We’re just back from a wonderful 5-day trip to Charleston and Folly Beach, South Carolina, to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We had a fabulous time! My hope was to have enough to do without feeling like we had to work too hard and run around to have an enjoyable break. And the trip was perfect! Although it was most definitely humid, we only had one morning with any significant rain, and the rest of the time, we were fine. We stayed 3 nights in downtown Charleston, and then 2 nights in Folly Beach, which we found to be a good balance.
We stayed in the Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel; I found a promo on Travelzoo for a double room for a great rate that also included a historic tour. After sticker shock for hotels in Charleston, this turned out to be a great deal. The hotel was excellent – the location could not be beat. Although a large hotel, the staff was helpful and responsive to all requests. Special mention to the concierge, Andra, who was especially helpful and steered us well for touring the city, and who also recommended the restaurant that we liked the best, Sweet Amen. The rooms are small but comfortable – the only downside is that there is no refrigerator, but otherwise, we were happy with the hotel.
On the first day, we did the historic tour that was included with our hotel. The guide, Mary, was lovely – very knowledgeable, very easygoing, and took us around the downtown sites for over 2 hours, giving us a good orientation to the history of Charleston’s development and the importance that it played as a major port town. Clearly, Charleston is a town built with wealth - this can be seen in the elegance of the many historic houses in the city. Of course, the development of the city was bound up with the slave trade; much of the wealth was based on slave trading. As a port town, Charleston had a diverse population; it was known as the Holy City because of this diversity and religious tolerance. She also pointed out Stephen Colbert’s childhood home!
In the afternoon, we took the ferry to Fort Sumter, and enjoyed both the ferry ride and the tour around the fort. The is a small museum display of the fort’s history, and not a lot left of the original structure , but it’s exciting nonetheless to visit a significant site representing an important part of history – where the first shots of the US Civil War occurred.
We also walked through the City Market, a huge public market, with lots of crafts and food for sale. I must admit that my husband, the non-shopper, was less than enthusiastic as this is clearly a shopping mecca for tourists. I enjoyed a quick tour through the market but didn’t feel compelled to shop.
Each evening, we wandered through the city, not surprisingly, drifting toward the waterfront. We loved Waterfront Park, with its long dock reaching into the Cooper River, and the charming Pineapple Fountain, a focal point of the park.
On our second day, we struck out on our own, and visited the sobering but wonderful Old Slave Mart Museum, located in the only known still-existing building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina. This is a very well done museum providing a great history of slavery, both generally and then specific to Charleston. There are not a lot of artifacts, but there is a lot of excellent information provided on well-written and well-designed posters. There are also some recordings of former slaves that are very poignant.
We then took the DASH bus (the city provides free tourist buses on several different routes throughout the historic district) up to the Aiken-Rhett House, a historic house museum (part of the Historic Charleston Foundation) that is exciting to visit because it was kept in the family until it was turned over as a museum. It is not restored, but maintains fragments of the original house and its furnishings. It does feel dilapidated, yet it also is exciting to be in a place that is original. There is a good audio tour so visitors go at there own pace.
The Foundation also owns and runs the Nathaniel Russell house, a beautifully restored home with a stunning spiral staircase. The tours (about an hour) are run in groups, but they run frequently enough and we didn’t have too long a wait. There is a joint ticket for both of these houses.
Those were the main “sights” that we saw and enjoyed them immensely; we also enjoyed strolling through the city – beautiful and relaxing!
1) Hyman’s Seafood– a tourist restaurant. Clearly very popular, the line was long when we arrived around 7pm. We ended up bypassing the line by sitting at the bar to eat. The food was okay – nothing special, but it had a lot of energy, and everybody was friendly - a fun first evening!
2) Sweet Amen (see TA review) – our favorite meal and overall best dining experience in Charleston. The food was perfect – I still think about the perfectly, lightly fried oysters that were so tended they melted in my mouth….mmmm, so good. And the service – warm, knowledgeable server, who interacted with us and gave us good recommendations while also not hovering in a cloying, officious manner.
3) Magnolias – way overhyped for us. The food was okay, but it was too complicated, the tastes were heavy and rich, and the service was hovering in a cloying, officious manner (!) while not serving us a birthday “extra” after I mentioned it a dozen times that it was my husband’s birthday. And I wouldn’t have been bothered to comment about the “extra”, except the table next to us got one – and it wasn’t even a birthday!
1) Bubba Gump Shrimp Co – tourist restaurant, fun atmosphere, not bad food, service was slow but the server was lovely. My husband’s burger was good, but I had a Caesar salad that was awful. When I mentioned this to the server, he offered to get me something else but we didn’t have time since we had tickets for the ferry. Even though I didn’t ask, he didn’t charge us for my meal. I appreciated that gesture a lot.
2) 39, Rue de Jean – Food was decent, nothing special, but the server was irritable and unpleasant. Maybe because we didn’t order drinks? We couldn’t tell why but it made for an unpleasant dining experience.
The hotel didn’t include breakfast, so we went out each morning:
1) Toast – good breakfast, lousy coffee. Great service.
2) Normandy Farm Artisan bakery – pasty and coffee. Surprisingly weak coffee – again!
On our third morning, we discovered that the hotel had a coffee urn for everyone
we had the best coffee of our stay in Charleston – finally!!
We arranged an Uber ride to take us to the Waters Edge Inn on Folly Island at 1pm.
We still had a full morning after packing and checking out, and my husband wanted to explore another part of the town. Despite the ominous clouds, we took off – and it started to rain…..and rain…..and rain! We were thoroughly drenched so came back to the hotel. The staff gave us towels and plastic bags to store our stuff and we changed in the ground floor bathrooms since we no longer had a room. Finally at 1pm, our Uber car arrived and we were on our way to Folly Island!
More to come....