Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to this one day in Charleston itinerary! One perpetual topic of debate among travelers in the United States is, “Which Southern city has the most charm?” Some vote for Savannah, Georgia. There are those who plump for Louisville, Kentucky. I’m always ride or die for New Orleans, Louisiana. But for many, a One Day in Charleston Itinerary is the cream of the crop. It’s got so much history. Fort Sumter! Fort Wagner! A historic preservation society that rules the city with an iron fist that would put Margaret Thatcher to shame!
It also has a food scene that grows more amazing by the day. Join me for a One Day in Charleston Itinerary and we will meet some Lego Sharks, get to know corn mush, and be terrified in a public restroom. Follow me!
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Where to Stay?
If you can only stay in an adorable bed and breakfast in one city in America, let it be Charleston. (If you get a second city, add Savannah. And if there’s a third city, try Durham, North Carolina. But I’m getting ahead of myself.) Charleston is definitely a city that knows how to treat a guest right.
And at the Barksdale House Inn, they treat you the rightest. Sleeping in a restored carriage house! Eating a delicious Southern breakfast every morning! Smelling warm cookies outside your door every evening! You won’t regret spending your One Day in Charleston Itinerary here, I promise!
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Charleston is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Morning: South Carolina Aquarium
The South Carolina Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions in Charleston, so it’s a great place to start our one day in Charleston itinerary. Of course most of the visitors are families with children, but as a solo female traveler, I still thoroughly enjoyed my morning here.
Unlike basically everything else in Charleston, the South Carolina Aquarium is relatively new. It was unveiled to the public only in the year 2000. I believe the next-youngest building in Charleston dates to 1833. Now, what sets the South Carolina Aquarium apart from others is its location. This is because it is smack flush with the gorgeous Charleston River.
So even if you hate aquatic creatures, you’ll have something stunning to look at during your time here.
Also, I appreciate the aquarium’s attention to detail. They even have real starfish along the walkways.
On second thought, I’m not sure those are real. But we’re not here to meet metal starfish. We’re here to learn! Allow me to proudly present…
Three Fun Facts: South Carolina Aquarium
1) do they care for animals?
Like most aquariums I’ve encountered, the South Carolina Aquarium is involved in animal rescue and conservation. The Aquarium is home to a sea turtle hospital, aka the Sea Turtle Care Center. The veterinarians at the aquarium take in injured sea turtles. Then they nurture them and feed them chicken soup or whatever sick sea turtles like to eat. When they are well, they swim away into the wild.
I vote for a Finding Nemo movie about Crush the Sea Turtle. He could rest and rejuvenate at the South Carolina Aquarium! I imagine all the proper Southern sea turtles at the Aquarium would find Crush’s laid-back California attitude rather titillating.
2) what’s the scariest animal?
The South Carolina Aquarium is home to a gorgeous/terrifying albino American alligator. There are only 50 in the whole world, and I think it would be a cool project to see them all. I admit I was a little jealous to find an albino alligator in South Carolina. My mom is from Louisiana and I thought we were home to the world’s supply of albino gators. But Charlestonians always need to keep up with the Joneses, even when it comes to albino alligators. Just keep in mind that the albino gator is not a separate species. Rather, it’s a genetic mutation.
Also, apparently there’s a really terrible looking movie called Albino Alligator starring Matt Dillon and Faye Dunaway. I feel like maybe I should watch it for research purposes. But there are some tasks too terrible for me to take on even for my beloved readership.
3) what was your favorite animal?
Before visiting the South Carolina Aquarium, I had no idea the turtle world contained such variety. My two favorites were the box turtle and the gopher turtle. Now, the box turtle resembles a box in ways three. First, it is squarish. Second, it can get all up inside of itself, so its shell is kind of like a box. And finally, like the noble box, it is an endangered species. Please don’t take box turtles from the wild because it can make them sick from stress.
The gopher tortoise is native to the Southeastern United States. It is a threatened species, and I assume that this is because Florida Man likes to feed it to gators or use gopher turtles to knock over 711s. They can also dig ferociously and spend most of their time underground. That is so cute! They’re like the hobbits of turtles.
So remember, just because you know one turtle, doesn’t mean you know them all. #notallturtles
24 Hour Treasure
I’ve been to lots of aquariums, but the South Carolina Aquarium has one truly unique feature. This exhibit is called Bricks Alive, and it consists of 12 different sculptures of animals you might find in an aquarium. My favorite sculpture was this cute little shark. It was rare to get this close to a shark and feel like giggling instead of screaming in horror. Also it was fun hiding behind it while humming the Jaws theme and scaring children. Then I got kicked out of the Aquarium, but it was worth it.
24 Hour Treat
After all that jamming with turtles and harassing children, you’re going to be feeling peckish. That’s why we’re going to get some lunch! The best place close to the Aquarium and Fort Sumter is the East Bay Deli, home to sandwiches approximately the size of a baby albino alligator. I chose the Dixie Darling: roast beef, turkey, cole slaw, and pepper relish. As I’ve established many times on this blog, I can’t resist anything that has pepper jelly or pepper relish in it. It is a truly Southern taste.
Don’t worry, Vegetarian Internet Stranger! The East Bay Deli has plenty of vegetarian options like wraps and salads. Also you can make your own sandwich to order.
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Afternoon: Fort Sumter
On any list of Important Places in US History, Fort Sumter has to be in the top five. It was here, on April 12, 1861, that Confederate General Pierre Gustave Tutant Beauregard led the attack on Fort Sumter, kicking off the Civil War. It is now a historic attraction run by the National Park Service. Because Fort Sumter is on an island, you need to take a ferry to get there. The only authorized company to take tours to Fort Sumter is the prosaically named Fort Sumter tours.
