October 12, 2020

Baked Goods, Gullah History, And American Art in Charleston

The Battery. Photo by Tablet

This one-day walking and driving tour of Charleston takes you through its historic center but also out of the tourist bubble, to see where real Charlestonians live and play.

To help combat the spread of Covid-19, some venues below may be closed or by appointment or reservation only. Note that masks are required in all venues except when you’re eating.

Things are changing rapidly. We do our best to update openings, closures, and hours. All information published below was correct at the time of writing.
The Harbinger Café. Photo courtesy of Explore Charleston, ExploreCharleston.com

Start the day with outrageously delicious baked goods at The Harbinger Cafe in North-Central Charleston. They’ve got a tight breakfast menu—quiche, toasts, granola, a zingy egg sandwich—and a mountain of inventive treats (think a sriracha-spiced oat bear with peanut butter, strawberry compote, and sunflower-seed brittle.) Sit outside, or get your order to-go and walk 15 minutes’ (or drive 3) to Hampton Park.

McLeod Plantation Historic Site. Film by Sea Island Media, courtesy of Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission

Next stop is a plantation tour. Be sure to book these tours in advance. These are popular in Charleston and across the south, but from most tours a crucial element is missing: a racial injustice reckoning. These architecturally impressive plantations would not exist were it not for the thousands of enslaved people who worked on them. At McLeod Plantation Historic Site (10-20 minutes’ drive), historical interpreters lead 45- to 60-minute guided tours that cover Gullah/Geechee culture, sea island cotton cultivation and processing, and the lives of enslaved people, their transition to freedom, and the indelible legacy of slavery. Among the excellent tour guides is Toby Smith, a Gullah former CIA and Charleston County School District officer, 2018 House of Representatives candidate, and a pastor working on her Master’s of divinity.

Cabin interior, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

At Magnolia Plantation (20-40 minutes’ drive), Joseph McGill—founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, which works to preserve extant slave dwellings and promote education about and address the legacies of slavery—leads the 45-minute From Slavery to Freedom tour. The tour is part of a larger project to preserve five former homes of enslaved people on the Magnolia property—homes that were lived in from the 1850s to the late 1990s.

Architectural rendering of International African American Museum. Image courtesy of International African American Museum in Charleston

The Michelin Corporate Foundation made a significant donation to the construction of the International African American Museum in Charleston, SC., designed to honor the untold stories of the African American journey and opening in 2022.

Okra soup. Photo courtesy of Discover South Carolina

After learning about Gullah/Geechee culture, tuck into Gullah fare for lunch. You’ve got great options in Charleston, including Hannibal’s Kitchen and Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston. Like many restaurants, they may only be doing takeaway. For a picnic, Hannibal’s is near Hampstead Mall Playground (a leafy town square). This cuisine skews carnivore—think oxtail and rice, barbecue ribs, or fried chicken, with sides like okra soup and cornbread.

Leyla. Photo courtesy of Explore Charleston, ExploreCharleston.com

Vegetarians will do better at Lebanese restaurant Leyla in downtown Charleston, which serves delicious mezze (the halloumi with za’atar is not to be missed), ample salads, and kebabs.

The Gibbes Museum of Art. Photo by MCG Photography, courtesy of The Gibbes Museum of Art

Depending on where you ate lunch, drive or walk to Gibbes Museum of Art whose collection of more than 10,000 works spans four centuries of American artwork. Within the handsome Beaux-Arts building are sculptures, paintings, miniature portraits, decorative art objects, works on paper, and interactive and multimedia installations. Past exhibitions include a retrospective of prints by Jacob Lawrence and watercolors of Guianan wildlife by Anna Heyward Taylor.

Commonhouse Aleworks. Photo by Brittany Ballinger Geddis, courtesy of Commonhouse Aleworks

For a post-museum drink, drive 20 minutes to craft brewery Commonhouse Aleworks, or 10 minutes to Graft Wine Shop (currently open for curbside pick-up only). Commonhouse is a popular brewpub in Park Circle, a neighborhood in North Charleston. The ample patio beckons tipplers to stop in for a pint of its bitter, hop-forward IPA Looking East.

Graft Wine Shop. Photo courtesy of Explore Charleston, ExploreCharleston.com

Graft is a wine shop and bar where you can sip one of 20-plus wines by the glass, or choose a bottle to open ($15 corkage). Tasting notes come from the shop’s owners, Femi Oyediran and Miles White and its manager, Kirsten Bhattacharyya, all sommeliers.

If you’re up in Park Circle at Commonhouse, head for dinner around the corner at Evo Pizzeria. Evo sources its products from local suppliers, so the perfectly crispy-chewy Neapolitan-style pie you’re tucking into is not only delicious but sustainable. If you’re enjoying a glass of wine at Graft, dine at Xiao Bao Biscuit (drive 5 minutes or walk 15). The compact menu here spans the Asian continent, from Japanese okonomiyaki to tapioca dumplings, usually eaten in Laos and northern and mid-Thailand with ground pork but made here with local shrimp.

Where to Stay

HarbourView Inn. Photo by Tablet

Harbourview Inn:

Right in the heart of Charleston’s historic district is this 52-room hotel where indeed you can see the harbour from the atrium, the roof terrace, and many of the rooms. The soaring, airy lobby welcomes guests all day, with a spread of snacks, tea and coffee, a wine and cheese happy hour and, nightly, just-baked cookies and milk, all included in the room rate. Within the guest rooms are handsome wooden four-poster beds and armoires. Hotel bikes for adults and kids, perfect for cruising around historic Charleston, are available at no cost.

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Hero image: Michaels Episcopal Church, Charleston. © Jon Arnold Images/hemis.fr