Thinking Of Visiting Charleston, SC? Here's Rob's Vacation Road Report...

March 27, 2017

We spent 3 ½ days on vaca in Charleston, SC, and that was the perfect amount of time for a first time trip while staying in the heart of the action, and without wanting to take daytrips to Savannah, GA, or Folley Beach.  If you love Annapolis MD, or Colonial Williamsburg, you’ll likely love Charleston South Carolina. Here’s my road report:

I’ve never felt more SOUTHERN than in Charleston.  While Florida is filled with former Northerners seeking sun, Charleston is 100% charm, drawl, and laid back attitudes.  “Hey Yall” perfectly describes the feel of the city.  All of our tour guides, especially senior women, had that air of “southern dignity.”  While touring a mansion, one of the members in our group had their phone go off, and the ring tone was very obnoxious, of a barking dog.  While in the North we would have said “Really…you can’t turn your phone off…and how do you put up with that ringtone?”  Our guide, who was in her 70’s but had the vitality of a 50 year old, simply paused, smiled, and said “My…if that doesn’t take the prize!”  Pure. Southern. Class.

You’ll be tempted to stay in North Charleston by cheaper hotels, but that's quite a hike.  Almost like staying in Batavia, when you want to be in downtown Buffalo.  Skip the rental car and take a cab ($34) or Uber ($20) to and from the airport, and put the extra the money into staying where the action is, anywhere south of Hasell street and East of Archdale.   Unless it’s a special event weekend, you should be able to find a place in the $150--300 range, thought you can get $700 a night rates as well, if you really wanna splurge.  We went Sunday--Thursday to escape more expensive weekend rates.  We stayed at the Fulton Lane Inn.  Incredible.  It might have been the best room and hotel experience we have ever had.  Free Breakfast brought to your room every morning, free wine service at 5, and Sherry tasting from 6-10!  Everything the Fulton Lane Inn promised on their website, was delivered! 

Must Do's:

  • Calhoun Mansion  -  The story of the house is amazing.  The collection of artifacts from around the world amassed inside by the current owner is SUPER AMAZING.  It’s like Downtown Abbey threw up in the residence.  The Calhoun House is a living museum, because the owners still live there.  We could hear their dogs in the kitchen!
  • Aiken-Rhett House -  A walk to the Northern part of the historic area that is well worth it.  The house hasn’t been touched for over 60 years, and that’s what makes it special. Standing in the slave quarters and touching the very wooden hooks where they hung their clothes will give you chills.   Charleston was the Southern capitol of slave trading.  Oddly enough, Newport, Rhode Island was the slave headquarters of the North.   And yes, the Rhett family name WAS the inspiration for Rhett Butler, a privateer from Charleston, in Gone With The Wind.

  • Nathaniel Russell House  -  Another good tour of a completely restored antebellum mansion.
  • Horse Carriage Tour -  There are a handful of companies that offer them, and they are all good.  They leave from the same area, so just pick one and go.          
  • Personal Walking Tour –  I recommend walking down East Bay to The Battery, then back up Meeting Street till you hit Broad, then go left on Broad and right on King, up into the commercial district and College Of Charleston.
  • Book the Alleys And Hidden Passageways of Charleston tour from Low Country Walking Tours. If possible, call and make sure Bill Stanton is your guide.  Mr. Stanton is a retired history teacher, and I doubt there is anything he doesn’t know about Charleston.  And if there is, he’ll find the answer!  You will see and learn things that people who live in Charleston may not even know.  And it's obvious Bill’s years of teaching has provided him the experience of knowing just which words to emphasize while telling a story, and keep your attention from drifting.  His Tennessee roots combined with decades in South Carolina make up a speech pattern and inflection that very much reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones...and that's a VERY GOOD thing!  When Bill remarked “Golly you people have come on some of the best weather days of the Spring…this is such a treat and great day to walk,” it did nothing less than make us feel the very note of “Southern Charm.” Oh, and the back alleys are GREAT for car watching.   Seeing Porsche, Lexus, Mercedes and BMW’s all next to each other went from being OMG to ordinary after a few alleys.  Anyone driving less than an Audi, is simply slumming it in historic Charleston.  Ask Bill about the $350/month parking spaces, and how homes in the historic district rival San Francisco real estate prices.  This next pic is from Philadelphia Alley, a real beauty, and used main character in Darius Rucker's video for "Come Back."  Yes, Hootie is from Charleston!

We didn’t tour Fort Sumter.  The trip out and back and bay cruise seemed like it would be neat, but we’ve sort of been there, done that in many other places.  And the fort is not nearly as well preserved as Fort McHenry, or Old Fort Niagara.  The tour only gives you about an hour there, so we skipped.  But if you have kids, it may be higher on your list.

Best Meals:   

  • The Craftsman  –  Understated and bar-like when you walk in, but the simple menu is OUTSTANDING.  I had the perfect strip steak (with a very neat rub w slight coffee taste) and my wife had the flank steak  tacos.  By all means have a flight of beers.   They only have about 30 pages of choices!  Great for lunch or dinner
  • Oyster House On Market  -  Solid all around menu.  Everyone will find something they will like.  If in season, we recommend the bucket of Oysters as an appetizer.  If you don’t know how to open them, just ask.
  • Poogan’s Porch  - Awesome specialties for lunch or dinner.  Great service.  On your way in, check out the pics of stars who have dined there.  Oh, and Poogan was a dog who used to hang on the porch!
  • Eli’s Table - This was our final dinner on vacation, and we couldn’t have picked a better place.  Upscale dining in a casual to dressy atmosphere, with reasonable prices.   Our waiter found out we were from Buffalo, and of course he had spent time here…4 months as a college aged painter in 1992 when it snowed about 100 inches.  We went with his recommendations on dinner(rib-eye for me,  catch-of-the-day WAHOO for Linda)  and it was easily the BEST meal among all the great dinners we had. The place kind of reminded me of SHANGO or HUTCHES in it’s feel.
  • The Brown Dog Deli.  Went there for lunch.  When a deli has lines outstide starting early on, and a half hour wait at lunchtime, you know it's good!  And the wall of record album covers was simply classic!
  • Carmella’s Café And Dessert Bar – From 8:30am til 1am, you’ll find people in dumpy clothes next to tourists next to businessmen working on laptops in this nearly open-air bar.  Who doesn’t love a place where you can get a cocktail, panini, and UNBELIEVABLE CANNOLI CAKE at 1pm!

CHS Extras

Is Charleston okay for kids?  I say YES, IF they are over 10, like to walk, and have an interest in history.  Most families I saw with strollers or younger kids seemed a little rattled, especially the stroller people, as the historic district streets are very uneven and craggly.  I saw a lot of locals running, and have no idea how you don’t get a sprained ankle every other block.  The uneven sidewalks are part of the charm, though.

Charleston is much like Annapolis, but with more of a “city” feel.  Instead of just local shops on the main drag, you have Banana Republic, H&M and Tommy Bahama mixed in.  It’s the fastest growing city on the East Coast but still small, about 60% the size of Buffalo within city limits, and about 70% our size when the entire area is taken into consideration.  In addition to being a major port, they have a major Boeing research plant attached to the airport.  You’ll see it as you fly in.

And the weather…Spring is the best to go, Fall second best.  In the words of the locals, “stay away from here late June through Mid- September.  That’s when we get 90/90 weather.  90 degrees, and 90% humidity.”  One of our tour guides, whom I’ll not name to protect them from the tourist industry domos, said “Columbia (state capitol, far inland) is Hell On Earth in the Summer.”