Brightly color bicycles tied to lampposts and street signs turn a seemingly ordinary scene into something effortlessly artful. Charleston, S.C. is one lovely place to photograph — green ivy crawling over aged, brick row houses, stately American flags hanging above colorfully painted doors, and elegant, swirling wrought iron fences that coyly offer glances into private courtyards.Thankful to witness two college friends tying the knot as well as for an excuse to wander the city, I snapped a photo of the bikes. Since every corner reveals another beautiful façade, I simply couldn’t resist the urge to try and capture it all.
Perhaps the urgency behind my camera lens also had something to do with the limited duration of my stay. To say I’m visiting this capital of Southern culture for only 48 hours almost sounds insulting. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see it all, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
A Pleasant Place to Stay
Charleston’s nickname as the Holy City traces back to colonial days, as one of the few places in the original 13 that practiced religious freedom of beliefs. With this tolerance developed a skyline of towering steeples – some of the oldest and most beautiful houses of worship in the country. Driving over the bridge to Mount Pleasant on a Friday afternoon, I caught my first glimpse at the city’s skyline.
More popularly known as home to the Cooper River Bridge Run, the two and a half miles of bridge connects the best of both worlds. The downtown historic district of Charleston lies just minutes away from Mount Pleasant, a peaceful neighboring area where my weekend accommodations awaited.
Although the five-hour road trip from Atlanta isn’t bad, I couldn’t have been more excited when I parked in front of The Cottages on Charleston Harbor, located on the water’s edge. I could smell the salty air and feel the laid-back lifestyle washing over me as I stepped inside sunny yellow cottage No. 3 – “Sweet Blessings” – and made a beeline to the back porch for a panoramic view.
The best way to watch the boats go by in the late afternoon sun? With a generous portion of the “caviar of the South” (pimento cheese on crackers), a local brew such as Palmetto Brewing Company’s Amber Ale and great company.
Just beyond the porch, steps lead down to a private beach and a dock. Here, I completed the cottage tradition of throwing a sand dollar, found waiting for me on the kitchen counter, into the harbor at sunset.
While the back of the house steals the show, the spacious interior including fully equipped kitchen, three deluxe full baths and room for six rivaled for attention. Before I contently sank into the master suite’s king-size bed, I made sure to set multiple alarms to get an early start on a Saturday packed with exploring.
Shopping Fit for a King
Because “multiple alarms” followed by “exploring” aren’t possible for me without some coffee between them, I found a true sweet blessing in the continental breakfast and pleasant staff inside the clubhouse lounge.
Once caffeinated, my next stop was the water taxi. Running each hour on the hour, the boat transports guests from one stop to the next in about 15 minutes, but plan for extra time because the boats fill quickly.
Then it’s smooth sailing to the drop off at Waterfront Park and a few walkable blocks to the city’s famous shopping district on King Street. A place that lives up to its royal name, King Street is a distinct marriage of well-preserved architecture and the latest fashions. Landmark, globally appreciated brands like Louis Vuitton mix among locally based boutiques like Moon and Lola’s personalized jewelry and Tina Stephens active wear. To save time – and my bank account – we made our way (with detours down eye-catching side streets including Queen) to Upper King’s Marion Square for the Charleston Farmer’s Market.
Held every Saturday from April through November, a colorful village of countless tents pop up in the 7-acre park offering the freshest local produce, seafood, plants, herbs and cut flowers as well as crafts from talented local artisans. The assortment of gourmet food vendors lets the flavors and friendly locals all come to one place, and depending on how long you sample, this outing could easily start as breakfast and turn into lunch.
The Alley Less Traveled
Following this same mentality of simultaneously covering the most ground without compromising quality, we made dinner reservations at a three-for-one hidden gem tucked away in Hutson Alley on 39-G Johns Street, just off King Street.
Created by Holy City Hospitality, Vincent Chicco’s, Victor’s Social Club and Michael’s on the Alley are three distinct eateries sharing one space.
As the story goes, Vincent Chicco migrated to Charleston from Italy during the Prohibition Era and became known as “the king of blind tigers,” referring to secret currency for patrons receiving drinks. At the time many Charlestonians, Chicco included, considered themselves immune from the laws governing the rest of the state. He became a local hero by running a number of saloons and leading the fight against Prohibition. In a building formally owned by the Chicco family, the restaurant pays its respects to him through an inspired Italian menu combining classic flavors, domestic ingredients and a curated wine list.
After indulging in the bruschetta, Sicilian Sunday Gravy and Ruffino Ducale Chianti, we moved from the old-fashioned sophistication to the adjoining contemporary atmosphere of Victor’s Social Club. Aquatic inspired artwork by local John Carroll Doyle, a Hemingway-inspired cocktail menu and the building’s high ceilings lift spirits easily. Guests could start the evening here instead, or stay all night, as Victor’s serves up elegant small plates, oysters on the half shell and shellfish towers. The distant waif of steak made me note a visit to Michael’s is necessary on another night.
Well fed and buzzing from the vibrant scene on King Street, I walked into “Sweet Blessings,” kicked off my shoes and smiled. With my camera’s memory card full and a pedometer boasting steps equivalent to 11 miles of quality ground covered, I could lay to rest my satisfying attempt to capture it all. One Saturday here may be too short to see it all, but is nothing short of sweet.
A wedding brought me to the city, but there’s no need to wait for an invitation to arrive in the mail to visit this epicenter for Southern culture. Here are some good excuses for you to visit soon:
BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival
March 4-8, 2015
38th Annual Cooper River Bridge Run
March 28, 2015
3rd Annual Spring Jam Music Fest
April 18, 2015
4th Annual Charleston Beer Garden
May 16, 2015