Surf and Shopping in Charleston, South Carolina
After living in Charleston, South Carolina throughout my four years of college, I feel I have become somewhat of a local. The various universities and other schools provide a small college town feel to the city, which is also a vacation spot for many and a heavy tourist area. They also provide a new and vibrant energy that compliments the city’s old Southern heritage. Charleston is one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in the country, and although it is a very historic area, there is also a cosmopolitan air to the downtown area that is overflowing with a rich culture. Charleston is located on the East Coast, in the heart of the Low County. Although the city is on a peninsula, it is a mere ten to fifteen miles to the closest beach. The view of the harbor along Battery Park, or “The Battery”, is a breathtaking walk, night or day. This waterfront area is where the million dollar homes of “Rainbow Row”, brightly painted pink, yellow, and blue, are located. Delicious southern cuisine, local seafood, and authentic Gullah restaurants line the streets downtown. Spanish moss hangs from canopied oak trees on the College of Charleston campus, founded in 1770. King Street offers shopping and restaurants with sidewalks lined with palm trees, or as they are called in Charleston, the famous Palmetto trees. Charleston is a tourist destination for many because of the beaches, the weather, the shopping, and the always exciting nightlife.
For college students and many others, Folly Beach, located on James Island, is the hot spot as far as local beaches go, mostly because it is only a twenty minute drive from downtown. Surfers tend to frequent the area of Folly Beach called “the Washout”, although there are usually only medium sized waves, unless a storm is about to roll in. The Holiday Inn on Folly Beach is located in the center of the town, and within walking distance of surf shops, restaurants, and bars. Bert’s Market on Folly Beach is a local favorite for stocking up the cooler with food and drinks, and is open twenty four hours a day. There is also the Isle of Palms, which is a golfing and resort area, or Sullivan’s Island, within driving distance of downtown Charleston.
If you are in Charleston on a Saturday during the warmer months, you must stop by the Farmer’s Market, held in a park called Marion Square in the center of downtown, located on King Street and Calhoun Street. Sample homemade lemonade, Greek gyros, boiled peanuts, and check out some of the local artists. Do not forget to stop at Kudu Coffee, in lieu of the many Starbucks, for the unique African décor, patio seating, and surprisingly welcoming atmosphere, where the owner has a personal relationship with his suppliers throughout Africa. King Street offers the best shopping with stores like Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, and some local boutiques such as the Copper Penny. The Shops at Charleston Place includes several stores such as White House Black Market, Express, The Limited, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Lacoste. The City Market, also simply called “The Market” is the area located near the Battery between Meeting Street and East Bay Street. In the area between North and South Market Streets, there are two buildings that are filled with small shops and vendors that give it the feel of a flea market. On each corner are Sweetgrass basket weavers, an ancient tradition of the Gullah people, who are descendents of African slaves brought to work on the plantations.
The amount of quality Southern cooking in Charleston is infinite. Jestine’s Kitchen often has a line forming around the corner for Sunday brunch. Hominy Grill is another restaurant that has been reviewed in several magazines. It offers the complete Charleston dining experience, served with shrimp and grits, okra, pulled pork, biscuits, and chocolate pudding, just to name a few items. The Low Country seafood in Charleston includes everything from fried seafood to raw oyster bars and sushi. The Charleston Crab House and A.W. Shuck’s offer the best traditional seafood. There is also plenty of fine dining restaurants downtown for seafood lovers as well. Personally, my favorite place to eat in Charleston is Dave’s Seafood, although I doubt a single tourist has ever heard of it. Mostly because it is a little hole-in-the-wall place with a kitchen and one single folding table for people waiting to pick up their orders or to sit and eat. It offers chicken wings, French fries, and of course, fried seafood. Because Charleston has become much more than just an old Southern town, there is also a wide variety of ethnic food available and some very posh restaurants.
The Market is where many of the bars are located in Charleston that cater to tourists, because of all of the restaurants, hotels, shops, and the view of the harbor. In addition to this area, King Street also has several bars, mostly located on lower King Street. Because there are so many bars in Charleston, it would be nearly impossible to name all of the best ones. Every type of bar from dance clubs, lounges, sports bars, pubs and taverns, dives, and music venues exist in the downtown area. There are a few places for dancing such as Mad River, Tsunami, Wasabi, the Market Street Salon, and the gay club Pantheon. The Rooftop Bar and Restaurant, located on the roof of the Vendue Inn on East Bay Street, is a must see because of its sweeping view of the downtown skyline and the water. There are also several more laidback bars such as Henry’s, Social, Chai’s, Lounge and Tapas, Aromas, and the Blind Tiger Pub. Sport enthusiasts can watch games at Wild Wing’s, Moe’s Downtown Tavern, Mellow Mushroom, or Mad River. Charleston has a great music scene with local artists performing at Johnson’s Pub, O’Malley’s, the Windjammer, Music Farm, and Toucan Reef. Depending on the kind of scene you are looking for, Beerworks, Silver Dollar, and Johnson’s Pub tend to be the hotspots for fraternities and sororities. However, there are also several dives where everyone from hipsters, college students, and people of all ages partake in drinking and socializing, such as Upper Deck Tavern, AC’s Bar and Grill, and Big John’s Tavern.
Charleston is unlike any other city in the country as far a front porch sitting, sweet tea drinking, Low Country cuisine eating, and relaxing at the beach goes. It is simply one of those places you must spend some time in before you die. Because Charleston is constantly changing and diversifying, the city has an exciting energy, where you can tell by the inhabitants, that the quality of live there is very high.