Traveler's USA Notebook

Your guide to travel news,  discoveries and  pleasuresYour guide to travel news,  discoveries and  pleasures



More than history

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Flirting with Charleston

Let's just say it straight out. Charleston is a Southern city. And it does romance right. There's something about the harbor and the foliage and the ancestral buildings that seem to whisper "Tara Hall, Tara Hall" that ever so gently quickens the pulse. Is that Rhett Butler about to enter that mansion? Yes, Rhett Butler was a bad boy but he never existed. But ahhh  the romance he inspired. You can feel it peeking at you, lighting your way with evanescent sparks as you stroll through the streets of Charleston. If these streets could talk, they'd say, "How y'all doin? Why don't you set a spell? Can I freshen your iced tea?" 
   There's more to Charleston than the whiff of "moonbeams and magnolias." True the home of Fort Sumter remembers its role in the history and culture of the American South. And yes, there is the city's well-tended 19th century architecture. The city has a huge historic district. Some might feel the city itself is a huge historic district. And okay, the NAACP is encouraging people to boycott South Carolina because the state can't let go of the Confederate flag.
We grant you all that.
But then the slightly manic joy that comes from staging the 17 or so day long- Spoleto Festival, one of the world’s great annual arts festivals persists and pervades year-round. A thriving college community provides a bit of perspective and alt.juice. The schools are College of Charleston (the nation’s oldest city college); Medical University of South Carolina; The Citadel (a/k/a the Military College of South Carolina); Charleston Southern University; and Trident Technical College.
Charleston’s ongoing love of the water on which it stands ripples with all sorts of activities and sights. Witness its fairly new and extremely breathtaking aquarium. And there’s shopping.

More Than History


Charleston needn’t depend on its history to inspire consistent appeal. In recent times it has garnered all sorts of  recognition from all sorts of sources
? FamilyFun Magazine picked Charleston as the #4 top southeast vacation city for families
? Bride’s Magazine called Charleston one of the top 14 American honeymoon destinations.
? In November 2000 the American Sail Training Association (ASTA) named Charleston  the Port City of the Year for 2000.
? Etiquette Expert Marjabella Young Stewart has consistently called Charleston “Most Mannerly city in the US.”  
  ? Charleston continually shows up on the must-go Christmas destination lists compiled by organizations that know about such things.



Traveler stayed at The Mills House (115 Meeting Street) where many grace notes combine in a stately concerto of comfort. Perhaps that’s spreading it a bit thick; but the attention to detail (demi-canopied beds and dataports in the rooms), the genial surroundings (freshly cut flowers, marble floors and vintage crystal chandeliers in the lobby and individually decorated period furnishings in the rooms), and the staff’s desire to please make the Mills House desirable, comfortable and amiable. Its wonderfully convenient location is another plus.
The Mills House Hotel actually is a (pardon the expression) reconstruction of the original hotel (bearing the same name). The predecessor said nighty-night to such historic figures as Robert E. Lee, President Theodore Roosevelt and Stephen Douglas.
But enough of this namedropping. Despite its gentility and -- okay -- southern hospitality, The Mills House is a full service hotel with glamorous meeting rooms: The Signer’s Ballroom (meeting capacity 350) boasts all kinds of period doo-dahs - sconces, chandeliers and mirrors; 

Round it all off with three on premises opportunities to unwind - The Barbadoes Room, the restaurant with luxuriously red tablecloths and a menu, rich with low country fare plus sumptuous Sunday buffet; The Best Friend Bar, a clubby wood-paneled establishment; and The First Shot Lounge which overlooks the fountain courtyard. To learn more, call   843-577-2400 or 800-874-9600 or click here.

Here are some of the other distinctive hotels you'll find in Charleston.


Market Pavilion Hotel 225 East Bay Street 
New, intimate, gracious and designy, the market Pavilion is located in the  City Market.
(843) 723-0500 or 1-877-242-4765 or click here.

Best Western King Charles Inn 237 Meeting Street
Affordable and smack dab in the center of the historic district. 
843-723-7451 or click here

Charleston Place Hotel 205 Meeting Street
Part of the Charleston Place complex, it's simply elegant.
843-722-4900 or 800-611-5545 or click here.

Embassy Suites Historic Charleston 337 Meeting Street
Offering 153 two-room suites, the original home of the Citadel is a restored landmark. 
843-723-6900 or 800-EMBASSY or click here.

Hampton Inn Historic District 345 Meeting Street
Once an 18th century burlap bag factory, this restored building has a brand new bag as a stately hotel.
843-723-4000 or 800-HAMPTON or click here.



