Day 137 (10/15/14): Myrtle Beach, SC | Charleston, SC
Well, Myrtle Beach was not the glamorous destination we had been hoping for, so we left today. We’re not done with South Carolina yet though. The city we were most interested in seeing was Charleston, and that’s where we’re going today! As we approached Charleston, there was a slightly tropical, Tommy Bahama vibe with palm trees dividing the road. Just outside of Charleston was the suburb of Mount Pleasant, SC. The shopping centers looked really nice, so we made a mental note to spend more time exploring the area later.
Next, we crossed the Cooper River by way of the Arthur Ravenel bridge. With a length of 2.5 miles, this is the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America. While driving through Charleston, we noticed quite a few unique restaurants along the way. We also saw a thrift store named “Re-TAIL” with all proceeds going to animals! What an amazing concept! Our campground was just past all the action. This location worked out well because it allowed us to scope things out on the way.
As soon as we had everything situated with the trailer, we headed back to have lunch at one of the cafes we had driven by. We chose to eat at The Glass Onion, which coincidentally turned out to be a Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives restaurant! For our meal, we shared the Frenchaletta sandwich and the “Fish of the Day” Po Boy. The Po Boy was tasty, but the Frenchaletta was outstanding with intense flavor and flaky yet soft bread. Justin also had a Cheerwine for his beverage. The soda tastes like a cross between Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper and is officially Justin’s new favorite drink.
After eating, we wanted to see downtown Charleston. But, first, we took a detour to Folly Beach, a barrier island along South Carolina’s coast. We drove to the end of the road and ended up at Folly Beach County Park. This was the perfect day to be there. The weather was gorgeous, and the beach was practically empty.
When we reached downtown Charleston, we were surprised by the lack of a typical city skyline as there were no skyscrapers or even tall buildings. Most of the structures seemed to be the same height, which we found to be odd. Charleston’s downtown was unlike any other downtown area we had visited for a major city. We figured there had to be a reason for the low city skyline, so we did some research.
Come to find out, the first shots of the Civil War were fired in Charleston, and the city was captured during the war. Despite this, there was minimal property damage, leaving many of the historic buildings and houses intact. In an effort to preserve these structures, Charleston was the first U.S. city to pass a historical preservation ordinance. It is because of this ordinance that downtown Charleston remains such a historic place. As for the low-rise cityscape, we discovered that Charleston has a city height restriction stating that buildings cannot be taller than the church steeples.
The College of Charleston is located in the midst of the downtown area, giving the city a college town feel. The school’s presence was apparent with droves of young adults filling the sidewalks. This section seemed to be mostly residential with numerous historic homes, which probably house the majority of the college students. The nearby King Street appeared to be the primary commercial section and consisted of a variety of both high-end and low-end shops with a few dining venues mixed in.
Not far from King Street is Waterfront Park bordering the water of the Charleston Harbor off the Atlantic Ocean. There’s also Rainbow Row, a section of colorful historic private houses on the west side of East Bay Street facing the harbor. Even though the city of Charleston is a decent size, it has a small town feel due to the charm of the historic buildings remaining in the city.
Day 138 (10/16/14): Charleston, SC | Moncks Corner, SC
To witness more of the South’s captivating charm, we visited Cypress Gardens today in Moncks Corner, SC. The swamp-garden is the location of one of the famous scenes from “The Notebook” where Noah rowed Allie through swan-filled water. Come to find out, the swans were brought in for 5 days to film 2.5 minutes for the film, but the outcome was unforgettable. In addition to “The Notebook,” another movie that was filmed at Cypress Gardens was “The Patriot.”
We paid $10 per person to enter the gardens and quickly decided the entry fee was worth every penny. The payment not only covered our entry, it also included all the exhibits as well as a boat ride. We took full advantage, starting with a ride in a flat-bottomed row boat. The boat ride allowed us to tour the eerie swamp at our own pace. Justin insisted on rowing us the entire way. This was such a romantic gesture, which did not go unappreciated on my part. I was left to relax and truly appreciate the beauty of the bald cypress trees piercing through the wetland as they reached upward toward the sky.
