My Top 10 Favorite Touristy Things to do in Charleston

I have a new friend who’s in Charleston for a month for work, and she asked me today what she should see and do while she’s here.  So I tried to remember back to when I lived down here before, and where I would take visitors who had never been to this wonderful place.  In doing so I remembered the magic of discovering some of these things myself, and it made me want to share them.

1)      The Battery.  One of my favorite places in the world.  The Battery is located at the southernmost tip of the Charleston Peninsula. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Charleston, it was probably of the Battery.  Incredible architecture, beautiful old oak trees, and an amazing view of historic Fort Sumter.

2)      Speaking of Fort Sumter, one of my favorite touristy things to do is to take the harbor tour out to Fort Sumter.  A great boat ride, and then you can wander around the fort where the Civil War began in earnest.

3)      Horse and carriage ride.  The tour guides are terrific, and it’s really the only way to see some of the old parts of the city other than walking.

4)      Food.  Lord, does Charleston have some great restaurants.  Magnolias, Husk, etc etc.

5)      St Michael’s Episcopal Church.  Charleston’s oldest church was built in 1764.  It’s beautiful, and the cemetery has graves dating from the Revolutionary War. I’m a sucker for cemeteries.

6)      Old City Market.  Lots of history, great shops, and restaurants.  What’s not to love?

7)      Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge.  This is a new one for me – the bridge wasn’t built when I lived here before.  Park and walk across for some incredible views, or just drive over it into Mt. Pleasant, my stomping grounds.

8)      While you’re on that side of the bridge, go on through Mt P to the Isle of Palms.  Great beach, and some adorable shops.  I’m lucky enough to live 5 minutes from there.

9)      Or stay in Mt P and go to Shem Creek to eat on the water or go kayaking.

10)  If you still have time and energy, take in one of the many historic houses open to the public or tour a plantation just a short drive away.  Just a few:  Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Boone Hall Plantation, Drayton Hall, Edmondston-Alston House, Heyward-Washington House, Joseph Manigault House, Aiken-Rhett House, Nathaniel Russell House. has lots more information on things to do in Charleston, but these are my faves.  See y’all down here.

Rolling Down Highway 95

This past weekend I spent a long few days driving from Charleston to Charlottesville to pack up my stuff in storage and bring it back with me.  Along the way I had lots of time to think.  Not only is it a long drive, but the cargo van I was driving had no CD player, and the radio didn’t work (so neither did my iPod).  There is nothing more crazy-making than no music and no book to listen to on a trip.  So to kill time and maintain sanity, I decided to put together a list of helpful hints for anyone thinking of driving down to see me.  Hope this doesn’t talk you out of it – I’d love the company.

1)      Make sure the radio and/or CD player works.  The only thing longer than the 24 hour flu is the 8.5 hour drive from Charleston to Charlottesville without anything for company.

2)      Make sure you have cruise control.  Driving long distances without it is a little like riding a one-speed bike up a mountain.  It’s possible to do it, but there are sure way easier ways to get there.

3)      If you are going to rent a cargo van to go out of state, it’s cheaper to rent it for a whole week and let it sit than to rent it for just the 3 days you actually need it. Really.

4)      In Virginia, if the speed limit is 65, it actually means 65.  In NC, it means 70 – 75.  In SC, 65 means if you’re driving under 80, you’ll probably get run off the road.

5)      If you don’t buy anything else on your trip, buy peaches as soon as you cross from North Carolina into SC.  There are no better peaches in the world than those from upstate SC.  Trust me, I know – I grew up eating Gaffney peaches, and I’m a peach snob because of it.

6)      If you’re looking for a place to eat, the Golden Corral has the best buffet in Wilson, NC.  At least, that’s what the giant billboard says.

7)      And on the topic of food, the Sombrero Restaurant at South of the Border is not a Mexican restaurant.  So don’t get your heart set on bean tostadas and chips and salsa like I did and then end up with an iceberg lettuce salad from the salad bar.

8)      If you’ve never been to South of the Border, you should stop.  It’s like a time machine, with all the entertainment families thought cool before there were backseat TVs and water parks.  There are junk shops, and a reptile lagoon, and big plaster flamingos and bears and gorillas hanging out together on the sidewalks (not sure why that makes sense – are there bears and gorillas and pink flamingos living side by side somewhere south of the border?).

9)      Try to make it out of Virginia before you buy gas.  For some reason, gas in VA is at least 10c more per gallon, sometimes as much as 30c per gallon more.

10)  The last thing is a reminder to myself – never, never, never try to cram a lifetime of stuff into a cargo van again.  It’s not gonna fit.

Always be ready for Paris

About a week ago I realized that my passport had expired at the end of February.  And I immediately had a panic attack.  What if I needed to cross the border into Canada or Mexico?  What if suddenly someone wanted to whisk me away to Paris or Argentina?  What if I just wanted to take a quick flight to the Bahamas?

Now I know there are lots of people out in the world who don’t have passports.  And I know it isn’t necessary to leave this country to have a wonderful vacation or travel to places I’ve never been.  But a passport to me means freedom, and I value freedom more than most things in life.  I don’t want limits to my life.  And not being able to go where I want to go when I want to go limits me.  Even if I don’t choose to take advantage of it.  I’ve had a passport since I was 18 years old, and I don’t intend to give up the privilege now.

I realize that travel for some may seem like a luxury, but for me it’s a necessity.  So today I slipped over to the UPS Store and had a passport picture taken (pleasantly better than the last one, which could have been mistaken for a mug shot), and tonight I’m filling out my paperwork and mailing it off tomorrow.  And I’ll sit by the mailbox until it comes, in 6 weeks or so.  Let’s just hope I have no international travel emergency before then.

Oh, and if you don’t have a passport, get one.  Even if you never use it, never go anywhere outside your home state, you’ll always know you can, and that is empowering.