I thought I would post now that we have returned from our amazing trip. Thank you to any of you that choose to read this and I hope it is helpful to one of you. Also, thank you to any of you that read this that were helpful in our planning process and answered my questions here, on the forum as I planned this trip!
We arrived in the early afternoon. It was HOT and HUMID. I knew it was coming but it took some getting used to!
We checked into our hotel, the Francis Marion. I wanted Southern Charm in a hotel vs. a chain type hotel and we did get that at the Francis Marion. I had been torn between this hotel and the King Charles Inn and ended up choosing Francis Marion. They had self parking in the lot just next to the hotel for $16 per day, or valet which is $21 per day. We checked in quickly and everyone at the front desk was very friendly. We were given a room on the 10th floor- a deluxe room with view. There is a view; it was of the city and some of the bay way out. We were able to look right down King Street. Even a deluxe room, which is larger than their standard room is small and also the bathroom is small. Just as tiny as every review on TA mentions, just a little sink, funny toilet and tub shower. However, I got used to it. There is a desk with a mirror and area to get ready if you want to spread out and not be in the little bathroom inside the room. I just pulled up the chair to the bathroom door and laid all of my stuff out there to get ready (makeup, etc) so I didn’t wake the sleeping family. I was torn about the hotel’s location once we were there. It was right at King and Calhoun so great to walk to shopping down King but about 1 mile to the water and what I now call “restaurant row” on East Bay St. A few days into the trip I realized that we were walking about 1 mile to dinner and 1 mile back to the hotel after dinner. This is a great thing! We enjoyed such delicious meals and I will admit ate a little more at times so we could taste more items at the restaurants, had wonderful wines with our meals and then got to walk it off after our meal. It was a win win. We also got to see so much each night on our way to dinner. We took a different route each night so we could see as much as possible. It looks different at night. It is so calm and there are so many hidden spots along the streets that are not to be missed. Also, as you see from our travel dates, we were in Charleston on Friday, July 26th for Rev. Pinckney’s funeral services. From our hotel room we were able to watch the streets shut down, the cars lead along the processional and the people be shuttled from our hotel. We witnessed history from the window of our hotel room. Had we not stayed there, we would not have seen it all from the comfort of the air conditioned room (it was a scorcher that day) and at that vantage point. Also to point out, the service was excellent at the hotel. The doormen were friendly, as were everyone at the front desk. The parking was a breeze. The room was clean and the beds were comfy, they offer free bottles of water and free WIFI. All in all, a good hotel choice.
After checking in we walked up King Street and headed to The Market. We walked through one time just to see everything. Walked out at the end, turned left and followed my phone GPS to the Red Barn (it is on a side street) to the Palmetto Carriage Rides. We got to wait in a little air conditioned shop after we paid for the tour which was nice. Our tour guide was a young super cute girl and was an excellent guide. In my opinion, we got so lucky when Route 1 was chosen for us. We got to see Rainbow Row, the Residential Area South of Broad, the water and the beautiful homes and hear so much about the history that I had read about while preparing for this trip. It was an excellent tour! We walked around a bit after that but really, it was soo hot, we were not used to the humidity yet. We walked back to the hotel for showers. We then walked to our dinner at Hanks. Arrived a bit warm but walking to Hanks is not a full mile and went quickly while we got to see so much on our way. Dinner was AMAZING! We had a great server. Drinks were tasty. We tried the She Crab Soup- rich and tasty. I had the Bouillabaisse and my husband had the Shrimp and Grits. I would go back for either dish any day of my life, they were both perfection. Their shrimp and grits, while prepared differently, were better than Emeril’s in New Orleans. Honestly, they were that good! We walked back to the hotel after dinner. (We walked different routes every night to see all the little side streets and we felt perfectly safe every night).
