If the South has a capital, it’s Charleston, South Carolina. From the moment I turned onto Highway 17, I was smitten by the Lowcountry. How is it that I’d never spent more than a few minutes passing through this charming city? Well, I made up for lost time this weekend. We met my dad there for a little 50th birthday trip, since it’s one of my parents’ favorite cities, and halfway between my folks and my sister and her husband.
There was so much to do on our itinerary, we of course didn’t see it all, but I think we gave it a pretty good go, and I know we’re all already planning our next trip back! Here’s what we did, in case you want to re-create a patented Thompson family trip:
Mr. SIT and I snuck in early and had a delicious dinner at Jim ‘n Nick’s. Listen, I’m a Memphis BBQ girl, but I do love some vinegar-y Carolinian ‘que. And Jim ‘n Nick’s Cheese Biscuits are to die for!
We slept in a bit at our hotel in preparation for a big weekend of late nights chatting and eating. Upon recommendation from a friend who works for the Charleston Tourism Department, we stayed in the up-and-coming neighborhood of North Charleston. In addition to being full of great shopping, eating, and near the airport, it was also central to everything. It never took us more than 20 minutes to get anywhere in the city.
Then, before our families arrived, we explored the city a bit, familiarized ourselves with the varied neighborhoods like quaint Summerville, hip Park Circle, beautiful Avondale.
But as soon as the families arrived, we hugged and squealed and then promptly went for the food (you’ll notice lots of eating on this trip). Jack’s Cosmic Dogs was the perfect place to start off a fun and distinctly Charleston local favorite. There were dozens of hot dogs to choose from, and the atmosphere rocketed us (sorry!) back to the atomic age.
Next off, we headed straight for the downtown area. We strolled through the City Market, the perfect place to pick up souvenirs like handmade woven baskets, art, benne wafers, and jewelry. It’s like Etsy in real life! We wondered up and down Meeting Street, where you’ll find plenty to see. My favorite were the gorgeous old churches, fitting appropriately in the “Holy City.” So much history!
We lucked out and happened upon the French Quarter on the first Friday of the month, where the local art galleries fling open their doors with plenty of art to see, snacks to nibble, and wine to drink. The best part? I happened upon a couple of new favorite artists, and even got to visit with one about her inspiration and process.
But by the end of the evening and plenty of walking, can you believe it we were hungry again, so we headed over to the highly recommended Sesame Burger. The service was fantastic, and the menu varied so that even the vegetarian lovers in your group will be happy. I got the South Carolinian burger, topped with pimento cheese. You can not go wrong with that! Plus, everything, and I mean everything is fresh. They even grind their own meat on site.
Of course we had to start Saturday morning off with more food. We woke up early and got to a classic Charleston favorite, Hominy Grill. If you’re going to take it slower, be aware that their crowds start showing up at highest peak around 11 a.m., so grab a coffee on your way, ’cause you’re gonna wait a minute. But boy was it worth it! Around our table, I was drooling over the Fried Green Tomato BLT, Cornmeal Cakes, and poached eggs with salmon. But if it’s your first time, you gotta go with the classic Big Nasty Biscuit. A biscuit topped with fried chicken and gravy. Makes you want to smack yur momma! (But I didn’t. She was sitting right across from me.)
We still hadn’t seen the famous Charleston homes that are so uniquely Southern, and it was a gorgeous day, so we headed for the Battery. What a view! Charleston is surrounded by water, and the cool breezes kept us company while we broke out the bocce ball set and wiled the morning away.
Mr. SIT, trying on hats
But we ladies hadn’t gotten our fill yet of shopping, so you know we had to hit King Street sooner or later. With everything from Louis Vuitton to Forever 21, ladies you will get your fill. But there was plenty for the men to enjoy too. Seersucker, hats, book stores, a whole shop full of industrial lamps that my dad and Mr. SIT went crazy for. And when you’re tuckered out, a two-story Starbucks to soak up some air conditioning.
We’d spotted a cool old building down by the marina, and turns out it was California Dreaming, where my parents had recalled they had gotten unforgettable ribs before at their location in Columbia, so off to dinner we went. We got the best waterfront seat in the house, delicious salads (I mean seriously good, couldn’t-stop-talking-about salads), scrumptious meals, and fantastic service. The wait wasn’t short, since it’s apparently a very popular location, so we suggest calling ahead for reservations.
Since we happened to be in Charleston on Derby Saturday, and since I’ve not missed a viewing of the Derby since I was born, my dad then raced back to the hotel like a prize-winning jockey, just in time place our hands over our hearts as “My Old Kentucky Home” was sung. We’d all placed our bets, but no one chose winner I’ll Have Another. What a inspirational story, so we didn’t mind anyway!
We were all tuckered out from a day filled with walking and shopping, we stayed in for the rest of the evening, playing games and chatting (and polishing off a bucket of Peterbrooke popcorn I had brought up from Jacksonville. Then off to bed early so we could be well rested for…
Like any good southern Baptists that we are, we had to visit a church while we were there. What a treat to get to worship with some real locals, and get a good feel for the city. We had fallen in love with the nearby neighborhood of Summerville, so we tracked down a pastor that had graduated from my favorite seminary, and attended Sunday morning at Old Fort Baptist Church. There are plenty of great churches in the city to choose from. In fact, it got its name, the “Holy City” from the amount of steeples dotting its skyline.
After a failed attempt to lunch at EVO (closed on Sundays — sad for us, good for them!), we settled on spending the perfect day out at Folly Beach. So we drove out, and grabbed a quick lunch at Taco Boy. A cool atmosphere (a little too hip for us Southern trads though… we did not care for the unisex bathroom!) — Taco Boy has fresh tacos a la carte for a quick snack before an afternoon of dipping our West Coast toes in some good Carolina ocean. We frolicked, played a little more Bocce Ball, but were then too hastily ushered to our car by a quick afternoon coastal thunderstorm.
It didn’t last long though. Just enough to cool things off. By the time we had popped into Publix (the things I miss about the South!!) to stock up on more waters, the sun was popping back out, so we drove downtown again for just one more look at those genteel, elegant homes. We just couldn’t get enough! Walk down Broad Street and Church Street for some of the most gorgeous Southern homes you’ll ever see. A girl can dream…
After all that fresh air and water-gazing, we were all in the mood for a little seafood, and you can’t leave Charleston without trying out a favorite, Hyman’s Seafood. Despite its popularity, and location right on Meeting Street, we got right in and proceeded to dine on fresh fish, shrimp and grits, and crab cakes. Make sure you visit their gift shop on your way out. We could not get enough of their salt scrubs. Perfect for souvenirs to bring home to friends and fam who weren’t lucky enough to accompany you on this trip. (Maybe grab one for yourself too, because you won’t stop thinking about the Holy City.)
I even sat at the table where Pat Conroy has dined!
Just enough time to grab a sackful of Chick-fil-a biscuits on our way to the airport and one last wave to the East Coast before we headed back to California. For now. But we can’t wait to get back to Charleston as soon as possible!
As I said, there was so much we didn’t get to this time around. From Magnolia Plantation to Fort Sumter to Sullivan’s Beach, and restaurants galore. Here are a few that are on our list for next time (trust me, we shoved as much food as was humanly possible down our hatches, but we can’t wait to eat at): Poogan’s Porch, EVO, Husk, F.I.G., McCrady’s, High Cotton…
And of you’re still looking for more to do, of course always check out Design*Sponge’s collection of City Guides.