[All images © Heather Durham Photography, 2018]
Charleston. It’s one of my very favorite southern cities for so many reasons. I had visited two other times, but I was in my twenties for both; so I was excited to go back with a new appreciation for the history and architecture. This was a Mother-Daughter trip with my 15-year-old and one I won’t forget. We made some fun memories, just as I did with my own Mom the last time I was there.
Considering Charleston has been through several major wars, hurricanes, and fires, the city’s history is extremely well-preserved thanks to its strong historical society and architectural review board. You can’t touch anything that’s 50 years or older without a thorough review by the board prior to beginning a project. Just YES!
Side note: I sure wish my hometown of Birmingham, AL had preserved its beautiful old terminal station instead of tearing it down! The new redevelopment plans were never built. Such a waste!
(Rendering of the Birmingham, AL Terminal Station 1909-1969 via Wikipedia )
In addition to Charleston’s historic preservation, I love that it’s simple to navigate. The downtown peninsula area is easily traveled by foot because it’s only 5 square miles in total. My favorite way to see a city is to walk it, slipping in and out of cafés and shops to take it all in and not miss anything. Most of the outlying beach islands such as Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Folly Island, Johns Island, James Island, etc. are just a short 20-ish minute drive off the peninsula. It’s easy to hit them all and have a very different experience at each one. Sullivan’s Island is my favorite…but I’ll get to that a little later in this post. Oh! And if you fly to Charleston, I highly recommend renting a convertible to enjoy the city and beach towns with unobstructed views.
If you’ve never been to Charleston, I hope this blog post will convince you to put it at the top of your list of southern cities to explore, especially if you are a history buff or a foodie. If you’ve been to Charleston, but it’s been a while, I hope this post will provide some new and useful information for your next visit. If you aren’t traveling in the near future because you are building or remodeling a home, you will definitely be inspired by the architecture, landscape design, window boxes and paint colors! I used my Nikon DSLR for most of the images, but an occasional shot was taken with my iPhone based on what was easiest and what I had with me at the time. I hope you enjoy seeing and hearing about this lovely South Carolina coastal town.
South Carolina’s flag and car tag are my favorites in the U.S., and yes! These things matter.
Food is so much a part of what I love about traveling and I usually do my research, plan meals and make Open Table reservations at restaurants in advance of every trip. Based on followers’ requests I try to post some of my travel images and tips to my blog to help you plan your own trips. However, I didn’t get to eat enough yummy Low Country food on this trip. My teenage daughter and I have very different palates and she doesn’t eat seafood. Since I wanted to be spontaneous with her and let her choose what sounded good (with a few exceptions), so that she could have fun, I let go of my restaurant picks this time. I didn’t want her to remember this trip as me dragging her to white tablecloth seafood restaurants every night, where she left hungry. If she wanted to roll off the beach, throw a t-shirt and denim shorts over her swimsuit and eat Mexican, that’s exactly what we did. However, I will share a few food spots and activities that stood out to us in our spontaneity.
Recommendations for food and activities by area:
Historic Downtown Charleston
My best tip for the downtown area? Wake up with the sun, grab coffee at Bitty & Beau’s, and just walk…or run if you want the exercise. Named after the owners’ two children with Down Syndrome, every Bitty & Beau’s is staffed by people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and celebrates their value, acceptance, and inclusion. LOVE IT! Early in the morning, the light hits all of the buildings with a beautiful warmth, the streets are quiet and the only people you pass are dog walkers and runners. Walking allows you to take in all of the eye candy… the architecture of homes and churches with historic markers, window boxes dripping with flowers and greenery, old cobblestone streets, lovely art galleries, unique shops. bed and breakfast establishments and the harbor. Head towards The Battery by way of East Bay Street to see the collection of colorful pastel homes called Rainbow Row.
Be sure to eat brunch at Hominy Grill, and trust me when I say it is worth every calorie (and every extra workout…or nap you’ll need) to indulge in the Bread Pudding French Toast with Bourbon Caramel Sauce. It will change your life! Seriously it’s that amazing! I want it now.
Hominy Grill- iPhone
Book a carriage tour through the historic areas. I usually don’t enjoy guided tours of any kind unless they are outdoors by bike or carriage. Don’t even try to put me on a bus tour…EVER! Several companies do these carriage tours and they vary. You don’t know which tour you will get in advance because the city uses a bingo-type system. Once you are loaded in your carriage, the tour guide will stop by a little booth where he is given his tour area number, then off you go. We used Carolina Polo & Carriage Co because it partnered with our hotel and we could catch the tour right outside. My recommendation is book the first tour of the morning while everyone, including the tour guide and horse, is still fresh. Our tour guide was exceptional because he was a history teacher and had been doing carriage tours for 17 years. Even my teenage daughter said it was interesting and one of her favorite things we did!
Take time to peruse the city market great hall and open-air sheds. You’ll find local artisans selling their crafts including jewelry, food, sweetgrass baskets, Charleston souvenir t-shirts, etc.