We were up early to go to the Plantations. We set out thinking we would go to Magnolia and Drayton Hall. Magnolia was our first stop and so AMAZING! We had a $3 off coupon from the hotel for general grounds entry. Then there is a fee of $8 pp to do the different tours, the house, the swamp garden, the trolley, the boat. Each are an additional $8 pp. We started with the house and thought we would go from there. We had time before our tour so we stopped at the petting zoo. We walked in and to our right were 2 deer just sitting there. There were ducks and goats walking around, a pig and peacocks as well. It was amazing, they were all so friendly and loved being pet (and fed, they offer a little food dispenser and you get a huge amount of food for 1 quarter), they eat right out of your hand. We spent about 30 minutes there and our daughter made us promise we would return after the house tour and after we walked around the gardens. The house tour was wonderful. We had a female guide that was so well spoken; we all were enthralled with her way of talking about the family and their home. The home does have air conditioning which although not authentic to the times; it was much appreciated by us! The tour ends on the back porch which was really the front entrance of the home. We walked down the steps to the water so that we could really see the front of the home. Just breathtaking! We then walked along the water and around their pond. We saw a gator, 2 actually. Made our day! Our daughter was so thrilled, it was the reason she wanted to do the boat tour so we ended up not going back to the front to buy additional tours, but rather spent our time wandering through the gardens, talking to other families and just standing in front of those gators for a long time. As promised, we returned to the petting zoo. The peacock had his feathers open which was beautiful and one of the deer followed my daughter everywhere and kept licking her.
We were hot and hungry at this point. We all decided this was such a beautiful and amazing experience we wanted to see more of the area, vs. continue on to Drayton Hall. Thank you GPS and other forum responders because Swig and Swine was about 15 minutes away and so we headed there for a great lunch. Had we been in HD that day, I would not have made the trip there, as there are so many places to eat in the HD but since we were in the West Ashley area already, we wanted to continue on with our little road trip day. The food was outstanding! My hubby is a Q man and this place was definitely legit. Their wings were out of the world, smoky, crisp and full of flavor. The burnt ends were good but they sauce them and I prefer mine dry, the ribs were great! Their sides were all VERY GOOD! Loved the coleslaw and rich mac and cheese the most.
We went back to the hotel, taking a longer route to just see the area around us. We walked around and did some shopping on King Street (such cute clothes as some of the little boutiques). We back to the hotel for showers (much needed). We walked to Pearlz for dinner. There was about a 30 min wait at about 8 pm. So we put our names in and walked a few doors down to Southend Brewery and Smokehouse. We sat at the bar, had a drink and sure enough about 30 minutes after we had put our name in, Pearlz called me that our table was ready. I explained we just had to pay our bill for our drinks and I was told, “Just take your time; the table is here for you when you are able to get here.” Such hospitality! Dinner at Pearlz was 100% worth that short wait. Everything sounded so good so we opted to try appetizers vs. ordering full entrees. So happy we did. We started with the BLT seafood tower. Over the top, so good! A layered delicious “salad” of chopped lettuce, shrimp, huge fresh tomato slice, lump crab meat, bacon, egg, more crab and topped with their house made green goddess dressing and a few asparagus spears. We also had their calamari which you know, every place has calamari, I wanted to try different things but the server insisted theirs was different, so we tried it, it sure was different, and in a very good way. It was unlike any fried calamari we have ever had, it was more like sautéed then fried and prepared with chorizo, fried lemon and citrus marinated peppernade with a delicious crème fraiche sauce. We had the tuna tartar (it was OK) and oysters which were perfection and delicious. Again, walking back to the hotel for that quick mile trip was fun.
