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Nine Things We Learned in Charleston

In case you weren’t following us on in Instagram this past weekend, we had a wildly good time digging into Charleston, South Carolina for our latest AFAR Experience—a series of events with real-live locals, ranging from oyster roasts and talks with Civil War experts to artist lectures and bourbon. (Actually lots of bourbon. We’re still metabolizing the bourbon.) Here, nine things we didn’t know three days ago.

1. The best part of waking up in Charleston is the biscuits.
We kicked things off Friday morning with ham and pimento cheese biscuits from Callie’s Charleston Biscuits. For dessert? Owner Carrie Morey’s just-as-tender-and-flaky shortbreads topped with berries. We washed it all down with some killer bloody Marys from local cocktail spot Edmund’s Oast.

2. Charleston has had the same mayor, Joseph Riley, for 40 dang years.
Ok, 40 as of this December. You don’t stay in office that long without doing something right—namely helping bridge racial divides and rebuilding the city after the devastating Hurricane Hugo.

3. These beautiful trees are named after peppermint candy.
They’re found along many of Charleston’s streets, which we enjoyed by foot most of the weekend, and are in bloom right this second.

4. You can (sorta) time-travel back to the 1800s.
On Friday, we visited the Aiken-Rhett House, a mansion that was built in 1820 and has been fully preserved, not renovated. It is just like stepping back in time. In the backyard, original slave dwellings remain intact. Joseph McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project, an organization that works with property owners to preserve existing slave dwellings, walked us through what life was really like for a slave.

5. There is such thing as ethical taxidermy.
Local artist Becca Barnet, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and owner of Sisal & Tow, has made a business doing it. The artist sources her skins creatively—namely from like-minded folks on messages boards and by collecting road kill—and honors the life of the animal by creating gorgeous installations. Several of us visited her studio and her exhibit at the Redux Contemporary Art Center, which is happening now through the end of the month if you find yourself in town.

6. Haunted jails are less scary when you’re shopping.
We visited one of the most haunted buildings in the country, the Old Charleston Jail—but not for ghost hunting. Erin Connelly, owner of hip boutique The-Commons, rounded up some of the coolest small businesses in the city for a pop-up shopping experience in multiple levels of the jail. From stunning stationary to gorgeous jewelry to expertly tied nautical knots, we browsed and bought some unique souvenirs. Oh, and there were ghost tours, too.

7. If you can shuck two oysters in 30 seconds, you’re a total pro.
On Sunday, we drove down to Bowens Island, picked up some knives, and broke into mounds and mounds of local oysters (washed down with many glasses of Muscadet) with James Beard winner Mike Lata of restaurants FIG and seafood hall The Ordinary. We put him on the spot and dared him to a shucking challenge.

8. Charlestonians know how to make a cocktail (and the booze that goes in it).
Did we mention there was bourbon? Ann Marshall and Scott Blackwell of High Wire Distilling gave us a rundown of their fine whiskeys, and Craig Nelson from hot haunt Proof shook up some cocktails for us at our wrap-up party at Charleston Distilling Co.

9. You can’t heal if you don’t know.
These words of wisdom came from Jonathan Green, one of the most lauded painters in the South, while he was walking us through his Charleston studio. His vibrant works reimagine African-American history by focusing on rice (rather than slavery), which influenced the development of the Lowcountry in profound ways.

Want to come on our next trip?
We’re going to Montréal June 25-29—join us!

Photo by Anthony Zio