I felt I needed a mini-break after what has seemed like an abnormally long and cold Washington D.C. winter. When I saw that one of the bands I like, the Punch Brothers, were going to be performing at the Savannah Music Festival, the target destination for this mini-break was identified. Having never been to the region, but having always desired to go, I was excited to finally have the excuse! I know, but this post is titled Charleston, right? Well, I think of the two cities as a pair – if I go to see one, I need to see the other. With limited time, though, I had to employ all of my skills as a speed traveler. Since the concert was on Saturday, I had to zip through Charleston as stop #1 on the mini-break.
So how do you do Charleston in less than 24 hours? Easy! First, do your research. I like searching for other travel blogs in addition to consulting pages like Trip Advisor for ideas, but as a photographer, I also look for the most photographic spots by searching google images. It’s no coincidence that I spent my sunset in Charleston at the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park. And the following morning I was waiting for the sun to rise, freezing my butt off, at the seawall next to the Historic Charleston Foundation in order to take a photo of the mansions of E. Bay Street.
Next, I find a way to see as much as I can in a little amount of time. Charleston’s pedicabs are a great option, at $5 for each 10 minutes. However, there is a strict law that does not allow unlicensed tour guides to take visitors around. You must have a specific destination for the pedicab, then you can get out and rehire the pedicab to go to your next destination. As an alternative, I chose the Free Tours by Foot morning tour. Being on foot is better for me than the other option of a horse-drawn carriage because I can position myself to take the photos I want to take. Plus, I know I’ve mentioned in other travel posts about how much I love the “pay what you think it’s worth” walking tour in a new city. There are other walking tour options, but I feel like when a guide is working for tips, they try harder.
Charleston has a fascinating collection of architectural styles – art deco, beaux arts, Bahamian porches, single house, double house, Georgian, Victorian, etc. If you were lived the historic district, at any point in history including today, living south of Broad Street was what you did when you had money. Of course, these days you need to have A LOT of money to live south of Broad because of the mandates of the Historic Charleston Foundation – the first American historical preservation society. If you buy a home in historic district, you must maintain the home or restore it using original materials – no freshly cut lumber for you! A home cannot be purchased then demolished. All changes must be approved by the board of architectural review. Finally, there’s the high cost to insure the historic buildings. I saw many homes for sale that still are showing damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 because it was just too costly to fix. There is a house on S. Battery for sale around $5 million, but probably needs $10 million just to restore the building. Fortunately, all of these strict preservation rules have created a feast for the eyes for anyone visiting the charming city of Charleston. I tried to see as many of the historical homes as I could, but also found some that I enjoyed even without the history of former residents attached.
The Pink House (Tavern) at 17 Chalmers St. is one of the oldest buildings in Charleston and still has the original roof tiles. It’s for sale now for just under $1 million…if you’re interested. Of course, with the restrictive construction rules, you’re stuck with the bathroom remaining where it is today – in the back yard!
Aiken-Rhett House built in 1820 and located at 48 Elizabeth St. outside the historic district.
The Calhoun Mansion is an example of Victorian construction, at 16 Meeting St.
A Single House with Bahamian porches to capture summer breezes for cooling purposes.
Take notice of the rod iron gates everywhere, most of which were created by celebrated artist Philip Simmons. This crane is one of his rare designs. He is more noted for his hearts.
Nathaniel Russell House at 51 Meeting Street. – I wish I had time to take the tour of the inside. I’ve heard the spiral staircase is gorgeous!
The “Wedding Cake” house on the corner of S. Battery and Meeting St., now a bed & breakfast.
Edmonston-Alston House at 21 E. Battery was one of my favorites!
A random house with a wraparound porch that I really liked.
Another random house I really liked!
Rainbow Row on E. Bay St.
One more random mansion on E. Battery.
There are tons of churches and historical buildings that you shouldn’t miss on a tour either, such as the Circular Congregational Church at 150 Meeting Street.
Side-by-side churches along Charleston’s Gateway Walk.
A pink French Huguenot Church at 136 Church St. is the only independent Huguenot church in the United States.
It’s hard to miss the gleaming white steeple of St. Michael’s on Meeting Street.
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church is the home of the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina. Across the street behind the graveyard you will see a small stucco building that was once the powder magazine and is one of the oldest structures in Charleston. Also, in the graveyard across the street is the grave of America’s 7th Vice President: John C. Calhoun.
The Dock Street Theater on Church Street is actually a reconstruction of the original theater on that site, likely destroyed in the great fire of 1740. Using the shell of the former Planter’s Hotel that was on the site but was in serious disrepair, the current interior is meant to represent the layout of a traditional colonial theater.
This big yellow building is the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon at 122 E. Bay St.
If you’re looking for souvenirs, look for this building because it is the former meat market and is the start of the Old City Market. Do you see the animals sculpted into the frieze to designate it as the meat market? It’s at the intersection of Meeting and Market Streets.
Finally, here’s an oddball building – the former city jail that looks more like a castle. (21 Magazine St.)
After the tour, I drove out to Magnolia Plantation for a quick walk through the gardens and swamp before heading south to Savannah. Other day trip options I considered were Boone Hall Plantation, Fort Sumter, and Cypress Gardens (where they filmed the famous “The Notebook” boat scene with the swans and sunken cypress trees…before the rainstorm…oh you KNOW what scene I’m talking about ladies!!). I would suggest getting to Magnolia Plantation in the morning because I experienced more crowds, from buses dropping off loads of people, in the afternoon. Also, while in the gardens, refrain from touching the spanish moss in the trees. While beautiful to admire and iconic to photograph, note that spanish moss is notorious for being infested with red mites – also known as chiggers. You do not want to have a case of chiggers! Fortunately, I’m not speaking from experience.
When time is limited, you have to already have in mind where you want to go for food. I had received several recommendations from friends, and ended up making reservations ahead of time to make sure I got into my restaurant of choice. Fortunately, Charleston has a foodie favorite reputation. Here are three options that were recommended to me:
I’m not really big on souvenir shopping, but the obvious place to go if you’re interested is the stalls at the historic Old City Market. For more traditional boutiques and chain stores, head over to upper King Street. Limited time is favorable to your wallet – no opportunity to browse!