Charleston is an absolutely charming town, steeped in history and surrounded in a thousand different stories from the last 400+ years. I’ve never been somewhere with so much history on every single corner and after only one day I was convinced that South Carolina was where I needed to live out my life.
Then we saw an alligator coming out of the drain on our way home from dinner and I wasn’t so sure South Carolina was for me.
Kiawah Island is located about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston and, if I were to describe it, it’s like the Hamptons of South Carolina without all the hoity toity. There’s a lot of money in and around the entire area and you can tell, not by the attitudes of the people (so kind!), but by the pride everyone has in their city and the personal investments they’ve made in surrounding areas in regards to vacation and second homes. We did A LOT in the four short days we were in town, even spreading everything out over a week would be too much, just give me a beach and a place to sleep and I’m happy. It’s an amazing place for family reunions or get-togethers. I want to get remarried on the lawn at Magnolia Plantation and bathe in hot pralines. I’m already looking forward to planning a girls’ trip to the same area in the coming year. It was just so serene, relaxing and welcoming.
Southern charm is no joke, and you’ll find plenty of it in these things to do in Charleston and the surrounding areas. Click through to get an idea of what’s available and see if it’s somewhere you’d like to add to your ‘to visit’ list (or perhaps your ‘to visit again’ list.)
Four Days in Charleston and Kiawah Island 1 of 19
We had a packed schedule during our four days. Feel free to use this as a guide for what you'd like to include (or not) in your own Charleston/Kiawah Island getaway.
The House We Stayed In 2 of 19
I was a guest of Wyndham Vacation Rentals while in South Carolina and this is the house we stayed in. It's privately owned but managed as a rental by Wyndham AND YOU GUYS. It was amazing, with all the comforts of (a really fancy) home, including a kitchen, washer & dryer, a private pool, private bedrooms and bathrooms for everyone and 24/7 access to a property manager. Properties also have many optional hotel conveniences, such as housekeeping, grocery delivery, bike rental, and private chefs just to name a few.
If you were to rent this house with several other families (it slept upwards of 12), the cost is significantly less than several separate hotel rooms. We were all actually really excited to go home each night and wished we could have spent even more time at the home.
Wyndham has over 100,000 vacation rental properties in over 600 locations worldwide. There really isn't a nicer way to travel with a group.
In-Room Massages 3 of 19
Just to prove the amenities available, upon arrival Wyndham had two local masseuses in the house who treated us to 30 minute massages in our private bedrooms. WHY YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
Just another perk of renting a home through Wyndham, the concierge is more than happy to arrange such indulgent treats before or during your stay.
Kiawah Beach 4 of 19
After our massages, smelling of patchouli and happiness, we took a short drive over to the beach. I was looking forward to riding the bikes, but some of my traveling companions didn't know how to ride, while others were a little spooked after seeing a giant alligator swim past in the lagoon behind the house earlier in the day.
The beach was beautiful. There isn't much a beach can't cure. I could have spent an entire day on just this beach, especially if I had my kids with me.
Fat Hen 5 of 19
Have you heard of lowcountry cuisine? I hadn't until visiting South Carolina and in one night my entire culinary existence was changed for the better with a single bowl of She-Crab Soup. Our first dinner was at The Fat Hen, a little place at the side of the road on St. John's island and it was the best restaurant of the trip (as judged by my five traveling companions.) The other places were amazing as well, but the Fat Hen was one of the best meals I have ever had.
The Fat Hen is a must.
Image Credits: Fat Hen
Poogan’s Porch 6 of 19
THEY BROUGHT OUT WARM BISCUITS AND HONEY BUTTER BEFORE WE HAD EVEN SETTLED IN.
That is how you win my heart.
Poogan's Porch, located on a side street in Charleston and named after a beloved dog, is located in a renovated Victorian home with a bit of a spooky past. The food, again, was lowcountry with their own little twist. The South knows how to fry food, it's light and crispy, never heavy and greasy.
Those sweet potato fries? They are now the standard to which I hold every sweet potato fry from here until my death.
South Carolina Aquarium 7 of 19
After lunch at Poogan's we headed to the South Carolina aquarium. The main tank was one of the biggest ones I have ever seen, and to be honest it outdid the aquarium at Atlantis in Nassau. It was the type of aquarium that was so big and deep it caused to your heart to drop for just a moment as you walked up to it.
If you go, be sure to add the Sea Turtle Hospital tour to your ticket.
Sea Turtle Hospital 8 of 19
The work they do at the Sea Turtle Hospital is amazing. We were able to see turtles close to full recovery as well as turtles in critical condition, like Calibogue on the bottom right. He's so sick, he's actually floating. I'm emotionally invested in Calibogue and will be watching his treatment closely through the Sea Turtle Hospital Blog.
That big lady on the top? That's Miss Royal and she's 215 lbs. of diva. Lady will only eat blue crab, as she's a picky turtle.
Seriously, an amazing place for any animal lover in your life.
River Street Sweets Pralines 9 of 19
DEAR SWEET HEAVENS THESE WERE STILL WARM WHEN I SHOVED TWO OF THEM IN MY FACE WITHOUT EVEN THINKING TWICE.
