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April 2, 2012 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Charleston must sees and must dos?

We will be in Charleston, SC for spring break. What should we (3 of us, one being six years old) do without fail? What amazing restaurant shouldn't we miss? This is probably silly to say, but we're very interested in history and historical sights...

Thank you--
posted by aimeedee to Travel & Transportation around Charleston, SC (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The Battery and old slave market are interesting.
posted by elizeh at 6:51 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My son's 5th grade class went to Charleston last week. The high point for him was a barrier island eco-tour (not sure if this is the company they used, but it came up first on Google). They also went to Fort Moultrie (which dates to colonial times), the aquarium and Middleton Plantation.

(No recommendations for dinner from him; they went to Ryan's, where they decimated the buffet.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:03 PM on April 2, 2012

We were just there last month with our 4 year and our 2 year old.

Fort Sumter was a big hit, both the boat ride out there (they got to see dolphins) and running around the fort.

The Market is worth checking out. (Don't miss the museum up on top.)

The different beaches were a big hit. It was too cold to go in the water, but the kids liked seeing the boats and running away from the waves.

I don't have enough time to give you reviews of all the places we ate right now, but mefi-mail me if you'd like them.
posted by fellion at 7:09 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If at all possible, get a reservation go see the Hunley. It's a very unique piece of military submarine & Civil War history, and to be able to look over the railing into the preservation tank is a real treat.

Patriots' Point Naval & Maritime Museum is also good for tickling a naval history itch, and as a bonus, one of the two ferrys to Fort Sumter (mentioned by fellion above) departs from there, so you can combine those into a single day.

The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon is a very kid-friendly; the tour downstairs in the dungeon has some reasonably well done animtronic figures to present the different lessons. Nothing Disney-quality, but the fact that its focused on both pirates and the Revolutionary War make it an almost sure hit with the grade school demographic.

One important fact to keep in mind: The Old City Market was not actually a slave market, that's over on 6 Chalmers Street, about 3 blocks south of Market Street. That doesn't mean the Old City Market isn't worth seeing though. The shops are quite fun if a little tourist trappy (I always spend too much at Black Market Minerals, its one of my indulgences when I'm visiting Charleston), but it's also the best place to pick up a Chalreston Sweetgrass Basket.

The horse drawn carriage tours all operate out of the Market area too. There's five different companies, but the city regulates the licensing of the tour guides, so they're rather uniformly and comprehensively knowledgeable about the history of the city. The big downside to the carriage tours is the lottery system that all the companies have to operate under. There's a number of different routes, no one route takes you by all the important landmarks, and until you're loaded on the carriage, you have no way of knowing what route you'll be getting. For a first visit to Charleston, this isn't too much of a problem, but it's certainly something to keep in mind if you go back.

Some of the best resturants in Charleston are around the Market too. I've personally hit T-Bonz and Tommy Condons on previous visits and can reccomend them both, but at the end of the day, those are both chains that you can find in other cities. I'm always hearing good things about Poogan's Porch on the carriage and walking tours, and one visit, I'm going to get around to trying them.

Outside of town, there are some very good plantation tours, and my personal favorite has always been Middleton Place. Down the road is Magnolia Plantation, which is just as pretty, but struck me as being rather touristy on my last visit, as well as Drayton Hall, which I haven't actually visited, but prides itself on its historical conservaton efforts.

The best bit of vacation advice I can give for Charleston, though, would be to make use of the free Dash Trolley for getting around to remote downtown attractions. It made my last visit so much easier. I parked my car at the parking garage across from my hotel, and then didn't need it until the end of the weekend when it was time to go. Combine it with the water taxi, and you can even get out to Patriots' Point without needing your car. And in a city who's street grid dates back to the coloinial era, it's a blessing to not have to fight cramped one-way streets just to get to a parking garage that may be full when you get there.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:50 PM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

My wife is from Charleston, and I've been many times.

If I could only go to one restaurant the next time I was there, it would be Hominy Grill.
posted by SpiffyRob at 6:00 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Poogan's Porch is good. As is Fig. Most restaurants downtown for that matter.

Where exactly are you staying? Downtown certainly has its great spots, a lot of which have already been mentioned here. What the locals call West Ashley (where I live right now) there are plantations to go check out. Depending on when your spring break is exactly you could head to Daniel Island and see some tennis at the Family Circle Cup and come see me at the restaurant where I work.

If you're going to be here next week (as in April 8-15), keep in mind that it will be the local public school's spring break as well.

If you go to the beaches, especially Folly, skip the parking lots you see right when you get there. Eventually (not very far but I'm terrible at judging distance while driving) you'll get to alley type lots with an honor system drop box for money. Cheaper and you're right on the beach.

Give us some idea of how we're doing and I'll be able to help out some more. But nothing that's been said above me is a bad choice. Unless you're used to the Atlanta aquarium.
posted by theichibun at 6:00 AM on April 3, 2012


Husk has been considered one of the best restaurants in the country. Probably pricey.

