Charleston Itinerary

Four days. One camper. A whole city to explore. All the makings of an excellent weekend getaway!

Jonah and I are summer babies, our birthdays being exactly five weeks apart. Instead of trying to come up with a gift to unwrap, he had the *marvelous* idea of traveling somewhere together instead! (I was mad at myself for not thinking of this first, to be honest). I mean seriously, how much more meaningful is it to go somewhere together, instead of trying to spend money on something that might just sit there in a few months? INCREDIBLY more meaningful!

So he wrote a list of places down on a piece of paper and said, "Choose one." My heart melted. Do you understand why he's the man of my dreams yet? The options were Miami, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, or Virginia Beach. In hindsight, going South in the tail end of August was not our brightest idea. Regardless of the intense heat, we were so thankful that it never rained while we were down there. Sunny, blue skies welcomed us from beginning to end. The forecast the week prior had said severe thunderstorms the whole time, so we counted our blessings!

We went the Airbnb route and we are so happy we did. You can read all about that here in my earlier post. Since we saved on where we were staying, we were able to do and see everything we wanted to. And we did a lot! Thanks to writing out and collaborating our favored itineraries. Listen, when you arrive to the airport terminal three hours before departure, you have all the time in the world to plan your trip. We were a little excited, I don't know if you could tell. 

The way we figured out our plans was to make a big To-Do List. We googled and researched and looked up all of the things that we wanted to do while we were down there. The landmarks, the museums, the restaurants... everything went down on the list. Then we grouped together the places we wanted to see and where we wanted to eat based on their proximity to each other. That way we didn't have to waste time, money, or gas driving all over the place being unorganized. We were able to squeeze everything in that way! Once we put the activities into succinct days, we then made sure all of those places were open and how much they costed. This is something you MUST do, because up North everything is opened on Sundays now. In Charleston this is not the case. They still respect Sundays and most businesses are completely closed that day, if not at least modified hours.

After our midnight landing and settling into our awesome tiny home for the long weekend, we tried to get as much sleep as we could before waking up at the crack of dawn to get our rental car and start our adventure.

We sported a (2016?)  bright cherry red, Volkswagen bug and I loved every mile we rode in that thing! I used to think they looked so ridiculous but after calling it ours for the weekend and driving it myself, I really enjoyed it! It was a nice break from my mom mobile (a 2015 Subaru Forester).

Our first day we focused primarily on the John’s Island Region, and all things more Westward of the holy city. It’s funny because we initially set out to eat at a restaurant in Charleston called Sweetwater Cafe. Well apparently there are two of those! We went to this one that is on the way to Folly Beach from North Charleston. It was a great little place with some good home cookin’! Our first meal since leaving the night before. We then caught the first tour at 9am at McLeod Plantation up the road. This tour was different than the others in that it focused on the lives of the enslaved people and the tribe they belonged to. We liked that we started with this plantation because it gave us a very important lens to look through when going through the other tours. Afterwards we headed out to the Angel Oak tree. This magnificent oak is visited by travelers far and wide to see its magnificent size and grandeur. Pictures seriously do not do it any justice, as its trunk sized branches reach far past its base. It was such a great natural wonder that was tucked away down a dirt road and behind a church- fitting, I thought.

We kept heading out west into John’s Island where we found ourselves at the farthest part in our journey that day; The Charleston Tea Plantation. This plantation is relatively newer and is the ONLY tea plantation in America! We hopped on the trolly tour and got to see the vast acres of tea bushes and even got to sample some nice cold tea ourselves afterwards. It was so refreshing on such a hot August day.

Folly Beach is like Hawaii meets the East Coast. The vibe is excellent, the little stores and restaurants are quaint and fit the beach-going mood, and the beach goes on for miles! Rita’s restaurant is also a must-see while you’re in Folly Beach, we popped in for a round of drinks on Sunday when we ventured out to Folly again, but wished we had more time to enjoy an actual meal since it’s a sit-down kind of establishment. 


