Three nights in Charleston
by Stefanie Michaels
Charleston has always been on my shortlist. To say I was excited when invited to join a press team heading to this charming southern city would be an understatement. Hosted by the South Carolina Film Commission, I soon learn that every place in this Lowcountry gem makes for a motion picture perfect movie set.
Just 3 nights on the itinerary. It would be just enough for me to drop in to explore everything from the old quarter to rolling plantations, museums, historic homes, followed by nights of foodie haven restaurants.
Below I share my schedule, tidbits and tips about exploring this gracious city for 3 nights of…
After a day’s worth of travel out of LAX to Charleston (a connection in Atlanta), I quickly check-in at the beautiful Mills House Hotel in the historic district.
My first evening commences with a meet and greet with fellow journalists in the hotel’s lobby, then onto dinner at Husk, situated directly across the street.
Husk Restaurant, located in an old mansion, serves southern hospitality along with farm-to-table favorites from the James Beard award-winning chef, Sean Brock. “If it doesn’t come from the south, it’s not coming through the door,” Brock’s motto states.
The menu changes daily and is driven by what’s at the market. Plates are incredibly fresh, and always innovative.
Don’t miss the grits! Either, cheese grits, shrimp laden or specially seasoned. Don’t. Miss. Them!
It’s easy to slip into the Lowcountry’s easy pace even though I am on a countdown to see everything. But, it’s hard to pass up starting with a sumptuous breakfast at The Mills House, complete with biscuits and gravy. I can feel a pound creeping up on each thigh this morning. Especially, after the delectable dinner at Husk last night, and now biscuits this morning. Oh, and more grits, always the grits.
There are two ways to uncover the historic parts of town— by horse-drawn carriage, or by foot. Either way, visitors can’t go wrong. Carriage routes will vary based on a lottery system to space out traffic on the cobblestone streets. So, it’s a toss up which route a traveler will get. Either way, the town is small enough to make up what the tour misses by walking the town, which is manageable to do in a day.
Take a tour bus to visit Middleton Place— a 65-acre national historic landmark and former plantation with America’s oldest landscaped garden, restaurant, and working farm.
Plan to spend at least a few hours at Middleton Place, and include lunch at their restaurant. Don’t miss the she-crab soup featured on the menu. It’s one of the best in town.
Moving on, I head to Charleston’s bay, and to a locale known as the Battery. This is where the first shots were fired at a federal ship entering the harbor, marking the commencement of the Civil War.
Antique cannons dot the horseshoe shaped pedestrian path, which winds along a coastal byway, and back towards the historic downtown.
Across from the harbor, travelers will find the aristocratic Blue-blood mansions lining manicured streets, with a beautiful waterfront park.
Within walking distance of the Battery, is the lively Historic City Market at 188 Meeting Street. It’s one of the oldest market places in the South; made up of part kitschy tourist trap, spice market, and t-shirt heaven for visitors looking to bring back souvenirs.
The Wentworth Mansion is a historic home turned luxe bed n’ breakfast. Known for numerous accolades from the likes of Travel & Leisure, it has also played host to celebrities. Musician Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine stayed in a luxury suite on the main floor, while in for the Lively/Reynolds nuptials. It’s a stunning king sized bedroom, with sitting parlor attached.
On the grounds are modern amenities including a spa, and the restaurant, Circa 1886.
Circa 1886 is the place for iconic southern dishes with a contemporary twist. Don’t miss the Jasper Hill Cellars Llandaff Cheese plate with fried green tomato, muscadine mist, frisee, blood orange vinaigrette to start. A perfectly poached salmon choice for an entree, and the pear crisp soufflé with caramel sauce, brown sugar streusel, and buttermilk ice cream for desert. You will thank me after.
Off we head to an area within Charleston, (after yet another delish breakfast at Mills House Hotel), called Mt. Pleasant. A 20-minute drive gets you to one of those mouth-dropping locales, called Boone Hall Plantation. It is one of America’s oldest running plantations that opened to the public in 1956, and for celebrity lovers, the place where Blake Lively married Ryan Reynolds.
Driving through its ominous entrance, down a half of a mile of ancient Oak trees with southern moss swaying off of their branches in the breeze, will make any “nah-thoner” gasp. Towards the lane’s end of which turns into a circular drive, sits a white mansion flanked with columns and one of those Gone with the Wind porches perfect for an afternoon sweet tea. One can almost picture ladies of the house lounging there with their fans and saying, “My o’my, well isn’t this the bee’s knees.”
The plantation’s rock and stone slave quarters stand side by side in almost perfect condition next to the manor. It’s interesting to see how Boone Hall addresses its history in slavery, and the thousands who labored the land. By not shying away from its odious past, it lends visitors an eye-opening look into what life was like 300 years ago.
Don’t miss an educational experience at the Gullah Theater on the property, where African-American actors share a glimpse into what life on a plantation was like, their struggles, and songs of hope reflecting freedom.
Heading back into old town Charleston, make sure to stop at the casual bayside joint called Red’s Ice House at Shem Creek. Grab a beer and order their all-you-can-eat-crab legs or fresh fish catches of the day. Picturesque views of the sea at sunset are also on the menu!
I have an hour to experience what life was like to be jailed at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon on East Bay Street before it closes at 6 pm. We head down to the depths of darkness with a guide dressed in period clothing. It may look like a snapshot out of the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland. However, the stories shared about jailbirds housed together, such as Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge (signers of the Declaration of Independence), and “The Gentleman Pirate” aka Steed Bonnet, are much darker.
My last night in Charleston consists of a beautiful dinner at Fish, on the city’s bustling King Street, where chef Nico Romo reimagines French and Asian cuisine. Everything is fresh, local and seasonal, with a heavy placement on seafood.
Don’t miss the pan-seared scallops with grilled watermelon, coconut rice, arugula, tamarind and blueberry. Mouthwatering with every bite!
After dinner, I wrangle a couple of the bravest from our group and head over to the Old City Jail on Magazine Street.
By day, it’s the American College of the Building Arts— a school that teaches students to become master-craftsman so they can work on the historical buildings around town. But at night, it’s a completely different creepy place perfect for ghost hunting.
We meet up with Braxton, ghost tracker extraordinaire with Bulldog Tours, who introduces us to the history of the jail. The ominous building against the moonlit sky was built in 1791, opened in 1802 and housed the sick, the insane, slaves and brutal criminals all the way until 1939, never with running water or electricity. Needless to say, almost everyone who went in, some 40,000 or so, never came out.
We enter abandoned rooms, one with a hanging torture implement, another with an antique wooden wheelchair, which for me, is the most creepy part of the tour. Braxton shares stories along each step of the way about the inmates who came to live, die and whose graves are around the jailhouse grounds. It’s an interesting way to learn about some history while being spooked.
Did we see some ghostly inhabitants? Not that we know of (for sure). However, I felt smothering hot in a chilled room. Another felt a cold blast of air pass through her, and the other of us swore she witnessed an orb zip by in one of the rooms of the infirmary.