The beauty of a visit to Charleston lies in the small town homey feeling similar to that of Boston's Faneuil Hall, San Francisco's waterfront and Georgetown in Washington, DC. Beautiful brick and stone buildings, gaslights, and palm trees line the streets. A warm ocean breeze encircles the small historic city blocks. This city exudes historical charm and graciousness in almost everything it has to offer. A tourist feels like a welcomed guest. The restaurants, inns, hotels and shops all roll out their red carpet for YOU and how sweet it is!
There is sophistication in how Charleston presents itself to its guests. A great way to begin your vacation is with dinner across the Ashley River at the castle known as California Dreaming. The entire front wall of the restaurant is glass facing the city skyline, kept at a regulated
"steeple's height". This gorgeous view unfolds itself as you walk up to the hostess station. To your left is a spectacular lounge raised above the dining room sharing the same fabulous view. If you have never been to a California Dreaming restaurant before you can avoid the long waiting line (and there is always a long waiting line) by sitting in the lounge area. This area is a smoking area but quite open and airy. Everything on the menu is fresh and superb but you mustn't miss the honey croissants or their house salad. Both are out of this world. This is an incredible evening and a wonderful way to celebrate Charleston.
Throughout the city of Charleston a community appreciation of art and education is evident. There are many fine art and antique galleries lining King and Bay Streets. Wrought-iron work adorns buildings, fences and gardens. Beautiful glass and pottery are proudly displayed. The Marketplace is centrally located running from East Bay St. to Meeting Street for blocks. Each day vendors set up kiosks proffering southern food, jewelry, t-shirts, art, antiques, toys, hats, sports memorabilia and much more. Sea Island women weave sweet grass baskets right before your eyes. It is easy to see why these intricate baskets have become so famous in this part of the country. The Marketplace bustles with activity from morning to late afternoon and is fun for the whole family. Everyone will find a souvenir to their personal liking. Restaurants line the blocks on either side of the Marketplace and offer all kinds of cuisines. Wild Wings Café provides a great lunch break with over 20 kinds of wings on the menu. Try the sampler platter to get a good feel for the place.
On East Bay Street you will find two sister restaurants - Blossoms and Magnolias. There is a small parking lot between the two restaurants and parking is included with lunch or dinner. Blossoms has a lovely outside patio
- the perfect spot for that romantic dinner. A huge wood-fired oven is the focal point to the dining room and wood-fired pizza is very popular. Both Magnolias and Blossoms offer Southern Cuisine and service at its finest. A short walk away on East Bay Street you will find the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse that occupies an old warehouse. Beautiful ornate wood, ceiling, and staircase make this a fun stop for the whole family. You'll marvel at the atmosphere while enjoying a sampler tray of brews.
At the other end of East Bay Street you will find the Maritime Center. Excursion boats leave from these docks to harbor attractions. The Aquarium and IMAX Theatre are also located here. The Aquarium presents a view of South Carolina waterways from the northwestern part of the state right down to the marshes and oceans of the Low Country and Sea Islands. A parking garage is located at the Aquarium.
To get a real feel for the incredible history of the city you really should take a walking tour with Original Charleston Walks or take one of the many carriage rides offered near the marketplace. A carriage for two is a very romantic way to see the city. My favorite ride is through the Battery to the Customs House. There are so many incredible private homes, museums and inns too see along this route. Listening to historical tales about the area provides an entertaining education. A disastrous earthquake hit Charleston after the Civil War and the driver points out both scenes of devastation and bolts added to the rebuilt homes for building integrity. He also adds that the two-sided staircase at the front of some homes provided a lady with entrance to the home without revealing her ankles.
The Dock Street Theatre is another must see on your list of historical places. This small theatre is a quaint symbol of Charlestonians great love for the theatre. Frankenstein and the Christmas Carol were two of my favorite productions. Here the streets are cobblestone and you feel like you are walking into history. The Custom House and old Slave Market are two other must-sees along your way. There are many gracious churches with cemeteries telling their own tales of the past. A walking ghost tour through this area of the city would thrill the entire family.
The gardens of Charleston inspire a sense of pride through the entire city. Spring Garden Tours are an excellent way to appreciate the gorgeous array of flowers and trees. The stately Magnolia trees line East Bay Street and are extraordinary when in bloom. Courtyard gardens are the pride of Charlestonians young and old. Beautiful common grounds can be found spattered through out the city as well as public waterfront parks along both the Cooper and Ashley Rivers. A gazebo artistically placed along Battery Park is a favorite place for wedding ceremonies.
The beautiful campus of the College of Charleston can be found just south of King Street. It is a spectacular campus of stone and ivy buildings with beautiful courtyards once again reminiscent of Boston and Georgetown. Bustling college students can be seen along the streets and in the little coffee shops and bistros surrounding the campus. Once again a visitor is reminded of a historic college town and the renowned education offered here. The college
"Arts" influence is evident for many blocks. Check out some of the top-notch theatre and arts events the college has to offer during your stay. The College of Charleston also has world class rowing, sailing, and equestrian teams. There is always something entertaining to do in this part of town. Little ethnic restaurants are favorites for the students. The Mellow Mushroom is a favorite pizza place for the college set and visitors alike
Day trips from Charleston round out the perfect vacation. A daytrip to the James Island Park offers something fantastic in every season from a great water park in summer to a huge Christmas light festival, ice-skating and marshmallow roasting in the winter. Hiking, biking, fishing, and camping are just a few of the activities offered at this state park. Folly Beach, also located on James Island, provides a nice family day at the beach. A trip to Magnolia Plantation in spring is highly recommended. The acres and acres of natural and manicured gardens are astounding. Trails bordered with flowering walls encourage you on and on. There are many photo opportunities along the way, but the white footbridge is
my favorite. Visiting Magnolia Plantation is a wonderful way to appreciate the inexhaustible beauty of nature.
Guests of the city of Charleston leave with a sigh of satisfaction and a promise to return. Charleston offers its guests many pleasurable vacation options. Everyone will find a purpose to his or her stay somewhere in the vast graciousness that is Charleston. This newfound reverence brings guests back to Charleston again and again.