Hominy Grill is amazing and well priced.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:53 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The cap'n of the Eco Tour is a good friend of mine. Highly recommended! Tell Robert that Dan sent you.
posted by toastchee at 6:56 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The beaches are great (Folly and Sullivans are better, but Isle of Palms is very family-friendly). Fort Sumter and the Yorktown at Patriot's Point (where a boat to Fort Sumter leaves) are great historical bits that kids seem to love too. The Market is definitely an interesting location, but super crowded. You should also just walk down the Battery and Waterfront Park, and see Rainbow Row, so you can at least say you've done that. The plantations mentioned above are all great options for a couple hour trip outside of downtown, although they're generally pretty expensive to get into. Charles Towne Landing is a bit closer to town and was the first English settlement in SC and is a public facility.

To be honest, I'm pretty awful at recommending tourist/vacation things to do, but I can definitely recommend food. There are also tons and tons of great restaurants that I can recommend, but it'll probably help if you can give an idea of the type of food/atmosphere/price you're looking for. If you're down by the Market, some of the more dressy/expensive-but-incredible restaurants are High Cotton and the Magnolia/Cypress/Blossom trio on East Bay. Fig, as mentioned above, has incredible food, but is slightly further off the main tourist drag (and I'd suggest skipping Hyman's Seafood, a tourist favorite across the street). Poogan's Porch has a great brunch, as does Hominy Grill. If you want a quick lunch one day with a super-quirky (for Charleston at least) atmosphere at a counter-top French place, try Gaulart et Maliclet (or Fast and French, as the locals call it).

If you're ok going a bit further away from the main tourist area around the market, Upper King Street has become the new nightlife spot. I'd say the best restaurant for your money in Charleston is Fish, where I eat at least several times a month. A super-expensive and dressy steakhouse nearby is Halls Chophouse, which has become one of our favorite "once-a-year-super-special-occasion" restaurants. If you want more casual, there's some great thin-crust pizza across the street at Monza. Rue de Jean is pretty casual French food that I can highly recommend, as is La Fourchette.

I can seriously go on all day about food in Charleston, so if you have specific areas you'll be in, or specific types of food you're looking for let me know and I can probably point you in the right direction.
posted by This Guy at 7:00 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fig and Husk are both really REALLY delicious, and somewhat pricey.
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 8:42 AM on April 3, 2012

Response by poster: Oh my lord, what a motherlode!

Thank you, thank you all.

Everyone gets an A++.

If anyone wants extra credit, I'd love to hear about sites of Jewish history in and around Charleston. Other than that, with this list we'll be fed, informed, entertained, amused, and otherwise kept in a happy state.

theichibun, what's the restaurant called? We won't be there in time for tennis, but if we end up in the area, we'd be happy to come say hello.
posted by aimeedee at 7:13 PM on April 3, 2012

Using my boyfriend's account to add a few ideas! (I'm a Charleston native, so he thought I might have some good tips.)

Walking down King St. is always enjoyable, for shopping, eating, and sight seeing. Robot Candy should be a hit with the 6 year old! Blue Bicycle Books is an adorable locally owned book shop, with a great Charleston section and a very docile cat. Diggity Donuts, also on King St., is apparently great, although I haven't been there myself.

If you're interested in some South Carolina style Barbeque (mustard and vinegar based sauce) I'd direct you to Melvin's, which has a couple locations right outside the city. Their onion rings are ridiculous.

I haven't been to the Charleston Museum in many years, but I remember it fondly. There's a polar bear! And, it's the first museum in America.

Hope you have a great trip!
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 7:37 PM on April 3, 2012

Since you asked, Sermet's Courtyard. Come for dinner Wednesday through Saturday if you want to see me. Ask foe Chris.

As for Husk, I've been told by people that I work with that you need a reservation to avoid a giant wait or even possibly not eating there that night. I guess that's the downside of having the only Master Chef in the area.
posted by theichibun at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2012

You will most definitely need a reservation at Husk, especially if you're looking at the weekend. A while ago they were several weeks out for reservations Thursday-Saturday nights, so if you want to go there I'd recommend calling well ahead.

To be fair that can be true of most places on a busy tourist weekend (Southeastern Wildife Expo, Charleston Fashion Week, Food and Wine Festival, Bridge Run, etc... are all recent busy tourist weekends) around here so you might want to have several options available or make your plans well in advance.

As for Jewish history, I know very very little about it, but there's a relatively active Jewish community in the area. Beth Elohim was the first Reform synagogue in the US, and is the second oldest synagogue as well as the oldest in continuous use. It's on Hassel Street (near Fig, since all my landmarks are restaurants, apparently) between King and Meeting pretty much in the middle of everything downtown. You can probably glean some interesting places to visit in the city by checking out the wiki entry on the history of Jews in Charleston. There's a Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina that can probably point you in several directions if you'd like to do some research. The College of Charleston apparently has a Jewish Heritage Collection that looks pretty interesting, although I know nothing about it besides what's on that page. Wish I could be more helpful, but I generally eschew both religion and history (I'm a heathen, sue me), so I'm definitely not the right guy for this info.

I also apparently love talking about Charleston, so feel free to ask any more questions.
posted by This Guy at 10:16 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We're back and had a great time. Our trip included:

High Cotton
Fleet's Landing
(didn't get to Semets this time)
Bulls Island day trip (Boneyard Beach!!)
Downtown self-guided historical houses walking tours (the one at night especially lovely)
Middleton visit
King's St
Beth Elohim

plus lots of walks and beach time. A great time was had by all. Thanks again for all the suggestions!
posted by aimeedee at 3:09 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

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