved instead of restored. We really liked this because as we took the (excellent) audio tour, we used our imaginations to picture all that the home used to be. We also loved the opportunity to hang out on the huge piazzas. On a different day, we decided to visit a plantation. This is another experience that cannot be missed if you’re visiting Charleston. We went to the Middleton Place. It was fantastic. So much to do, it took an entire day. We learned a lot about the history and lives of slaves. You don’t get the full experience unless you take every free tour possible, which we did. There are beautiful gardens and walking paths along the river to take a relaxing stroll down. There ‘s also tons of animals, like the sheep that wander the grounds, water buffalo, peacocks and cashmere goats.
A hidden gem we discovered was Cypress Gardens. This is a bit outside of Charleston but worth the drive. This is another place you could spend a whole day. It is essentially a big lake full of cypress trees and lily pads with gardens and all sorts of activities surrounding it. We wandered the grounds for a while and took a guided boat tour through the lake. You can take out a boat on your own, which we should have done because our young tour guide was pretty corny. During our time there, we saw 5 alligators and over 30 turtles! We really enjoyed exploring the aquarium and butterfly house on the grounds too.
One other place you don’t want to miss in Charleston is Patriot’s Point. This is a waterfront park with a huge pier that has lots of places to relax like picnic tables and fantastic porch swings. This is a perfect place for sunset photos and a spot to view dolphins. We saw 15+ the evening we were there.
Last but certainly not least, we must make some food recommendations. You may have heard that Charleston is known for amazing cuisine. This is so true. Here are some of our favorite spots we discovered:
- Tattooed Moose: This is a great place to grab a beer and enjoy a duck club. That’s right, duck. And it’s excellent. The decor is much like a man-cave, which is perfect for a casual night out.
- Eli’s Table: This is an adorable place downtown with great southern food. We went there for breakfast and loved the homemade biscuits and sausage. Yum! We wish we would have made it here more than once.
- Fuel: This is a funky, unique restaurant that was once a gas station and still resembles it. We technically sat inside, but the garage doors were open, so you feel like you’re outside. There’s garden seating that’s cool too. The food is Caribbean, and we especially loved the spicy corn chowder, plantains and pork tacos. They were also featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
- Poogan’s Porch: This was most definitely our favorite place. It is in a beautiful old home (named after an old owner’s pet dog Poogan), and the southern food is amazing. We loved the sweet tea, seafood and fried chicken, not to mention the best biscuits we have ever had in our whole lives. Service was also excellent here.
- Kaminsky’s Most Excellent Desserts: We ended more than one day here. Who doesn’t love some good dessert when they’re on vacation? This place is a bar that serves incredible baked goods, milkshakes, sundaes and alcoholic drink desserts. It was a cool place to hang out, reminisce on all the day’s excitement and share a great dessert. Ironically, Jeremy enjoyed sitting at the bar. Some entrepreneur really needs to open something like this in Lancaster. It would take off.
So, that’s the abridged version. Visit Charleston…you won’t regret it.
On our way home from Charleston we spent two nights camping at Shenandoah National Park in Virgina. We set up camp at Big Meadows which was a great location to easily drive to many of the popular hiking trails. We had very few neighbors and had the delight to have a number of deer within a few yards of our campsite. As you know we love National Parks and this was a great stop to break-up the longer drive home from Charleston. With the longer winter and cool Spring our two nights of camping was likely the coldest that we had ever camped in. A campfire was a must because overnight lows dropped into the 30s. Spring had not yet sprung, it was even later than the parks service anticipated because we arrived just in time for the wildflower weekend…except their were no wildflowers to be found. As we drove along skyline drive (a must) we were able to look down upon the towns and landscapes below, it was amazing to be able to see Spring literally progress from the lower elevations to the higher elevations. They say that the change in color progresses about 100 yards a day. While we spent most of our time driving and stopping to take some photos springtime made for a perfect opportunity to hike the Dark Hollow Falls Trail which led to a 70′ waterfall.
On our way out of the park we stopped at an overlook where we met a National Geographic Photographer who was planning on spending at least a week camping with his dog attempting to photograph bears. Of course conversations ensued as he and Jeremy chatted about their love for Canon cameras, photography, and all things tech. This photographer had traveled the world , getting a glimpse into his world as a published photographer was an excellent treat and a highlight of the day for Jeremy. Shenandoah is so close, we plan to visit again, likely in the fall months to witness the fall foliage.
Now check out all the photos below or view them on flickr.