If you’re planning a trip to Charleston to tour the new International African American Museum, we suggest you stay a while to explore the Holy City.
Charleston is a historic destination brimming with fine restaurants, shopping, museums, art galleries and, of course, lots of Black history.
The first thing to do is book your stay. The city’s historic district has lots of options, whether you prefer a boutique experience or a larger hotel property. Either way, you’ll find yourself within walking distance of many tourist destinations, including downtown Charleston’s famous waterfront.
The Harbourview Inn is an intimate, 52-room waterfront hotel with lots of extras. Upon checking in, you’ll be informed of the hotel’s daily offerings, like the wine and cheese hour, a waterfront history lesson (weather permitting), and a milk and cookies nightcap. Come morning, the hotel’s staff greets you with a complimentary breakfast brought to your room. Or, if you prefer, they’ll serve your breakfast on a rooftop terrace that overlooks the city. Just be sure to make your preference known before you turn in at night.
The Inn’s location is great. At night, or after a big meal, take a stroll through Waterfront Park just 50 feet from the hotel’s front door.
Other options include:
- The Spectator Hotel boasts southern charm and “jazz age charisma” as it’s located next to the City Market and the historic French Quarter. Its amenities include butler service and a prohibition-style bar. (67 State Street)
- At The Ryder Hotel, their amenities are the shining star. They offer passes to 5 different fitness centers, a daily $10 food & beverage credit, and they have outdoor games like bocce ball and paddle ball. Inside the hotel is Little Palm Bar which has delicious cocktails like the Late Checkout: Lunazul Blanco, vanilla, smoked peach & strawberry soda. (237 Meeting Street).
Once you’ve secured accommodations, it’s time to get to know the city. Charleston has been dubbed “the Holy City” because of its abundance of churches. You’ll notice that no building on the city’s skyline is higher than the tallest steeple — the nearly-300-foot spire that adorns Saint Matthews Lutheran Church.
History and Culture
No single tour or destination can adequately explore all of Charleston’s complex history, but The Charleston Museum (360 Meeting Street) is an excellent place to start. The museum marked its 250th anniversary this year, making it the nation’s oldest museum. Some of its permanent exhibitions include:
- The Lowcountry History Hall, which tells the stories of Native Americans who first inhabited South Carolina.
- The Armory, where you can see historic weaponry dating from 1750 through the 1900s.
- In Becoming Americans, you can explore Charleston’s role throughout the American Revolution.
Tickets start at $15 for adults and $6 for children. The museum is open Monday – Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m
The International African American Museum is officially open, offering a pinpoint perspective of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its impact on the South Carolina Lowcountry. Exhibitions look back as far as the 1500s all the way up to current times.
Much of the museum focuses on the history and culture of the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans who still inhabit some of the sea islands of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult tickets start at $19.95, or $11.95 for South Carolina residents.
Other sites to visit:
Middleton Place is a former plantation now operating as a nonprofit educational foundation. Its many initiatives include a scholarship fund to benefit descendants of the enslaved people who once worked there. The “Beyond the Fields: Enslavement at Middleton Place” tour “facilitates a conversation about slavery through stories of brutality, survival, contribution and perseverance.” Admission starts at $28 for adults and $10 for children. Located at 4300 Ashley River Road, it’s about a 30-minute drive from downtown Charleston.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, on the banks of the Ashley River, bills itself as the Lowcountry’s oldest public attraction, exploring more than 300 years of human and horticultural history. Its botanical gardens are a work of art. As for human history, don’t miss the “From Slavery to Freedom” tour, which tells the stories of the enslaved people who worked on the former rice plantation and the stories of those who stayed after emancipation to become paid garden staff. Admission is $29 for adults and $15 for children.
Eat and Drink
Gingerline’s is a picture-perfect spot for cocktails and dinner. Its menu infuses Southern cuisine with flavors from Latin America. Try the Piña Coco, a drink that includes coconut rum, banana, creme de coco, pineapple and lime. Food items range from oysters to tacos to something called a sweet bean burger. Be sure to wear your most coastal, Charleston-esque outfit, because this place is Instagram-worthy.
Poogan’s Porch bills itself as a “Southern institution,” popular with celebrities, politicians and tourists. Originally constructed as a home back in 1891, the building has housed a restaurant since 1976. Visitor favorites include she-crab soup, fried green tomatoes, shrimp & grits, and the sweet-tea glazed salmon. Be sure to make a reservation; this dining spot can fill up fast.
At Millers All Day, the motto is: “The best days start – or end – with a great breakfast and a great cocktail.” You guessed it; this spot serves breakfast until 3 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on weekends. No matter what your breakfast favorite is…they offer it with a twist.
Even Charleston’s fancier restaurants offer a bit of charm. Magnolias Uptown Down South has the feel and service of an upscale restaurant, paired with the food that defines the Lowcounty. Menu items include house-made pimento cheese, pan-seared scallops, and Lowcounty Bouillabaisse, which includes shrimp, scallops, mussels, fish, and andouille sausage.
Magnolia’s is located at 185 East Bay Street and is open Monday – Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday – Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Things to do
Being on the coast defines Charleston, from its history to its food to the animals that thrive in the region. A stop at the South Carolina Aquarium is a must. Depending on the day, tickets start at $30. The aquarium is operated by a nonprofit organization, so part of the proceeds go toward conserving local marine animals, including sea turtles.
While there, you can gently touch stingrays, sharks, starfish…and maybe even a nonvenomous snake. You also can visit the Sea Turtle Care Center, which houses turtles recovering from injuries, usually related to human activity, such as fishing.
The aquarium, located at 100 Aquarium Wharf, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., adjacent to the International African American Museum.
Don’t leave Charleston without a water experience. Coastal Expeditions has an array of options. You can kayak, paddle board, or take a ferry or boat tour. If you’re lucky, you might see dolphins, manatees and other wildlife on your journey. Either way, you’ll get to enjoy nice views of Charleston, see some local birds and learn about the ecosystem surrounding the water. The two-hour kayak safari at Shem Creek (just 15 minutes from downtown) starts at $48 per person.