Whether your Great Loop voyage is close to becoming a reality or seems a far-fetched dream, it doesn’t hurt to learn more about the types of exploits waiting along the way. When planning your cruise, keep in mind that experts recommend being on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW) in the spring. The AICW is 987 miles covering territory from St. Lucie Inlet, FL to Norfolk, VA. And, nestled right in the middle of that leg of the trip is Charleston, SC, a city rich with more than 300 years of culture and living history! The greater Charleston peninsula is home to over 15 marinas making it easy for you to plan a trip by boat to The Holy City.
Charleston is known as such for the more than 400 places of worship in the area. Which marina is best for Loopers? Lively discussions pop up this time of year on our members’ only discussion forum where a question posted asking about the Charleston marinas is bound to get many responses touting the benefits of many of the town’s best marinas.
If you’re tied up at a marina that offers a courtesy car or you decide to take advantage of the 10% discount on Enterprise Rental Cars that is a benefit of AGLCA membership then a great place to immerse yourself in Charleston’s culture is Charles Towne Landing. English settlers established this first permanent European colony in Carolina in 1670 on the Ashley River. Also situated on the same river is the Ashley River Historic District which is an 11-mile stretch on Hwy. 61 in Charleston County. It was once dotted with over 20 plantations but only three remain today—Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place and Drayton Hall. Some of these plantations date back to 1676 and daily tours offer plenty of education about the bygone eras that shaped the area.
Heading back to the Charleston peninsula, some of the other notable historic sites that are an easy walk or pedi-cab ride from downtown marinas include Fort Sumter, Battery Park, Charleston City Market, Dock Street Theatre, and Patriot’s Point. Fort Sumter is where the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. This man-made island is at the entrance to the Charleston Harbor. Tour boats leave for Fort Sumter from near the Charleston Maritime Center or Charleston Harbor Marina or you can dock your own boat at Fort Sumter for free! Battery Park offers views of Ft. Sumter and the Harbor while strolling along historic mansions, oak trees, palmettos, statutes, cannons and cannon balls. It has prominence in several wars. The Charleston City Market was established in 1807 and is the cultural heart of the city. It is one of the nation’s oldest public markets and is home to more than 300 entrepreneurs selling unique retail items, the majority with local influence. Dock Street Theatre labels itself as “America’s 1st Theatre” since it was the first building in America used exclusively for theatrical performances and it is still in use today by theatre companies from around the world. Patriot’s Point is a naval and maritime museum which centers around the World War II aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. It is situated on 350 acres of the Charleston Harbor.
Much of the history and culture in downtown Charleston is steeped in the beautiful mansions, churches and architectural buildings and the most popular way to learn about that history is to take a carriage tour. Tours are fully narrated by knowledgeable tour guides who educate and entertain you about Charleston’s charm. These same types of tours are also available as walking tours and bus tours. There are even boat cruises offering insight about the Charleston Harbor.
Another outdoor excursion while in Charleston, perhaps for a picnic, is Waterfront Park. It is an 8-acre linear park and pier along the Charleston Harbor. What better way to complement a picnic than a visit to the SC Aquarium. It features SC’s native animals and plants from the mountains to the sea and is adjacent to the Charleston Maritime Center, one of the marinas on the Charleston peninsula.
A visit to Charleston would not be complete without diving into the culinary scene that has continually reinvented itself since the 1970s. The Holy City has become a food destination for travelers near and far with its acclaimed restaurants and cultural cuisine. While Charleston offers restaurants to please any palate, it is probably best known for its seafood, upscale/southern and lowcountry/soul offerings. There are countless options to choose from when making dinner reservations but here are a few that highlight these three genres. Hyman’s Seafood is a must on your dining list. It has been voted Best Seafood in the Southeast by Southern Living magazine eight years running and that distinction covers 18 states. The Hyman family originally owned a wholesale dry goods business at that location dating back to the 1800s before changing it into a restaurant in 1986. Fleet Landing Restaurant and Bar is one of the few waterfront dining establishments in Charleston and it offers local, sustainable seafood with an interesting story about its history. Prior to 1940, the property was home to the Cooper River ferry that shuttled folks across the river to Mt. Pleasant and surrounding barrier islands. After being damaged in a hurricane, the US Navy constructed a new building in 1942 to use for off-loading sailors, supplies, general maintenance and re-supplying ships. Hank’s Seafood Restaurant has been voted Best Seafood Restaurant by the locals for 16 years. It is housed in a turn-of-the-century warehouse that was home to Garden & Gun Club, an outlandish disco in the late 1970s.
