When my daughter and I were preparing to head out on our second annual mother-daughter travel trip, Charleston came to mind. Neither one of us had spent any time in the deep south, where local tradition speaks loudly through their attitude, their architecture and most importantly to these two foodies – their food. She Crab soup, hominy, shrimp and grits, crab cakes, collard greens, southern fried chicken, mac and cheese, corn bread, crispy pig ears…. This hidden gem, is a must see, and now for us – a must return.
We had searched travel magazines, travel blogs and talked with others who have traveled to the south and the city that kept coming up to fit all our criteria – was Charleston. And that would be Charleston, South Carolina. There is a Charleston in West Virginia, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. Every time I went to book something – our hotel, restaurants, flights – I had to make sure I was booking for the correct Charleston. Not to mention the confusion added when dealing with other similarly named cities in the area – Charlottesville, Charlottetown, Charlotte.
Our introduction to southern hospitality started with our chatty, sweet, informative taxi driver in our ride to our Inn and didn’t subside one iota until we left this great city of 125,000. Greeted with smiling dispositions everywhere we went, we heard more ‘yes mam‘ and ‘y’all‘ from a city filled with locals. Every person we met in the service industry was from Charleston or the surrounding area. They all truly love the area so much they can’t think of why they’d ever leave. And those we met who weren’t from the area, said they came to visit and just never left. We have to say the thought crossed our minds.
Located on the tip of a peninsula that juts out into the Charleston Harbor, Charleston is a city deluged in history. Magnolia Plantation, about 12 miles outside of the city, was built in 1676 by the Drayton family and is still owned and run by 12th generation Draytons. A battery park lines the western and southern edge of the city along the waterfront – showcasing Civil War era cannons. Original cobblestone streets, housing, stores and churches that date back to the 17th century line the streets of inland Charleston. For blocks in every direction are beautiful character homes, colorful row houses on Rainbow Row, and private gardens to rival any I’ve seen anywhere in the world. This time of year things are lush and green, but I would imagine the spring would have your nose in the air, breathing in the scents of multiple blossoms. And your eyes would be treated to a palette of hues only mother nature could create.
On a regular day I walk about 10,000 steps (Jawbone), but in Charleston my daughter and I averaged nearly 20,000 steps a day. We hit the summer time heat and HUMIDITY on this last weekend of summer, with temps hovering around 85-90 and the humidity in equal percentages. We showered and changed 2-3 times a day just to get refreshed and drank lots of that wonderful southern iced tea. And we slept very well. But no amount of heat and humidity could wipe the perennial smile off our faces as we fell in love with this magical city, hour by hour, day by day.
It started with our stay at the Wentworth Mansion. This grand old mansion was built in 1865 by Francis Silas Rodgers, a cotton and phosphate baron, where he and his wife, Marie Elizabeth Evans Cochran raised their thirteen children. Our suite was once the billiards room where you can still see the ceiling detail that mirrored the table below. (See the Global Gallery for more Wentworth Mansion pics.) The house is bathed in carved wood detailing throughout with a grande four-story staircase. The old carriage house has been converted into one of the cities fine dining establishments, Circa 1886, which is a must visit whether you are staying at the hotel or not. And the stables have been converted to a beautiful spa replete with the original brick walls and wrought iron accents on windows and doors.
King Street is the main street shopping street – and works from the tip of the peninsula northwards. High end stores are mingled with local and regional favorites. As you walk further inland on King Street you come across more restaurants and hotels, and bars that have line-ups on weekends for the throngs of university students and Citadel cadets looking to let loose after a week of hitting the books and regimented protocol.
Charleston we applaud you for staying true to your history and culture and not falling prey to the pressures of becoming a commercialized tourist destination. You are a hidden gem we hope stays somewhat hidden. We will return to peruse the many galleries, visit historical spots like Fort Sumter, walk the grounds of another grand plantation, golf at the world-renowned Kiawah Island, and indulge in more of your southern cooking and hospitality – which one can never enjoy too much of either.
Check out more pictures of Charleston and Magnolia Plantation in the Global Gallery. Be sure to click on a photo to get an enlarged picture.
ALSO: Stay tuned for the new “end-of-the-month post for foodies” (beginning at the end of this month) – where I will be collaborating with my daughter to showcase all of the food we have enjoyed during that given month, whether locally or on our travels, together or separately. Charleston’s restaurants will be some of our first highlighted foodie destinations.