Handmade Sweetgrass Baskets at the Charleston City Market in Charleston, South Carolina.
Dawna Moore/age fotostock
Once the center of commerce in Charleston, the City Market is now the heart of tourism. Although its location near the cruise terminal can make it feel like a kitschy open-air market in the Caribbean, the tackiness is part of its charm. Yes, you’ll find Christmas ornaments painted with Rainbow Row and enough cutely packaged pralines to give you a stomachache, but you’ll also see Gullah artisans weaving the finest examples of sweetgrass baskets available. Peak season brings 140 different merchants, and weekends include live music and food vendors. The market’s a requisite stop for any visitor and a one-stop gift shop for loved ones back home.
The "Basket Ladies"
Buying a sweetgrass basket from the “basket ladies” of the Gullah is proof to your friends that you’ve been to the Holy City. Descended from West African slaves sent to the Carolinas during the late 17th century, the Gullah were sought after for their rice planting and basket-making skills because baskets were needed to winnow rice, the dominant crop of the time. Made by hand and using spoon handles, these baskets are intricate coils of marsh grass, pine needles, and palmetto leaves that leave a sweet aroma. These days you can use them to hold everyday objects from casserole dishes to fruit, magazines to books, and jewelry to car keys. They make excellent wedding gifts as well. Find these friendly ladies, such as 8th-generation maker Vicky Hicks in Charleston at the City Market or at the “Four Corners of Law” at Broad and Meeting Streets, and on roadside stands along Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant.
Perfect spot for architecture fans
Lovers of bright colors and architecture will gladly spend time in the historic district of Charleston. Stroll down the cobblestone streets or take a horse-drawn carriage ride to see the stunning mansions and charming community buildings. Don’t miss the City Market when you are in the area.
After you’ve drawn up your shopping list, head to the Charleston City Market (pictured), one of the nation’s oldest public markets. The sprawling four-block retail venue, which dates to 1804, is home to more than 300 vendors as well as a variety of well-known local businesses including Historic Charleston Foundation, Food for the Southern Soul, Caviar and Bananas, Wonder Works, and the Charleston Angler. Take special note of the sweetgrass baskets, an indigenous art form and one of the most recognizable Gullah traditions. Gullah is the Charleston area’s native sea island culture with a distinctive language, cuisine, crafts, music, and legends. Originally made to winnow rice on the plantations, sweetgrass baskets have become sought after souvenirs and are even on display at the Smithsonian Institution. The Charleston City Market is home to more than 50 sweetgrass basket weavers who demonstrate their hand-weaving techniques daily.