What to do when your time is short (or even if it is not) for visiting Charleston, SC, one of America’s most historic cities
Sometimes when visiting a new city for a brief time it feels impossible to do it all, because it is. We have to resist the desire to even try, while still being sure to experience a nice selection of all there is to see and do.
I usually visit Charleston with guests for a day or two several times a year, so this challenge isn’t new to me for the “Holy City.” In all honesty I personally could spend any entire visit to Charleston either eating my way through the city’s restaurants or shopping the length of King Street; but those are other issues. For the sake of any guests, and of my waistline and credit card bill, I am always looking for new things to do in the area that cover it both efficiently and in a manner that it enjoyable.
Three multitasking suggestions for visiting Charleston (even for people who don’t believe in multitasking)
1. Go town and country with a visit to Middleton Place and the Edmondston Alston House
Making a decision as to which former plantation to see while visiting the Charleston area can be challenging. Each one offers something different, and from my experience the choice is highly individual.
For those in the area who are short on time with an interest in history and want a good understanding of how Charleston (or Charles Towne, as it was called from 1670 to 1783) was initially settled, you can’t go wrong with Middleton Place. A National Historic Landmark, Middleton features America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a house museum filled with artifacts spanning four generations. The brief tour of the house museum is an excellent introduction to multiple generations of Charleston’s wealthy plantation owners who settled along the Ashley River, who in turn became among Charleston’s most prominent families.
Additionally various costumed interpretive guides located around the property give a good feeling for what daily social life was like on a rice plantation in the 17th and 18th centuries. The stable yards in particular would be of interest to people visiting Charleston with children. For those interested in seeing more of the 65 acre former rice plantation there is a carriage ride available with a well-informed guide (additional cost.)
When combined with a tour of the Edmondston-Alston House, a city house originally owned by a member of the same family as Middleton, and located on the Charleston Battery, visitors receive a good initial grounding in Charleston’s long and complicated history. Combination tickets are available at both historic properties.
2. History, photography and a walking tour are all rolled up into one with Charleston History Photo Tours
In June I toured the city with my friend, Andy, who was visiting Charleston for the first time. After our Charleston History Photo Tour, he said something along the lines of, “Wow, now I really see what all the fuss is about Charleston and want to come back someday.” Joyce Aungst instills just that kind of enthusiasm for the city where she has been a resident for many years.
All along the way Joyce points out many of the city’s most lovely details and shares her tricks for getting a good shot in what can be a busy tourist center. The photo walk covers a nice mix of “musts”, along with some of the small nooks and crannies Charleston is famous for that you might miss on your own. The tour is appropriate for professional, amateur, and beginner photographers, or really anyone who enjoys a great walking tour and looking at things in a new way.
3. Learn about the origins of Lowcountry cuisine and how to cook it at the same time at Charleston Cooks
In addition to owning several restaurants in the Charleston area, including Slightly North of Broad and High Cotton, the Maverick Kitchen Group offers a wide variety of cooking classes at Charleston Cooks, through its Maverick Kitchen Store. The popular Lowcountry Cooking Demonstration is a fascinating introduction to the origins of local cuisine, and a multitasking way to try out some of the city’s best eats.
The menu for the demonstration varies depending on what is available seasonally, but when I was there we made crab cakes and shrimp and grits. Did I mention there was also wine involved? To top off the experience, the adjacent kitchen store makes it hard to resist buying a gadget or two, after seeing them demonstrated so deliciously. For those visiting other parts of South Carolina, Charleston Cooks also has new Greenville and Columbia locations.
Planning on visiting Charleston either now or someday? You may also enjoy reading about some of our favorite places to stay in Charleston and one of our favorite day trips from Charleston. If you happen to be in Charleston on a Saturday morning between April and December, here’s another thing to push to the top of your list of “musts.”
Photo credits: Margo Millure, Middleton Place Foundation, Renata Parker