Charleston is a beautiful and historical city, filled with swaying palm trees, horse-drawn carriages trotting down cobblestone streets, and pastel-hued antebellum townhouses overlooking wrought-iron gated gardens. I have visited Charleston several times and am always impressed by the Southern beauty, albeit slightly overwhelmed by the oppressive humidity.
A short 3.5 hour drive from Fort Bragg, NC, Charleston is a convenient weekend getaway. There are many sights to see, but I’ll focus on the sights I find myself returning to again and again.
Magnolia Plantations & Gardens
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is known as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Gardens” (Travel + Leisure Magazine) and is definitely worth the trip. Established in 1676, the plantation house itself is quite impressive, but the real sight to see are the acres of the Romantic Gardens, complete with historic monuments, gazebos, ponds, bridges, and thousands of flowering plants, shrubs and trees. Along with the plantation house and gardens, the site also features a conservatory with semi-tropical plants, a petting zoo for the little ones, a café, gift shop, cabin, and theater. Tours are also available, although I preferred to stroll the gardens at leisure, snapping photos of the beautiful gardens.On my visit, we got caught in a thunderstorm halfway through the gardens, and waited the storm out in a gazebo. On finally making it to the plantation house, we discovered the electricity had been knocked out, closing the gift shop and delaying the house tours, but we still managed to see part of the house as they let us in to shelter from the storm. It was still a wonderful visit, and I took lots of beautiful pictures, but I will never visit Charleston again without an umbrella!
For more information, visit: http://www.magnoliaplantation.com/
Boone Hall Plantation
As one of the oldest working plantations in America, if you are looking for the perfect authentic Southern Plantation, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is your stop. Boone Hall has been rated #1 Plantation in Charleston by USA TODAY 10 BEST, and offers several tours and educational presentations. While Magnolia Plantation has the perfect gardens, Boone Hall has everything else. From the live oak trees lining the driveway draped in Spanish moss dating back to the 1700’s, to the plantation house itself, this is Gone with the Wind in real-life. For over 300 years, Boone Hall has been growing and producing crops, from cotton and pecans to strawberries and vegetables. Tours are available of the plantation house, and although no photos are allowed of the inside of the house (it is still a private residence), you can take as many as you like outside the house. Among the buildings on the grounds still standing are the cotton gin house, as well as the Gullah houses once home to African American slaves. A bus tour is also available of the grounds, and the Butterfly gardens are beautiful in bloom. If you need a sandwich, ice cream, or just a bottle of water, a small café is located onsite, and public restrooms are available as well. Tickets range from $12 for children, $21 for military and senior citizens, and $24 for adults. While slightly more expensive than other sites, Boone Hall Plantation is well worth the visit.
For more information, visit: http://boonehallplantation.com/
Charleston Tea Plantation
The Charleston Tea Plantation is one of my absolute favorite places to visit. A short drive from Charleston on the historic Wadmalaw Island sits the 127 acre plantation. Known as “America’s Tea Plantation,” the Charleston Tea Plantation is the only tea plantation in America. The tea bushes grown in the Charleston Tea Plantation date back to the 1800’s, but the Tea Plantation as we know it today has been in existence since 2003. The family-owned Bigelow Tea Company purchased the plantation, and operates it in partnership with professional tea-taster Bill Hall. The Plantation produces 9 flavors of tea, from green tea to flavored varieties and tea is available to taste test and purchase at the gift shop. The Plantation is open 7 days a week and trolley tours take you out through the fields to the greenhouses and propagation shed to explain the process of growing and making tea. A free factory tour explains how the tea leaves are harvested from the tea plants and processed to make the popular beverage we enjoy, hot or iced, sweet or un-sweet! A visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation is a fun and educational experience for everyone in the family. I have taken the tour 4 times now, and learn something new each time I visit the plantation.
Patriot’s Point Naval Museum
Patriot’s Point Naval Museum is the perfect stop for the history or WWII buff in the family. My husband and father-in-law love to visit the museum, and it has so much to see that my mother-in-law and I enjoyed the visit as well. Depending on how much you want to see, a stop at the museum could easily take half a day. There is a charge to park in the museum parking lot, and ticket prices range from $14 for children to $17 for active duty military with ID to $22 for adults.
Once your tickets are purchased you can stop for a souvenir photo before walking across the bridge to the USS Yorktown, the 10th aircraft carrier to serve the U.S. Navy. Commissioned in 1943, the Yorktown participated in several conflicts until 1945. In the late 1950’s the Yorktown was selected as an anti-submarine carrier and was used in the Vietnam War until finally decommissioned in 1970. The Yorktown contains everything from WWII aircraft to replicas of the Apollo 8 capsule. You can walk all throughout the Yorktown, and really see what life in onboard was like, from the engine rooms to the map rooms, and even the barber shop and dentist.
