Charleston, South Carolina is one of those places that I’ve been waiting to visit for a very long time.
The food is legendary, the beaches are beautiful, and the town is quaint, or so I’d heard. But for whatever reason, I’d never actually made it to this Atlantic gem. So when the hubby floated the idea of heading out to Charleston during the Great American Eclipse this past August, clearly, I was on board!
We flew into the city on Southwest, using Southwest points earned on a Southwest credit card, and the free companion fare you receive on all flights once you earn the Southwest Companion Pass. That meant that despite visiting the city at one of its busiest periods ever — during the eclipse weekend — our flights were free.
Additionally, thanks to a quick transfer of points earned using the Chase Sapphire Reserve card over to my Hyatt account, we were also able to book a room at the Hyatt Place Historic District Charleston for just 12,000 points per night. That’s despite the regular room rate going through the roof due to Eclipse bookings. At the time we booked, the same category of room we ended up staying in was going for $479 a night, meaning we got to take advantage of a redemption rate of 4 cents per point. That’s more than 3X what I consider an acceptable redemption rate for Hyatt.
Our room was a spacious standard King room, with a standing shower and generous seating area. Being that it was a Hyatt Place, we also received free breakfast each morning and free internet. The staff was helpful and courteous, and the location on Upper King Street made walking to most all the Downtown tourist attractions doable.
After checking in, we headed off immediately to enjoy a happy hour that would serve as our late lunch. Barsa, a tapas bar known for their paella, fit the bill and offered one of the only weekend happy hours offered in the city.
Here we indulged in a pan tomate topped with manchego and serrano ham, as well as pork ribs with spicy citrus mojo, and a grilled octopus salad with romesco, green onion, and new potato. While all were good, the octopus was the real showstopper and could easily rival any tapas offerings from Spain itself.
With a bit of food in our belly, we headed to our next stop, the Palmetto Brewery. Charleston has been experiencing something of a renaissance of craft brewing over the past several years, and there’s no shortage of local beers to experience. At the Palmetto Brewery Tap House, we ordered two flights to share, allowing us to sample eight of their house beers, while enjoying some local live music. My favorite was the “Brassy Blonde.”
After stopping by the brewery, it was time to head to dinner, so we piled into a Lyft and headed over to Butcher & Bee, a Mediterranean-Southern fusion restaurant and deli. Here, we started with a selection of mezzes including the hummus, whipped feta with honey, and spiced carrots. Up next was the perfectly seasoned lamb tartare, and finally our entrees. The hubby got the crispy half chicken with shawarma spices, smoked potatoes, almond-mint chutney, while I devoured the gnocchi with stewed heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto, and parmesan.
The food was all delicious, but the gnocchi was a real standout: they practically dissolved as soon as they touched your mouth, and had great flavor as well. Overall, this ended up being our top dinner in Charleston.
After dinner, we headed to the nearby Edmund’s Oast, where we managed to snag a seat at the bar for a little nightcap. Edmund’s is something of an institution in Charleston, with 13 of their own beers on tap as well as 27 other craft varietals.
The most inventive and unusual beer on tap, however, is their peanut butter & jelly beer. Yes, you read that right. And sure enough: it really does taste like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in beer form.
On Sunday, we awoke early to try to beat both the summer heat and the tourist mobs by crafting our own walking tour of the city before things got too busy. And we did manage to beat the crowds, but in mid-August, there was simply no escaping the oppressive heat and humidity of Charleston, South Carolina. (If we ever return to Charleston, I’d definitely do it in spring or fall, not summer.)
Still, we persevered and beat a path that started at the White Point Gardens, a park located just off Charleston’s historic Battery wall. From there, we were able to spy a pod of dolphins playing in the early morning water, before taking a stroll down Legare Street to admire some Charleston’s historic mansions.
Past Legare, we took a turn that led us down Charleston’s colorful Rainbow Row, a block of row houses painted in cheery pastels. Up next, we headed back to the waterfront to see the famous Pineapple fountain at Waterfront Park (top photo), and concluded our morning with some shopping at the Charleston City Market stalls.
After lots of walking all morning, we’d managed to work up quite an appetite, so we opted to take a load off at the Darling Oyster Bar for some seafood delights. And there could be nothing more delightful than “The Captain”: a $25 Bloody Mary that featured a giant lobster claw, crab leg, pickled shrimp, and hush puppy. It was incredible, and we were already feeling quite full after just our beverage choice, but we also managed to take on a delicious Lobster Roll (me) and a Fried Chicken Biscuit (the hubby) as well.
Once lunch was finished, we fought the urge to head back to the hotel for a nap and instead grabbed a Lyft to the Boone Hall Plantation in nearby Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, instead. One of two large plantations near Charleston that offers tours, Boone Hall offered numerous displays and presentations that made it a great place to spend an afternoon.
In addition to a tour of the plantation house itself, you could also explore former slave quarters and hear a lecture on slave life at the plantation, witness a theatrical presentation on the culture and life of the Gullah people, take a tractor ride around the property to see filming locations from movies like the Notebook, visit the stables, explore the large gardens, or step inside the butterfly preserve.
With so many activities on hand, the Plantation visit was both educational and really interesting. I liked how they didn’t present Southern plantation existence as some idyllic time in history; instead, they were very clear that this was an unjust system that enriched a few at the horrendous expense of the many.
That evening, we once again headed down King Street in order to have dinner at The Macintosh, another gem in Charleston’s farm-to-table food scene that also has a robust bar program. Here, we sampled the heirloom tomato salad and ricotta crespelle with beets and lardons as appetizers. Then, for our main courses, I tried the Macintosh burger while the hubby couldn’t resist the duck breast with curried squash purée, saffron rice, and eggplant.
Again, both entrees were good, though the burger didn’t hold a candle to the excellent one I had in Cork, Ireland earlier this year. After dinner, we joined some friends also in town for the Eclipse at nearby bar The Belmont, a cozy cocktail lounge with tin ceiling tiles and just a handful of tables. There I enjoyed the “I’ve never been to Spain” cocktail, which was like a Manhattan made with Dark Rum instead of Whiskey. I also particularly liked the art in their menu:
Finally, we headed back to our hotel relatively early so we could get a good jump on the eclipse the next day. Stay tuned for part two of my Charleston trip, coming later this week.
Where did you watch the Eclipse? Tell me in the comments.