I recently returned from a trip to Charleston, SC sponsored by the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and so many amazing local businesses. We had the best time! Not only did I get a chance to meet up with other writers (mostly from NY, hah!), but I got a great taste of what Charleston is like. Tourism in Charleston continues to grow exponentially, for good reason — it’s home to amazing restaurants, stunning architecture, and beautiful lodgings. I was only there for a few days, but they were packed! Here are some of my favorite things to do in Charleston, SC.
1. Go on a walking tour.
Okay, so I am admittedly the Queen of Walking Tours and try to take one in every new city I visit. But not all tours are created equal, and the guide can really make or break the experience. We went with Bulldog Tours, and our guide, John, was incredibly knowledgeable. He pointed out everything from St. Michael’s, the church where George Washington worshipped in 1791, to the house where Frank Abagnale, the man upon which Catch Me If You Can is based, used to live. Perhaps my favorite part of the tour was when John matter-of-factly told us how Charleston is one of the most haunted cities in America, claiming that 3 of the 9 houses he’s lived in have been haunted. He said that people in Charleston accept it as part of the life in the city, and no one really thinks twice about a doorknob falling out or lightbulbs flickering unexpectedly. I didn’t see anything like that while I was there, so I guess we’ll just have to take John’s word for it!
2. Visit Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens.
I must confess that I had mixed feelings about visiting a plantation. It’s undeniable that this city with built on the backs on slaves (indeed, our tour of downtown Charleston confirmed that the bricks used around the city were made by slaves at this very plantation), and I was concerned that we wouldn’t be presented with the whole picture. I was pleased, however, when we were given not one, but two tours: one of the house itself, and one of the slaves who lived there.
Gloria was our guide for the latter, and as a descendent of slaves from a nearby plantation herself, she was able to present a more authentic history of what happened both at Boone and surrounding plantations. She explained how slaves would secretly communicate to each other via song, and performed some of these songs for us. One of the most interesting things she told us about was the Gullah language, which is a creole language used by Africans and African-Americans that fused the English language with a number of African dialects. This was yet another way people were able to secretly communicate, because what may have sounded like gibberish to plantation owners was actually a brilliant new language. I’m so glad we were able to hear Gloria’s history, as it added a depth that would have been seriously lacking had we only learned about the slave owners.
3. Take a morning stroll along the waterfront.
Another can’t-miss activity in Charleston? A morning stroll in Waterfront Park. Grab a coffee and lazily make your way down to this lovely path along the water. If you’re here in the warm weather, you’ll definitely want to get an early start — I was there in mid-September, and was still sweating profusely before 9 am. As a Type-A New Yorker to the max, I’m often tempted to walk at a breakneck pace wherever I go. Maybe it was Charleston’s relaxed vibe or the cool breeze coming off the water, but this stretch made me want to slow down and take it all in.
4. Take a boat ride to Capers Island.
One of my favorite things that we did in Charleston wasn’t actually in Charleston — it was a boat tour with Barrier Island Eco Tours and beachside cookout (courtesy of Vineyard Vines). Not only did we enjoy a delicious shrimp boil on the beach (which I’ll undoubtedly be dreaming about through the winter), but we got see Capers Island’s famous Boneyard Beach. This three-mile stretch has dead trees that have been bleached by the sun, making it look like the Elephant Graveyard from The Lion King. Or maybe that’s just me. In any event, it’s a fun place to explore and has plenty of spots to rest your beverage.
5. Have dinner at the Charleston Grill.
I have a tradition of eating out at a nice restaurant on my last night of any vacation, and I could think of no better way to end my trip to Charleston than with dinner at the Charleston Grill, conveniently located inside the Belmond Charleston Place. The food was phenomenal (seared foie gras for dessert, anyone?), the wine was perfectly paired, and we were personally served by the gregarious general manager himself, Mickey Bakst. I have a lot more to say (and plenty more photos!) about our meal at the Charleston Grill, so a full recap of that is coming soon!
I had the best time in Charleston and am so grateful to have been invited on this trip. More to come! (Mostly on what I stuffed my face with while I was there, if we’re being honest.)