Charleston: Sunrises and sunsets, hiking with alligators, and kayaking with dolphins

Charleston has been a beautiful place to live for three months! Our goal in coming here was to enjoy the beach in the off season and spend some time in Charleston's historic downtown. Goal accomplished! We were able to live a block from the ocean, spend quite a bit of time downtown, and find some other added bonuses in the between time. Here are some of the highlights:

Water sports and wildlife

Unlike much of the west coast and northeast where a well defined shore separates the ocean and land. The ocean around Charleston seeps and flows into and around the area creating all types of rivers, tidal creeks, marshes, inlets, black-water swamps, and harbors. Most of the driving in the area is done on bridges and elevated roads. This allows for many ways to enjoy and explore on the water, and beautiful views of the surrounding area.

We bought a second kayak and explored the harbor during low tide. We dragged our yaks down the trail at Palmetto County Park to explore the tidal creeks along the inter-coastal waterway. The amount of diverse birds we saw from storks and egrets to snipes, willets, sanderlings, and oystercatchers was stunning. The dolphins and alligators are
harder to spot, but we've seen more than our fair share of them as well.

County Parks

The two large county parks on either side of Charleton are more than just a place to have a corporate picnic or family reunion. They offer a spot for the locals to retreat to while the beaches are overrun with vacationers. Each has a water park, dog park, and festivals. James Island County Park has an impressive climbing wall, climbing classes, and one of the best dog parks we've ever been to. Just watch out for alligators!

Day Trips

Beaufort and Georgetown were little more than names to me before moving to Charleston. They're now my favorite southern seaside towns. Beaufort is the second oldest city in SC after Charleston, Georgetown is the third. These small laid back cities offer a break from the bustle of Charleston and B.S. of country club areas like Kiawah and Hilton Head. Each is a great place to grab a coffee and walk along the water.

Savannah is also only two hours south of Charleston. We made our first visit a few weeks before Saint Patrick's Day, took a trolly tour, bought some girl scout cookies, and sat near the Forrest Gump bench.

Myrtle Beach is a couple hours north for a completely different brand of fun.

Historic Downtown

Charleston isn't even close to being one of the oldest cities in America, but it's one of the most preserved and historically significant. Unlike other cities that have a historic areas or older buildings mixed with the new, Charleston IS the historic area. North Charleston isn't as historic but most people don't realize North Charleston is actually The City of North Charleston, a different place altogether.

Besides the South Carolina Aquarium, the City Market, and Fort Sumter, Charleston lacks large tourist destinations. It's not a bad thing! Most major cities have aquariums and great markets. The city of Charleston itself is a living museum. Dozens of small points of interest like the Unitarian Cemetery, The Battery, Rainbow Row, Philadelphia Alley, Waterfront Park, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and King St make Charleston a joy just to walk around and explore. Stepping off the small sidewalks and finding your own way into even smaller alleys and winding sidewalks is great when every small point of interest seems to be yelped and mapped. Walking along the harbor and watching dolphins play against a backdrop of Fort Sumter or a sunset is something that can't be done elsewhere.

There are dozen small house museums along Charleston's "Museum Mile" and throughout the city for those who want to see and learn more. We made sure to take an evening ghost tour and visit King St on a second Sunday when it was shut down for dining and music. We found enough to do around the city and on the street without visitinig any of the museums.

Local Eats and Drinks

Charleston is one of the least progressive places we've lived during our travels, but we found more than enough healthy food and delicious brews to keep us happy. It took some work and travel to find out what restaurants were still open and what had gone out of business, but we found some great vegan nachos at Dellz Uptown

Similarly, there are only a handful of breweries but places like Revelry Brewing and Holy City are some of the best in the region. The coffee culture is well developed for a city Charleston's size with Kudu offering craft coffee, beer, and a nice outdoor patio without wifi to nurture a more social environment. Black Tap is small but worth a visit for quality. Even Starbucks, if you insist, is a treat because of the historic locations they occupy (an old bank building, the Francis Marion Hotel, a small white house)

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

The bridge gets a mention all its own. Gracing the background of nearly any and every photo of Charleston, this fairly new construction is both a destination and symbol. We biked the bridge from Mount Pleasant down into Charleston for a drink at the Royal American (Another gem of a bar and music venue that took us a little too long to discover because it's outside of the central downtown). We've biked or walked every bridge we've been able to from the Golden Gate to the Ben Franklin and Brooklyn for their great views and fresh air. The ARJ is no different.

A Short Drive Away

There are a number of plantations and gardens in the Charleston area that offer a diverse experience of history, horticulture, wilderness and tacky fun. We visited both Magnolia Plantation and Cypress Garden, preferring Cypress Garden because of its self-guided boat tour and the monster alligator we nearly stumbled over on a narrow trail miles back into the swamp. Magnolia Plantation had its share of alligators but was a tamer experience. Most were seen from a distance on elevated walkways or guided tram. If there is only time for one and you're  feeling adventurous, Cypress Gardens is the place to go. Besides, it's where they filmed the boat-date scene in The Notebook. Can't beat that.

The Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island isn't much compared to the tree in California, but why compare? Its another kind of tree entirely, a southern oak. Most of its bulk is spread sideways. Many of its branches are bigger than normal tree trunks. It's worth a stop since there aren't too many of these old trees left and with nearby development, this one might not make it too much longer.

Folly Boat is a fun little photo opportunity on the way to Folly Beach or Morris Island Light. This shipwreck is regularly repainted depending on what's going on in town or the whim of the painter.

Some of the best views of Charleston and the sunset can be seen from Mt Pleasant's Pitt Street Bridge to the east. Here, a palm lined land bridge runs along the harbor facing Charleston. Other nearby places worth visiting are Shem Creek Park, a park access entirely by boardwalk or Kayak, and Sullivan's Island. Sullivan's Island is home to Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, Poe's Tavern, and Cafe Medley.

I'll stop here since I'm digressing into a list instead of an update for friends and family. There are better lists elsewhere. We're already planning our next city. Nothing is definite so I'll hold off on the details, but it's looking like an exciting one! More news, soon.