I thought I had had pralines before, THESE, these are pralines.
I walked away from River City Sweets a changed woman. They told me they shipped worldwide, but after having a warm one? I'd rather just ship myself to them and eat them fresh.
Palmetto Carriage 10 of 19
Open air carriage rides are totally a thing in downtown Charleston, and when you visit you'll have several different options when choosing your carriage ride experience. We were booked on Palmetto Carriage, as they keep the health and safety of their animals at the forefront of their business. If it's too hot? They switch out their horses for mules, who are able to work longer in very hot conditions.
Would I suggest it? Totally. The little historical things our driver pointed out to us were fascinating. Even better? Carriage routes are not predetermined - there are 4 different ones and they are assigned at the beginning of each tour by lottery. It's a surprise which tour you'll get each time!
Magnolia’s 11 of 19
Dinner was at Magnolia's in downtown Charleston. It was really too bad I ate so many pralines because this fish was DEEEVINE. Everyone was really happy with what they ordered here. The pecan pie was a highlight.
I will say the decor and ambiance were so-so, especially compared to Poogan's Porch.
Walking Ghost Tour 12 of 19
We were lucky enough to be escorted around downtown by the lovely Lindsay, a Wyndham employee, who also happens to be a licensed tour guide in Charleston. When she explained the lengths she went to in order to become a tour guide? We were in good hands, there wasn't much she didn't know. She told us some spooky ghost stories, including one outside this graveyard. Ghost tours are available from a number of different companies in downtown, and if you're into that type of thing? Give it a shot, but I'll warn you, Charleston has a dark and creepy history full of ghosts and scary stuff.
Peninsula Grill and the $100 Cake 13 of 19
We were told about the $100 coconut cake from The Peninsula Grill at dinner the night before, so we decided to give it try ourselves.
Was it good? Eh, it was okay. My coconut cake is better.
Was it worth $100? When I take into consideration how much work it is to make my coconut cake? Yeah, it's worth it from a labor standpoint (assuming they put the same amount of work into theirs.) Flavor wise? Save your money and go eat more pralines just down the block.
While we only had the cake to go, I will say the restaurant itself was gorgeous. Amazing ambiance, and I hear the food is good too.
Lowcountry Inshore Charters 14 of 19
First thing in the morning we headed down to take a chartered boat ride around Seabrook with Captain Ron of Lowcountry Inshore Charters. Ron is the only charter captain who is truly local to the area, born and raised on the shores he now works on. This was my most favorite activity of the entire four days, and the things we saw and experienced in the hour and a half we were with him could never be replicated anywhere else.
We saw dolphins, shrimp boats, historic homes, an amazing amount of sea birds and we even had the opportunity to pull up a full blue crab trap and catch a shark (!!)
Fat Hen for dinner and charter with Captain Ron. Must do.
Pelican’s Nest 15 of 19
After all of our shark/dolphin/boating adventures, we were all starving. These shrimp barely even had to cross a channel to get to The Pelican's Nest Restaurant on Seabrook Island, and they were the best shrimp I've ever had. You could tell they were special shrimp, and I ate a whole bunch of them.
Oddly enough I ordered a pizza for lunch here (so good!), and I needed a lowcountry break so I could gear myself up for dinner.
Seabrook Equestrian 16 of 19
Hey, so ever since I was a little girl, I've wanted to ride a horse on the beach. Turns out there aren't many places left to do such a thing, but Seabrook Equestrian is one of them. It was very relaxing and quite lovely. It was a bummer that the horses knew the route so well that they would all but give up and turn around at certain points. It was still lovely, and if you have horseback-riding-on-the-beach fantasies, this is a great place to do it.
To really fulfill my fantasy, I'm just going to have to move to South Carolina and own my own horse.
Private Chef, Mark White 17 of 19
We came home after horseback riding to a very handsome private chef making us dinner in our fancy rental home. Chef Mark White of Lowcountry Chef is a professional chef with South Carolina roots and having him cook for us was the most perfect end to a perfect weekend. My traveling companions and I were able to chat over cheese and really talk over dinner, since there was no one else around but us.
Dinner was amazing, I may have had one or three too many pieces of Chef Mark's Key Lime Pie. His She-Crab soup was also worth singing about. If you do ever plan a family reunion or bridal party at a Wyndham rental, bring in Chef Mark for at least one meal, it was a worthwhile indulgence.
Besides, being able to say "My private chef made THE BEST brownies" to your friends back home is very fulfilling.
Magnolia Plantation 18 of 19
One of the three remaining plantations in Charleston, Magnolia Plantation is still owned to this day by Drayton family descendents. I'm still having a hard time comprehending just how old this property is (1676!!), but it is certainly unlike anything I have ever seen. The house tour was crowded and so-so, while the gardens and tram tour were fantastic.
If you can take a guided garden tour, do it. There's so much more to the garden at Magnolia Plantation than what you would see just by simply walking around. Having it look wild and natural is actually a carefully calculated art executed by garden experts.
Also? Alligators. EVERYWHERE.
Virginia’s on King 19 of 19
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy or her Babble Voices site Shutterlovely. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.
Disclosure: Travel expenses were graciously covered by Wyndham Vacation Rentals, all opinions are my own.