Charleston has always been famous for its’ art to consistently allure tourists and visitors. The southern charm there is undeniable and if you are a European like myself or originally from the Midwest like my husband, you will notice the obvious cultural differences that Charleston either proudly carries or is unable to conceal.
Things to Do in Charleston SC
There are so many things to do in Charleston SC. And as you do them you won’t be able to overlook from how quiet it is in the city to their extravagant cuisine, driving, persistent attempts to preserve culture, alcohol consumption, coastal lifestyle and street names.
Nothing is “fast” down south. People speak slower, you wait longer for food and the overall pace of life screams nothing but “vacation mode”. And trust me, we absolutely loved it!
It’s been several months since Noah and I took a solo trip, some of you might remember that we went to Boston at the end of May. Both cities are rather flavorful, rich in historic events and are on people’s bucket lists, but let me tell you, they are oh so different.
I have noticed through having conversations with local people how important people’s names, lands they own and their family trees are. Your family name eventually somehow ties you back all the way to 1670 and the founding fathers of the United States.
People willingly bring it up and are proud of it! It immediately reminded me of my trips to Egypt and Somalia, where people will quickly get to their grandfather and clan while telling you a story.
I found it to be of much less importance in Northern States. It might come up that you are of Irish or Swedish origin because of your hair color or freckles, but people don’t tend to dwell on that subject.
Charleston, South Carolina was an important port for the trading of rice, tobacco and indigo. In 1722 it was briefly incorporated as Charles City and Port, and later in 1783 it was reincorporated as Charleston.
Charleston, SC carries a feel of a charming small town even though, its’ population is slightly above 150,000 people, which is half of St. Paul, MN.
So what are the things to do in Charleston and what shall one try and see when there?
My list would start with Rainbow Row, Waterfront Park, Charleston City Market, Sullivan’s Island, The Charleston Museum and Horse Carriage Tour of Downtown Charleston.
The Palmetto Cafe
After we landed at the Charleston airport, we grabbed an uber and were heading downtown. I was so excited for Noah to experience this marvelous city!
We got to the Palmetto Cafe, which is a part of Charleston Place, a darling boutique hotel in the heart of downtown.
It truly felt like we landed in the past, when we entered the Charleston Place. Classy, light and extravagant that’s what it was.
As for the Palmetto Cafe, it was simply fabulous! They describe themselves as a garden-inspired restaurant, where the finest local and regional ingredients celebrate the bounty of the area.
A lot of menu items were classic, yet finished with a sophisticated French touch. It was full of light and easy to say, it was influencing the world of food in the whole country!
Wait staff was dressed to the nines, they were attentive, listened well, were pros at small talk and oh so delivered!
I had been to Charleston for a work conference in winter of 2020 as well and we had lunch at the Palmetto Cafe back then and my emotions and feelings were very much the same.
Charleston City Market
Charleston City Market was also a wonderful place to visit. I bought a little painting at Chuma Gullah gallery and a cookbook and had a fabulous time.
The Old Slave Mart Museum
We walked around, I took pictures of some architectural pieces that reminded me of Europe and brought me back to my childhood. Noah really wanted to see the Old Slave Mart Museum, so we looked it up and were heading there.
It is a sad and yet such an integral part of American history that needs to be studied, analyzed and brought to everyone’s attention in a proper way.
Growing up in a rather homogeneous society, racism wasn’t something I have heard or seen much of. It was something bad, somewhere far until I was reading To Kill a Mocking Bird as a sophomore in high school.
It felt confusing, hurtful, unfair and yet was so real and indelible.
I won’t say I avoid museums like that, because it is a true reality of this country, but I am not going to lie it is uncomfortable and makes me feel so helpless every time.
The Old Slave Mart Museum was full of Italian couples when we got there, which is another proof of the touristy nature of the city. This museum truly broadens your understanding of the role Charleston played as a port and a slave-trading center.
Unlike the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC that leaves you proud and shows you beauties of different Black communities that ended up in the United States and stayed, Charleston museum is strictly addressing the era of slave-trading and adds nothing to it.
Rainbow Row and Joe Riley Waterfront Park
We were slowly making our way towards Joe Riley Waterfront Park and Rainbow Row. Those two never disappoint and the walk there is rather beautiful.
Edisto Island, SC
We wanted to keep touring, but it was getting hotter and our bags were with us so we were ready for an uber and Edisto Island. It took a while to get out of the city, traffic wasn’t in our favor.
The combination of hot and humid takes you by surprise every time if it is something you didn’t grow up with and especially your hair will remind you of that!
Our über driver got lost towards the end so we had to collectively find where exactly was our new home for the next 4 days. We didn’t fail and he dropped us off. The Airbnb I found was equally charming to the city of Charleston and we were happy.
I remember looking on the map and being confident that we are right on the ocean, but as you can imagine I was wrong. Let’s just say beach wasn’t far on the map or if you were not pregnant, otherwise it was debatable.