Since it was still pretty early in the day, we decided to hit Folly Beach after all of our touring and sightseeing. Since it was a Thursday just after noon, the traffic getting there wasn’t that bad and we actually found some relatively cheap parking. Come Sunday we were kicking ourselves for not taking advantage of that day. (Don’t forget, this was Labor Day weekend approaching us). A little hungry, we popped into Black Magic at Folly where I got a delicious mocha frappe and Jonah got a smoothie- both of which were the perfect treat to cool us off and hold us over until dinner time. We walked the pier all the way to the end and even walked ankle deep in the water, which was so nice and warm by the way! Definitely not something us New Englander’s are used to, that’s for sure. 

A little tired, we head back to our Airbnb and soak up this little bubble of air conditioning and take a nap. Because even the best of adventurers need a nap! On our way back, we came upon the farmer’s market (of course) and grabbed some local goodies for some hors d’oeuvre’s at this little orange table behind our tiny home. Once we woke up from our nap we would have a snack from the market, a drink, and then shower up for dinner. That’s pretty much the structure of most of our days; breakfast followed by adventures in the morning, find lunch, come back and hang out/nap/shower, then get ready for the nighttime. We had this delicious honey braided bread, cucumbers, blueberries, and some other goodies too. 

The first place we went to dinner was the Bay Street Biergarten in Charleston. Oh my word, this was amazing. The best part? No seafood on the menu! It was a beautiful place and even more beautiful since it had parking! Afterwards we kind of just perused downtown and enjoyed the scenery with lights all aglow. There was a lot of people out and about but it never really felt crowded to me the way that places like Boston or NYC sometimes do. And everyone looked NICE. I mean, really nice… I felt like I was walking through a Pinterest search of “outfit ideas”. Girls and guys alike were all dressed so beautifully. This city just oozes style and class. We jumped in the bug and headed back for some rest before the insane amount of walking we were about to put ourselves through our second day.

The second day we focused solely on Downtown Charleston itself. We quickly learned that there is no such thing as free parking in Charleston! But we did find public parking garages sprinkled around the city that charged more than reasonable parking fees. If there’s ONE bit of travel advice I can give, it's to download the app City Maps to Go! I got this before going on my study abroad to Central Europe and I’m so glad I did. You download a map of any given city, save sites and places that you want to go to, and it will be there all without an internet connection. Not only that, but it’ll show right where your location is on the map and move as you move, so you’re never really “lost”. 


Bakehouse was our first stop because caffeine. Sadly, they were all out of their baked goods so we would have to get good southern brunch later. And let me tell you, these people take Brunch very seriously! We took our iced coffees and started on our self guided tour around the city. Coming up quickly was Waterfront Park, where you must go to see the infamous Pineapple fountain. There were a few fountains actually, and one that kids had loved running through… Not going to lie, it seemed pretty tempting with the humidity. (Going south at the end of the summer was not our best choice in hindsight, but it was all good nonetheless!) 


Strolling along, we were thoroughly enjoying the structures and architecture all around us. There was just a certain finesse about everything from the buildings, to the food, to the people. Not one detail went overlooked anywhere we went! This was especially true of Rainbow Row, a series of buildings that were all pastel colored and beautiful. We kept going down the quaint city streets and didn’t stop until we hit The Battery. So much history had happened on the land we were treading on without a care. By this point we were amongst a multitude of mansions and ocean views. We started heading back up into town since we were really getting hungry now. We walked all the way up to Toast! where I ordered my FIRST EVER mimosa. I don’t know why we don’t have champagne in the morning more often! This was such a treat and the food was even better. Since we were all fueled up and ready to go again, we started making our way to the bug so we could go tour another plantation. On our way back to the parking garage, we stopped inside one of the biggest attractions, the Old City Market. I think one of the next biggest pieces of advice I could give is one I learned from my Grammy: “Bring a piece of artwork home with you”. I found a few great things to bring home but my artwork was a mini sweet grass basket. This hand woven art form was brought by the tribe the enslaved people were part of when they were forced to come and work. They passed down this tradition to their grandchildren and so on, and now they sell their hand woven baskets and other decoration, to this day. Naturally, I had to get one, along with a fantastic homemade moisturizer from Old Whaling Co. I got to speak with the young woman who I assume owns the company, and told her how I heard of her products in the store I work in back home. She loved hearing how her hardwork was reaching up the East Coast! Go small business!!


