After last week’s visit to Nashville’s off-the-beaten-path activities, we thought we’d stay down south and head over to Charleston, South Carolina.
Once you arrive, chances are you’ll be bombarded with suggestions for golf, plantation tours and, er, haunted plantation tours.
But Charleston is an unusual combination of an old-world, genteel Southern city and a bustling port town. The result?
You’ll pack in all of your Southern American history and comfort food, plus beachside fun and some of the freshest seafood in the country.
So here’s what we’ve found for you…
Okay, it’s a bus tour, but it’s one with a twist (and you’ll be grateful for the air conditioning in Charleston’s summertime heat). This tour is a less politically correct city tour that explores the history of the Gullah–slaves from the Low Country region of South Carolina, where the language and culture still exist today.
Guide Alphonso Brown provides anecdotes and historical details that are unique to Charleston, and he even speaks a little Gullah along the way. The two-hour tour will take you to locations like the Whipping House, the Underground Railroad sites, Old Slave Mart, Slave Quarters, and one of the last remaining black cemeteries in the city (most are now paved over and used as parking lots). $18 per person. 843-763-7551, www.gullahtours.com
Barrier Island Eco-Tours
If the kids are along for the ride, check out the Barrier Island Eco-Tours which set out from Isle of Palms, located about 20 minutes from downtown. There are several naturalist-guided tours of the tidewater ecosystem. A three-hour kayak tour traverses Charleston’s famous salt marshes (the guides do all the work, so no experience is necessary).
Traveling along some of the most undeveloped regions in Charleston, you’ll be eye level with bottlenose dolphins, crabs and native birds that live in the fertile ecosystem. On a family-friendly “crabbing clinic,” you actually catch the tasty little critters and eat them on the spot at a beachside crab boil. Tours range from $38-$85 adults, and $24-$75 for kids. 843-886-5000, www.nature-tours.com
Reel Deal Charters
It’s, well, the real deal. Captain Rich Harris is a seasoned angler and Air Force veteran who will teach you the ins and outs of inshore fishing. Sail along a 22-foot Sea Pro with all the fixings, and you may find yourself battling with trout, flounder and, if you’re lucky, shark. Don’t worry–if you’re not an expert, they’ll clean the fish for you! 843-761-7663, www.thereeldealcharters.com
The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture was once Charleston’s first secondary school for African Americans. Initially a private school for the city’s prominent free black families, the school went public in 1947 and is now part of the College of Charleston.
Inside the intricate, Italian-style architecture is a comprehensive museum and archives of African American history in Charleston and the surrounding Low Country. The collection, which consists of more than 4,000 pictures, manuscripts, diaries and other artifacts, traces the experiences of slaves from their African and Caribbean origins to the development of the regional Gullah and Sea Island culture, and to their lives after emancipation until today. There are also ongoing lectures and exhibitions from visiting artists. 843-953-7609, www.cofc.edu/avery
Charleston Farmers Market
As you’ve probably figured, one of our favorite ways to go native is to head to the local Farmers Market, where you can hang with the locals while checking out all the regional treats. The Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square is a cornucopia of fresh seafood, produce and flowers.
You can also pick up your souvenirs, like handwoven textiles, custom ironworks and handmade glass jewelry, knowing that you’re giving directly to the community. Families also love it here, with face painting and pony rides for the kids, plus arts and crafts shows and live music. Every Saturday from April 7-December 16, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 843-724-7309
Once a 19th century shotgun dwelling with the ground floor as a barbershop, the building now houses Hominy Grill. The restaurant still features vintage barber poles, hardwood floors and the original pounded tin ceiling. This restaurant serves traditional, Low Country cuisine at old-world prices, but more importantly, each dish is made from fresh, local ingredients and from scratch–no cooking from cans here. If it’s not too hot, eat outside and make sure you chow down on plenty of seafood–sauteed shad roe and shrimp creole are two local favorites. 843-937-0930, www.hominygrill.com
If you’re heading down south, plenty of road trippers like to combine their trip to Charleston with a visit to Savannah, Georgia (it’s only a two-hour drive).
Rather than sticking with the tried-and-true highway 95, stray a little off the beaten path and into the seaside fishing village of Beaufort, along South Carolina’s coastline. It’s not as famous or as ritzy as nearby Hilton Head, but the little town is like a throwback to another time (and it’s the second-oldest city in South Carolina).
Our advice? Skip the Applebee’s and lunch at Ollie’s Seafood overlooking the Beaufort River… the crab dip is out of this world. www.beaufort.com
By Monique-Marie DeJong for PeterGreenberg.com.
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