Charleston, South Carolina has become well known for it’s distinctive architecture of it’s antebellum mansions, nicely manicured gardens, and over three centuries of deep history. The Low Country cuisine will leave you feeling fat and sassy. Try Folly Beach or Sullivan’s Island for Victorian cottages and fresh seafood. Charleston is a 2 hour drive from Savannah (100 miles) and a 5 hour drive from Atlanta (320 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. Fort Sumter National Monument – It was here on April 12, 1861, that Confederate forces launched a 34-hour bombardment of the fort. Union forces eventually surrendered, and the rebels occupied federal ground that became a symbol of Southern resistance. This action, however, led to a declaration of war in Washington. Amazingly, Confederate troops held onto Sumter for nearly 4 years, although it was almost continually bombarded by the Yankees. When evacuation finally came, the fort was nothing but a heap of rubble. Today park rangers are on hand to answer your questions, and you can explore gun emplacements and visit a small museum filled with artifacts related to the siege. A complete tour of the fort, conducted daily from 9am to 5pm, takes about 2 hours. Admission is free to the fort, but the boat trip is $15 for adults and $9 for children.
2. Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum – Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum is home to the USS Yorktown, USS Laffey, and USS Clamagore, all retired WW2 watercraft now at home in the Charleston harbor. Patriot’s Point is a unique way to experience life at sea aboard these ships during World War 2, and learn about the history and brave missions of their American crews. Admission is $18 for adults and $11 for children.
3. Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site – This 663-acre park is located on the site where English settlers first landed in 1670, thereby establishing the birthplace of the Carolina colony and the plantation system that eventually spread throughout the American South. The park’s infrastructure and pathways were redefined and upgraded, and a visitor center/museum was added with lots of interactive exhibits describing the history of the first permanent English settlement in the Carolinas. A history trail, with the option of listening to a prerecorded audio tour, enables visitors to experience the reality of those first settlers. Interpretive park rangers in 17th-century dress tend heirloom crops such as rice, indigo, and cotton; fire cannons and muskets; and deliver information about the daily life of the era’s indentured servants. You can wander through informal English gardens and the Animal Forest, home to species which were native to the area at the time of the original settlement. Admission is $7.50 for adults and $3.50 for children.
4. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens – Ten generations of the Drayton family have lived here continuously since the 1670s. They haven’t had much luck keeping a roof over their heads; the first mansion burned just after the Revolution, and the second was set afire by General Sherman. But you can’t call the replacement modern. A simple pre-Revolutionary house was barged down from Summerville and set on the basement foundations of its unfortunate predecessors. The house is filled with museum-quality Early American furniture, appraised to exceed $500,000 in value. An art gallery has been added to the house as well. Low Country wildlife is visible in marsh, woodland, and swamp settings. The Audubon Swamp Garden, also on the grounds, is an independently operated 60-acre cypress swamp that offers a close look at other wildlife, such as egrets, alligators, wood ducks, otters, turtles, and herons. General admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children.
5. Middleton Place –This was the home of Henry Middleton, president of the First Continental Congress, whose son, Arthur, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Today this National Historic Landmark includes America’s oldest landscaped gardens, the Middleton Place House, and the Plantation Stableyards.The gardens, begun in 1741, reflect the elegant symmetry of European gardens of that period. Ornamental lakes, terraces, and plantings of camellias, azaleas, magnolias, and crape myrtle accent the grand design. There are also horses, mules, hogs, cows, sheep, and goats.A plantation lunch is served at the Middleton Place Restaurant, which is a replica of an original rice mill. American Way magazine cited this restaurant as one of the top 10 representing American cuisine at its best. Specialties include she-crab soup, hoppin’ John and ham biscuits, okra gumbo, Sea Island shrimp, and corn pudding. Service is daily from 11am to 3pm. Dinner is served daily 5 to 9pm and is likely to include panned (pan-seared) quail with ham (a recipe from the late chef Edna Lewis, who was a consultant-in-residence here for years), sea scallops, or broiled oysters. Admission to the garden and stable yard is is $25 for adults and $5 for children. A house tour is $10 for adults and $6 for children.
