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Southern Sophistication

Charleston’s history, architecture, cuisine, and beauty
blend to create a charming getaway.

Charleston, S.C., is of a Southern state of mind. Its heartbeat can be found in friendly people, well-preserved architecture, and fine cuisine.


In title: The cobblestones of Chalmers Street Charleston Area CVB

Above: A pineapple fountain adds to the beauty of Waterfront Park Sheree Nielsen

Below: Indulge in the Pluff Mud Pie at Circa 1886. Sheree Nielsen


Visitors can get a good pulse of the city by taking a tour of downtown. See quaint streets, beautifully preserved buildings, and more.

“Architecture affects how people feel. Downtown has a positive vibe,” said Evan Farmer, retail manager for the Preservation Society of Charleston. Every fall, the society offers home tours showcasing the city’s architecture, history, and gardens.

For walkers and history buffs, Bulldog Tours has something for you. Our two-hour tour began on Queen Street. We strolled among the crepe myrtles along Chalmers Street – one of eight cobblestone streets left in Charleston – before winding through Washington Park to see the live oaks draped in Spanish moss. The pastel-colored Georgian row houses of Rainbow Row were a delight.

Charleston is sometimes referred to as the Holy City; some say it’s due to the early practice of religious tolerance there, while others contend it’s because of the high number of churches within the city. If historical churches interest you, You'll want to peek inside the city’s oldest church, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, with native cedar pews, a remarkably high pulpit, and a Tiffany-designed window. It’s on the corner of Meeting and Broad streets.

For a different perspective, try the Old South Carriage Company’s Historic Residential Tour. During this one-hour tour, our driver and guide navigated a black-and-white Percheron draft horse down Meeting Street, which provides a good representation of many architectural styles. We saw the Miles Brewton House on King Street, a two-story brick structure with columns. A glimpse at handiwork by Charleston’s most celebrated ironworker, Phillip Simmons, was showcased in residential gates and fences along the route that boasted lyrical harps and hearts. On South Battery, stately antebellum homes lined the waterfront promenade.

A picturesque place to rest your feet, Waterfront Park also boasts two spectacular fountains – one contemporary and a pineapple-themed fountain – serving as backdrop for the harbor.

Bag great shopping opportunities

At the corner of King and Queen streets, the gift shop within the Preservation Society’s offices can be a treasure trove of unique souvenirs. Look for Gullah baskets crafted by Henrietta Snipe, as well as books representing the history and culture of South Carolina. You might even find a bowtie handcrafted from feathers.

Browse more shops on King Street, or check out offerings at the City Market, which has been a part of Charleston since 1804.

Coastal capers

Charleston, a coastal city, has plenty to do if you love the water. For sea and nature lovers, hop aboard a morning catamaran Sandlapper Tour. Capt. Murray Wood navigates the sailboat through the harbor and drifts past salt marshes, where dolphins play and brown pelicans soar. Landing on Morris Island, there's ample time for beach exploration. The tour's naturalist, Phillip Gwinell, is knowledgeable about tides, marine, and bird life. His interactive presentation on “things found on the beach,” such as sand dollars, shark's teeth, and sea glass, is popular with children and adults.

Another option is a sunset sail aboard Schooner Pride, a tall sailing ship. Capt. Jenny Smith says, “Built in 1988, the booms were fashioned from spruce, the gaffs and bowsprit from Douglas fir, and the pins and rails from oak.”

As the wind whips through your hair, feel the cool breeze of the open ocean and hear leather brush against the main sail. Shipmates can help raise and unfurl the sails. Do as much or as little as you wish while admiring the Charleston skyline.

Explore more of this coastal ecosystem at the South Carolina Aquarium, which has exhibits and animals from sea. A great tour here is the Sea Turtle Hospital, which rescues and rehabilitates injured green, loggerhead, and Kemp's Ridley turtles. Injured turtles often are brought to the hospital by the state's Department of Natural Resources. One such turtle was Midway, a 93-pound anemic loggerhead found stuck on a sandbar. With antibiotics, fresh water soaks, and other medical care, Midway, along with three other turtles, was released back into the ocean in September 2015.

“People come away inspired after visiting. Everyone likes a happy ending,” said Kelly Thorvalson, program manager of the Sea Turtle Rescue Program.

Culinary choices

For those with discerning palettes, consider attending Charleston Wine + Food, the annual culinary festival, slated for March 2–6 this year. Showcasing hundreds of chefs, winemakers, and mixologists, the events take place in large venues, like Culinary Village at Marion Square, or area restaurants.

“Charleston Wine + Food, a celebration of Charleston’s culinary excellence and renowned culture, benefits scholarship programs for the culinary and hospitality workplace,” said Laura Kate Whitney, director of marketing.

Festival founder, Chef Marc Collins, serves up Southern flavor at his restaurant, Circa 1886 (AAA Four Diamonds) located in the original carriage house of historical Wentworth Mansion. The romantic restaurant with arched booths and candlelit tables beckons couples to linger over their fine-dining experience. We enjoyed a dish, Wild Boar Osso Bucco, a generous portion of fall-off-the-bone pork accompanied by polenta, porcini, apricot leek ragu, and glazed baby carrots. Pair it with a nice glass of cabernet or Shiraz for the perfect meal.

“I like to take classic dishes and put a new healthy spin on them. All components should work well separately”, Collins said.

For dessert, savor the Pluff Mud Pie, named after the dense mud found at low tide. It’s a flourless brownie enrobed in chocolate ganache served with a decadent peanut butter shake.

If you're celebrating anything, a trip to Halls Chophouse is in order. While steaks are their specialty, the Berkshire Broiled Pork Tenderloin is moist, enrobed with blue cheese truffle butter, settled in a maple glaze sauce. The medallions are stacked high atop a layer of roasted Brussel sprouts. Brothers Tommy and Billy Hall guarantee a pleasurable evening – lively atmosphere and piano bar on the main floor, or a more subdued experience on the second floor. If you leave the table for any reason, upon return, You'll find your linen napkin folded neatly.

Accommodation choice

Weary from sightseeing, a peaceful respite awaits at the historical John Rutledge House Inn (AAA Four Diamonds). Located on Broad Street close to other historical sites, the inn is within walking distance of downtown. John Rutledge, whose signature is found on the U.S. Constitution, built the home as a gift for his bride in 1763. The inn’s charming piazza over the second floor ballroom begs guests to sip tea and savor a hot complimentary breakfast while enjoying the city’s inspirational views. Each guest room, named for a famous patriot in history, is tastefully appointed with tapestry carpet, antique furniture, and Tempur-Pedic® mattresses. Ask about the inn’s Food and Wine Gastronome Package for the festival.

If you want to enjoy the slow-paced Southern charm of a city steeped in history – Charleston has it all.

Sheree Nielsen is a contributor from Wentzville, Mo. She and husband, Russell Nielsen, published an award-winning book – Folly Beach Dances – about a popular, nearby beach.

January/February 2016 Issue


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Let AAA help you plan a vacation in Charleston, S.C. We can provide you with maps, TourBooks® or a Triptik® for the trip, as well as finding a great tour to Charleston. AAA Vacations’ Southern Charm tour includes a three days in Charleston plus a stop at Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and St. Augustine.

See your AAA Travel professional for details or visit

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