I highly recommend buying your ticket to Fort Sumter in advance online. The 2:30 tour is perfect for this itinerary. Then you’ll have a full hour on the island to learn at least…
Three Facts about Fort Sumter
1) who fought at fort sumter?
The Union and Confederate officers were closer to each other than you might think. After all, most of them had trained together at West Point. In fact, Robert Anderson, who was the Union Commander at Fort Sumter, had been the teacher of PGT Beauregard, the leader of the Confederate forces at Fort Sumter. (Monsieur Beauregard and his fabulous moustaches are pictured above.)
As tensions between North and South rose, Anderson had been sent to command the Union forces in Charleston because he was a Southerner himself, from Kentucky. In fact, Anderson had been a slaveowner himself. So when Americans say that the Civil War pitted brother against brother, we’re talking also about situations like Anderson facing off against his fellow Southerner and former pupil at Fort Sumter.
2) why was fort sumter attacked?
Some of my readers may not be familiar with the history of Fort Sumter, so here’s the short version. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Southern states believed he would attempt to abolish slavery. Lincoln was not even on the ballot in some Southern states. So South Carolina took the occasion to secede from the United States. It was quickly followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. These states joined together to become the Confederate States of America.
But since South Carolina had until recently been part of the United States, there were still Union troops stationed there at Fort Sumter. The Confederate Army, led by Beauregard, demanded that the Union Army leave the fort. When they refused, the Confederates attacked. This attack began the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history.
There is almost nothing that is funny about the Civil War, but I believe I’ve found one humorous tale in all the tragedy. Union Officer Abner Doubleday was the first person to fire a shot in defense of Fort Sumter. But apparently he used the occasion of the battle to fire a shot at a hotel in Charleston that he didn’t like. That is some chutzpah. It must be easier to run a hotel nowadays than it was during the Civil War. The worst hotel owners have to face now is a bad review on Tripadvisor.
3) anything else near fort sumter?
Fort Sumter isn’t the only important fort in the area. Fort Wagner, which no longer is possible to visit, is visible from Fort Sumter. This fort is where the famous assault by the Massachusetts 54th took place. The Massachussetts 54th was the first black regiment in the Union Army. They were led by white officer and abolitionist Robert Gould Shaw.
Shaw and many of his men were killed at the attack on Fort Wagner. However, the 54th was widely acknowledged for its courage, and African-American officer Sergeant Carney was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in battle. (If you’re interested in learning more about the 54th, I highly recommend the film Glory and Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning performance.)
On a lighter note, creeptastic poet extraordinaire Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at nearby Fort Moultrie as a young man. Apparently if you go there, there is a recording of “The Raven” playing constantly in the men’s bathroom. That’s so weird! How do they expect anyone to pee while they’re constantly listening to someone intone “Nevermore!” over a PA system?
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Circa 1886
Even a casual glance at Charleston will tell you that the city is obsessed with antiques, history, ancestry, and basically anything to do with anything archaic and arcane. So what better place to have dinner on our One Day in Charleston Itinerary than in an actual historic home?
That’s why I recommend Circa 1886 for dinner. It actually has a historic date in the name, so you know it’s damn old. You have to go through the historic Wentworth House to get to the restaurant, which is actually located in the Wentworth House Carriage House. I guess rich people’s horses in Charleston lived better than most people back then.
Like many upscale restaurants nowadays, you can choose to order à la carte or the chef’s tasting menu. I always choose a tasting menu because I love eating and I hate making decisions. I regret nothing!
Everything at Circa 1886 features Southern flavors, even the amuse bouche. This pea soup came with a side of green tomato gelée and basil oil. I loved the idea of taking the humble Southern green tomato and using it in an upscale presentation like this. And my meal was just getting started!
24 hour treat: grits
This dish, sous-vide egg with bacon and grits, is another example of taking a Southern country classic and kicking it up that extra notch of class. Eggs, bacon, and grits are the greatest Southern breakfast there is, only ordinarily your eggs wouldn’t be sous-vide. (Sous-vide just means that the ingredient is sealed and cooked in a water bath. This helps you cook an ingredient slowly and gently, which is perfect for eggs.
For non-Southerners, grits are nothing to be scared of. They’re basically just boiled corn. If you’re American you basically already eat corn syrup in everything, so there shouldn’t be any problem here.
The next course was a sort of deconstructed Caesar salad wrap done with rice paper. Rice is an essential part of Carolina cuisine. The marshy land, like rice paddies in Asia, is perfect for growing those grains. Many people have tried to make this connection between the cuisine of the Carolinas and Asian cuisine, but I’d never seen rice paper used like this before.
24 hour treat: carolina rice
And here we have rice prepared a more traditional way: with mushrooms accompanied by salmon and asparagus. This was less thought provoking than some of the other dishes, but there’s nothing to hate about a beautiful piece of fish.
Now that we’ve had rice prepared two ways, it’s time to try our second approach to corn! This was lamb served with black olive polenta. Between the lamb, the pea soup, and the asparagus, this menu was really killing it with the spring flavors. Polenta and grits are kind of similar in that they are both delicious blobs of mushy corn. But polenta is made with yellow corn and grits come from white corn. Also polenta is coarser than the humble grit.
What would a tasting menu be without dessert? And nothing gives a Fancy Lady finish to the evening like a chocolate souffle. Even after five courses, I still found time to polish off this delicate treat, smothered in warm chocolate truffle sauce. I left Circa 1886 feeling as pampered and well-treated as a wealthy Charlestonian’s horse!
That’s a Perfect One Day in Charleston Itinerary!
What would you do with a One Day in Charleston Itinerary? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Charleston right now? Which type of turtle is your soulmate? Have you ever fired a cannon at a hotel that displeased you? Please leave your thoughts below!