I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Charleston, because I didn’t know much about the city beforehand. I allowed my South Carolinian friend to orchestrate my trip in her state, and I trusted her to take me to the best places. My trust was well placed, because Charleston is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever visited.
After a 4-hour long road trip from Greenville, through Columbia and into the Charleston suburb of Ashley, the small room that we had paid for at the Creekside Lands Inn was a welcomed sight. The toilet was wobbly, and the air conditioner made our room feel like a freezer, but the hotel was well worth the price that we paid. As its name suggests, the Creekside Lands Inn is, in fact, next to a beautiful creek. There was even a wooden landing built out in the water, where you could sit and listen to the gurgling stream in the warm light of the lovely white Christmas lights that were strung along the railing. A few guests crabbed from the landing, and even if you weren’t interested in catching a fresh meal, the creek was full of life. Crabs blew bubbles in the sand, and gangly herons waded through the long, tall reeds that lined the water. It was a beautiful little place to relax after hours on the road, and it continued to be a welcoming and restful spot throughout our stay in Charleston.
After enjoying the water, and napping for a bit, we all gathered ourselves to find somewhere to eat. No one had the energy to drive into town, but looking through reviews of restaurants in Ashley we found the Early Bird Diner, famed for its chicken and waffles. The diner itself was cozy, complete with a game board library, and walls lined with quirky paintings from artists unknown. Tucked in a corner, we giggled as we read the menu and tried to decide which delicious southern dish that we were going to indulge in. Within five minutes, however, it was clear that all four of us were going to order the chicken and waffles. As for me, I had always thought that the combination sounded a little absurd, but being in South Carolina, in a restaurant with reviews that ranted about their chicken and waffles, I couldn’t resist. Needless to say, the Early Bird Diner effectively hooked me on the dish. Their waffles were wonderful, with a perfect accent of cinnamon sugar. The fried chicken was juicy, piping hot, and dipped in sweet mustard it actually was a spectacular mix of flavors.
Stuffed, we returned to the hotel and fell right to sleep- our minds set on the adventures we would have the next day.
Our second day in Charleston was the best of the trip. We woke up, spines slightly creaky from the extremely soft beds, stuffed ourselves on the included breakfast, and were driving into the city by 10. Our first stop was Patriot’s Point, which was something that I wasn’t all that interested in, but it turned out to be a really cool area. This was especially true, because I had yet to have the chance to explore any sort of Navy ship. Patriot’s Point offers visitors the chance to walk through the aircraft carrier the USS Yorktown, a destroyer, the USS Laffey, and a submarine, the USS Clamagore. The whole experience was enjoyable, despite my early reservations. The vessels are also functioning museums, and everything was beautifully well kept.
Amid all the exploring, there were two major highlights to the visit to Patriot’s Point. I particularly enjoyed getting to climb through the USS Clamagore. The prospect of being in a submarine, even one that was docked and surfaced, was somewhat intimidating. The small spaces inside hardly helped the instinctual discomfort of being closed in, but it only made seeing the vessel all the more exciting. My friends and I also bought lunch on the USS Yorktown, and had food as close to Navy-style as Patriot’s Point could get people to pay for. The food was actually pretty good, cheap, and it was fun to get to eat in the mess hall.
The ferry out to Fort Sumter leaves the dock at Patriots point, and once we had our fill of the ships, museums, and growing hordes of school children, we bought our tickets and headed out to the national park. While being somewhat smaller than I imagined it would be, Fort Sumter was a special place to see. The ferry crew shared a few stories with us on the way over to the man-made island that the fort was perched on. Once we had landed, a ranger took the time to lay down some ground rules and share more history with us before we were set loose. I haven’t spent a lot of time in places so vested in American history, and being amid the old, war-torn walls made me feel more connected to my cultural heritage than I ever have. Fort Sumter is a way to reconnect to ages long since past, and seeing the places described in history books can only serve to spike curiosity. Besides that, the view of the Charleston port, as well as the surrounding ocean was utterly astounding. The only draw back to the whole excursion was a dangerous colony of fire ants, which had sprung up on the grassy hill in the fort.
After the ride back to the mainland, we headed into Charleston’s downtown proper. There we spent some time wandering the streets, and visited the famous Rainbow Market (which is a much friendlier name for a place also widely called “the slave market”). We learned that slaves had never been sold in this area, but the street had long been home to an open-air market to which wealthy urbanites would send their slaves to for supplies. Now, the market is just a place where tourists crowd eachother to buy knick-knacks and souvenirs. Personally, I didn’t enjoy pressing through the people that packed themselves into the market, and I found it so crowded that I hardly had the inclination to shop at all. That being said, the market hosted local artisans of all sorts, and shopping there had the potential to support small-scale businesses and local people.
We topped off our first full day in Charleston with a Bulldog Tour, the Dark Side of Charleston. Once the sun went down we all gathered outside of Bulldog’s picturesque store front, and once the tour started we were promptly led into an alley where we listened to our guide warn us that this particular tour was not for children. We spent the rest of the next hour and a half wandering downtown on foot and learning about the more secretive history of the city. I won’t spoil any of the stories shared by the tour guide, but the trip was well worth it.
On our last day, I was itching to get out and do whatever hiking we could close to the city. This led us to the James County Park, which was South Carolina nature-lite. There were some nice trails to meander down, and sections of forest, but for the most part it was, as its name suggests, a massive park. Most of the trails ran along manicured grass fields, and a small lake dotted with kayakers. The path also passed a rock wall, a water park, and camping areas. There was also the ever-present sound of yipping dogs and laughing children, which completes the atmosphere of any park. So, not the best place to hike, but this park is pretty wonderful in every other way.
After spending the morning in the sun, and away from the press of the downtown buildings, we drove back into town. With nothing planned, we decided to take some time to just walk around and take in the beautiful architecture of downtown Charleston. At face value, this was probably the least exciting thing that we did the whole trip, but I loved it. The buildings in Charleston are wonderful, and we even got rained onto someone’s porch by an afternoon rain flurry, which as an Arizonan is always a great thing.
Finally, after another delicious seafood dinner, we topped off our trip with one last Bulldog walking tour. One last chance to see the city, which is just as beautiful at night as it is during the day.