There‘s more than just mint juleps and courting benches to this slow, southern town.
A friend’s recent nuptials and the desperate need for a vacation meant a trip to Charleston, South Carolina for my family. Having never been to the “lowcountry,” we were thrilled to explore what this slow, southern city has to offer.
James Island County Park
While in Charleston, we stayed at the James Island County Park, which is approximately 10 minutes from downtown Charleston. Our accommodations were the perfect solution for family lodging. Roughly $700 for the entire week will get you a cottage that comes fully equipped with three bedrooms, one bath, a living room with satellite television, a large kitchen, an outdoor grill and a beautiful screened-in porch overlooking the marsh. All linens, towels, dishes and basic amenities are provided, and there’s a grocery store just down the street to stock the fridge.
The premises feature plenty of activities (for a minimal fee) that the whole family can enjoy. Bike rentals give everyone freedom to enjoy the fresh air while exploring the vast 943 acres of park. A visit to the climbing wall gave me sore muscles for a few days. Some friends we were with highly recommended Splash Zone, where they rode the 200-foot waterslide. (They opted out of the Cyclone, a 10-minute water ride that swirls you like a frozen daiquiri.) Other activities available to park visitors include paddleboats, kayaks, camping, a ropes course and more. A family could easily stay busy for days on the park property, but then they would miss out on all the rest of the fantastic sights Charleston has to offer!
A Visit With the Fish
While in Charleston, be sure to visit the new aquarium. Open since May 2000, the aquarium is a “self-supportive educational institution” located on the beautiful Charleston Harbor. There’s a viewing deck overlooking the water where you can watch the dolphins swim by or simply enjoy the view. Inside, more than 60 exhibits – including seahorses, turtles, bottom-dwellers, fish sounds and coastal erosion – are laid out in a unique fashion taking the visitor on a tour of the South Carolina landscape starting from the most inland point and ending up on the shores of the Atlantic. We started in the mountain streams; continued through the piedmont rivers, coastal swamps and salt marshes; and ended in the ocean waters enjoying all of the creatures and vegetation that are indigenous to the state.
After the aquarium, we headed over to Patriots Point where we toured the long-retired U.S.S. Yorktown. “The Fighting Lady,” as she’s fondly known, is the 10th aircraft carrier to have served in the Navy’s fleet, doing time in World War II and the Vietnam War. When active, the carrier was home to 380 officers, 3,088 enlistees and 90 planes.
Eager to explore a little bit of history, we climbed aboard. There are eight tours to choose from, including “Engine Room,” “Naval History Exhibits” and “Hangar Bay.” We opted for tour route one, or “Living and Working Spaces.” We got to see firsthand where the crewmen ate, slept, worked and played. I was mortified when we got to the dentist office and medical quarters. The utensils used on these poor men made me appreciate modern medicine!
My husband Scott, a World War II fanatic, got lost in his imagination from time-to-time. Like a kid with his first G.I. Joe doll, I could tell he was mentally inserting himself into the scenes with fascination about what it must have been like to be a part of this floating community. Personally, I was a little jittery each time we’d take another set of stairs deeper into the carrier. The thought of living on this massive structure is unbelievable. Scott could have stayed on board forever, but I was ready to get back to civilization!
No visit to Charleston would be complete without a trip downtown. The beautiful architecture and timeless feel of the area is what sets Charleston apart from other southern cities. We cruised down Meeting Street and saw what is apparently a Charleston trademark – black men and women weaving sweetgrass baskets. The beautiful, highly intricate baskets are pretty pricey, but as they say, it’s not only the basket you’re paying for, it’s the craftsmanship, as well.
After working our way through the crowd, we were starved for some good food. All signs pointed to Hyman’s Seafood, where “attitude is everything.” After being seated upstairs with a great view overlooking the crowded street, we were greeted by an energetic older woman who filled us in on the history of Hyman’s and all of its delicacies, such as “redneck caviar,” i.e. boiled peanuts. I had some fried green tomatoes, a Hyman’s signature dish, and Scott had the she-crab soup to start with. For lunch, we pretended for a moment that we don’t live in a fat-conscious, health-oriented society, and we ordered up the crispy flounder and fried lobster tails – both of which were delicious!
The only downside to a trip to Charleston is the 12-hour drive. Otherwise, it’s a great town with lots of history and family-oriented activities that make it an enjoyable getaway for any family!
To Learn More
Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
81 Mary Street
Charleston, SC 29403
James Island County Park
871 Riverland Drive
Charleston, SC 29412
South Carolina Aquarium
100 Aquarium Wharf
Charleston, SC 29413
40 Patriots Point Road
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
Ashley Driggs is associate editor for this publication.