Charleston, South Carolina was founded in 1670 and became one of the largest cities in North America due to its importance as a shipping port. Charleston lost much of its importance at the advent of the railroad, when its significance as a port town became less relevant. Today, Charleston is known for its history-many of its old buildings are well-preserved despite the havoc that the Civil War caused in the southern states. We have visited Charleston twice during our time in Georgia, and both times we have enjoyed exploring the city.
Perhaps our favorite activity in Charleston is simply walking around the historical district. We parked our car at the Charleston Visitor Center and walked toward the tip of the city, wondering in and out of streets, stopping to read over plaque markers, and enjoying the views of the architecture and the water. During our walk, we stumbled upon a lovely open market at Marion Square (the market is there every Saturday, weather permitting), which featured local artisans. While you can’t go wrong walking wherever a street looks interesting, there are a few must-see sites. Charleston City Market is about a mile from Charleston Visitor Center. The large building features locals selling art work, home wares, and other hand-crafted goods (if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir, this is the place to find it). Just a bit farther south, Rainbow Row is named for a long line of houses painted in bright pastel colors that seem to pop when you see it. The Battery-the row of houses in front of Charleston Harbor at the southeastern tip of the city-contains large antebellum houses, many of which are now house museums that you can visit. Behind the first row of houses are some of the oldest houses in the city-wandering the streets there reveals 17th and 18th century houses and cobblestone streets. This area is a must visit, especially for anyone who loves history.
Although Charleston’s influence waned after the birth of the railroad, it was still center stage for one of the most important chapters of American history. In 1861 the Confederates bombarded the Union-held Fort Sumter, which lies at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, setting off the Civil War. Fort Sumter is now a national monument, and the National Park Service offers boat tours to and from the fort in order for visitors to get an in-depth look at the famous fort. The boat ride itself is fun, providing nice views of the city and harbor. Only part of the brick-and-mortar fort remains, but visitors are able to see the structure of the fort, its defense network, and remnants of shells in its facade. There is a small museum at the fort itself, which allows visitors to learn more about the fort and get into the air conditioning for a few minutes.
There is a lesser known national park site nearby, Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, that is also worth visiting. The site honors Charles Pinckney, one of the principal authors and signers of the United States Constitution. The visitor center contains artifacts and information about Pinckney’s life, and there is a short trail around the grounds.
While in Charleston we also tried several restaurants/breweries. The first, South End Brewery, has since been bought out by Lagunitas. Although we can’t comment on the restaurant, the building itself is worth a visit. The 1800s structure has lots of brick, both inside and out, with lots of windows, giving the restaurant a plethora of natural light, enabling visitors to drink in the historic building.
On our second visit, we went to Hom Charleston, a restaurant known for its burgers. The restaurant was sleek and modern, although with a few more traditional touches, like the exposed brick along some of the walls. Both of our burgers were juicy and flavorful, and we were pleased with our choice of restaurant when we left.
Charleston is also known for its breweries, the most well-known of which is Westbrook Brewing. The brewery is located in Mt. Pleasant, just north of Charleston. The tasting room was quite modern, clean, and rather small for such a well-known establishment. Unfortunately, the only beers that were on tap that day were their standard offerings that they distribute, but we were able to try them all straight from the source. Westbrook’s beers are tasty, and we had a pleasant time hanging out at the brewery.
Charleston, South Carolina is a fascinating city filled with history. Of all the places we have visited in the south, it is one of our favorite cities. Simply walking around the historic district is an adventure, finding beautiful houses, each one older than the last. Charleston is a charming city, and we can’t recommend highly enough exploring this historical gem.