The feeling you get when you stroll through antique shop after antique shop? Priceless! Discovering something you must have? Fulfilling! You’ll find those sensations on King St. Its antiquing district begins on lower King St. (found just a couple of blocks from the Mills House) where most of the shops can be found.

bullet  Check out Peacock Alley (9 Princess St., near King St.) for its Chippendale chairs, Pembroke tables and other assorted English and early American furniture pieces.
bullet For a concise sampler of what’s available, plunge into the King Street Antique Mall. Located at 495 King St., it’s actually located on upper King St., and it has been joined by 11 other antiqueries. In the mall, you’ll find a full range of offerings which include furniture, collectables, decorative objects, art, photography, mirrors, toys, kitchen & garden objects, as well as assorted architectural, nautical and railroad items. And, of course, there’s a goodly assortment of glass, silver, china. linens and carpets.

A walk along King St. is a shopper’s safari. When you get past the antique district, you will find some decidedly upscale emporia.

bullet Magar Hatworks (557½ King St. is a chapeau chapel for worshippers of headgear and its original offerings come from the head of milliner Leigh Magar.
bullet The Shops at Charleston Place (130 Market St.) is the upscale shopping destination that is bundled with the Charleston Plaza Hotel. Safely and seductively harbored inside are April Cornell, Cache', Chico's, Laura Ashley, The Limited, My Friend's Place, Express, United Colors of Benetton, The White House, Crabtree & Evelyn, Yves Delorme , Gucci, Mori Classics, Oroton, Brookstone, and as a special test of everyone’s will power both Godiva and Lindt Chocolate.

If you’re on the prowl for gifts that say Charleston, here are a few to consider.

Sweetgrass Baskets – These baskets are made of pine needles and sea grass sewn together with palmetto leave splits. The sewing technique for this basket weaving tradition came to Charleston with the slaves who were kidnapped from West Africa. Today’s basket artisans use both traditional and modern forms. You can find baskets just about anywhere in Charleston; but for an amazing array of sizes, shapes and patterns, you’ d do well to stop at the City Market, Meeting and Broad Streets – just a short walk from The Mills House.
Joggling Boards were used in the early 1800s for loads of fun. You put the pine boards on your porch and bounced on them. This was before cable, you know. Actually, an alternative to the porch swing, joggling boards assisted in canoodling endeavors. You can get them at the Charleston Joggling Board Company,
Silver-Plated Rice Spoons – Charleston families have been dishing out the rice with long-handled spoons like these since the 18th century. You can get yours at the Historic Charleston Foundations Gift Shop (108 Meeting Street), the Preservation Society Shop (147 King Street) and Crogan’s Jewel Box (308 King Street).

As you proceed along King St., you’ll begin to hit some of the tony local and national shopping havens It’s heavily laden with comforting logos. Still further along, you’ll find some college-friendly places.

To-Do List:   Things to do in Charleston

Glub Glub

Walk! No, Run! Maybe, even swim to Charleston’s South Carolina Aquarium.

 In the aquarium’s 60 exhibits you can see river otters, turtles, birds, alligators, sharks, snakes, and -of course - all kinds of fishies. In fact, the aquarium is where some 4000 animals hang their hats in 60 exhibits. A walk through the aquarium is a stroll through recreated environments of the region. (Where there’s fauna, can flora be far behind?) Exhibits resonate with the particulars in which our fine, finny friends live. You start at the Mountain Forest (made dramatic by waterfalls and ravines) and proceed through The Piedmont (ooo look at the turtle), The Coastal Plain (by gar, did you see those snakes?), The Saltmarsh (Did that crab cast a sidelong glance?), The "Coast (jellyfish, their radiant tendrils softly waving in the water), and, at last, The Ocean (sharks, angelfish, grouper and an occasional human in a diving suit, looking like an ornament). 

General information 643-720-1990, Click here. Also completed in 2000, and right next to the Aquarium, is the new IMAX Theatre.

.Fascinating events take place throughout the year in Charleston. They include


Holiday Festival of Lights
November 14, 2003-January 4, 2004

James Island County Park
The location drips with lights - 600,000 lights – that sparkle and maybe even twinkle as you drive the four-mile distance. You wink at them. They wink at you. All this plus gift shop and activities. Call 843.795.4FUN or click here.


Christmas in Charleston
December 01, 2002 - January 01, 2003
Venues throughout Charleston Area
Come Christmas season, Charleston is a grinch-free zone! This coordinated cavalcade of unremitting cheer includes tree lightings, concerts, galas, house and garden tours, festivals, contests, a book signing and assorted opportunities to buy memorable gifts. For more information, call 800.868.8118 or click here.


Charleston Boat Show
January 30 - February 1, 2004
The show takes place in Charleston Area Convention Center Complex. See the latest nautical whoozawhatsits and whatchamacallits. More info?


