We got a head start on our planned 2020 tour of beachy areas we might move to in 2021 by spending a few days of Christmas break in Charleston SC - the first trip there for either of us. Won’t be the last trip there for sure, and Charleston has moved up the leader board of places we may move in 2021. It’s got ocean beaches, southern charm, palm trees, and amazing food. It looks like we could afford to live there too. Not South of Broad, obviously, but rent.com has plenty of options across the bridge in Mt. Pleasant, which puts us closer to the beach anyway.
We stayed about a mile North of Broad at an Embassy Suites that was once the military college The Citadel. That explained why the hotel looked like a castle from the outside. Inside it’s your standard Embassy Suites. Breck was amused that the park next to the hotel featured an impressive 4-story statue of John Calhoun, an evil, racist legislature and outspoken supporter of slavery. He is one of Breck’s least favorite people in US History. Dinner the first night was at The Glass Onion, an unassuming little place in a strip mall a couple of miles outside of downtown. Don’t be fooled by appearances though as the food is fabulous. I had Shrimp & Grits, with an interesting presentation as they added pork gravy and melt-in-your-mouth tender pork roast to the mix. It totally works. The kids both had the fried pork chop. It’s the best pork chop I’ve ever sampled - amazing flavor and incredibly moist and tender.
On Friday we visited the Charleston Museum in the AM and Fort Sumter in the afternoon. The Charleston Museum bills itself as America’s oldest museum. It’s an impressive museum. We spent close to 3 hours there and it felt a little rushed. It provides a very detailed accounting of the history of Charleston, and does not shy away from the role of slavery in the local economy. Getting to Fort Sumter requires a 30 minute ferry ride across the harbor. The Fort itself is smaller than you are probably thinking. Most surprising to me is that it was an active US military installation through the end of WW II. Dinner on Friday night was at Toast, a very solid upscale diner with reasonable prices in the heart of touristville on Meeting Street, just North of Broad. Friday night we played board games in the lobby of the hotel, an experience that was enhanced by the fact that the hotel bar only charges $4 for a draft Sam Adams Oktoberfest or Goose Island IPA.
Slaves badges - exactly what you think they are
On Saturday we started at the Patriot Point, where the US Yorktown now lives. The Yorktown is a very impressive museum, with access to every area of the ship, including climbing down steep ladders into the engine room. We spent 3 hours exploring the ship. Many of the interior rooms are set up as mini-museums to various parts of the US Navy that were involved in the Pacific Theater. I knew the Yorktown was in the Kwajalein neighborhood so I wasn’t surprised by numerous references to Kwaj throughout the museum. I was very surprised to find a photo of the kamikaze attack that injured my grandfather in 1944. The flight deck of the carrier features various historical planes, some like an F-14 not THAT historical.
This plane dropped bombs on Kwajalein 40 years before I lived there
Photo of the kamikaze attack that my grandfather survived
Also at Patriot Point is the destroyer USS Laffey. The interior of the ship is basically a scaled down version of the Yorktown, so you can walk through it pretty quickly as you’ve kind of seen it all already. It does feature a neat simulation where you live through discovering a Russian sub in the neighborhood. The third WW II era ship there is the submarine USS Clamagore. It’s suffering from a lack of love and attention. Walking through the sub takes like 10 minutes because subs are small and all you can do is walk down the center aisle from one end to the other. I can’t imagine living on that thing though.
The 4th attraction here is The Vietnam Experience. It got off to an interesting experience as the manager / maybe owner was explaining how both Vietnam and the US won the war ultimately, because Vietnam was unified and Vietnam is now democratic and capitalistic.
Narrator: Vietnam is not a democracy.
It’s nice to have an actual historian in the family :) There is a small inside museum and a 3 acre recreation of a forward base at Khe Sahn. The entire thing felt like an attempt to sell the Vietnam War as a “good” war like WW II.
Narrator: There are no good wars. There are necessary wars. Vietnam was not necessary.
The Vietnam Experience, minus the actual death and destruction
After all the war history we spent an hour wandering through the Charleston Market, a very busy and crowded upscale flea market with a focus on locally produced goods. The market shares a building with the Confederate Museum. I was torn between my initial reaction of no way in hell am I giving the United Daughters of the Confederacy a $5 entry fee, and the absolute hilarity that could have resulted from my Civil War expert and professional historian son asking questions in the museum. We opted to just skip it.
Dinner Saturday night was across the bridge in Mt. Pleasant at Paige’s Okra Grill. If you are thinking that sounds like a southern food place, you are correct. Pro tip - if you walk into a southern or soul food joint and the crowd is 100% white turn around and leave. The food won’t be good. That was not an issue at Paige’s, with a diverse crowd and amazing food. I had the seafood platter with mac n cheese and hush puppies, because of course I did. Saturday night was more board games and beer at the hotel.
Sunday we went South of Broad, parked, and spent the morning wandering around enjoying the smell of Charleston old money. We also visited the Exchange and Provost Dungeon. It claims to be the 3rd most historic building in America, after Faneuil Hall in Boston and Independence Hall in Philly. I had not been aware that SC was the richest state in the Union from before it was a state until it chose to commit treason and take up arms against the US. Thankfully, everything we saw and heard all weekend also made it very clear that all that wealth was generated on the backs of the enslaved population. It also started raining and Sunday afternoon was a rain out. We had pre-paid tickets to two colonial era homes so we toured the Joseph Manigault House and Heyward - Washington House. Dinner Sunday night was at the Anthony Bourdain recommended Rodney Scott BBQ. That turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The flavor on the ribs was amazing, but they were really chewy. Not at all the tender mouth watering ribs I was expecting. Both kids also had ribs and were not impressed. I made fun of my wife for ordering the catfish sandwich at a nationally renowned BBQ joint but I guess she got the last laugh as she really enjoyed her dinner.
You can smell the old money walking around the neighborhood
I looked up a few on Zillow, $4,000,000 and up generally speaking
I could live here
The bottom line is that we greatly enjoyed our long weekend in Charleston. I think Michelle and I will return this summer and stay over on the Mt. Pleasant side of the bridge to get a feel for the beach vibe, as easy access to a great beach is requirement #1 on our next move. Also on the list is the Outer Banks, VA Beach and Morehead City NC, and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is probably just a dream though. May have to settle for vacationing there. I’m debating if I want to add Savannah to the list. If you have opinions feel free to share them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org