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Southern charm in South Carolina

Sometimes it seems like the 21 century has yet to arrive in Charleston, South Carolina. Sprawling plantation homes and Barbadian houses, little changed since the Civil War, still speckle the cityscape (and surrounding areas).
Drayton Hall, a National Trust historic site in Charleston.
Drayton Hall, a National Trust historic site in Charleston.Charleston Convention & Visitors
/ Source: Special to

Sometimes it seems like the 21st century has yet to arrive in Charleston, South Carolina. Sprawling plantation homes and Barbadian houses, little changed since the Civil War, still speckle the cityscape (and surrounding areas). Horse-drawn carriages compete with Toyotas for space on the cobblestone streets. And though the locals no longer wear hoop skirts and bonnets, ask for directions and you’ll get a response so honeyed and gracious, you’ll feel like you’re conversing with Melly from Gone with the Wind (or Rhett Butler, on one of his good days—the character was famously from Charleston and he returns to its “calm dignity” when he decides to divorce the tempestuous Scarlett). Step into a time machine with the following daylong visit to “Challst’n”.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Tuck into grits with shrimp with blue crab gravy; fried green tomato eggs benedict; a cajun sausage omelet; or one of the other upscale low country specialties at . Named for a favorite dog of the owner, it’s set in a historic 1888 mansion; ask to dine on the expansive front porch. And if you catch a glimpse of a woman in a long, black dress waving from the second floor window, or floating through the dining room, that would be Zoe St. Amand, the resident ghost, who’s been—dare we say it?—immortalized in a TV special and book.

9:30 a.m. - noon: Join a . Led by an in-the-know mother and daughter team, the tour will introduce you to all the hurricanes, fires, pirate visits, slave uprisings, Yankee attacks, and other juicy events that make up the history of this old, old city (founded in 1670). You’ll duck into private gardens, visit a former brothel, visit the French Quarter and St. Philip’s Church, and revel in the sometimes gossipy, always intriguing, tales these two women tell about their home town. The tour ends with ice tea in the guides’ shady garden. 

Morning alternative
Head out of Charleston proper to the . This pre-Revolutionary War plantation house (it actually was barged down the river after the first two plantations burned down) is home to the prominent Drayton family. Included among their ranks: a governor of the State, a member of the First and Second Continental Congress, and important officers in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The family has lived here for ten generations, but they’ve now opened up 10 rooms of the home and the extensive grounds to visitors. The gardens are among the most beautiful in the State, and the furniture here is extraordinary (valued at half a million dollars). In a moving tribute to the people who actually created the wealth here, an exhibit called From Slavery to Freedom takes visitors through the slave cabins on-site and tells the story of the men and women who toiled in the fields and home for over 250 years. Just next door is the Audubon Swamp Garden.

Noon - 2 p.m.: You can’t say you’ve been to Charleston until you’ve tried She-Crab soup, and the best bowls in town can be had at . A genteel collection of three old mansions surrounding a lovely courtyard, it allows you to dine either outdoors or in on such local delights as jambalaya, Cajun-fried okra and spiced boiled shrimp salad.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Now that you’ve seen the outside of Charleston’s genteel homes on the Tea Party Walking tour, head indoors at the . Built in 1818, it’s filled with treasures from tinkling chandeliers, to fine sculptures and paintings. In the course of your tour, you’ll also visit the slave quarters, stables and privies. You’ll undoubtedly have time to compare this house to the slightly younger (1825) , another peek at genteel Southern living.

Afternoon Alternative
Head into the even more distant past with a visit to . A 600-plus acre park, it has at its heart a simalcrum of the tiny settlement early arrivals would have encountered. First tour the Adventure, a re-creation of a 17th century trading vessel, before going to the cluster of houses that represent the 17th century village here. Underground is a museum exploring the history of the area.

6 p.m. - 8 p.m.: For a romantic, gourmet dinner, the choice is . Candle light warms the room, and a mix of expertly prepared local favorites and international dishes tempt on the menu. You’ll find everything from lamb crusted in pecans to Osso Bucco to Bouillabaisse here, and she crab soup too, of course, just so you don’t forget what city you’re in.

8 p.m. - on … Pub hopping and general kicking-back are the main forms of nighttime entertainment here, so head to one of the city’s bars and live music clubs once the sun sets. , set in a 19th century warehouse and all rough woods and ancient bricks, is quite popular. Stick around until the live music starts up at 9:30 or keep moving to the which has been serving up ale and other potent potables, under one name or another, since 1803. It, too, often features live bands in the evenings. For something a bit more chi chi, head to where the martinis flow freely and fine cigars are puffed with abandon.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

Poogan’s Porch, 72 Queen Street, phone 843/577-2337; Brunch is served from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week.

To reserve your place on the Charleston Tea Party Walking Tour, call 843/722-1779. The cost of the tour is $15.

Magnolia Plantation, 3550 Ashley River Road (from Downtown Charleston, take Highway 17 to Highway 61. Take that for approximately 9 miles and then follow the signs to the Plantation from there. It’s well marked.) Phone 800/367-3517 for more information or go to Admission varies by how many of the sites you’ll visit; see the website for details.

82 Queen is at—you guessed it—82 Queen Street, phone 843/723-7591. Lunch is served from 11:30 am to 4 p.m.

Aikin Rhett House, 48 Elizabeth St, phone 843/723-1159. Admission is $8. Open Mon-Sat 10 a.m. -5 p.m.; Sun 2-5 p.m.

Edmondston-Alston House, 21 E. Battery; phone 843/722-7171. Guided tours Tues-Sat 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; Sun 1:30-4:30 p.m.; Mon noon-4:30 p.m.Admission is $10. 

Charles Towne Landing, 1500 Old Towne Rd at S.C. 171, between U.S. 17 and I-126, phone 843/852-4201; Admission $5 adults, $3.75 seniors, $3 children 6-15, free for those with disabilities. Open Daily 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Anson, 12 Anson Street, phone 843/577-0551; Reservations highly recommended.

The Brick, 213 E. Bay Street, phone 843/720-7788.

Blind Tiger Pub, 38 Broad Street, phone 843/577-0088

Club Habana, 1700 Meeting Street, phone843/853-5900

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.