Charleston, South Carolina is a city rich in history, attracting many Revolutionary War and Civil War enthusiasts. Architectural preservation is also valued in Charleston, and many homes in old Charleston have been passed down within families from their original 18th century owners.
The purpose of my trip was a girl’s day out with three old friends. We chose the Palmetto Carriage Tour and Charleston Harbor Tour to acquaint us with the city. Our host, who knew the area the best, made a reservation for us at Cru, a local restaurant with a well justified reputation that requires lunch patrons to sustain a wait of an hour or more without a reservation. We also enjoyed a bit of shopping at the historic Charleston City Market.
Charleston City Market
If you just have one day in Charleston, choosing what to do can be daunting. While a lot can be accomplished in a day, staying longer allows for a more in depth exploration of the area. The hot, humid summer weather calls for a relaxed pace.
Located on Interstate 26 in the southern part of the state, Charleston is easily accessible for travelers driving the east coast of the United States on Interstate 95. It is also a great stopping off point for beach lovers making their way to the coastal communities of Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, Sullivans Island and the Isle of Palms. In our case, we chose a day mid-week to take a beach break and explore the city.
Palmetto Carriage Tours
Our first stop was the Red Barn where Palmetto Carriage Tours operates at 8 Guinard Street. There are several operators of carriage tours in Charleston. We chose this one because they offer a combination package with Charleston Harbor Tours with an $11 per person savings for purchasing both tours.
Palmetto Carriage Tour’s Big Red Barn
We did not have an advance reservation, but they are encouraged, as the tours do fill up fast. The tours run every 20 minutes from 9 am – 5 pm. Care of the horses and mules who pull the carriages is of primary concern, so by law, the carriages do not run if the temperature is above 98 degrees.
Planning your ride for first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon on a hot summer day will increase the odds that the animals will be cool and rested, and your tour will proceed as scheduled. The heat should not be a concern if you are traveling in other seasons. We waited about an hour for an available tour. This was not a problem, as the Red Barn is located close to the Charleston City Market, so a stroll through the market to see the works of local artisans, especially the weavers of sweetgrass baskets, was interesting and enjoyable.
The Historic Charleston Custom House
Walking past the historic Custom House along the waterfront to the Pineapple Fountain, a cool and refreshing symbol of Charleston’s southern hospitality, was a great way to take in the flavor of this harbor city.
Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park
Back at the Red Barn, we boarded our carriage, complete with a surrey with the fringe on top. Sixteen people shared four benches, four abreast in the open air carriage. With a degree in history, a love of animals and a great sense of humor, our tour guide was the real deal. She not only shared anecdotes of times gone by, but was quite knowledgeable about present day Charleston.
The carriages are strictly regulated, as they share the streets with modern day vehicles. The city is divided into several sections, and each carriage is assigned a section for the tour before taking off. The assignments are random, which is not a problem if you are new to the city.
However, if you are looking to visit a particular section of the city or take a tour with a specific emphasis, taking a walking tour may be more to your liking. Regardless of the tour content, taking a ride in a horse drawn carriage is an exciting adventure, and one that appears to be more rare as time passes.
Lunch at Cru
Charleston is a food town. Good old southern cooking is available, but so is fresh, new, farm to table cuisine. Located at 18 Pinckney Street, just behind the Palmetto Carriage Tours Red Barn is a charming old house off the beaten path with culinary magic happening inside.
A creation of Executive Chef John Zucker, the name inspired me to expand my French. When I searched the name of the restaurant for meaning, I learned that Cru is French for growth. The theme proved consistent when I opened the menu to discover a thank you to eleven local suppliers of fresh, locally grown or prepared products used in the restaurant. One of these purveyors was Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist Monastery where the monks grow oyster mushrooms for this Holy City restaurant. It is no wonder the food tastes divine!
Chinese Chicken Salad at Cru
My choice was the first item on the menu, the Chinese Chicken Salad. I was enticed when I saw this entrée delivered to the next table. I asked our neighbor what she had ordered, and decided I did not need to look any further. The salad was light and refreshing on a hot summer day. The Angus Burger Au Poivre invoked moans and groans from a patron, satisfying a more hearty appetite.
Angus Burger Au Poivre at Cru
The beer list included seven local choices, perfect for the traveling beer lover who wants to try ale along the trail. The wine list was extensive for a lunch menu, with choices of 10 reds and 10 whites from around the world, all sold by the glass or bottle.
The restaurant is small, with tables in what appears to be the original living room and dining room of the house. There is also porch seating, which was full on a hot, humid summer day. This has to be a testament to the quality of the food, if patrons are willing to sit outside on a blistering day to eat.
We sat at the Chef’s table, four bar stools with a view peering into the kitchen. It was a treat to watch the chefs efficiently prepare the plates. The staff was kind and friendly, answering my questions about their preparation, but moving quickly to accommodate the volume of guests waiting to eat.
Sitting at the Chef’s Table at Cru
There was also a community table, able to accommodate a large party of up to 8, but also used to seat smaller parties and singles as needed. I find the community table a great place to eat when traveling, as it can be a great way to share travel tips with fellow tourists or to pick the brains of locals about their city.
After lunch we made our way back to the parking garage, where we moved the car to Charleston Maritime Center, parking for free while we embarked on the 3:30 pm Charleston Harbor Tour.
The Carolina Belle
The Captain on this 90 minute boat tour around Charleston Harbor and the Cooper River pointed out more than 75 landmarks and points of interest from 300 years of history.
Charleston Harbor Tour on the Carolina Belle
Sightseeing all day can be exhausting, but taking this tour after lunch was relaxing and refreshing, allowing our lunch to digest and our bodies to cool down in the harbor breeze. Since we were only in Charleston for a day, this excursion was a perfect overview to acquaint us with the both the history and the present day activities of the port.
I became aware of many sights that are worthy of exploration on another trip. We cruised by Fort Sumter, but this tour did not stop. Fortsumtertours.com is the place to go if you are interested in a more detailed tour of the Fort and its significance in American history.
A 5 pm return to the port meant it was time for us to head back to the beach, but with many amazing chefs and restaurants, and southern hospitality designed to cater to the visitor, I experienced many reasons to return to Charleston.
Thank you, Holy City, for your charm and grace. Thank you for enticing my curiosity with your rich history. Thank you for inspiring me with the creativity of your inhabitants. I shall see you again.