A visit to Charleston is a little like stepping onto a movie set. Most of the historical district has been preserved intact and venerable old buildings and horse-drawn carriages are as much part of the urban scene here as cars. The second biggest city in the state of South Carolina, Charleston is the site of two rivers, the Cooper and the Ashley, which flow through on their way to the Atlantic and keep the city mild in summer and winter. The subtropical climate is pleasantly complemented by the laid-back yet sophisticated old-South ambiance. Cap it off with arguably the most well-mannered people in the country, and you have a destination that speaks for itself (politely, of course).
Just donning a pair of comfortable shoes and sightseeing downtown can take up a whole day, because it's easy to be tempted by the many interesting attractions and historic architecture in the area. But if you're the type that likes a specific destination at the top of your itinerary -- and especially if you have kids in tow -- make your way to the South Carolina Aquarium at Charleston Harbor. It's a well-maintained marine museum that also boasts of its very own mountain forest. For a dose of interactive fun, bring your children to the Touch Tank, where they can have hands-on experience with stingrays and horseshoe crabs.
Another place that ought to make your list is the Charleston Tea Plantation, one of the most popular stops for tourists. Sprawling over more than 127 acres, it's the proud home of Classic American Tea, the only tea that's actually grown in the U.S.
It only takes a quick tour around to discern that this charming city also maintains a vibrant shopping scene. There are several large malls at intervals along the city center. And there are the requisite boutiques, art galleries and antique stores in the downtown historic district. But if you want something more than the conventional stores, then Charleston Cooks is worth checking out. It's a retail shop that doubles as a cooking school, of sorts, and offers a wide range of equipment you'll find handy in any modern kitchen, as well as popular demo classes conducted by reputable chefs.
Dining and Nightlife
Most of the city's high-end restaurants are scattered around the historic district. You'll find plenty of seafood here, as well as South Carolina's famous Lowcountry cuisine. Lowcountry menus feature seafood, with notable Caribbean and African influences.
For a truly memorable dining experience, take leave of dry land and hop aboard a SpiritLine Dinner Cruise. They depart from the harbor near the aquarium and feature three- and four-course gourmet meals, as well as dramatic views of the Charleston waterfront. If you're in the mood for something casual and simple, like a garden courtyard perhaps, then 82 Queen should do nicely with its barbeque shrimp and crab cakes.