Spring Break is just around the corner, and you are probably thinking of going some place warm, affordable, and not far from home. Charleston is not a tropical island in the Caribbean Sea or a resort on the Mexican coast, but it is a great place to visit. With a mild climate, good beaches, beautiful gardens, and interesting historical attractions dating back to Revolutionary and Civil War days, Spring Break in Charleston can be inexpensive and fun.
Day One – Arrive at Charleston International after noon and take the shuttle bus 10 miles to 26 Vendue Range Street (19 Vendue under renovation). Located in the French Quarter on a waterfront park, the Vendue is within walking distance of dining, shopping, and many attractions. Junior and king suites are tastefully done with antique furnishings and artwork. Some guestrooms feature themes based on a specific person or event in Charleston history. The 4-star Vendue Inn offers continental breakfast, afternoon wine and cheese, and evening cookies and milk. Highly recommended for excellent location and friendly staff. Free bicycle rental.
Rates: From $150-$214/dbl. Romance, City & Beach, & Spa Packages available.
Spend the afternoon exploring the 3-story Old Slave and Provost Dungeon nearby. Relive stories of colonists and pirates, traders and slaves, and the Revolutionary War on a narrated tour through this National Historic landmark. Hours: 9-5pm. Last tour 3:30pm. Admission: Adults – $9, Children (ages 7-12) & College Students – $5.
Dinner and live jazz music at the High Cotton, rated 5 stars for outstanding food, wine, and cocktails. Menu features traditional Southern Low Country, fresh seafood, steak, and a few exotic selections. Prices: $20-$40. Hours: Mon-Fri, 5:30-11pm. Sat, 12Noon-11pm. Sun, 9:30am-10pm.
Day Two – Tours & History
The weather is perfect for a carriage ride and harbor tour on your first full day in Charleston. Bring your camera and join the tour at the Old South Carriage Company on Anson Street at 9am. Narrated by a guide in Confederate uniform, the one-hour tour covers 30 blocks of old, pre-Civil War mansions, churches, and gardens.
Hours: Daily, every 20 minutes, no reservations.
After the carriage tour, you can meet the Spirit Line Harbor Tour leaving at 11am from Aquarium Wharf (use the Market/Waterfront downtown shuttle service). This relaxing, educational tour is skillfully narrated and includes Ft Sumter, Battery Point, Castle Pinckney, and the Cooper River Bridge. Snack bar & beer. Not handicap accessible.
Carriage Tour: Adults – $22, Children (4-11) – $15
Carriage Tour & Harbor Cruise: Adults – $35, Children – $24.
Casual lunch at the Brown Dog Deli on Broad Street. Menu of salads, subs, and hotdogs, all under $10. Hours: Mon-Thurs, 11-6pm. Fri&Sat, 11-8pm. Sun, 11-4pm.
This afternoon, visit the Nathaniel Russell House Museum, a carefully restored National Historic landmark built in the prewar architectural style of the Old South. The 3-story “flying staircase,” fine furniture, paintings, and elegant interior of the grand Russell House are definitely worth seeing. Admission: $10
Hours: Mon-Sat, 10-5pm. Sun, 2-5pm. 30-minute tours, last tour 3:30pm.
Enjoy the atmosphere, fun, and music at Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub tonight. Go Irish for dinner with corned beef or shepherd’s pie along with a Tommy Creation of Guinness and Bass beer. Family oriented, indoor or outdoor dining. Prices: $10-$25. Hours: Sun-Thurs, 11am-1am. Dinner till 10pm. Fri&Sat, 11am-2am, Dinner till 11pm.
