Below is my recap of my road trip to Charleston for Thanksgiving weekend. Hope it's worth your time!
Below is my recap of my road trip to Charleston for Thanksgiving weekend. Hope it's worth your time!
We are a family of four (late 30s parents, and 2 elementary-age kids) who decided to visit the Charleston area for the weekend. It was the parents' second visit & practically the first for the kids. We wanted to base our trip around seeing the swamps of the area and at least viewing some of the churches in the Historic district. Here's how it went down.
THURS (Thsnksgiving Day)
Left home (SW Atlanta suburbs) and headed out on I-20. Lunch at what has become a Thanksgiving tradition for us, Waffle House. Eat yr heart out. This was about 20 miles west of Augusta.
As we reached the Columbia vicinity, we detoured off to visit Congaree National Park, which was a great way to break the trip up. Congaree is relatively new to the national parks lineup, and is classified as an "old-growth hardwood forest" (i.e. it's not a swamp technically since it dries up in the winter, if I remember my research). The visitor center was closed, but the park is always open. There's an easily accessible boardwalk trail that runs for 2.4 miles, giving you a nice loop through a decent stretch of the park (lengthier and muddier paths are available). Lots of bald cypress trees with their "knees", pointy stubs sticking out of the ground for a couple if feet in the general vicinity of these great trees - there's a portion of the trail where you're surrounded by these things and it feels like you've stepped into one of those old-school Grimm fairy tales, the ones that don't necessarily guarantee a happy ending. Good stuff, and a great 90-minute diversion.
Back on the road, and onto Charleston, or rather North Charleston, as we stayed cheap outside the city (we stayed at the Days Inn on Meeting St last time, but we jam econo on the return trips). North Charleston made sense for our trip anyway - we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Northwoods and had no complaints.
Also had dinner at a place that shall remain nameless - they can't all be Waffle Houses. Seriously, Thanksgiving is always a crapshoot so we just went for the places we knew would be open rather than hunt around, knowing it would get better. It had no choice.
After a hotel breakfast, we looked at our itinerary and revised a bit. I originally had us downtown walking around in the morning, but it was pretty brisk and would heat considerably later in the day. So instead we decided to stay a little local at first. I dropped my wife and kids off at Tanger (we abhor Black Friday, but she had a need to go - unfortunate timing, really) and I drove over to check out Monster Music & DVDs - I'm a big music listener and this looked like a good store, but I blew considerable cash in L.A. record stores earlier that month (TR for that if you wanna search) so I behaved.
After an hour, I picked them all up and we headed downtown. Lunch plan was to have Dave's Takeout, but at 11:00 it appeared Dave was taking a holiday. Oh well, we're in a city where we have options. We parked in a garage (thanks to the coupons posted in this forum!) and walked to Gaulart & Maliclet for a radical stylistic change from my plan - a 1/2 veggie Provençal baguette with salad w/Roquefort dressing. Mais oui.
We then strolled around seeing most of the churches I had on my list. And that is the most cursory definition of "see", as every single one was locked up. We had prepared for this after some of you broke the news to me, so no surprise but...it's always nice to wander around the streets, in any case. My eldest kid is studying Ancient Greece in school right now, and she was happily sighting column styles every time she encountered them as if she were a birder checking names off a list.
Brief break on Market Street, not so much to see the market but to visit the Pepper Palace, which sounded up my wife's alley in particular. We've read about the wars going on to establish the world's hottest peppers, and knowing one of the challengers is local (the Carolina Reaper) we had chilis on the brain...and tongue. We sampled a few and after my wife (who is made of stronger stuff than me) had me taste a 10+ sauce at the counter which gave me instant hiccups, we decided to run to Kilwins for ice cream - it's not just a kid's afternoon treat, it's a parent's medical necessity.
We then resumed the last of our church sightings, each one competing against the other to show off just how much more closed they were than the rest (almost made it to the synagogue on Hasell St but they closed 5 minutes before we arrived) and headed to our car. From there we drove along the seawall and E Bay St, finding a parking spot and checking out Waterfront Park a bit. From there a bit more auto-enhanced sightseeing around Marion Square and the like. Decided to give Dave's Carryout one more try but to no avail. So we headed back to North Charleston, as we had seen a Thai restaurant in front of our hotel. They seemed to be nice people.
Today was planned to be a Monck's Corner excursion. We headed out bright and early to begin our day at Mepkin Abbey, getting there just after the gardens opened at 9.
The Abbey is a Trappist retreat, established on the grounds of a former plantation with the donation of property by Henry Luce of Time Magazine fame. The monks here are also well-known for their mushrooms they cultivate, so there are lots of ways to attain nourishment on these grounds. And the grounds are lovely, graceful magnolias draped in Spanish moss bending toward the river.
