Get oriented to the city at the Charleston Visitor Center. Staff will answer questions, tour and attraction tickets can be purchased, and many tours depart from here. “Forever Charleston,” a 24-minute multisensory presentation, is screened throughout the day and well worth seeing.
The DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) trolley departs frequently from the center, and with a DASH Pass provides the most affordable way to explore the historic district, aside from walking.
Across the street from the visitor center, the Charleston Museum, America’s first museum, gives a glimpse into the cultural and natural history of the Lowcountry.
The Gibbes Museum of Art houses one of the finest collections of American art in the Southeast, complete with views of Charleston and portraits of notable South Carolinians. The Museum Shop is an excellent place to select quality gifts.
The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, a division of the College of Charleston, houses permanent and visiting exhibits and archives relating to the history of the Sea Island and Gullah culture. This beautifully-restored facility is the site of the Avery Normal Institute (c. 1865), one of the most prestigious African-American private schools in the country.
Pick one or two historic homes to visit, such as the Aiken-Rhett House for a taste of antebellum life; or the Edmonston-Alston House, one of the first dwellings built on Charleston’s High Battery in 1825.
You can stay immersed in history, whether you choose the full-service antebellum Mills House Hotel or the small evocative Andrew Pinckney Inn, which combines wonderful location and décor with a satisfying rooftop continental breakfast at value rates.
There’s the grandeur of Charleston Place Hotel, a member of the Orient-Express collection, the sparkle of the Renaissance Charleston, and a host of other hotels and inns rich with flavor. Families looking for extra space and excellent value might choose to stay in Mount Pleasant, just across the Cooper River from Charleston.
Save a day to explore several nearby plantations along the Ashley River. The National Trust offers a fascinating tour of Drayton Hall, considered one of the finest examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in the U.S. and the oldest preserved plantation house that is open to the public. Neighboring Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place both offer some of the oldest landscaped gardens in America. Consider a nature boat tour at Magnolia Plantation and plan to have an authentic Lowcountry lunch at Middleton Place Restaurant.
For a visitor from the west coast, a trip to Charleston feels foreign and exotic, awakening all the senses, all the while showing how a well-preserved, genteel gem of a city can be vibrant and ever-changing.
Major airlines serve Charleston from SFO via Atlanta and other gateways. Southwest announced plans to begin Charleston service within the next 12 months.
Story © Carol Canter, 2010
Photos © Carol Canter