Once my pockets were empty and we made it back to the bug we headed for Magnolia plantation. I’m not going to lie, the views were beautiful, although I can think of a few other things I would have rather seen and done. Like stuff my face with cupcakes from Sugar. Sadly we didn’t make it to Sugar bakery since we were too busy going every where else… Now I just have another reason to go back! 


After Magnolia we assumed our afternoon routine of homemade appetizers and enjoying some rest and relaxation in the camper before dinner. Our second night we went to get some pizza. Being that we have grown up with New Haven pizza, it’s hard to find quality pizza outside of our area. Monza lived up to our expectations and then exceeded them! We sat outdoors on a back patio covered in ivy where we ordered a margherita pizza. I can still taste how amazing that pizza was. Delicious. 

This part of Charleston was alive with nightlife and college kids that just came flooding back in from their summer breaks. If you want to get in somewhere you almost always need a reservation. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long for Monza. We still wanted dessert so we walked maybe one block over to this cupcake shop, where we released our inner child and floated home on a sugar high! 

Third day, I was totally fangirling. We took our adventures East of Charleston in Mount Pleasant, where you can find Boone Hall Plantation. Where are my Notebook fans at? This plantation was the stage for Ally’s parents’ summer home. You know, where Ryan Gosling crashes into the gates and stares longingly at the empty home when she left? That one. This plantation was totally worth the time we had spent there. I am getting ahead of myself though (can you blame me?). We went to Boone AFTER starting our morning at Patriot’s Point, soaking in the grandeur of the USS Yorktown museum. This retired Naval Air craft carrier was transformed into a living museum. I’d be lying if I didn’t have a tear of pride and patriotism when I saw the giant sign reading, “I pledge allegiance”. Hands down a great experience, and seeing the Vietnam exhibit was equally intriguing. 


In order to get over to Mount Pleasant, we had to cross over the humongous Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. This incredible cable-stayed bridge is a sight to see in and of itself! And to think it was only opened 13 years ago in 2005. It brought us over to the plantation and museum that really took up most of our third day. In between learning of the two we crossed back over the bridge to get ourselves some seriously good Mexican cuisine. If you go out to eat anywhere in Charleston, make sure you get to Taco Boy! I still can’t get over how amazing their food was. We got seated right away, had ourselves a round of Margaritas, and were served some of the best Mexican we have ever had. Just thinking about it now makes me want to take the next flight back! So glad we stopped there. 


Fast forward through our usual early afternoon routine as mentioned before, but this time we got to enjoy a nice conversation with our hosts! They had asked us where we planned on going to dinner that night and suggested barbecue. Now that’s something we hadn’t thought of but made perfect sense! Southern barbecue is out of this world. I thought I knew good barbecue, until we went to South Carolina. Because I’m allergic to seafood I have to call places before I can eat there. What most people don’t know is that Worcestershire Sauce (a main ingredient in barbecue sauces) has anchovies in it! After a few phone calls, we finally found a place that would serve me. In the same area as Monza, we went to Smoke BBQ. I cannot say enough nice things about this restaurant. Their server, Chad, went through every last detail with the chef to make sure I could enjoy their cooking without worrying about having an allergy attack. I have never gone to a restaurant where someone invests that much time into making sure my food is okay. I felt so relieved and right at home here. The food was (once again) ah-mazing. Jonah tried collard greens for the first time and was loving them! My mouth is watering imaging all of the goodness that they presented before me that night. 

No good meal goes without dessert. We walked a few blocks down to Peace Pie which had the most unique desserts! Everything was an ice cream sandwich, but with a twist: the “cookies” were pie crust, then the filling was ice cream and pie filling. I had the Pecan Pie and Jonah got the Key Lime. I wish they would open one up near us, it was so good and so one-of-a-kind.

