Why You Should Go to Charleston This Summer

This being Charleston, summer means heat, history, and plenty of opportunities for drinking.

Why You Should Go to Charleston This Summer

The Holy City may be hot as heck in summer, but cool attractions await.

Photo by Adam Kring on Unsplash

When you visit South Carolina at this time of year, you’ll learn a few things about the South—you’ll understand why, for instance, people seem to move at a slower pace than they do elsewhere. Why, past the cool hours around dawn, you won’t see a lot of locals exerting themselves outside (you, too, may want to consider getting up early before the day heats up). Why dinners are lighter and less saucy than winter’s meals, and why very cold or even frozen drinks become a nearly imperative part of evening rituals. Summer is a good time to understand a lot about Charleston.

Coast through the day and night

Holy Spokes, the local bikeshare program, celebrates its second birthday in Charleston this summer. Bikes make sense on this dead-flat peninsula—a few pushes on the pedals and you can coast for the rest of the block. The energy efficiency of biking and the breeze generated by motion feels cooler than walking, too. The program, with 250 bikes docked around the city, has rolled out a new day pass price of $12. For that cost, you can come and go as you please and breeze from the Four Corners of Law intersection to a RiverDogs baseball game at Joe Riley Stadium and back again. holyspokes.com

Take the rare opportunity to sleep in slave cabins in Charleston.

Take the rare opportunity to sleep in slave cabins in Charleston.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Sleep over and get woke

Joe McGill, a tour guide at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, has a side gig that leads people a bit deeper into the dark side of history than most historic house tours usually go. His organization, The Slave Dwelling Project, seeks to change the narrative about slavery in the United States and give students and visitors a chance to experience one night in a former slave cabin. McGill has hosted groups in these consciousness-raising overnights in dwellings where enslaved people were housed, all over the country. On Friday, July 5, Magnolia Plantation, one of several plantations in the area that include frank and detailed information about slavery in their regular tours, will be the site of one of the Slave Dwelling Project’s sleepovers, the only one in Charleston this summer. Take this incredible chance to join a conversation about a challenging topic with a man whose deep scholarship, humor, and research make him a calm and steady educator. slavedwellingproject.com

Go on a spooky tour

Magnolia Cemetery, an atmospheric and historic stop on the itinerary of many visitors to Charleston, has never been opened to tour groups, so the information you could glean by reading gravestones left a lot of stories untold. Beginning this year, though, the cemetery’s trust has issued a permit to Bulldog Tours to lead tours of the grounds at night—the perfect time to hear ghost stories about some of the graveyard’s 35,000 residents. Bulldog Tours donates a portion of its proceeds back to the very places where it leads tours. It’s not just lip service or a tiny percentage, either: To date, Bulldog has provided $3.7 million in funding to Charleston’s historic sites for preservation and restoration.

Another venue where Bulldog Tours regularly leads ghost tours, the abandoned Old City Jail, is slated to become perhaps even a little more spooky: The city has approved plans for the 200-year-old structure to be converted into office space in the coming months. The building, which was an active jail until the 1930s, could soon be filled by working stiffs. Take a haunted tour at night or a daytime history tour to see it before it’s transformed. bulldogtours.com

The new Bristol backpack from J. Stark can inspire easy beach trips.

The new Bristol backpack from J. Stark can inspire easy beach trips.

Courtesy of J. Stark

Take a little piece of Charleston home
Favorite local maker J. Stark just launched a new line of canvas backpacks in colors that range from standard navy, black, or olive to a cheerful canary-yellow or preppy khaki with a bright pop of orange. The heavy canvas makes it strong, the diminutive size (big enough to hold a laptop, but not so big that your stuff will swim around in there and get lost) makes it a good candidate for your new go-to carryall. J. Stark items are for sale at select boutiques around town as well as at the workshop, 208 Coming St.; starkmade.com

Just Chillin', a painting by Joseph “P-Nut” Johnson, is part of an exhibit that runs through July 13.

Just Chillin’, a painting by Joseph “P-Nut” Johnson, is part of an exhibit that runs through July 13.

Photo courtesy of Dog & Horse Fine Art

Peek into the local art scene
Joseph “P-Nut” Johnson, a Charleston artist who shared some insider tips on his favorite things to do in town, has new work being exhibited through July 13 at Dog and Horse Fine Art. P-Nut’s show, “Spreading Lowcountry Love,” depicts scenes from local life in a uniquely naïve painting style. Poems by the artist, handwritten on lined notebook paper, are also mounted on the gallery walls. dogandhorsefineart.com

Over in the gallery space at the Halsey Institute of Fine Arts, the annual Bizarre Bazaar on July 27, 2019, means you can score some fine art (and some funky art collectibles, as well as posters and books) for prices that range from $5 to $5,000. Artists donate their works and all proceeds from the event go back to the Halsey to support upcoming exhibitions. halsey.cofc.edu

Behold, the Melon Ball at Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails.

Behold, the Melon Ball at Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails.

Photo by Jonathan Boncek, courtesy of Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails

Sip something cool If it’s too hot for booze, or if you need to take a breather during an extended evening of fun, West Side restaurant Purlieu offers a new nonalcoholic refresher, the Paloma Fizz, that cools you off without leaving a buzz. The frosty glass holds just-squeezed pink grapefruit juice, lime, simple syrup, and rosemary; a little sweet, a little tart—it’s the perfect drink if you’re riding a Holy Spokes bike back to the hotel . . .

Over in Mount Pleasant, newcomer Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails is serving a compelling menu of cocktails that invites a cool stopover on the journey back to town from the beach. The Melon Ball, fresh, green, and divine, is especially U-turn-worthy.

Learn the basics of Gullah basket-weaving with a master of the craft, Lynette Youson.

Learn the basics of Gullah basket-weaving with a master of the craft, Lynette Youson.

Courtesy of Andrew Pinckney Inn, a Charlestowne Hotels-managed property.

Stay at a hotel with a very special gift basket
This summer, guests at the Andrew Pinckney Inn can participate in a basket-weaving course in the hotel’s recently renovated rooftop solarium. Lynette Youson—a fifth-generation Gullah weaver whose sweetgrass basketwork is featured in the collection at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art—teaches the classes, which are held once a month or by previous appointment, at no charge to the guest. The inn itself has just undergone a face-lift but there’s no improving on its location, right by the Charleston City Market (which itself holds evening hours on summer weekends). And taking a class in a time-honored art is a great way to better understand the local culture, in summer and beyond.

>>Next: Plan Your Visit With AFAR’s Ultimate Charleston Travel Guide

In these quiet days leading up to her Powerball win, Ann works as a freelance travel editor and writer. A fan of literature, museums, history, high-minded cinema, and bad television, Ann lives in New York with her husband and two teenaged children. She likes road trips, local bars, getting lost, and laughing, so Ireland ranks high on her list of favorite places.
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