New England summers see temperatures up in the 90’s, yet some people are still drawn to the southern heat, vacationing in the Carolinas or Florida. Charleston, South Carolina is a great stop for some surf and sun, but while the city is known for its beautiful beaches and harbors, it is also one of the most historical cities in the country. So while it may be tempting to relax on the beach day after day, it’s worth taking in all the history, wildlife, and art the city has to offer.
Downtown Charleston is where most of the tourist attractions are and is a great place to start. Just walking around town will provide plenty of photo ops, especially on the beautiful streets around The Battery and Rainbow Row. Some of the mansions in town give tours. The Aiken-Rhett House charges $10 per person and the Edmondston-Alston House charges $12 per person with a student discount of $8. Amidst the grandeur of these old houses, there are plenty of shops to get some air conditioned relief and restaurants to grab lunch between explorations. The Old Towne Grill and Seafood has a little bit of everything as well as yummy Greek dishes.
Further into the center of town lies the City Market where basket weavers sell traditional sweet grass baskets. The market is one of the most tourist-filled spots in town; however one vendor definitely makes it worth it. Sheinata Carn-Hall is a local who creates unique African-inspired jewelry made from natural materials, such as tree sap bangles and necklaces made with coconut and ostrich egg beads.
Close to the market is Kilwins, a great place to stop for homemade ice cream, chocolates, or salt water taffy. With 32 ice cream flavors to choose from and bakers melting chocolate in a massive copper pot, the shop has old-fashioned appeal.
South Carolina is known for its alligators and one surprising attraction at the South Carolina Aquarium is an albino alligator. From a Madagascar Journey to their Saltmarsh exhibit, the aquarium is a fun way to explore wildlife. However, at the steep price of $29.95 for adult admission, it might be practical to skip the albino gator for something more cost effective such as The Charleston Museum. As America’s first museum, there are American and natural history exhibits and tickets are only ten dollars. Until November 4th, their Charleston Couture exhibit showcases local fashion from the 1770s to the 1970s. For an even cheaper experience, there are also plenty of art galleries all around town.
After spending time in the center of Charleston, it’s fun to explore the areas around the city that are part of the Charleston County. On the other side of the New Cooper River Bridge is Mt. Pleasant. Kayaking tours there start around $49 per person or full day rentals are available for about $48 per kayak. From Patriots Point there are boat tours to Fort Sumter, on which have been plenty of dolphin sightings. Vickery’s Bar and Grill at Shem Creek is a tasty restaurant for seafood and classic southern dishes. Their tables on the deck are perfect to watch the sun set while but are in very high demand, so it’s best to make a reservation.
Out on James Island is the popular Folly Beach, where there are lots of little surf shops and small restaurants with outdoor seating. To get to the beach, anyone can park for free on the side of the street as long as they aren’t on private property. There’s a beach volleyball net, a huge pier for fishing, and a wading pool for finding starfish when the tide is out.
The south wouldn’t be the same without sweet tea. About 30 minutes from James Island is the Charleston Tea Plantation which is also America’s only tea garden. They offer factory and trolley tours to learn how their tea is harvested.