6. H.L. Hunley Confederate Submarine – One of the greatest and most sought-after artifacts in the history of naval warfare can now be viewed by the public. The Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, a hand-cranked vessel fashioned of locomotive boilers, sank the Union blockade vessel USS Housatonic in February 1864. The sinking of the Union ship launched the age of submarine warfare. The submarine and its nine-member crew mysteriously vanished off Sullivan’s Island shortly after completing its historic mission. The vessel was finally located in 1995, sparking headlines across the world. The submarine was eventually raised and brought to the old Charleston navy base for preservation. The bones of its crew members were buried in a historic ceremony on April 17, 2004, at Magnolia Cemetery. The sub, which rests in a tank of 50°F (10°C) water, can be visited only weekends on 20-minute tours. Admission is $12 for adults and free for children.
7. Children’s Museum of The Lowcountry – The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is the perfect family activity for those travelling with young children! All eight of the museum’s exhibits feature hands-on learning and imagination training, with stations like the Art Room, where kids can construct with recycled materials or paint outside in the museum gardens, and the Medieval Creativity Castle, where kids can make a royal feast, dress up as prince and princesses, and accept knightly quests! Special classes and events vary month to month throughout the year. Admission is $10 for adults and $10 for children.
8. South Carolina Aquarium – Visitors can explore Southern aquatic life in an attraction filled with thousands of enchanting creatures and plants in amazing habitats, from five major regions of the Appalachian Watershed. Jutting into the Charleston Harbor for 2,000 feet, the focal point is a 93,000-square-foot aquarium featuring a two-story Great Ocean Tank Exhibition. Contained within are more than 800 animals, including deadly sharks but also sea turtles and stingrays. Every afternoon at 4pm, the aquarium offers a dolphin program, where bottle-nosed dolphins can be viewed from an open-air terrace. One of the most offbeat exhibits replicates a blackwater swamp, with atmospheric fog, a spongy floor, and twinkling lights. Secrets of the Amazon features the diversity of this endangered region in sights, sounds, and adventure. New in 2008 was the inauguration of the Camp Carolina exhibit, a child-friendly, interactive display about how to successfully appreciate the great Carolina outdoors without leaving an ecologically destructive “footprint.”General admission is $24.95 for adults and $14.95 for children.
9. Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens – This unique plantation is approached by a famous Avenue of Oaks, huge old moss-draped trees planted in 1743 by Captain Thomas Boone. The first floor of the plantation house is elegantly furnished and open to the public. Outbuildings include the circular smokehouse and slave cabins constructed of bricks made on the plantation. A large grove of pecan trees lies behind the house. Note that Boone Hall is not an original structure, but a replica; die-hard history purists may be disappointed in the plantation house, but the grounds are stunning and very much worth visiting. Boone Hall Farms opened in 2006, selling produce grown on the plantation and offering seasonal pick-your-own crops. Admission is $18 for adults and $7.50 for children.
10. Nathaniel Russell House – One of America’s finest examples of Federal architecture, this 1808 house was completed by Nathaniel Russell, one of Charleston’s richest merchants. It is celebrated architecturally for its “free-flying” staircase, spiraling unsupported for three floors. The staircase’s elliptical shape is repeated throughout the house. The interiors are ornate with period furnishings, especially the elegant music room with its golden harp and neoclassical-style sofa. The house is accessible to visitors only on guided tours. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Husk – Welcome to the place that Southern Living and Bon Apetit Magazine call “The Best New Restaurant In America.” Charleston may not be an especially large city, but it is undoubtedly known for it’s world class dining. I recently asked Chaz Brown, From The Top Chef TV show, about his favorite restaurant and he said that he would consider Husk to be the best restaurant in America. He says “The food is amazing and they are doing America a service by remembering the cuisine of our earliest roots as a nation. The line Cooks and chefs drop the food off at your table and can explain all of the dishes. Chef Brock is truly cooking American Cuisine. Every restaurant in America should take a page from Brock’s book.” They also have another restaurant in Nashville.