Lowcountry Blues Bash
February 6-15, 2004
Masterful performances by blues legends as well as powerful rising stars take place in various Charleston area clubs, restaurants, hotels, and other venues. The program is creative. The music is rewarding. For more information. Click here.
And don’t forget


Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto
May 28-June 12 2004
The Spoleto Festival is a nearly three-week long international extravaganza of arts, culture and bonhomie. Piccolo Spoleto, running concurrently, spotlights regional creativity. The action takes place in Charleston theaters, churches and outdoor spaces. You’ll find opera, jazz, theater, orchestral, chamber, contemporary music, literary and plenty of visual arts. What with premieres and personages and out and out pizzazz, during this festival Charleston has the right to call itself one of the most sparkling cosmopolitan site on the face of this planet. Call 843.722.2764 or go here


Juneteenth Freedom Festival
June 15
Charleston joins other communities throughout the South in the celebration of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation signing Juneteenth. The event takes place in Hampton Park and festivities will include fashions, art and food. 843.853.1462


Fall Candlelight Tour of Homes and Gardens
18 September-October 25
For two weeks, special guided tours of the cities quaint and gorgeous, stately and historic homes, gardens and churches reign. The event is now in its 27th year. For info, call 843-722-4630 or click here.


MOJA Arts Festival
October 1-5 2003
During the glorious days of Autumn, African American and Caribbean arts and crafts paint the city via the Moja Arts Festival. Events include Reggae, Block Dance · Heritage Day · Jazz Under The Stars, live theatre · Golf Classic, fireworks, art exhibits · dance · poetry and storytelling, and poetry slam · BTW, we are told MOJA is A Swahili word that means "One." For more information, click here

Look at the Pretty Houses

With affluence in the city’s early days came a creative outburst of architecture accompanied by – oh – maybe some ostentation. According to no less an authority than CN Traveler, "Every street in Charleston seems to be as pretty as it is historic. The houses are mostly wood frame or brick, and of a "single house" design seen nowhere else in the States: long, narrow, receding rectangles that are one-room wide, with first- and second-floor porticos along the south side to catch the ocean breezes. Here and there are Georgian or Italianate mansions built by planters, slave traders, and the occasional blockade-runner."Here are some homes that are windows into the past.

Aiken-Rhett House(48 Elizabeth St.) began as a single row house in 1817 and, along the way, picked up Greek Revival and ornamental Rococo Revival touches. Its contents include many original furnishings, books and sculptures that were when Governor William Aiken and his household lived there.
Calhoun Mansion (16 Meeting St.) This circa 1876 25-room G Victorian mansion is okay if you go for things like golden wall coverings, intricate woodwork and molded ceilings. And then there are the gardens.
Nathaniel Russell House (51 Meeting St) Local brick, imported white marble, an free-flying staircase help make this 1808 building a gem of the neoclassical school.


Both restaurant and haven, Joseph’s ( 129 Meeting St.), deserves recognition, admiration, a round of hearty huzzahs and your presence. The room is low key restful with appropriate art, scattered about. The real art comes from the kitchen. Apparently Executive Chef/Owner Joseph Passarini put some time in at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and it was the right thing to do. He excels in simple fare with complex flavors.

We made Joseph’s our breakfast headquarters and were rewarded with sautéed spinach & mushrooms with white cheddar omelets, egg whites with plum tomatoes, fresh herbs & muenster cheese, and French toast ooh la la thick cut french bread marinated in eggs, vanilla & cinnamon, grilled and served with maple syrup and (upon request) revisionist eggs benedict--poached eggs served on holland rusks with spinach (NOT Canadian bacon) topped with hollandaise sauce.

Here are some other notable restaurants.

Carolina's (10 Exchange St.) serves eclectic American cuisine, and received an Award of Excellence from The Wine Spectator.
Info 843-724-3800 or or 888-486-ROSE or click here..
Charleston Grill (224 King St.),a Mobil Four Star Restaurant and winner of Wine Spectator's "Best of Award of Excellence." offers lowcountry and coastal specialties and is nestled in the above-mentioned’ Charleston Place. Info 843-577-4522 or click here..

Vintage Restaurant, Inc.
(14 North Market St.), another restaurant smiled upon by The Wine Spectator, serves "new-American cuisine." (843) 577-0090.


Click here for an online site that offers discount tickets for Tours, walks, sites and wonders -- and free coupons for discounts at restaurants, local cruises, carriage rides and don’t forget etc. 
It also serves as a bit of a portal for Charleston links and online hotel booking.



       We can’t report about Charleston without telling you that for the past few years, the NAACP has been encouraging a boycott of South Carolina. The issue is the state’s official use and placement of the Confederate flag. In terms of compliance, the boycott has been getting some respect. A number of conventions and conferences have chosen to stay away. Some have not. In some cases, groups expressed a desire to see for themselves what the issues were and what life is like in Charleston. In terms of spotlighting the continued use of the Confederate flag and keeping the pressure on for positive change, the boycott has been successful. What should you do about it? That’s for you to decide.  


Traveler's USA Notebook