CHARLESTON, S.C. — There are some things Bostonians are just not accustomed to: Palm trees, $3 beers and mushy green beans, to name a few. But head to the Lowcountry and you just might find yourself foregoing Maine lobster for some Carolina crab.
Charleston could be considered the Boston of the south. With a rich history, a growing culinary scene and renowned universities, the similarities are clear. Still, the city recently closed down due to a dusting of snow and you’re more likely to hear someone drawl “Park the car, y’all” rather than “Pahk the cah.” But if you consider yourself a die-hard Yankee (not the baseball kind, of course) then Charleston might be your perfect southern getaway.
Historically, Charleston has a lot to offer. Most notably, the first shots of the Civil War were fired in the city, and the bombardment of Fort Sumter took place here as well. Once the largest city in the south, Charleston still holds the title of The Holy City, due to the numerous church steeples that dot the skyline.
Charleston also gives the Boston intellectuals a run for their money. Home to The College of Charleston (the 13th oldest university in the country), Charleston School of Law, Medical University of South Carolina, The Citadel (a military institution) and more, you’ll fit right in with that Harvard sweatshirt â€” even if it’s tied around your shoulders (Charleston’s fashion scene is surprisingly preppy).
The two major areas to check out are downtown and Folly Beach. Old houses and cobblestone streets lie adjacent to King Street, the major shopping destination downtown, boasting mostly high-end shops. But head to the North South Market and you’ll find all kinds of things your wallet will appreciate. Once there, check out the variety of hand-woven baskets, but be prepared to shell out the big bucks. And make time to stop in at the Market Street Winery for five tastings for five dollars, plus a souvenir glass. Afterward, take a walk along the Battery to take in the million dollar waterfront mansions.
Folly Beach is beautiful and the neighborhood is a little bit classier than the typical resort area. Walk the super-long pier, which extends about 1,050 feet into the ocean and which dolphins often swim alongside. The beach is perfect for everyone; college kids, relaxed adults and families each stay in their own little areas. For a bite and some beer, the outdoor, oceanfront Blu bar is paradise on the water.
Now on to the good stuff. Southern cooking takes some getting used to, but the rich flavors, though admittedly unhealthy, are fantastic indulgences. You’ll find shrimp and grits on practically every menu, from upscale to down-home. But the crab is where it’s at. Crab legs, crab balls, deviled crab, fried crab – it’s all here. Head to The Crab Shack on Folly to try them all.
Charleston is also known for great barbecue. At Jim ‘N Nick’s on King St., you’ll find a loaded baked potato smothered with BBQ pulled pork alongside $3 margaritas. A few other southern favorites include pimento cheese, southern style green beans (mushy, salty goodness) and refreshing sweet tea.
If you’re looking for a fancy dinner, Cypress will surely impress. The friendly and accommodating waitstaff sound like culinary experts and the food, such as expertly prepared pork belly and salmon wellington in a silky, to-die-for sauce, is exquisite. And, for an upscale restaurant, the prices dip well below five-star Boston joints.
The nightlife in Charleston doesn’t disappoint either. The Market Street Saloon is the type of place you’d find in Faneuil Hall – scantily clad college girls with hammered frat boys, all watching the Coyote Ugly-type dancers shake it on the bar. Charleston Beer Works is a little more low-key and the Red Sox decor will make you feel right at home. But a walk down King Street and side streets nearby will offer you a wide variety of laid-back Charleston style bars.
For a tourist-y good time, visit the stunning gardens of Magnolia Plantation. The grounds are breathtaking and romantic. You can tour the house itself, and don’t miss the gift shop – they have great souvenirs that far surpass the tacky keychains and t-shirts you’ll find at Folly. If you’re looking to relax, the slow boat tour will guide you around the swamp where you’ll see alligators galore. It’s not the most exciting ride (the average age of tourists on the boat seems to be about 70), but the scenery is beautiful.
So when the Northeast serves up those dreary spring days, head down south to Charleston where the food is indulgent, the beach beckons, and the Yankees are finally far enough away.