Saddened at having only 24 hours left ahead of us in this awesome city, we made the most of our time. Most things are closed on Sunday’s down there, which is something to keep in mind. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do! So we dressed up nice and got our butts to church like the rest of the people were. We went to the First ever Baptist Church there was in Charleston. The building itself was beautiful and the people sitting in the pews around us, as well as the pastor were so incredibly kind and welcoming. They struck up a conversation like we were their long lost friends, and prayed for safe travels back the next morning. The service itself was great, as they wove in new worship music with their older traditions. The sermon was also super pleasant and insightful. What was funny about the church was when we were leaving out of the great white columns in the front, there was a plaque that said the original founders of the church were from Kittery, Maine (just south of where Jonah lived and went to college!) Small world! 

We walked hand in hand through the city streets until we found ourselves a nice brunch spot. We sat out on the patio of Kitchen 208 where it seemed everyone brought their pups along with them! At that point we ere really missing our little fur babe at home and were actually starting to look forward to coming back. Another mimosa and two plates of good southern cookin’ later, we roamed the city one last time before heading to the camper and packing up. We had a 3:00am wake up time to catch our 6:00am flight, afterall! Thankfully where we were staying wasn’t even ten minutes from Charleston International.

We tried going back to Folly that afternoon and yikes. There’s only one major roadway taking you to the beach and we must have sat through an hour of inching traffic. Not only that, but there was zero parking and when we did find a spot it costed $15-$20. We figured we came all that way and waited all that time, so we took the next parking spot we could find and set out for the beach. Together we laid out the extra large towel we got from this super neat shop on wheels called Urban Izzy. It was the neatest thing! You just walked right up and there were little racks of super cute tees and shelves of hats and other accessories! First food trucks, now a shopping truck. What else are people going to come up with?

The water was so warm and inviting but so was the undertow. People got a whistle blown at them if they went anywehre past their knees. After some reading time on our new beach blanket we needed to cool off. We walked a little ways up the beach together with our toes just getting hit by the waves, but we were ready for something a little more refreshing. Having spent a nice two hours in the sand we packed up and head out for Rita’s right across from the beach. I ordered a Pina Colada and Jonah ordered some other signature drink that escapes me. Both were marvelous,  and we would have loved to stay and eat had we had more time. We had dinner plans!

That night we went back to good old reliable, Bay Street Biergarten to meet with some friends for dinner. Jonah grew up with them here in CT, but a few years back one of his friends had moved down to be a firefighter just an hour north of Charleston. He was so happy to get to see his buddy before we left.

We had every intention of going back to Folly to watch the sunset but the last four days had finally caught up with us. We squeezed so much into our time there, even our hosts were impressed!

Morning came and smacked us upside the head. It’s a good thing we left when we did because I was so exhausted I couldn’t feel sad about leaving. Not to mention I had to get home for work at 3:00pm. I know, I’m crazy. When you’re young you can do these things. I nearly had a heart attack though when our plane from Charleston to Philly couldn’t land due to fog. Because we were doing laps around the landing pad for an extra hour, we weren’t able to make it to our connecting flight from Philly to Providence. The women at the counter told us the next flight to providence wasn’t leaving until 4:00pm… but I wasn’t calling out of work! Thankfully they found seats on a flight to Boston at noon. Which meant Jonah’s sister, Kirsten, would have to drive up to Boston now to get us and hurry back. After feeling like we were on an episode of the Amazing Race, we made it home at 2:15, giving me enough time to get in my scrubs, get my puppy kisses in, and head back out the door to work!

Jonah had the best idea in traveling for our birthdays instead of trying to figure out some material item to wrap up and give to each other. These memories and adventures are worth so much more than anything he could have given me. The greatest gift of all is going out and experiencing new things together. Spending time alone and away from the hustle of every day life is so undervalued. Even in your twenties- no, especially in our twenties- when all it feels like you’re doing is working and going to school and working some more, it is so easy to lose yourself and each other in the mix. I’m so thankful to have a partner who was able to recognize how much we need time together (and even more happy he likes to go fun places)! Thank you for the memories and the laughter and the love you share. And for being my personal photographer. I can’t wait to see where we venture to next.


Kelsey SwinburneComment