By Sydni Ellis
Cobblestone-paved streets. Centuries-old lighthouses. Orange-and-red daylilies, roses and abelias. The city of Charleston, South Carolina, is simply charming — especially in the fall. If you are looking for a place where horse-drawn carriage rides still exist and antique lighthouses still stand prominently on the Atlantic coast, then this is it. In Charleston, you’ll have just as much fun exploring secret alleyways as you will touring the famous landmarks and historical parks. You can spend a morning brunching in the park, then go kayaking at the beach before heading back to a historic home that you can actually stay the night in (or the entire week!). And since it’s only about a 16-hour drive from North Texas, you can easily make it there in a day, leaving you more time to enjoy your vacation.
Over 350 years ago, the first English colonists sailed into the Charleston harbor and started the new colony of Carolina at Bull’s Island. In 1861, Confederate troops fired upon Fort Sumter, which marked the beginning of the Civil War. By the 1940s, preservation efforts helped Charleston to adapt their old buildings while keeping their history and beauty. Fast-forward to today, and Charleston is one of the most well preserved architectural and historical cities in the country.
Start your Charleston vacation at Rainbow Row, one of the most famous spots in the city. Thirteen pink, yellow, blue, purple and other brightly colored Georgian homes are lined up along the water on East Bay Street, offering super fun photo opportunities. These houses were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, offering unique snippets of history as well as being pretty to admire.
For more beautiful architecture, visit Chalmers Street —one of eight remaining cobblestone streets in town. You should also walk down Church Street, home of the nation’s first permanent playhouse, Dock Street Theatre, as well as the gorgeous St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Of course, you don’t have to go to main touristy spots to see the architecture. Simply wander around, admiring the city on bike or horse-drawn carriage to discover hidden gems.
Later, check in at one of the many inns in town that charmingly preserve Charleston’s history. For example, the Barksdale House Inn (built in 1778) is located at 27 George Street, with three floors of uniquely decorated rooms. Folklore says that the house’s two front rooms made up the original Post Office, back when Charleston was still known as Charles Town.
Enjoy a more lavish experience at the Wentworth Mansion, voted the number one best hotel in Charleston in 2020 by Travel + Leisure!
This ornate hotel was built in 1886 and now features 21 luxury rooms, decorated with Italian crystal chandeliers, hand-carved marble fireplaces, Tiffany stained glass and world-class customer service that includes evening turndown service with house-made chocolates, afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres and an on-site spa. Each morning, start your day with a full Southern breakfast at Circa 1886, and end your day with a romantic dinner prepared by Executive Chef Marc Collins, who pulls inspiration from the restaurant’s South Carolina roots — preserved rabbit, shrimp ‘n’ rice grits and chocolate souffle are just some of the menu items.
While you’re in the mood for history, be sure to check out Fort Sumter. Hop on a boat from Fort Sumter Tours for a tour of this famous fort and to learn more about its role in the beginning of the Civil War. To further interest history buffs, take a trip around Charleston Harbor (try to spot dolphins swimming nearby!) to admire The Battery, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and Fort Moultre — as well as panoramic views of downtown Charleston.
Next on the itinerary: stroll through Charleston’s beautiful beaches! Visit Sullivan’s Island inside Charleston Harbor to play in the sand and water, go kiteboarding or fishing, do a little shopping, and visit the Charleston Light lighthouse. Or, go to Isle of Palms, just 12 miles from Charleston. Here, you can go golfing, sailing or paddle-boarding, or simply grab an ice cream cone and read a book on the beach.
Don’t forget to try one of Charleston’s famous buttermilk biscuits while you’re here. Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is a Southern staple, where you can get Callie’s award-winning hot biscuits, delicious pimento cheese sandwiches, desserts and frozen products that you can take home with you to enjoy long after you leave Charleston. Grab some to-go and eat them at Hampton Park, a large public park that boasts beautiful fall foliage and pretty roses.
For more fall fun, visit the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens October 10-11 for the 13th Annual Autumn on the Ashley. This arts and crafts fair brings tons of local artists and vendors selling their paintings, wood carvings, textiles, photography, jewelry and more for a day of shopping. Afterward, explore the fall foliage — the gardens here are incredibly beautiful. In October, you can find many fall flowers in bloom, as well as the leaves turning colors all around you. The Magnolia Gardens are actually the last large-scale romantic gardens left in the U.S., which means it is a place of beauty, color and delight that follows no real pattern or balance. It’s wild and magnificent — like something out of a fairytale.
Another place you’ll want to see this fall is the Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens, located in Mt. Pleasant (just eight miles from downtown Charleston). This plantation was founded in 1681 by Major John Boone, whose son had stately live oak trees planted in 1743. After two centuries, the moss-draped branches actually meet overhead forming a stunning natural corridor that you have to see in person to truly appreciate. While you’re here, you can visit the famous pumpkin patch, slightly updated this year to reflect coronavirus safety guidelines. Start the festive fun with the Family Friendly Monster Hayride, where you stay in your vehicle and ride along the hayride trail filled with exciting creatures and Halloween displays. Afterward, go through the corn maze (while social distancing from others) and pick out a pumpkin to carve later. There are also plenty of photo ops and festival food to enjoy.
Want something a bit spookier this fall? You have to book a Ghost Walk tour of Charleston! As you walk through cemeteries, you will hear legends of paranormal sightings and tales of hauntings in the past. During your creepy stroll, don’t be surprised if you see shadows lurking around the corner or smell tobacco burning. It’s all part of the ghostly experience!
There are so many ways to enjoy the cool fall weather in Charleston. From oohing and aahing over intricate architecture and colorful fall foliage, to feeling the salt breeze on your face as your gaze upon history, there is definitely something for everyone in this charming town. The only question is, how will you ever decide what to do first?