4 Hours in the Heart of Charleston
Charleston is one of those cities where you can spend days...or just a few hours...and feel like you've been dipped in a splash of Southern charm as refreshing as a tall glass of sweet tea. From the flower boxes spilling fragrance and color onto the brick sidewalks below, to the delicious coastal cuisine (shrimp and grits, bouillabaisse...pralines...YUM!)...to the feminine fashions that abound in its many boutiques: Charleston is distinctive, laid-back, gracious and welcoming. What's not to love?
I've visited Charleston countless times over the years, because we vacationed each summer at nearby Kiawah Island (my #1 favorite family beach vacay spot that you can read about in my post, "Sandcastles & Seasons".
This, however, was a business trip for David, and we had only a few hours on a Saturday afternoon and evening to stroll the city. Not much time, but Charleston never disappoints.
The main shopping area of Charleston is located on King Street and fans out to the Charleston City Market between Church St. and Meeting St. That's where my girls and I have spent many hours (and paychecks) over the years, shopping the boutiques.
The French Quarter
This time, David and I headed to Charleston's French Quarter...a quaint and less bustling area, where you can stroll cobbled streets, gaze out at the river, poke into eclectic shops, and meander your way past lush courtyards and ancient cemeteries draped in Spanish moss. And, as always happens when we go exploring...we discovered a few great finds!
I was happily snapping photos of flower boxes and curlicue wrought iron fences when David spotted a chalkboard sign, leaning up against a window, with the words "bourbon - regular tastings". Ever the supportive blogger-spouse, he proposed that we investigate.
America's Oldest Liquor Store
The Tavern at Rainbow Row is an ancient, tiny bottle shop that has been supplying respectable Charlestonians (and long-ago pirates) with small batch bourbons, whiskeys and moonshine for over 230 years. There's an endless variety of moonshine. David picked up a sampler pack for us to try that evening, and my favorite was the sweetly spicy "apple pie". The Tavern's current owner is a very friendly transplant from northern England, who started out as a wine sommelier and moved to Charleston because he heard that the 'weather was nice and the girls were pretty". He must've found both to be true, because he's been running the shop for 10 years, and it's definitely worth a visit!
Umm.... Camel Jerky?!
From the Tavern, we found our way to another unusual spot: the Charleston House of Jerky, a family-run business that sells an extensive variety of "the fastest growing segment of the snack food market in North America": jerky. From traditional beef and venison... to exotic buffalo, kangaroo, alligator, camel and even PYTHON ...if you like jerky, this is a must-visit shop. It turns out that jerky has an interesting culinary history. Spaniards exploring South America in the 1500's discovered this meat preservation technique (dehydration and seasoning) and took it back to Europe with them. This little shop uses family recipes to create a variety of low-fat, high-protein, high quality jerkies that are fun to sample. I wasn't brave enough to try the python...and the idea of eating kangaroo or camel made me feel guilty... (if it has fur, I'm a softy). So, we bought alligator and beef, as souvenirs of our afternoon in Charleston!
Travel...The Spice of Life
A few steps away from jerky led us straight to another cool find - especially if you're a foodie. The Spice and Tea Exchange of Charleston has every imaginable variety of spice and seasoning...(David recommends the Himalayan salt, and I was intrigued by the green bamboo rice, steeped in bamboo juice). The shop is located on Church Street inside a vintage brick warehouse. Although the shop is part of a larger chain, you'll find among the offerings many seasoning packets with flavors local to Charleston.
A Wagon Finds its Way Home
In the center of this shop sits a painted wagon with a quaint history. For many years, the space was a gift shop owned by a lady who eventually retired and sold all her store fixtures. When the new owner acquired the warehouse with plans to turn it into a spice shop, he went on a quest to find interesting furnishings. He happened upon a wagon at an auction in Columbia, SC, and bought it as the perfect store fixture...only to discover this same wagon had been in the original gift shop!
Not only does this shop smell amazing, it has a wonderful selection of packable and affordable souvenir gift items - a definite recommendation if you're in Charleston.
From tastebuds to toppers - our next stop was Dirty Billy's Hats, also on Church Street. The owner of this shop is a Civil War buff who makes every imaginable variety of hat, from reproductions of hats worn in the 1600's, to chic and modern Panama hats and fedoras. The shop is like a hat fashion time capsule...the walls are lined with hats in every shape, size and material, and it's honestly fun just to look around at the ways people have decorated their heads over the past 400 years! The prices range from under $100 to much higher.
Dirty Billy has made hats for museum exhibits (including the Titanic movie with an exhibit currently at the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC - I've got another post on that). The actors who've worn his creations include Sam Elliot and Martin Sheen in Gettysburg, Patrick Swayze in North and South, and Tom Berenger in Rough Riders. With so few hat-makers still around in the 21st century, Dirty Billy's is a rare find and worthwhile stop in Charleston's French Quarter.
There's so much more I could write about...ivy-walled paths that lead to secret gardens, ancient graveyards, church spires, art galleries...and swoon-worthy food around every corner! But, for this particular Saturday afternoon, these finds were all we could fit in. We finished our evening with a seafood dinner in City Market...right in the heart of everything touristy about Charleston, yet always fun. We toasted our discoveries with a couple of signature cocktails and agreed that, while 4 hours may not be much, in this city swathed in magnolia blossoms and sea breezes, it was time well spent.