A getaway to the Greater Charleston area
One of the most celebrated (and sometimes, sadly, infamous) historic cities in the United States, Charleston, S.C., is just two hours south of Myrtle Beach, an easy drive. Many Grand Strand locals and visitors regularly take daytrips and weekend getaways there for good reason—historic antebellum homes, high-end shopping, craft and antique markets, its cruise ship port, the arts and fabulous food. Well done, Charleston. But what about the sights and culinary delights found just outside of the historic downtown districts? For a change, it may be time this spring and summer to visit the history, beauty and uniqueness of the greater Charleston area, off of its renowned peninsula.
The first town in Charleston County you’re likely to encounter as you head south on U.S. 17 is Mount Pleasant, situated just north of the Cooper River. Before you cross the spectacular Arthur Ravenel Bridge, there are a few stops worth considering.
Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens
1235 Long Point Road, Mount Pleasant
This sprawling plantation offers tours of its privately owned Colonial Revival plantation house (circa 1936), which is the fourth home built on the property, the first dating back to 1681. With spectacular grounds, massive live oaks, stunning gardens, a working farm and tours, the plantation is also home to an authentic slave street with a collection of rare slave quarters, once occupied by the plantation’s 85 slaves, and, later, sharecroppers.
A popular place for Civil War reenactors, weddings, corporate functions, oyster roasts and fundraisers, Boone Hall also offers regular educational events and pick-your-own farming opportunities year-round. General admission tickets run between $21–$24 for adults and $12 for children 6 to 12.
40 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant
Just a few minutes from the bustling commercial district of Mount Pleasant, at this naval and maritime museum complex you’ll find a “hands-on history lesson” covering Civil War-era armaments, three ships (including the massive Aircraft Carrier USS Yorktown), the WWII-era Destroyer USS Laffey, and nearly 30 naval aircraft. You’ll see Vietnam War-era Bell helicopters and fighter jets in their natural habitat. With advanced reservations and payment, youth groups of 10 or more, and their chaperones, are invited to eat, sleep overnight and work (play) on board the Yorktown, exactly where the sailors spent their grueling deployments.
Patriots Point offers a fascinating and patriotic reminder of U.S. military might and the role that Charleston has played in our protection since before the U.S. Revolution.
Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant
We Grand Stranders love our MarshWalk in Murrells Inlet for its creek-side boardwalk, stunning views, boating, fishing and watersports, as well as great food and nightlife. Mount Pleasant loves Shem Creek and its riverfront boardwalk for the same reasons. The panoramic views from Shem Creek Park, to the light and lively lunchtime and dinner options at some half-dozen eateries, to the late night partying and seasonal live rock ’n’ roll from bands performing on moored barges and catamarans.
Nearby and inexpensive accommodations (compared to downtown Charleston) make Shem Creek a weekend destination and perfect getaway.
Middle Street at Ben Sawyer Blvd.
Just a few minutes from Shem Creek, the waterfront community of Sullivan’s Island offers historic Fort Moultrie, public beaches, world class kayaking and paddle boarding, the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse and excellent vacation rentals. Just off its point, Fort Sumter National Monument sits in the mouth of Charleston Harbor as a sobering reminder of the U.S. Civil War’s first shots.
To visit the rest of the area’s islands, it’s back in your car—or, if you’re lucky enough, your boat—to see these coastal lands just across the Cooper River. In your explorations of the greater Charleston area off the peninsula, you might consider crossing over downtown Charleston via U.S. 17 and taking Folly Road to the south and east to explore James Island, Johns Island, Folly Beach, Kiawah Island and others.
3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island
Without much signage or fanfare, and lying hidden from any of the nearby roads, the Angel Oak still beckons visitors to Johns Island to bask in its 500-year-old glory. This live oak is the same species and glorious pride of the South that grows all along the Grand Strand, however it dwarfs even the most magnificent examples seen in our area. The Angel Oak is 66.5 feet tall, 28 feet in circumference and boasts an angel wing-like canopy that covers 17,000 square feet. One of its branches is nearly 200 feet in length. It is, in a word, inspirational.
Owned by the City of Charleston, the Angel Oak has had scrapes with hurricanes and developers, all who’ve tried to end its life. Save the Oak and the Coastal Conservation League thwarted efforts by developers in 2012, but may not be so lucky next time the bulldozers come calling unless more people visit and lobby local and federal government for permanent protections.
There is no charge to visit the Angel Oak Park. A small gift and souvenir shop sells soft drinks and snacks.
Off the islands and heading west and inland, on the banks of the Ashley River, the pre-Revolutionary Magnolia Plantation & Gardens and Middleton Place both sit as reminders of a bygone age, reimagined as educational, interpretive and inspiring sites open to the public.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
3550 Ashley River Road, Charleston
Among the oldest plantations of the South, dating to 1676, Magnolia Plantation was first primarily a rice plantation, with formal English gardens added by the family for their beauty. Rebuilt after the U.S. Civil War, with certain sections dating back to the 1700s, the house and museum host daily visitors, weddings, corporate banquets and more. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the plantation is a fraction of its original size, but enough to showcase its gardens and stately home.
Original slave cabins and an African-American interpretive program cover elements of the Gullah culture. Other highlights include rice field boat tours, a small zoo and nature center, and a cafe to feed hungry visitors.
4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston
Touting its place in American history as the “oldest landscaped garden in America,” among other accolades, Middleton Place today is a partially restored working heritage plantation complete with farm animals, stable yards, artisans and craftspeople. Here staff and docents faithfully recreate life as it was known in the 1730s–1850s. Its history is remarkable as it’s tied to a pre-Revolutionary War era cast of characters, the Middleton family, through the last days of the Civil War when Union soldiers burned much of what was still standing. An earthquake in 1886 nearly finished what the Yankees started.
After restoring, rebuilding and reimagining what Middleton Place could be, today the plantation hosts tens of thousands of visitors annually who come for educational interpretations or just to simply be immersed in the beauty of the place.
Spend a day or week to learn about and experience the life of the Middletons and the enslaved Africans who worked the rice fields and tended to the gardens and livestock. The ghosts of the past echo in this place, but welcome all who wish to learn.
The Inn at Middleton Place offers stylish and simple rooms (with all the modern amenities), and guests and visitors may enjoy dinner at the quaint Middleton Place Restaurant. Reservations recommended ((843) 266-7477).
Though just scratching the surface of what awaits the visitor off the Charleston peninsula, we’ll end our tour on the Ashley River. We’re just a short 12 to 14 miles up river from the Charleston Harbor with fabulous historic downtown Charleston awaiting us, assuming we travel by boat. More likely, back in your car, you’ll be a short 20-minute drive to downtown, or a two-and-a-half hour drive home to the Myrtle Beach area. Either way, you’ll be a little more informed and bit more amazed at all this Lowcountry region has to offer.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SEAN PAYTON, (SHEM CREEK) CVANDYKE, (ANGEL OAK) BENJAMIN PAQUETTE, (SULLIVAN’S ISLAND) HENRYK SADURA, (MAGNOLIA PLANTATION) DAVE ALLEN PHOTOGRAPHY & (MIDDLETON PLACE) MEUNIERD