Last week I had the pleasure of taking a vacation to the South with my husband. I’m sure you were checking my blog daily and wondering why I wasn’t updating it. You poor thing, here I am! We spent three days in Charleston, South Carolina and another three in Savannah, Georgia. It was beautiful, historical and culturally different from what we’re used to here in California. For starters, nothing is as old here as it is there. In Los Angeles, I’m excited if I am in a building from the 1920’s. In South Carolina, they’re serving ice cream in one from the 1690’s. I made a point to note the free things we accomplished in order to write a blog post continuing the series I started last month about my trip to San Francisco. So, for those who may find themselves in this neck of the woods, here are some great ideas for an activity-rich day in a very special place.
The Angel Oak Tree on John’s Island is a bit of a drive out of Charleston proper, but is well worth it! This massive piece of nature is between 400 and 500 years old and its longest branch is 187 feet. Trust me when I say, that is looooong. No admission is required to view, plus there is the added bonus of driving through the low country and checking out a totally different vibe from downtown. You take an old dirt, tree-lined path to get there. It’s quite a sight, as many a branch has grown into the ground. I felt a little scared by its presence, if you must know.
Kings Street was the center of commerce back in the day, and not much has changed presently in that sense. I’m assuming there was no Kate Spade there during the Civil War, but you know, otherwise it’s the same. You’ll find all sorts of smaller, local shops like bookstores and honey makers along this narrow road, sprinkled with more upscale ones like Louis Vuitton. It reminded me a lot of shopping on a London Street. But after a certain hour, it all becomes quiet except for one stretch of bars and restaurants that seem to be a college hotspot. I don’t know about you, but I quite enjoy window-shopping in any city. It doesn’t really make a difference if I buy something.
This next one was special. We went to check out a local coffee shop and stumbled upon the Old Charleston Jail that just happened to be in the neighborhood. Let me start by saying this would never happen in California. I have no photos of this amazing experience because I was too awe-struck by it all to stop and take one. We wandered in, noticing the front was wide open, only to discover what looked like wood shop class taking place to our right. Okay, that’s curious. A historic monument that doubles as woodworking studio? We walked upstairs, where my husband noticed there was a full (and active!) library. No one seemed to mind us poking around, so we went inside, completely baffled by the number of books in a room with bars for doors. The further we went down the hall, the more it sounded like a lecture was being given…and sure enough, there was a full class in session in this small, stone room that once held Charleston’s most infamous criminals. I later learned that the American College of the Building Arts has taken over the property and is slowly restoring it while running some schooling there. A pretty cool free find and dare I say a “must see”.
The Battery and White Point Gardens are bordered by a seawall facing the Cooper and Ashley Rivers’ meeting point. It is famous for its historic and stunning antebellum homes. Oh yeah, and you can see Fort Sumter, where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. Maybe that’s why it’s actually famous. A lot of important events took place in this district during the Civil War and it’s worth a walk to take it all in and say you did it.
Rainbow Row is for some reason an attraction. And for some reason I’m mentioning it. Oh yeah, cause it’s free. As you may have guessed, I’m talking about a row of multicolored houses. Cool? We drove by it, (which isn’t hard to do if you’re trying to get to the Battery), but we have no idea why we needed to see it. They are subtly painted in a way that would not stand out unless you knew to look for it. Now you know.
Walk places. We stumbled upon galleries having parties and took in some of the local art and social scene, which never would have
happened had we been in a car. It is also possible to avoid paying for tours by just scoping out the building itself. A great example of this is the The Old Exchange Building you see pictured below. That balcony is where they read the Declaration of Independence to Charleston. And you can see it just by walking by! As someone who did take a tour of the inside, I can tell you that you wouldn’t be missing much by forgoing the expense. Read Yelp reviews and see if the cost is really worth it for knowledge gained. I can tell you The Slave Mart is a “must skip” for this very reason.
Don’t get me wrong, you are going to have to spend a little money if you want to go on vacation anywhere. And we certainly did; we ate out every meal and paid for museums, tours and bought some souvenirs. But the point is, you can avoid a lot of cost if you research where you’re going ahead of time. You will likely find plenty of opportunities for memorable experiences that do not require your wallet! A free vacation day is attainable no matter where you go. Try making that a goal next time you leave town and see where it takes you.