I’ve lived in Charleston, South Carolina for almost 12 years. Being one of the oldest cities in the US, it has experienced many changes and boom times. But I doubt it’s ever experienced the influx of tourists and attention that it has in the last decade. When I could still stomach watching “Chopped” on the Food Network, one year a whole season of that show seemed to feature a different chef from Charleston on every episode. By the end of that season I think the only people left off Chopped was the street meat purveyors and a Subway sandwich tech from the King Street location.
I think you get the point. Charleston exposure is nearing overkill. If there were a magazine for dogs they’d be ranking the “Top Ten Places in Charleston to take a Crap.” I’m glad that my city is popular and that people are willing to come here and spend their money. I really am. The traffic is decidedly more horrible, but progress comes with a price.
Being a “local” in a popular tourist destination puts you in a precarious position. On the one hand, you want to share your home and what you love about it with people who are interested. On the other, you want to be able to go to your favorite joints without waiting in line behind giant men in tank tops who saw the place on Rachel Ray.
I pretended to be a tourist for a day to see what it was like. I guess you could call this a “Local acting like a tourist’s guide to Charleston.”
First, there is a lot to do here. I’m not trying to cover it all. The thing about the “locals vs. tourist” distinction is that it’s mostly BS. I’ve done most of the things here that tourists do. Why wouldn’t I? They are the best things to do. I’m not going to eat at Bubba Gump’s or take a carriage ride, but everything else I’ve pretty much done. Because of this, my “tourist” options were kind of limited.
One thing I had never done was go to Fort Sumter. First, I had to learn how to pronounce it. See, if you have a certain type of Southern in you, you want to put “P” into words where it doesn’t belong. For instance, Clemson is pronounced “Clem-p-son.” Sumter is pronounced “Sum-p-ter.” This is why I got no Google results for “Fort Sumpter.” Did you mean Fort Sumter? Yeah.
The Charleston Aquarium complex is pretty cool. It’s part wharf, part college, part park, aquarium, museum, and one horrible parking garage. This thing really stunk. It was a Tuesday and I had to go all the way to the 4th level to find one spot. It also took a long time to get out of since there was only one attendant working. I would Uber or walk there the next time.
The Fort Sumter ferry costs adults $19.50 and runs three times a day. It takes 30 minutes to get there; you spend an hour on the Fort and then a 30-minute ride back. As you ride the boat, they present information about the surrounding area over a loud speaker. They also tell you not to throw any trash into the water, as they are very interested in stopping the pollution of Charleston Harbor. I guess that’s why they run a diesel ferryboat through it six times a day.
Proof that people will eat anything; they offer refreshments on the boat including hot dogs which I saw many people eat. In the land of excellent food, these people are eating a boat hot dog. I mean Bubba Gump’s is always packed so why am I surprised?
As you can see in the pictures I took, it was an absolutely stunning day. We have a lot of those in the fall. 34,000 artillery shells pummeled the fort during the Civil War (that’s 7 million tons) so all that is left is the surrounding lower wall. It used to stand three stories taller than that. There’s a museum and a gift shop where you can buy all your Fort Sumter mugs and commemorative throw pillows.
My favorite part of the museum was the portrait of General Sumter. As you can see, I was wondering why the portraitist didn’t fix the dear General’s cross-eye. He looks like Wrong-way Peachfuzz from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
A close second to ole Peachfuzz was a woman filming inside the museum. She was filming a large picture of Fort Sumter, which, if she had bothered to venture outside, she could have filmed in person.
The entire trip took two and a half hours and it was thoroughly enjoyable. I can see the appeal of doing that tour and then spending a few hours in the aquarium. On the ride back, a couple behind me said, “Well, now we know why they call it ‘the Battery.’” I guess they thought that was where they made Duracells. If that’s all the info they got out of the Fort Sumter tour, I’d say they wasted their money. Otherwise, it was a pretty good deal.
This is a tough section to write. New restaurants open here every day and what is “in” changes with every episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. “The Tattooed Moose” was, I think, the first place here to be featured on that show. Eating there one day, I asked a waitress how busy it had gotten after the show aired. She said, “Incredibly. It’s been terrible.” Complaining about good business? Shut up.
To write this, I went to Cypress. I always had a bad opinion of this place for no particular reason. I had never eaten there; it just seemed to me like another one of the many overpriced, over-thought popular restaurants. This was a very wrong opinion, but it shows you how fragile a restaurant’s reputation can be. I never ate there and I had an opinion of it. Or, maybe I’m just an ass?
Cypress is definitely one of the higher-end restaurants in the city. It’s not overpriced, just expensive. They do have a nice bar and lounge area upstairs that is first come first serve and has its own menu. You can order from the full menu or the bar menu which has things like a burger and the Chef’s take on a lamb gyro. I think my tab was around $50, but most of that was too many beers.
A nice thing about Charleston is that the competition for the higher-end food dollar is pretty strong. If you look, you can find good deals on really good food. The bar at Cypress is certainly one of these options. I ordered the grilled oysters off the main menu and the lamb gyro off the bar menu. Both were off the charts good and I will certainly be back now that I know about the bar option. They have a lot of tables in the lounge area, so this would be viable for a group of people too.
I think that was a pretty solid Charleston day. If you added the aquarium, a walk through the Market or down King street, a trip to Brown Dog Deli on Broad Street for lunch and a sunset at Waterfront park or a rooftop bar, I’d say you got your money’s worth out of that day. If you have any questions about Charleston, I am happy to answer them in the comments. Just don’t make fun of my accent.