Spanish moss hung hauntingly from the tree branches while lily pads blanketed the reflective water. The black-water swamp appeared to reach hundreds of feet down below the surface. But, we learned that the water was actually only a few feet deep. Upon first glance, the pitch-black water seemed murky, but, with a closer look, it was actually quite clear. The water’s dark tone is caused by the tannins from decomposing leaves and other plants. This feature added to the ethereal beauty of the swamp-garden. The serene boat ride through Cypress Gardens was truly magical. We were practically alone in the swamp and were completely enthralled with the tranquil setting. Words and photographs cannot properly depict the wondrous ambiance of the Gardens as we slowly floated through the mirror-like water.
While in the boat, we saw plenty of turtles but no alligators. After the boat ride, we took the nature trail around the swamp by foot. Towards the end of the path, we finally saw 2 small alligators each of which were only approximately 1-2 feet long. While tiny, we were still excited to spot the alligators, as they were the first ones we had ever seen in the wild. We finished the nature trail and then moved on to the exhibits, the first of which was the alligator exhibit. Here we saw several much larger alligators, but they were behind a fence instead of being out in the open. We also visited the aquarium where we viewed live rattlesnakes among several other snakes, fish, etc. Lastly, we walked through the butterfly exhibit, seeing (you guessed it) butterflies as well as a working beehive. We thoroughly enjoyed everything about the gardens!
Not far from Cypress Gardens was the small town of Summerville. We visited the suburb to determine if it could be a potential home if we decided to live in Charleston. However, we quickly realized that it was too far from the action. The modest Main Street boasted a few cafes and stores but was mostly unremarkable. Surprisingly though, Summerville was apparently the Birth Place of Sweet Tea (according to the sign proudly displayed in the town). As we traveled back to Charleston, we drove through the Historic Ashley River Plantation District and passed by Middleton Place & Magnolia Plantation. We didn’t tour any of the plantations along the route though because we were planning on touring the Boone Plantation the next day.
At this point, we were starving. Justin had worked up an appetite from all the rowing he did at Cypress Gardens (and I had worked up an appetite from watching him). We wanted to try some southern barbecue since South Carolina claims to be the birthplace of barbecue. When we were eating at The Glass Onion yesterday, we saw that the establishment next door was a barbecue restaurant named Swig & Swine (what a great name for a BBQ joint!). We went back and ate there based on the name alone. We shared the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a side of Mac & Cheese and the Brisket Sandwich with a side of Hash & Rice.
There were four different BBQ sauces to choose from – Sweet Red, Vinegar, Mustard and White. We tried a little of each and couldn’t decide which one we liked best. Next we tried some sauce combinations. For all we know, it could be taboo per South Carolina BBQ standards to mix the sauces, but we loved the combo of the Vinegar and White sauces. I think if we each had to choose a favorite sauce, Justin’s favorite was the Vinegar Sauce and mine was the White Sauce. Normally I can’t get enough mustard, so I was surprised that the creamy horseradish-type white sauce was my actual favorite. The barbecued meats on the sandwiches were succulent, but the sauces took their flavors to stratospheric heights!
The sides were also good. You’d think you couldn’t go wrong with mac and cheese, but after the gelatinous version we received in Raleigh, we knew we were taking a risk ordering it again. Our risk was rewarded though at the Swig & Swine with the kind of authentic mac and cheese we had been hoping for in the South. As for the Hash & Rice, we didn’t know what to expect from the ground pork cheek mixture. But, the “hash” was delicious with a somewhat sweet tomato based sauce and a hint of heat that soaked into the rice. With the perfect balance of sweet, savory and spicy, we thoroughly enjoyed the Hash & Rice! We didn’t try the ribs, so we can’t compare them to the amazing ribs we had at Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, MO (best ribs ever!). However, the sandwiches at Swig & Swine may have been the best BBQ sandwiches we’ve ever had!