If upscale/southern is your liking, Magnolia’s can’t be passed over. It ignited a culinary renaissance in the 1990s becoming a forerunner in upscale Southern cuisine. Magnolia’s blends traditional Southern ingredients and cooking techniques to create artful presentations. Virginia’s on King is reminiscent of Southern family gatherings featuring comfort food in familiar regional dishes from old family recipes. Husk Restaurant sticks to ingredients indigenous to the South to create ingredient-driven cuisine so that the menu is dictated by what local purveyors can supply the kitchen on any given day.
In 1982, 82 Queen opened its doors in the Historic French Quarter to offer a restaurant that would highlight a portion of Charleston’s culinary heritage that was being overlooked so their menu featured dishes influenced by the African, French, Caribbean and Anglo-Saxon tastes which permeated the area. 82 Queen’s fusion of these culturally diverse flavors led to the rise of a culinary genre that had been previously undefined – and is now referred to as “Lowcountry Cuisine”. Poogan’s Porch is one of Charleston’s oldest independent culinary establishments. The restaurant was formerly a private residence and when the owners decided to sell the house they left behind a dog named Poogan which led to the name of the restaurant. In 1976, Poogan’s Porch opened in the Victorian home built in 1888 offering a fresh approach to Lowcountry cuisine. Nationally acclaimed Hominy Grill has only been serving its simple, clean fare since 1996 but it has become a landmark combining the traditions of the past with the bounty of land and sea.
The retail therapy available in Charleston should not be neglected as the heart of the city offers world-famous stores as well as plenty of boutiques, specialty shops, jewelry, clothing, antiques and art, most of which are located on and around King St. The greater Charleston area has two malls and one outlet mall offering more familiar stores and deals if that is your preference.
If retail therapy is not your thing but golf is, the area has 19 championship courses one of which is the Kiawah Island Ocean Course. It is a Pete Dye-designed course that sits along 2.5 miles of oceanfront. The course hosted the 2012 PGA Championship and will do so again in 2021. There is also gold within walking distance of Charleston Harbor Marina and St. John’s Yacht Harbor.
Situated on 90 miles of coastline, there are five beaches in the Charleston area that offer their own distinct character and flavor. Kiawah is a 10,000-acre barrier island with more than 10 miles of beach and 30 miles of marsh and riverhead with a resort and private residences. Isle of Palms is a family beach blending locals and visitors in a small community setting that also boasts a marina. Folly Beach is known as “the edge of America” with a laidback vibe for surfers, locals and visitors. Seabrook Island is a 2,200-acre private residential community offering championship golf, horseback riding and Bohicket Marina which is also a short distance from Kiawah Island. Lastly, Sullivan’s Island is a quaint seaside village at the mouth of the Charleston Harbor.
As mentioned earlier, the best time to cruise into Charleston on your Great Loop adventure is in the spring and in addition to all that Charleston extends to its visitors everyday, there are an array of events this time of year as well. The annual Festival of Houses and Gardens is a series of award-winning tours and educational events showcasing Charleston’s distinctive architecture, history, gardens and culture. Proceeds benefit Historic Charleston Foundation's historic preservation initiatives and educational programs. Spoleto Festival USA offers 17 days and nights of performances by renowned artists as well as emerging performers in opera; theater; dance; and chamber, symphonic, choral, and jazz music. Spoleto Festival USA is internationally recognized as America’s premier performing arts festival and is the American counterpart to Festival of Two Worlds held in Spoleto, Italy every year. Focusing primarily on artists of the Southeast region, Piccolo Spoleto is the perfect complement to the international scope of Spoleto Festival USA. Piccolo Spoleto’s traditional program offerings include visual arts exhibits, classical music, jazz, dance, theatre, poetry readings, children’s activities, choral music, ethnic cultural presentations, crafts and film.
In regards to spring sporting events, the Volvo Car Open is held on Daniel Island and it is the largest women’s-only tennis tournament in the world attracting the biggest names in women’s professional tennis. The Cooper River Bridge Run is a 10K walk and run across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge which is one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in North America. It attracts over 40,000 participants and is the third largest in the US.
It is impossible to capture all that Charleston has to offer but this should entice you to get busy planning your Looping cruise because there are plenty of other stops all along the Great Loop that can offer similar unforgettable experiences and we’ll feature some of those in other issues. Until next time, dream big and enjoy the journey wherever it may lead!