I love to travel, but I don’t always have to go far from home—H and I had the best time in Maine last summer, and there are lots of places on the East Coast I’d love to explore for a weekend. H and I started talking in January about going somewhere warm for a weekend to escape the DC weather. Charleston was the perfect fit, since I love the South and pastel houses and H loves military history and pimento cheese. Once I found an adorable Airbnb in a restored carriage house we knew we had to go.
We found a flight out of DC, so I hopped on the metro after work with my overpacked bag and met H at the airport. We bounded out of the Charleston airport into the rain three hours later, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm (or ruin my blow-out, since the hotel shuttle picked us up under an overhang). We were staying in a hotel near the airport Friday night, so we settled in at the hotel bar to nominally watch the Olympics opening ceremony but really people watch as fraternity reunion attendees poured into the lobby.
Lessons in Naval History, Part 1
We lounged around Saturday morning reading Agatha Christies, then decided that before leaving for downtown we would check out a North Charleston attraction, the Hunley submarine. The Hunley, not to be confused with the ironclads of the Civil War, was a fully submersible Confederate vessel powered by a rowing crew of seven. The submarine mysteriously sank after her first successful mission and wasn’t seen again until she was recovered from the Charleston Harbor in 2000. We both enjoyed listening to the old volunteer tour guide who showed us around the museum and guessing why the submarine sank.
Early that afternoon we packed up and left North Charleston for downtown Charleston. Since it wasn’t quite time to check in, we stopped at the Hominy Grill, a brunch place, for early afternoon coffee and sustenance. The brunch was the kind I dream about, with eggs, biscuits, and grits. The sunny, Southern decor featured lots of old pictures of downtown.
After brunch we headed to our Airbnb, which was a huge carriage house split up into six apartments. Once we had admired the exposed brick walls and dark wood furniture, we set out to explore our new neighborhood. The weather was cloudy but warm and delightfully breezy, and crowds of people were out by the river walking dogs, eating ice cream, and relaxing in the big porch swings on the pier. We turned away from the river to walk through streets lined with pastel mansions and filled with couples biking with various levels of difficulty. We stopped at Black Tap Coffee, a coffee shop with a tiny aesthetic interior, for an iced tea break, and then strolled back to the carriage house, still amazed by the warm weather and palm trees.
More Pimento Cheese
We had reservations that night at Magnolia’s, a Southern restaurant with a beautiful pink facade and huge interior. We were delighted to discover that the restaurant was close enough to the Airbnb for us to walk there and that the menu featured pimento cheese heavily. We ate as much pimento cheese as possible in one sitting and then walked back to the carriage house. Lots of people were still out, but by then they were mostly college students and bachelorette parties going out to the bars near the riverfront.
The next morning we walked to the Daily, a coffee shop offspring of another restaurant, Butcher and Bee, for brunch. The cafe was packed with tourists and locals ordering hot brunch and pastries. Full of avocado toast and chocolate croissants, we ambled down King Street vaguely towards the waterfront. To our surprise, King Street is a pedestrian zone on Sundays, so the streets, not just the sidewalks, were filled with pedestrians alongside folk bands performing in the street and food trucks selling boozy popsicles. We ended up by the Battery and headed back to the carriage house to get ready for our boat ride to Fort Sumter.
Lessons in Naval History, Part 2
The wind started to pick up during our walk, so we donned jackets and headed to Liberty Square to meet our cruise. After the 20-minute boat ride to the fort in the middle of Charleston Harbor we disembarked, and our second old guy tour guide told us the history of the fort, which was educational for me, although not for H. We explored the different levels of the fort, including the excavated Civil War-era cannons and brick defenses. As the boat sailed back to Charleston our guide talked about other forts in the area and a naval museum on a battleship. H joked about wanting to go, and I assured him I had learned enough naval history for one weekend.
Dinner at Husk
That night we had dinner reservations at Husk, a trendy restaurant (as evidenced by its cool monosyllabic name) in an old mansion. Husk is so popular that a month in advance the only reservation available that weekend was at nine on Sunday night. We sat upstairs next to a massive fireplace and had unique entrees and a few cocktails with Charleston-inspired names like the Handcuff Fizz, which had egg whites in it, or my favorite, the Dragoon’s Punch. It was almost eleven by the time we were finished, so we headed back to the carriage house, remembering that we had the flight home and work the next day.
The next morning we were up bright and early at four to catch our flight to DC. We explored Charleston thoroughly in two days, but there were a few things we skipped. If we went back, I would want to tour at least one historic home, like the Aiken-Rhett house or one of the plantations. I might check out the City Market, which we walked by but didn’t explore. I would want to visit Sullivan’s Island, especially if the weather was nice enough to go in the water. For better bike riders than myself, I would definitely recommend renting bikes.
Have you been to Charleston? Would you go, or would you rather vacation in another historic Southern city? Let me know in the comments!