If your Edisto vacation includes a three-day weekend or an extended week-long stay you might want to consider setting aside time for exploring some of the many attractions found in the greater Charleston area. The city and its surrounding suburbs are steeped in rich history and offer an abundance of cultural and recreational sites to discover. Listed here are several potential options to knock off your Charleston bucket list.
Fort Sumter National Monument
A Fort Sumter National Monument boat tour coupled with a visit to the South Carolina Aquarium presents a great opportunity for a family-friendly day trip. The ferry service for Fort Sumter leaves from Liberty Square Visitor Education Center, and its dock and waiting area is located right next door to the aquarium. Relax and enjoy a leisurely cruise through Charleston Harbor while you learn about the history behind Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate troops fired the first shots of the conflict upon a Union garrison stationed there. The tour takes you to the fort where you can walk through its restored remnants, listen to informative park ranger talks and read interpretive historical markers. There is also a museum and gift shop on site. Check Fort Sumter Tours website for departure times.
The South Carolina Aquarium
Open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., the South Carolina Aquarium provides a chance to educate your children about fascinating marine species and other wildlife as they journey through a range of exhibits featuring more than 5,000 animals. It houses thousands of species native to South Carolina and showcases the diversity of our regional aquatic systems. Their Saltmarsh Aviary overlooking Charleston Harbor contains a 6,000-gallon tank with diamondback terrapins, burrfish and more to awe the kids. Your little ones will giggle with delight as they experience the Touch Tank, which allows them to touch and feel several species of invertebrates such as hermit crabs, Atlantic stingrays, horseshoe crabs and sea urchins. There are also plenty of hands-on interactive displays for the youth to further enjoy. Tour their Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery hospital to witness the real-life rehabilitation of sick and injured sea turtles.
Online tickets can be purchased in advance for both attractions.
Historic downtown Charleston
You can find fascinating history down seemingly every street and side alley in downtown Charleston, so if it’s your initial foray into the city center and time is limited, it might be best to narrow your focus to a few popular landmarks. Start on East Bay Street with The Charleston City Market, one of the nation’s oldest public markets and a cultural hub of Charleston. It’s open daily except for Christmas, and you can browse and/or buy locally made handcrafts, art, souvenirs and more from the skilled entrepreneurs and vendors who hawk their wares in its stalls. Another memorable experience that’s perfect for a romantic stroll is The Battery, a fortified seawall that once served as a coastal defense artillery battery that fired upon the aforementioned Fort Sumter when the Civil War erupted here in 1861. The picturesque spot, which overlooks Charleston Harbor where the Cooper and Ashley rivers meet, is famous for its preserved antebellum mansions, and affords incredible views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney and the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse. You can also amble through White Point Gardens, a gorgeous public park lined with oyster shell walking paths shaded by stately live oaks dripping in Spanish moss. The center of the park includes a gazebo should you desire to rest and reflect for a spell. On your way to The Battery, which is located at the southernmost tip of the peninsula, stop and admire the pastel-colored collection of historic Georgian houses known colloquially as Rainbow Row, one of Charleston’s most iconic and photogenic sites. This series of bright, aesthetic homes is situated between 79 and 107 East Bay St. For a bonus historical treat, dip off the beaten path near Rainbow Row and venture along lower Tradd Street, which features examples of some of the city’s oldest architecture and exquisitely renovated homes.
Charles Towne Landing
Nestled on a marshy point off the Ashley River in the Charleston suburb of West Ashley at 1500 Old Towne Rd., the 664-acre Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site preserves the original site of the first permanent English settlement in the Carolinas. Founded in 1670 as Charles Towne, the name would later be changed to the Charleston we know today. Open to the public daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Charles Towne Landing introduces visitors to the earliest colonial history of Charleston, and is one of only a handful of original settlement sites that still exist in the U.S.
Part of the South Carolina State Parks system, Charlestowne Landing’s Visitor Center features a 12-room exhibit hall with interactive hands-on exhibits. Ask questions of their knowledgeable staff members and seize the opportunity to take an audio tour on their self-guided history trail. Guests can step aboard and tour the Adventure, Charleston’s only 17th-century replica sailing ship, see cannons fired, or view otters, bears, bison and more at the Animal Forest natural habitat zoo. The grounds also include 80 acres of gardens, with an elegant live oak alley and the beautiful Legare Waring House, which is available for booking weddings and other special occasions.
You can also access their six miles of trails for walking, jogging, biking and exploring. Pets are allowed in all areas except for the Animal Forest. Check their website for ticket prices.
Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Accessed via Highway 61 in West Ashley, Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, separated by only three miles, are two of the most visited historic landmarks in Charleston. Both are open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Through its historic preservation work and interpretive history, the National Historic Landmark Middleton Place tells the narrative of the contributions of the Middleton family and the enslaved Africans and African Americans who lived and labored there. An exhaustive 10-year research project conducted by the Middleton Place Foundation revealed the names and stories of more than 2,800 enslaved individuals owned by the Middleton family from 1738-1865. Guests can view a permanent exhibit and a documentary film that explores the lives, families and contributions of seven generations of enslaved people. Specialized tours provide a glimpse into the daily lives of slaves who toiled in the fields at Middleton Place, and examines their personal and family lives, leisure activities and extraordinary cultural contributions. Middleton Place is also home to American’s oldest landscaped gardens, a project originally envisioned and created by Henry Middleton in 1741 to emulate the grand classic style of Europe and England popular at the time. Subsequent generations made contributions to the gardens as it changed and evolved over time such as Declaration of Independence signer Arthur Middleton, who added the first camelias and planted tea olives and crepe myrtles. The immaculately manicured grounds include the House Museum, a restaurant, an inn, a stable yard and event space for weddings or private parties.
Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry, and the oldest public gardens in America, initially opening its doors to visitors in 1870. Travel + Leisure Magazine selected Magnolia as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Gardens.”
The Zoo and Nature Center offers your kids the chance to see native species including the gray fox, beaver, bobcat and birds of prey and features a reptile house with indigenous lizards, turtles and snakes. Guests can enjoy the Gilliard Garden Center and The Conservatory as well, along with amenities such as The Peacock Café and the gift shop. Additional guided tours include the Plantation House Tour, the Nature Tram and the Nature Boat ride. There are also seasonal guided bird walks, but you must call ahead to check availability.
Magnolia also offers unique and charming wedding venues on site surrounded by live oaks and overlooking the Ashley River.
Visit their websites for admission prices and other tour and package information.