We arrived on a festival weekend, for at the dawn of the season of Advent the Abbey displays an exhibition of crèches (nativity scenes) from around the world. Varieties ranging from mosaics to abstract local representations made with oyster shells and pretty much everything in between. We enjoyed looking at them all, though we got disappointed afterwards when we learned that the festival preempted the typical Abbey tour, something understandable given the volume of visitors but never spelled out on the website. Thus no experiencing of the monk's noon prayers inside their chapel. The church shutout amazingly continued.
We left and drove through Monck's Corner, which is home to fast-food outlets and little else (we're pescatarians, so barbecue does not hold sway). Lunch taken from Taco Bell, the least of the evils.
And on to Cypress Gardens. As opposed to Congaree, this is a full-on swamp. There's a loop trail which is nice, but what I really wanted to do was take a self-guided canoe ride through the waters, which is included with admission. It was my first time ever rowing a canoe, splitting the oars up with my wife, and I really enjoyed the scenery though in our experience it took awhile to get the rowing pattern down (thankfully we weren't on one of those "getting your relationship back together" retreats - I was just relieved we remained on speaking terms after disembarking). Not much wildlife on vivid display, though we saw a few turtles and what I thought was an anhinga.
By the entrance there is also a small tourist-trap area filled with an aquarium, a history of the grounds, a butterfly house, alligator pens, etc. As my youngest is a girl who loves snakes, this was a good way to see some since we missed them on the trail. The video in the history area showing a team of archaeologists finding remnants of the culture of enslaved people was interesting for me and my kids too.
At this point we headed back to Charleston. We crossed over the bridge to Mt Pleasant solely for the sake of crossing the bridge, and then we drove downtown. An early fantastic dinner at Pearlz, which I found through the forums here. I was torn three ways on what to get, so I ended up getting all 3 - a half dozen oysters on the half shell, a half-pound of local stone crab claws, and a lobster roll. Well, you only eat dinner once...a day, at least. Our waitress was great with kids, and even tipped us off to a dessert place that would be more their speed than what the restaurant offered - Belgian Gelato, which indeed did the charm. The sun was in its waning moments, giving a picturesque scene west and affording a calm, darkened view out of the nearby Waterfront Park, which people were streaming out of. Perhaps it was this moment, after a great dinner and a hot chocolate, watching the black waves roll in the crisp air, that was my favorite of the trip.
We got our things together and checked out of the hotel, heading downtown one last time. We were guaranteed we'd get into a church today, if nothing else. The one good thing about spying all of the churches streetside was that we at least got hints of the grandeurs that could be on display. We then picked which of them we'd most be curious to see, and then we looked them up online afterwards to see which of the desirables met up with a philosophy closest to our own. In the end, we picked an underdog near the collegiate area - Grace Episcopal Church, which was a relative babe in arms established in the 1840s. It was built during the prime of the Gothic Revival era, so naturally it reaches for the skies and contains some nice stained-glass windows. The service revealed a nice, mellowed pipe organ (and with some Bach in the program, we were guaranteed a good workout), but it was in the postlude that we saw a relatively unique feature - a bell tower manually operated by about 6 people with ropes. Apparently there's 38 such towers in North America, but this was the first time we've seen it in the flesh. There's a fair amount of choreography that goes into those pretty sounds!
After church, we walked a bit around the streets and picked an early lunch at Caviar & Bananas. The owner used to run a Dean & Deluca, and all the yelp reviews reference Dean & Deluca, but as I've never been to a Dean & Deluca I can tell you that it's an open space with food stations on each wall - coffee and pastries to the right, prepared foods, sushi, and brunch (on Sunday mornings at least) straightaway, sandwiches to the left, and sweets by the door to the left, with upscale groceries in center. I tried their tomato pie (fantabulous) with a mound of quinoa enhanced with cranberries, almonds, etc, and finished with a latte. I was nearly tempted to buy some dried pasta that was about 18" long, until I realized I may have to upgrade my kitchen at home to have a stove that could handle such a beast. Post-lunch wanderings through a couple of open spaces on the college grounds, our last big hit of Spanish moss.
One last stop at the city limits at the Tanger area, which was much less crowded on Sunday than Friday. The main agenda was shoes for myself and my kids, as we are going to explore more swamps and such in the Everglades at the end of the year, and this excursion showed that more durable shoes might be good. But that's a trip report for the future.
Thanks for sharing. The Grace Episcopal Church sounds worth a visit for mass.
A picture book came out a few years ago of nothing but the beautiful churches in the historic district. It may still be available for sale in some of the local shops or bookstores. It was discussed on this board when it came out.
Thank you for posting such a pleasant trip report. We stopped by Congaree National Park a few years ago and it is great. A book that I was using to prepare for that trip had an interesting comment. The author said that if you were Christian and wanted to impress upon young children the idea of hell, that you should take them there in July or August.
We're returning to Charleston in the spring, and one of the many things I'm looking forward to is the boat ride at Cypress Gardens.
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