But the Yorktown is only one of the sights to see at Patriot’s Point. There is also the USS Laffey, a WWII US Destroyer to tour, as well as the USS Clamagore, a Cold War era submarine you can walk through as well. A newer addition Patriot’s Pont is the Vietnam Experience Exhibit, a 2.5 acre area including a replica bunker, several helicopters, and the Quonset Hut with a mini-theater andM151 Jeep, and replica of a Saigon Street. Smoke and audio effects bring the exhibit to life. A National Medal of Honor Museum is also being constructed at Patriot’s Point. The Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum has something for everyone in the family, and plenty for the kids as well.
Mepkin Abbey Catholic Trappist Monastery
Mepkin Abbey is a about an hour drive from Charleston to the North, near a large national forest. Tucked in the trees along the banks of the Cooper River, the Abbey has a large and beautiful gardens and grounds, not to mention an impressive live oak lined driveway. While parts of the monastery are open to the public at certain times during the week (Mepkin Abbey Church and Nancy Bryan Luce Gardens), visitors should note the Abbey is the home of the monks, and there are designated areas marked with signs that are closed to the public. Guided tours of the Mepkin Abbey Church are available twice daily from Tuesday through Saturday, and the Gardens are open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visitors are asked to check in at the Mepkin Abbey Gift Shop and Visitor’s Center prior to entering the Gardens, and professional photographers should obtain permission prior to photographing the grounds. Dogs are not allowed on the property, with the exception of service animals. On my visit, I missed the Church tour, but spent a considerable amount of time wandering the beautiful grounds and gardens. There are several cemeteries on the grounds, as well as religious statues, and a large pond where you might just spot an alligator. I saw several families taking family pictures, as well as couples taking wedding photos. Mepkin Abbey is a peaceful, beautiful place to come and contemplate life.
No guide to Charleston would be complete if I didn’t list my absolute favorite restaurant. Boxcar Betty’s makes the absolute best fried chicken sandwiches in the entire world. I would gladly drive 3 hours just to eat there. In fact, when I’m in Charleston for the weekend, I don’t eat anywhere else. It’s just that good. The Boxcar Chicken Sandwich is my favorite, with a locally-sourced, all-natural, perfectly fried chicken breast slathered in pimiento cheese, peach slaw, house pickles, and spicy mayo all atop a bun. Trust me, you will never find another chicken sandwich equal to this. These sandwiches are impossible to eat without making a mess, but you won’t care because it’s so delicious. I also love their fried pickled green tomatoes, and if you have room for dessert, the Pecan-Pie-in-a-Cup is not to be missed. All the yummy heavenliness of pecan pie filling topped with vanilla ice cream in a handy to-go cup. They also sell t-shirts, if you become as obsessed with their food as I did after eating there. There are only two locations, one in Summerville, SC and one in Charleston, SC. I have eaten at both, and they are both equally amazing. The one in Charleston is my favorite just because it is actually in a remodeled modernized boxcar. Do yourself, and your taste buds, a favor, and go to Boxcar Betty’s. You can thank me later.
For complete menu, hours, and location visit: http://www.boxcarbetty.com/
Historic downtown Charleston is a wonderful place to walk, sightsee, shop and dine. I would recommend a stop at the Visitor Center, where you can pay to park your car and tour the rest of downtown by foot or by horse-drawn carriage. Grab a map from the visitor center and wander toward King Street, the main drag where you can window shop (or shop, if you can afford it) to your heart’s desire. Split into three distinct areas, King Street leads all the way to the river. Upper King Street is the design and dining area, Middle King Street is the Fashion District with high-end designer shops and Lower King Street is known as the Antique District. Feel free to pop into any store just to savor the air conditioning. As long as you look like you’re browsing, they won’t mind.
If you have a few weeks before your Charleston trip, I would recommend visiting http://www.charlestoncvb.com/ and requesting a free guidebook. There is much more information about things to see and do, hotels, and dining available through the guidebook. You can also find helpful information from: https://www.charlestonsfinest.com/
If you are looking for budget accommodations, there is an IHG at Joint Base Charleston, although you can find much more comfortable accommodations elsewhere.
Packing for Charleston?
Bring these items along, and enjoy your trip!
-Comfortable walking shoes-walking and driving are the best way to see the sights around Charleston.
-An umbrella- the high humidity brings frequent and sometimes violent rain, and flooding in the downtown Charleston area is not uncommon
-Lightweight clothing- Charleston has a humid subtropical climate; lightweight, breathable clothing is a must! Jeans just don’t cut it in the South. (I learned from experience!)
-Water bottle- Again-hot, humid, sticky. Water is your friend.
What are your favorite places to visit in Charleston? Comment below and let me know!