Spend a day shopping on King Street. You’ll find everything from antiques to jewelry and clothing. When I travel I usually only like to eat at local-only spots and shop at local-only stores. But again, since I was with my daughter this time, we hit places she loves like Urban Outfitters. When she needed a break from all the shopping, we hit King Street cookies. If you are on a grown-up trip, be sure to do all of the antique shops. Gah! That’s all I have to say.
Left: King Street Shopping and Right: City Market
My daughter shopping at some of her favorite stores on King Street-iPhone
Snack break at King Street Cookies. There’s even a milk bar! -iPhone
The Pink House Gallery, once a tavern, is the oldest building in Charleston, circa 1690
Shem Creek/Mount Pleasant
The drive over the Cooper River on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge is a treat in itself, both day and night. Here are two videos I took with my iPhone as we drove over the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, once at night and once during the day, with the convertible top down so I could film overhead as we went under this amazing cable-stayed bridge. (My daughter was being our DJ, so enjoy the cool tunes. 😉 )
On your way to or from Sullivan’s Island, stop at Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant for views of Charleston Harbor and the marshes. Rent a boat or water sports gear, then grab a bite to eat at one of the boardwalk restaurants. We liked Tavern & Table, for excellent food, service and waterfront dining. We were there at sunset, which was absolutely perfect!
Shem Creek Boardwalk sunset view while dining at Tavern & Table-iPhone
Sullivan’s Island/Isle of Palms
Note: Shem Creek, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms can be done on the same day. They are very close to each other.
My favorite island is Sullivan’s Island. It’s the same feel as 30A, only much smaller…beautiful beach homes and good restaurants in a quaint little town. We were on Sullivan’s Island 4th of July week and easily got right seated in the restaurants on Middle Street without long waits. I would love to rent a beach house on Sullivan’s Island for spring break, for a slower pace and away from the crowds on 30A. Oh, I will always have a love affair with 30A! I’ve been going there since I was 12 years old and there were maybe 10 houses in Seaside. I’ve seen it grown and flourish over the years into a beach haven, but I also want my kids to experience different coastal towns. My daughter loved Sullivan’s island and kept wanting to go back.
Be sure to eat at The Obstinate Daughter and have gelato or an ice cream sandwich at Beardcats Sweet Shop. Their waffle cones are the best I’ve ever had! Melt in your mouth goodness.
The Obstinate Daughter & Beardcats Sweet Shop on Middle StreetHigh Thyme and Mex 1 Restaurants on Middle Street
The road behind The Obstinate Daughter and Beardcats will take you to a boardwalk for easy beach access. This boardwalk is where I took photos (below) of the Charleston Lighthouse and nearby beach homes. Take a nap on the beach after all that food! It’s so peaceful there.
Views of the beach and Charleston Lighthouse from the boardwalk
Folly Island (with view of Morris Island)
Be sure to eat brunch or lunch at Lost Dog Café on Folly Island, especially if your kids are with you. Get there early because they close at 3:00 PM Monday thru Saturday and at 2:00 PM on Sunday. Folly Island is quirky and a bit more of the touristy/party scene to me. Not mine or my daughter’s favorite of the islands, but one to check out anyway, depending on the kind of beach experience you want to have.
Lost Dog Café specialty pancakes-iPhone
Don’t miss the view of the iconic red and white striped Morris Island Lighthouse from the very far East end of Folly Beach. Park your car near East Ashley Avenue and Sumter Street and walk about a quarter mile down the road spray painted and chalked with words and quotes. At the end of the road, you will see the lighthouse and a path on the beach to walk towards the shore. Morris Island is uninhabited and you cannot get to it other than by boat. This is the best spot to view it.
The quarter mile road which leads to the beach and best views of Morris Island Lighthouse
Morris Island Lighthouse
Angel Oak Tree
View of downtown Charleston with Arthur Ravenel Bridge
We went to Johns Island just to see the Angel Oak Tree. It’s thought to be almost 500 years old and covers 17,200 square feet. It really is fascinating that it is still living after several major hurricanes. Its location is behind an old church and down a long road covered with a tree canopy.
A portion of the Angel Oak Tree. I shot through the fence because we didn’t want to wait until it officially opened to go inside. We were ready to get to the beach! And to be totally honest, 15 year olds don’t care that much about really old trees. Seen – check!
Every time I visit a city, I try to get a skyline shot for stock imagery and to have in my personal travel collection. One day when I have time, I can print a gallery wall of travel photography to enjoy. I had been thinking about what encompasses iconic Charleston? To me it’s the historic downtown area with old church steeples, plus marshes, live oak trees and that amazing bridge. So…I wanted to somehow get all of that into one image. The last day of our trip, and just before we had to be at the airport, I found my epic vantage point at an empty lot on James Island. My daughter caught me in action. I love this image, because 1) She took it and 2) I’m in my happy place doing what I love…exploring and shooting. Charleston, you charmed me again. I’ll be back soon.
My daughter and me
[All images © Heather Durham Photography, 2018]