Our airbnb host had a whole paragraph written about free bikes that were right outside our duplex and we could use them as we see fit. I didn’t even think that was relevant until all we needed were those bikes, since we flew to SC and didn’t have a vehicle.
Biking is just not my forte. Whenever we go to Rosemary Beach or Panama City Beach, we do rent them FOR FUN! We do it once for the whole trip, several hours of fun and that’s where I draw the line. This time on Edisto Island bikes were not just an option, they were a necessity and I am 26 weeks pregnant, so that’s another little barrier.
These bikes or shall I say, the parts that they were assembled from, have seen a lot of life. They lived! If it wasn’t for my handsome husband and his initiative to bike 15-minutes to a nearby convenience store and buy WD-40, our trip would have been very different.
Let’s just say we didn’t gain any weight being on this vacation. Either we wanted to get coffee, go to the beach, golf course or dinner we grabbed these babies and peddled our way to the final destination.
We were the only “northerners” (as people referred to us) on the whole island. Most people we met have been coming to Edisto Island generationally. It was familiar, they all drove here and knew ins and outs of the place.
We, on the other hand, were learning our lessons on our own.
The first day on the beach we were both stung by a jellyfish, our skin was burning and it was the worst pain ever. This was not on my Things to do in Charleston list and I was taken unawares.
As I ran out of the water screaming a group of ladies walked towards me with a gallon of vinegar, they rubbed my arm and my belly with sand and poured vinegar on those stung areas.
I felt fine in minutes and didn’t get the scar the next day. They proceeded to say, “You are not local, are you? Jellyfish stings happen in August the most, because they mate in the warm months. We don’t go in the water in August.”
I was so grateful for these ladies and their quick actions and readiness to help just reinforced the concept of Southern hospitality in me.
The next day was a pure deja vu as Noah and I were in the water again and he got stung. As he was running out of the water and the same group of ladies were waiting to offer their wound care, now to him.
As you can tell, we were not willing to miss out on our ocean swimming time and ended up paying a price for it.
So if you have never experienced the taste of heaven on the shell, I think it’s time! That’s what I told my husband when we got to Ella & Ollie’s. A cute restaurant that was very close to your duplex. My Noah is very adventurous when it comes to a lot of things, but oysters were not on that list, so we had to go a safe route and just order the Rockefeller ones. They didn’t disappoint!
Herb Seared Tuna was pretty amazing as well! Food down south is simply top-notch!
Noah and I got to golf at The Plantation Course at Edisto and it was beautiful. We were paired with a fun recently-retired couple. The wife was a Southerner from Tennessee and the husband was from Wisconsin. So Noah immediately felt like they were (or if offered proper circumstances could have been) best friends, because that’s how you feel about Packers Fans, if you are one.
It was really sunny and hot and I decided to wear the only shirt I brought that could cover my shoulders, which is not a golf shirt as you can see. Oh well, it worked out great!
A lot of streets and places maintained their names from the past, so we saw a lot of “Plantations” and “High Cotton”, which brought me right back to Ukraine and old Soviet Union street names honoring Communism, Lenin and Stalin.
I understand that history has to stay with us, but what if it is just reframed? Just a thought!
On one of our mornings while we were drinking coffee at Marsh Moon Cafe we got to meet a local couple, who has been vacationing on Edisto Island for years. They were high school sweethearts, married for over 20 years and just got their first granddaughter! They were very fun and warm and immediately invited us for an oyster dinner at the beach house they were staying at.
I am extroverted and at times chatty, but my husband truly takes time to get to know people and asks good questions, so it wasn’t the first time that strangers just invite us somewhere.
We gladly accepted the invitation and had a lovely dinner with them and their friends. People down South don’t shy away from jumping to religion, race and politics right off the bat, which would be quite unusual here in the North.
I’ve learnt that “finger licking good” down south sounds a little different! They say, “cotton picking good”! They gave us a lot of examples of that particular phrase!
I appreciated learning about their culture, hearing stories about their grandparents and how they were raised and why they believe what they believe!
And here was the morning of our departure! We packed and walked to the entrance of our resort to get an uber. I kept trying to order a car and 30 minutes later we were still standing and waiting as Uber app was spinning with no definitive answers. We both started panicking. Noah was googling local taxis and airport shuttles and I was jumping between uber and lyft to get us to the airport.
An older couple pulled over in their pickup truck and offered to drive us to the main road after hearing about our situation. Things didn’t improve much after, even though we left the most remote area of Edisto Island.
To make a long story short, we tried hitchhiking and asking people we saw if we could pay them to take us to Charleston airport once we found out there is no taxi services on the Island and ubers bring people there but rather rarely.
We were running out of time and only by the grace of God this one uber driver took our order and picked us up after dropping someone off on the island. As we got to the airport our plane was boarding, so we successfully flew out, just not without stress.
Some other restaurants I would recommend, that I dined in on my other trips, were High Cotton, Oyster House and Magnolias. They were praised by the locals and didn’t disappoint! The best espresso martini I have ever had was at Carmella’s, they also served spectacular desserts.