We walked to Waterfront Park the next day. It was overcast and a bit cooler. We had lunch at Fleet Landing. Here is the thing, I know some consider this a “tourist trap”, but I have to say, it was fun, the food was great, our service was outstanding and it was beautiful sitting looking out over the water. I am really glad we went. I had the best bloody mary! Also the fried green tomato with crab salad starter was so good and those fried green tomatoes were the best I had in our 2 week trip around the south (I tried them about 5 or 6 places, just to see what the whole fried green tomato thing was all about since we don’t have them in Cali). The server told my husband he thought their Shrimp and Grits were better than Hanks and that if my husband didn’t agree, he would buy our lunch. That is saying a lot so we took him up on his offer. The Shrimp and Grits were amazing! Such flavor, creamy, light grits and sweet, tender, large shrimp. Their flavors were totally different than those at Hanks and my husband could not disagree with the server, so we bought our own lunch! From there we walked around the HD to burn off our lunch. We walked through The Market again and did some shopping this time. We just walked and walked, in and out of little shops, it was fun. We then stopped for a drink at Craftsman Kitchen & Tap House (our lunch server’s recommendation for great beers on tap). He was right, great beers on tap and we had one of their flat breads that was very good.
Our dinner was at Magnolias. It was delicious as well. Magnolias is like 2 separate restaurants to me. You walk in and it is light and bright and lovely inside. There was not seating available in the front so we were walked to the back, their 2nd dining room. We walked past the open kitchen (that was fun to see) to their back room. At first I was put off by the room. It was dark. Well decorated, but dark. Then we met our server. She was so friendly and warm. We loved her instantly and where we were seated no longer mattered. Best blue cheese stuffed olive I have ever had was found in my martini. Again, everything looked so good we wanted to try smaller plates to get a true taste of the restaurant. We started with their Mussels. BEST Mussels to be had a must try! They were that good. They were sautéed with baby spinach, Tasso ham and corn. The creamy sauce was so good I considered licking the bowl but thought better of that so just used their fresh bread to get as much of it up as I could. Their Fried green tomatoes were also really good. As was the fried chicken. The server said it is one of their signature dishes. So, although we had recently been in Nashville enjoying the best fried chicken ever (Hattie B’s) we decided to go for it. It was a delicious meal and great choice. We also had the Low Country Bouillabaisse which was very good, completely different than what I had at Hanks (which I expected) but delicious flavors. A bit too much corn for my taste, and we had just had corn in the Mussel broth.
The following day was Friday the 26th and we woke up to street closures, police and swat surrounding the streets near our hotel as well as swat snipers on the roofs. This was the day of the funeral services for Rev. Pinckney. It was hard to pull ourselves away from the TV as every channel was covering the service, the activity surrounding the service and interviewing people such as Rev. Jessie Jackson to speak on what a monumental day this was for Charleston, for our entire country.
We had been made aware of the services so we decided which it was our final day, we felt it a good day to head out and see more of Charleston outside of the HD. We decided to drive out to The Angel Oak which was beautiful. We then headed about 15 minutes farther to the Firefly Distillery. We had a really fun tasting there. I am so glad we decided to go. After the tasting we drove about 25 minutes to Folly Beach. We had lunch at The Lost Dog Café. This was the only place during our entire trip that we found the service less than and a rather unfriendly server. The food choices were a bit limited (I knew that ahead of time) but they serve breakfast all day which I knew would thrill our daughter and we are huge dog lovers and just really wanted to see it. Their drinks were good; the food was really pretty good. The BLT with huge fried green tomatoes on it and a huge amount of fresh, crisp bacon slathered in pimento cheese was very good. Their “chips” are just chips out of a bag, and we were a bit spoiled by all of the other restaurants we had been to having house made chips but, really, I didn’t need more chips after that sandwich so it was OK. We then drove toward the water, found a parking spot along the street and walked over to the beach. It was really windy but so refreshing. Yes, we are from Cali, we grew up 20 minutes from a great beach but we did still want to experience the beach here. The town was cute, the sand was super clean with fun shells along it to collect and the water was warm and felt so good. We had a fun couple of hours just standing/running around in the waves.
Charleston is just as beautiful as the pictures you will see before you leave for your trip. However, what you can’t see in those pictures is the feeling you have while you are there. It is like magic. The people are so warm, so friendly, so genuine, you immediately feel like you are part of their history.. We loved it we felt welcomed by Charleston. What an amazing time we had!