It’s what we were doing on Memorial Day weekend, plus one of James Taylor’s most beautiful songs! This weekend not only kicks off one of the greatest seasons, but means a long weekend and a built in day off for those of us who yearn to get away. So where to? With a sister down in Charleston, South Carolina, the answer was simple: we were heading south!
Charleston, for a carriage ride and historical tours
The road trip started at 4:30 am, Thursday, May 24th. With two huge coffees in hand, we ushered our sleepy babies into the car and were off on our Carolina adventure
I had planned pretty extensively, mapping out stops along the way, and a slue of activities once we arrived. Charleston has endless historical sites, mansion tours, surrounding plantations and the restaurants…oh the restaurants! The question of whether or not we’d be able to fit it all into 3 full days and nights wasn’t negotiable; we simply had to!
I do have to point out that I had free range when planning, as Mike will be the first to tell you he’s not a planner, but is up for anything. Having to squeeze in two agendas has never been an issue and complaining about the activity on deck never happens A perfect duo of explorative push and pull.
So, after a stop in Alexandria for a French country breakfast and another break at a dog park in Raleigh, where the pups got to romp, chase squirrels and stretch their paws, we arrived at Mike’s sister Sara’s house…A 12 hour trip never felt better!
We dumped our stuff, walked the dogs, then headed out For some local flavor at Señor Tequilas. Massive cervesas, margaritas and fajitas were ordered. Yum! Great salsa, spice & service. South Carolina makes a good first impression. Next stop:Total Wine, to load up on vacation thirst quenchers. Mike’s eyes lit up when he saw the rows & rows of craft beer you could buy in six pack form or a la carte…this would take awhile!
Fat Tire, Dales Deviant & Pale Ale, Ranger IPA, Westbrook IPA (made & brewed in SC!), Hop Stoopid (Lagunitas), Apita Strawberry wheat. Think that should suffice! First day in Charleston, huge success…off to bed (after a Dale’s of course!)
No sleeping in on this vacation…Up early (the joys of traveling with the dogs!) to start day 1 ofCharleston fun. The carriage tour, right in the heart of the Charleston rainbow market, would be our first stop. First things first though…breakfast! We popped into the first breakfast joint we saw, X and ordered some southern eats…biscuits & gravy, yogurt parfait and cheddar eggs on a biscuit. Deeeelicious!
Bellies full of biscuits, Mike, Sara and I hopped on the first private carriage we saw for the bargain price of $125 (a group tour runs about $25 per person, but you have to deal with another12-16 sweaty tourists….totally with it in my opinion to ride comfy!)
Our guide, Ann, explained that the city of Charleston told them the route they’d take by pulling a lottery style ball out of the most popular routes bucket. Sara, who had been on two previous carriage tours told us she had never been on the same route, a fact I thought pretty interesting, given there is so much to see here!
Henry, Ann’s trusty stead, galloped merrily around the city while she explained the towns history, fun facts and a bit of Tom Foolery. Some funCharleston trivia:
St. Phillips Church is crooked due to earthquakes and has been rebuilt several times (the original structure was burned, then rebuilt only to be damaged in a hurricane).
Many of the beautiful houses have two front doors, one an entrance into the house one an entrance to the piazza, where if closed meant the lady of the house was ‘indisposed’ and you shouldn’t come calling. by the way, indisposed meant a few buttons undone, a petty coat or two shed, ankles exposed. These poor southern women!
We noticed some of the wood picket fences in front of the houses have brick walls under them, known as a badge of honor, for they used to be wrought iron fences that were torn off during the Civil War in an effort to aide in the confederates fight. We all know how that turned out!
Many of the larger homes have pineapple statues outside, a symbol of wealth and welcome. The wealthy women of merchants weren’t allowed to entertain while their husbands were away (another beautiful rule for the ladies!) and pineapples atop the fence post meant my husband is home from his exotic travels…come on over!
Blue porch ceilings are found throughout Charleston, to ward off ghosts of course!
After an informative ride, we’re let off and head toward the south end of Charleston, where we stumble upon the Exchange. We decide to stay for the exchange & dungeon tour, where we learned about the exposed city of Charleston, how the prison held both men & women during the revolutionary war, that the pirate Isaac Haynes was captured & spent his last night, and how the exchange served as a bustling greeting center of commerce. Really cool stuff!
Rainbow Row up next, a beautiful collage of gorgeous homes, each a different color than the next, then straight on past White Point Gardens & the Ashley river, round the South battery & to the Calhoun Mansion. This tour is not to be missed! The house, still owned by a private family, doesn’t have a square inch that’s not covered with paintings, sculptures, statues, trinkets, antiques, antique furniture…you name it, the house has it!
A quick lunch at Charleston Crab House, where we had an amazing rooftop view of the market, then home to rest, walk the dogs & clean up for the night’s dinner outing: Magnolias!
