If Savannah is the girl you take to a party, Charleston is the belle you take home to marry. So gracious, so stately was Charleston (we were there well before the bugs and the summer humidity arrived) that I longed to live in one of the confectionary houses along the waterfront there.
Like any real lady, Charleston gives the appearance of eternal serenity, but history tells us otherwise. Founded in 1670 for Charles II of England, the town was subjected in ensuing years to tug-of-wars between Britain, Spain and France, along with regular incursions by pirates as well as raids by Native American tribes. The town was attacked twice during the American Revolution but played a more central part in the Civil War. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, and it was at Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861 that the first shots of the war were fired.
More recently, Charleston has struggled through a depressed economy during much of the twentieth century and suffered devastating losses to three-quarters of the homes in its Historic District when Hurricane Hugo walloped the area in 1989.
Charleston has emerged from her turbulent history to reign once again as the belle of the ball. Yankee transplants engage in bidding wars to purchase and restore the area’s historic homes. Just know before you buy that, as Pat Conroy admonishes in the title of one of his best-sellers, the acceptable addresses are all “South of Broad”.
That being said, we happily crossed to the “wrong” side of town to have lunch one day at Slightly North of Broad. We knew it would be good, since it was recommended in a chorus by some locals when we asked them for a restaurant recommendation. The shrimp and grits were one of the best meals I had on our trip.
Dining was a delight in Charleston. At the popular Husk restaurant, we discovered a pork-centered menu and the best cornbread I’ve ever tasted. Get this: even the butter is “pork-infused” at Husk. Oink!
I had an epiphany when I viewed the drink menu at Husk. Ordering a decent wine by the glass had been a struggle thoughout the trip and when I viewed Husk’s extensive bourbon menu I realized I had been seeking the wrong spirit all along; wine is fine in California, but whiskey wins in the South! I switched over to my father’s beloved Manhattans for the rest of the trip and had some memorable coctails (although I may not have remembered much else after drinking them…)
One of our best meals in Charleston was at the Peninsula Grill. It is the one place you absolutely must eat if you’re in town. I had the Lobster Corn Bisque and Grouper on Sauteed Spinach with Ramps. Divine. Oh, and we splurged on dessert that night: Panna Cotta Banana Pudding for me and Coconut Cake for the CE. Yes, I sinned and I would do it all over again.
We also had a lovely dinner at FIG and terrific short-order breakfasts at doesn’t-even-have-a-web-site Sweetwater Cafe. There is no shortage of good food in Charleston and fortunately, there is no shortage of opportunities to walk off the calories. Lots of elegant shopping, lots of history and lots of real estate to gawk at.
One of our most interesting walks was to and through the Aiken-Rhett house. The house tour offers a close-up view of antebellum and Civil War history as experienced by prominent Charleston families..
Walking along the Battery waterfront is a must while you’re in Charleston.
And if for no other reason, take a walk in Charleston just to admire the ubiquitous window boxes that dress up the neighborhoods:
Travel + Leisure called Charleston “America’s Most Friendly” city in 2011 and Southern Living magazine has dubbed it “the most polite and hospitable city in America”. It lives up to all this and more. I know the song is supposed to be about San Francisco, but I’m pretty sure I left my heart in Charleston.
Next stop: Middleton Plantation