Charleston: Where the Locals Go

Come with us for an insider's guide to this charming Southern city.
Wanda McKinney

"Been there, done that" might be your initial reaction to the usual list of places to visit in Charleston, South Carolina. But we're not going to limit our suggestions to taking a carriage ride along the Battery or shopping for antiques on King Street.

We asked three in-the-know local couples to show us their favorite spots, and they provided some delightful alternatives to the typical tourist fare. Read on for an undiscovered look at one of our favorite cities.

Market Pavilion Hotel
Locals Mason and Jay Ward epitomize the youthful side of Charleston, and they enjoy taking in the view over drinks and dinner.

"The absolute best place to enjoy rooftop dining is here," asserts Mason as she gazes over the sky-filled expanse of Charleston on view from the beautiful Pavilion Bar, high atop Market Pavilion Hotel. Located downtown on the corner of Market and East Bay Streets, the luxurious spot, with its softly lit pool, exquisite topiaries, and low-level buzz emanating from a young Charleston clientele, conjures up notions of a hip, big city hangout.

Husband Jay agrees. They both love ending a hectic day here atop their world, watching the sun slide into the horizon and toasting each other and their good fortune.

You can see a myriad of church steeples from this perch, as well as gardens and painted tin roofs. Look for the lighthouses in the harbor, and have a glass of champagne ($9.50), a house martini ($6.50), or a light meal while watching dusk settle quietly around you.

If you're hungry for more substantial fare, go down to the hotel's four-star restaurant, Grill 225, where you'll find quality seafood and USDA Prime steaks prepared by chef Demetre Castanas. Both the Pavilion Bar and the main restaurant are open for lunch as well as dinner.

And don't worry if you don't want to leave. Just check in to the beautiful hotel; its 66 rooms are as lovely as the rooftop view. Crown molding; rich, crisp bed linens; and superior service make it a top-notch stay.

Market Pavilion Hotel: 225 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29401; (843) 723-0500. Pavilion Bar: Open 11:30 a.m.-until. Grill 225: (843) 266-4222. Room rates: begin at $299.

 

The Old Village
Rossilind and Ladine ("Dean") Daniels show us a delightful shopping venue tucked away in Mount Pleasant's Old Village.

Only about 3 1/2 miles from downtown Charleston, this area just across the Cooper River is the oldest part of Mount Pleasant, and a large section of the Old Village is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rossilind and Dean, proud parents of a college-age daughter and a son in the Marine Corps, start the afternoon at Expectations Studio, an art gallery on Pitt Street that specializes in giclee prints.

After perusing the art, the Danielses browse at Out of Hand, a shop just down the street that sells everything from bowling bag purses ($30) to glass candlesticks ($50) to sun hats ($22). Beaded picture frames in the window catch Rossilind's eye. One of them is perfect for a picture of their Marine--or maybe a lovely portrait of her and Dean. "We've recently celebrated our 25th anniversary," she says.

Rossilind, a minister of music at their church, has plenty to sing about while shopping in the area. The Mount Pleasant Farmers Market on Tuesday afternoons at the Moultrie Middle School features organic produce, barbecue from local restaurants, and lots more bargains to be had.

Another little-known spot popular with the Daniels family is Gwynn's, located in Village Pointe Shopping Center in Mount Pleasant. If you're looking for the latest in Kate Spade purses, funky jewelry, shoes, or accessories, you'll find it here.

Next, the Danielses wander down to the Pitt Street Pharmacy, where Linda Brackman makes the best egg salad in town. The only things more popular are the vintage soda fountain milk shakes ($2.75). Kids love it here, and it's even okay to carve your initials in the lunch counter.

For a great end to a day of shopping and wandering, walk around the park surrounding Alhambra Hall, just past Pitt Street. The live oaks and welcoming benches offer a perfect place to watch the river traffic and a glorious Carolina sunset.

Expectations Studio: 125 Pitt Street, Mount Pleasant; (843) 810-5262. Out of Hand: 113-C Pitt Street; (843) 856-3585. Mount Pleasant Farmers Market: (843) 884-8517. Gwynn's: 916 Houston Northcutt Blvd.; (843) 884-9518. Pitt Street Pharmacy: 111 Pitt Street; (843) 884-4051.

 

Cypress Gardens
Over the bridge from Charleston, you'll find a hidden nature sanctuary just waiting for your visit. Once part of a large rice plantation, Cypress Gardens includes more than 170 acres of nature trails, a butterfly house, an aquarium, and a reptile center.

The main draw for South Carolina natives Helen and Truman Metts is paddling a flat-bottomed boat through the mirror-like water of the swamp while admiring the plants and wildlife.

"We have always loved it at Cypress Gardens," says Helen. "Truman plays sax in a band that entertains out here, and we enjoy seeing the different plants in bloom every season."

Water lilies and wildflowers proliferate, and trees and shrubs include tea olive, willow oak, and black gum. The wonderful cypress trees, which stand sentry throughout the swamp, command your attention. June brings out the flowers, such as buttonbush, crested fringed orchid, and water lotus.

After the boat ride, don't miss seeing the butterfly house, where flowering plants attract both butterflies and birds. Helen and Truman most enjoy their walks and boat rides, but they also urge you not to overlook the Visitors Center, with its excellent selection of books on gardens and nature.

Cypress Gardens: 3030 Cypress Gardens Road, Moncks Corner, SC 29461; (843) 553-0515.

Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau: Call (843) 853-8000, 1-800-868-8118, or visit www.charlestoncvb.com.

This article is from the June 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.