What to See and Do
Charleston's history can be seen every day, by just walking around town. However, you might like to organize your exploration of the rich historical treasures of the city by first stopping at the Visitor Information Center, operated by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. It's found at 375 Meeting Street, in the Charleston Visitor Reception and Transportation Center (853-8000 or 800-868-8118). This center offers all sorts of information on historic walks and tours.
Another place to go for an overview of the city is the City of Charleston's Office of Cultural Affairs, at 133 Church Street (724-4500). This office is particularly useful if you're interested in taking in one of the several music and arts festivals held throughout the year.
Parks and Beaches
In the city of Charleston, Hampton Park offers families a downtown experience, complete with lake, a beautiful rose garden, a concert bandstand with frequent concerts, and jogging trail.
White Point Gardens is found at the southern tip of the peninsula, on the harbor. What was once a fortification for defense of the city from marauding ships (the canon are still here) is now a pleasant place to stroll, or to have a picnic. There's a bandstand here too.
Waterfront Park, near East Bay Street, has a pier for walking and looking at boats in the harbor. Children enjoy water play in the fountains, designed to be more than just a visual treat.
James Island County Park, 8711 Riverland Drive, is also found in Charleston. With more than 600 acres, this park offers a wealth of things to do, including kayaking and pedal-boating on the lagoons, biking, walking on nature trails, getting wet in the SprayPlay area, and fishing off the dock. Picnic areas are available, as well as campsites, and cottages which may be rented. During winter, a rink provides skating. Admission is $1 per person with children under free admitted free. The Splash Zone costs extra. This play area includes water slides, waterfalls, pools -- many places to get wet. And during the semitropical heat of the Charleston summer, it's a great place to be.
Isle of Palms County Park has a fine beach, accessed by 14th Avenue, off the main road connecting the island to Mount Pleasant. It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer; from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through March; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in spring and fall. The park offers parking, showers, changing rooms, and a play area for children. The rental stand has a variety of beach things, including umbrellas, chairs, and float boards. Admission is charged: $4 per car, and $10 for campers.
The Isle of Palms Recreation Department is located at 24-28th Avenue. Here, you'll find baseball and soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, baseball diamonds, and picnic areas with sheltered tables.
Sullivan's Island Park was created from what was once a military site called The Mound, at 1610 Middle Street. This is a great place to take young kids, to play in the fenced-in playground. The park also includes basketball and tennis courts, and a bandstand.
Beachwalker Park is located outside the gates to Kiawah Island Resort, at 1 Beachwalker Drive. The park offers ten miles of wonderful white sand beach, with restrooms, outdoor showers, and lifeguards. Umbrella and chair rentals are available. Admission is $4 per car, or $8 per camper. This is a very popular place, and early arrival is a necessity during the peak season.
Spoleto Festival USA is the centerpiece of the annual festival scene in Charleston. Brought to the city in 1958 by Italian composer Gian Carlo Mennoti, the festival; has developed over the years into a superb congregation of many arts activities, including classical music, opera, jazz, ballet, modern dance, theater, and the visual arts. Hotel and B&B rooms are sold out well before the May festival period. You can purchase ticket packages, as well as tickets to individual events. Much of the success of this festival is the ambiance surrounding the events -- street entertainers, impromptu art galleries and exhibitions, and the obvious joy visitors take in being at the festival. For information on upcoming festival events, write to the festival at P.O. Box 157, Charleston, SC 29402, or call (843) 722-2764 or 800-255-4659.
And if all that wasn't enough, at the same time as the main Spoleto events are happening, there's also Piccolo Spoleto. This companion festival presents regional and local Charleston groups and individual artists, for free or at very low ticket prices. The events are organized by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, and performances range from avant garde theater to classical chamber music, and jazz. Here too are lots of visual art shows. The events are staged in locations around the city, including Hampton Park, where the annual festival finale is held. This is truly a festival for everyone.
The MOJA Arts Festival, also a City of Charleston event, is held each September. It is a joyous celebration of the region's Caribbean and African cultural roots. Each year for 16 days, the community attends dance performances, concerts, art exhibitions, lectures on African-American history and culture, and goes to visual arts exhibits and exhibitions. MOJA is Swahili for "source" or "the beginning."
For more information on these and other festival-type events, contact the Visitor Information Center, at 853-8000 or 800-868-8118.
At various times during the year, tours of historic homes and other buildings are available. These tours are sponsored by several preservation groups. A tour of historic bed and breakfast inns is available from several downtown starting points. For information, contact the visitor center.
The Historic Charleston Foundation sponsors the Festival of Houses and Gardens, for four weeks in March and April. More than 150 homes are available to visit, with different selection each day. Also available during this period are oyster roasts at the historic Drayton Hall Plantation, and the foundation sponsors a lecture and discussion series focusing on gardens. For information, call (843) 723-1623.
The Garden Club of Charleston presents the 71st Annual Walking Tour of Private Houses & Gardens on Saturday, March 18 and Saturday, March 25, 2006, from 2-5 p.m. Tickets are $35 and are available by mail, and at the Visitor Information Center. For information and advanced tickets, go here, or write to The Garden Club of Charleston, PO Box 30272, Charleston, SC 29417-0272. (843) 530-5164
The Ashley Hall House Tour, with a tour to (mostly different) historic houses and gardens, is held on one Saturday in April. This is a tour you take yourself, with a guide map, For information, call (843) 722-4088.
Each December, the Gibbes Museum of Art has its Art Holiday Tour of Homes. This very popular tour provides entree to many of the finest historic homes in Charleston. It's held on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, and early reservations are necessary because of the popularity of the event. For tickets, call (843) 722-2706.
From the Lowcountry Oyster Festival (in February - at Boone Hall Plantation), to the Christmas Parade of Boats in Charleston Harbor, the year is filled with special events that reflect the history and modern lifestyle of the "Low Country" region. The Flowertown Festival is held each April (the prime flower-viewing month), in the little low country town. The fishing fleet is blessed in April, North Charleston's Arts Festival happens in May, and Sullivan's Island celebrates Caroline Day in June.
Summer brings the Classic Horse Show at Seabrook island (July), fish frys (Folly River Float Frenzy & Fish Fry, in August), and Scottish Games at Boone Hall Plantation in September. The Fall Candlelight Tour of Homes and Gardens is offered by the Preservation Society of Charleston, each September, and in October, the Charleston Garden Festival appeals to all interested in botanical delights. Also in October, the Taste of Charleston is held at Boone Hall Plantation. There's hardly a week during the whole year when a special event is not taking place.
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