It took a lot more than golf to make Charleston one of America’s “Top Ten” vacation destinations for the past two decades, according to Condé Nast Traveler. In fact, surveys of Charleston area visitors confirm that golf ranks well down the list of reasons why they return to the historic port city year after year.
So why is this a good thing for those of us who love golf? Two reasons, actually.
First, it means that unlike your typical “golf destination,” Charleston offers pristine golf, unrushed and unspoiled by the crowds. But moreover, it means that once you’ve completed your round there is still a smorgasbord of activity awaiting you in the “Top City in the United States” per Condé Nast Traveler ‘s 2011, 2012 and 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards. Travel + Leisure magazine readers took this a step further when they voted Charleston the #1 destination in the US and Canada in 2013. In other words, having one of the world’s most heralded golf courses was not the only reason the 2012 PGA Championship was held in Charleston!
The allure of Charleston has as many facets, but its hallmark is and always has been its rich and carefully preserved history. Whether you are strolling cobblestone streets or clip-clopping along in a horse-drawn carriage, to visit Charleston is to take a trip through a bygone era, where centuries-old mansions, wrought iron-gated gardens and soaring church steeples are more than pictures in a magazine. This is where the United States literally took shape.
At Charles Towne Landing, settled in 1670, you can see not only where, but how, the earliest settlers lived. Or, board the tour boat bound for Fort Sumter, the tiny island fortress near the mouth of Charleston Harbor that was the target of the first shots of the Civil War. Here you’ll learn that the first shots of the “War of Northern Aggression” weren’t fired by Fort Sumter; they were fired at Fort Sumter from nearby Fort Johnson.
Opposite the Charleston peninsula is Patriots Point, home of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the Medal of Honor Museum – one of the most visited attractions in all of South Carolina. Gaze across the river and you’ll spy the South Carolina Aquarium, which brings the water – and its fascinating sea life – indoors for all to see.
Of course, downtown Charleston is more than history. It’s shopping, antiquing and sightseeing worthy of a city many times larger and far less intimate than Charleston. It’s a waterfront stroll along The Battery or a relaxing lunch at one of the countless award-winning restaurants and bistros that dot the peninsula.
Beyond downtown, you’ll find majestic plantations with names like Boone Hall, Magnolia Gardens, Drayton Hall and Middleton Place. Test your angling skills from one of the many charter fishing boats plying inshore and offshore waters year-round. Here, fishing success is all but guaranteed, regardless of the season.
Or do nothing. With resorts and coastal islands offering miles of broad beaches and gentle surf, the comfort of a blanket or lounge chair may be just what’s needed to recharge the batteries and get ready for tomorrow’s round of golf.
When dusk is calling even the most devoted golfers from the 20+ area courses, Charleston is donning its evening attire and throwing open its doors to all who enjoy the best cuisine and entertainment the South has to offer.
If history is the cornerstone of Charleston tourism, then dining is the mortar. In a February 8, 2011 article, The New York Times flatly stated, “Charleston is one of the great eating towns of the American South.” And just three months later, in its May issue, Saveur Magazine wrote, “We’ve always considered Charleston one of the country’s most alluring eating destinations, with an astonishing variety of experiences, from moonlight oyster roasts to candlelight antebellum banquets.”
The list of James Beard Award-winning chefs and “best new” restaurants that call Charleston home isa long one. In fact, the Beard Foundation named chefs from three different downtown eateries Best Chef in the Southeast for three years running, and in 2011, a new addition to Charleston’s culinary lineup was not only named “Best New Restaurant in the South” by Southern Living Magazine but also “Best New Restaurant in America” by Bon Appétit.
From traditional Lowcountry favorites like She Crab Soup, Shrimp and Grits and Fried Green Tomatoes to the most elegant continental cuisine, Charleston offers dining variety sure to sate the most sophisticated palate.
But Charleston is more than candles and white linens. It’s also fresh-shucked oysters at one of many local seafood bars. Or it can be Hoppin’ John and collard greens served up alongside some of the best fried chicken or pork chops you’ve ever eaten. Even noted Food Network personality Alton Brown maintains that one particular roadside diner serves “the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. Ever.”
Regardless of your taste craving, it’s hard to make a bad choice in an area where the competition to be the best is intense. Simply put, Charleston’s reputation for dining excellence is your assurance of a memorable experience.
And after the meal, there is still plenty to do. Nightlife options can span the spectrum, from quiet jazz clubs to more upbeat dance venues. Or simply enjoy a nightcap from the quiet of a rooftop bar or your own private balcony.
It really doesn’t matter what you desire or prefer. You’ll find it in Charleston. But then, what would you expect from a city that has been welcoming guests for more than 300 years?
For more visitor information about the city of Charleston visit www.explorecharleston.com.
For more information on golf in Charleston visit www.golfguidecharleston.com.