Parking can be a bit of a snafu downtown, but the restaurant had a lot reserved for patrons heading to alone of the three sister restaurants. Perky hostess signed us in and welcomed us to the bar, where a mojito, 4:20 sweet water IPA, red wine and captain & diet were sipped until seated. A beautifully lively bar, but our table called and the hostess showed us into a gorgeous, cool back dinning room; the perfect ambiance for a celebratory evening. Impeccable food, wi e and service. Two bottles of Caymus perfectly paired with pan seared scallops served atop corn hoes cakes, caramelized bacon, cream sauce, sautéed spinach & balsamic syrup, followed by Sweet Chili rubbed Ahi Tuna with mango jalapeño salsa atop two pepperjack egg rolls & creole remoulade. That was just mine! Mike had Carolina Carpetbagger: twin fillets of beef with fried oysters, portabello mushroom bordelaise & béarnaise sauce. Phenomenal!
Post dinner, we headed to Grill 225 for a night cap, an amazing rooftop bar with a club like feel. The one caveat: they had wind blocks up, blocking the cool breeze & making the view less spectacular…just a little less. All-in-all a deliciously decadent meal!
Day 2 in Charleston began a bit slower, with breakfast & coffee a-la home. Fueled up on breakfast burritos (thanks to Señor Tequilas leftovers) we packed up the pooches & went to James Island County park. Two huge areas for the dogs to run around in, complete with two areas to bound into the lake…aka doggies heaven!
The beautiful weather screamed beach, so after the dogs were efficiently wore out, we dropped them home, changed into suits and headed to Folly beach! the traffic, we made it there by 2:00. After finding parking, we strolled into town in search of nourishment. I had researched a few restaurants, so when we passed the Black Magic cafe, it was set. Crisp & fresh ingredients & outside seating. Done & done! My sun dried tomato wrap was stuffed with chick peas, bean sprouts, tomatoes, pesto, feta cheese & lettuce. Hit the spot! Now onto the beach, where we swam in the perfectly tempered ocean, sunned and waited for our jet skies. The ocean waves made a bumpy ride, one I was not too fond of with Mr. Speed driving, but quite enjoyable while I drove (7 miles an hour is quite respectable, thank you very much!) after the sun, surf and sand, what’s better than grillin!? Nothin at all.
After washing the beach off, homemade marinades were made & shrimp, sausage, corn & veggies were grilled to perfection. The boys craved ice cream after the low country bbq, so Sara took us to Ye Old Ice cream Parlor. Malts & sundaes topped us off. A perfect ending to a sun-filled day.
Day three began early…the Fort Sumter ferry left at 9:30 and we would be on it! Windy is an understatement and as we boarded I actually took of my dangling earrings for fear of mangling my face!
The sea, choppy & wild, opened up and in the distance we saw the Fort, where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. A beautiful day at sea and 30 minutes later we found ourselves on solid ground & touring Sumter. An incredible structure and history indeed and another gorgeous day, despite the earlier forecast. There’s an expression in Charleston that if you don’t like the weather, wait 30 minutes and it’ll change. Well, after the ferry ride back, it hadn’t, and a day at sea can only be followed by one thing: Carolina BBQ!
Conveniently placed on the way back to Sara’s, we hit up fiery Ron’s Home Team’s BBQ….a cool bar that serves incredible Food complete with homemade hot sauces (yes, plural!) on each table. The BBQ taco topped with jalapeño slaw & chipotle mayo left nothing to be desired…a few squirts of hot sauce & I was sold! Sweet Water 4:20 IPA helped cool our pallets.
Sufficiently BBQ’d, a nap would be the next logical step, but no time! Magnolia Plantation was the last big ticket item on my punch list, so we rallied towards the Plantation & gardens. On our way in, a nice guy pulled us aside & gave us two admittance stickers, a $30 value! Love when people surprise you with small & random acts of kindness. Mike reminded me that karma is everywhere.
First thing we were drawn to, being the water babies we are…the boat tour! Paying separate for that ($8 a piece) we toured the inlet around the massive Plantation. We spotted Egrets, blue herons, all kinds of birds and several gators! Sticky weather made the breeze on the water much needed and after docking, Mike and I headed into the shade of the gardens, where a multitude of vegetation grew, along with statues of beatifically garden goddesses, small ponds and bridges and huge trees dripping with Spanish moss.
We stumbled upon the observation deck, so climbed to the top to survey the beautiful span of marsh. A gorgeous piece of land, where I could definitely spend more time in! The days heat finally made us call it quits, so we headed back & napped before our final night out.
The last night of vacation is a magical thing…the anticipation of heading home to your own space mixed with the happiness felt in your new digs, muddled with all of the things you didn’t do. Mike and I dressed in our fancy pants clothes and headed to Hank’s Seafood, one of the gorgeous restaurants in this beautiful city. We could have spent a month there just eating (and that would have been ok!)
Lucky with the parking again, we walked in to have a wonderful, decadent last meal. To start we got the tuna tartare with jalapeno, shallots, lemon and herbs and a special salad, with granny apples and white parsnips. I was truly blown away by the tartare! It was a HUGE helping of perfect tuna, served with veggie chips and a delicious mix of spice and zest. After those yummy morsels, we had a helping of clams, swimming in a heavenly white wine broth with garlic and herbs. Oh yes, we had our fill of pre-meal…now onto the main course!
Two words: Seasonal Scallops. Cooked perfectly, served with shiitake mushrooms, seasonal greens, fried mashed potatoes, ginger lime coriander vinaigrette. Amazing! Mike got the Roast grouper with lobster risotto, which also wowed. The meal helped put the final stamp of, “we’re definitely coming back to Charleston!”
An amazing trip to a new city, one in which I know we’ll be back to!