Day Three – Plantations & Gardens
What to do today? You could go to the beach on Sullivan’s Island or the Isle of Palms, but the beaches during Spring Break will be very crowded (especially Folly’s). Why not visit a historic plantation instead. The fascinating history of the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island began in the 1700′s and it remains as America’s only tea garden/farm today. Enjoy the 6-hour Island Sip & See Tour on a trolley ride though the beautiful acres of more than 300 varieties of tea with stops at the Irvin House Vineyard and Firefly Distillery. Gift shop. Hours: Tues & Thurs, 9:30am (from the Visitor’s Center)
Tour Price: $52. Includes catered outdoor lunch, tea, and complimentary glasses.
Return to hotel, relax, and refresh before going to A.W. Shuck’s in the City Market for an informal dinner and cold pitcher of beer. Oyster bar, Low Country shrimp boil, or steamed snow crab legs are popular choices. Try peach bourbon bread pudding, a southern favorite, for dessert. Prices: $15-$30. Hours: Sun-Thurs, 11-10pm. Fri & Sat, 11-11pm.
Day Four – Shopping Spree
Begin a busy walking day with breakfast at Toast, highly recommended by visitors to Charleston. Open – 6am. Prices: $10-$15. Head on over to King Street for upscale shopping at the Copper Penny for ladies apparel & jewelry, Berlin’s for sportswear, and Ben Silver’s for men. Stop by the Charleston Crafts Gallery for wonderful handmade items, and go to Christophe’s Artisan Chocolatier-Patisserie for lunch and unique gifts of French chocolate. You’ll find designer and estate jewelry at Croghan’s Jewel Box, and for a glimpse of Gullah (Low Country) culture, go by Gallery Chuma on Meeting Street. Stroll through the open-air City Market for bargain shopping including baskets, candles, candy, and souvenirs.
Return to the hotel with your purchases and enjoy afternoon wine and cheese. For something different to do tonight, have an early dinner at Bocci’s Italian before the 7:30 comedy show at the Dock Street Theater. Bocci’s features seafood, lasagna, chicken, and veal. Hours: Dinner – 4-10pm, 4-11 (Fri&Sat). Lunch – 11am-4pm. Prices: $10-$25.
The famous old Dock Street Theater, destroyed by the Great Fire of 1740, was eventually rebuilt within the Planter’s Hotel and reopened in 1937 with performances year round. Renovated and updated in 2010, the Theater is currently presenting the award-winning comedy “The Foreigner” by Larry Shue. Tickets: Adults – $34.50-$53.50. Seniors – $2 less. Students & active duty military – $10 less.
Day Five – More historical beauty
After breakfast, consider spending the day on a tour through another great, historic plantation, the Middleton Place. You’ll see America’s oldest landscaped gardens, visit the museum housing Middleton family memorabilia from 1740-1880s, and watch craftsmen in the stableyards recreate the activities of an 18th century rice plantation. The Middleton Place gardens are absolutely beautiful with rare plants, flowers, and trees. In addition, there’s a rice mill pond, butterfly lakes, and Arthur Middleton’s tomb, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who lived on the property. Visit the Garden Market & Nursery, have a light lunch, or dine on typical plantation food at the onsite restaurant.
Hours: Noon-3pm. Prices: Avg $15
Spend-a-Day Package (all inclusive): Adults – $55, Students – $44, Children (6-13) – $39
(Note: Other tours available on website.)
Enjoy the ambiance and gourmet cuisine at McCrady’s near the hotel on your last evening in Charleston. Elegant & expensive. Hours: Sun-Thurs, 5-9:30pm. Fri&Sat, 5-10:30pm. Prices: $65 – 4-course meal. A-la-carte also available. Variety of wine and cocktails.
Day Six – Leaving Charleston and its history behind, Spring Break has gone by much too quickly. With lots more to see and do, you are probably thinking about a return visit to this captivating city.
Getting there: Some travelers may prefer to drive to Charleston and avoid the airline hassle, but if time or distance is a problem, most major airlines fly into Charleston International Airport.
(Note: Tours are probably the best option to see Charleston. Information and tickets available at the Visitor’s Center, 375 Meeting Street, 8:30-5pm Daily.)
Sharon L Slayton