When John Drayton broke ground on Drayton Hall in 1738, he had no idea that his estate would survive the American Revolution, the Civil War, an earthquake, and numerous hurricanes. The stories contained in the building?s walls span seven generations of history tied to the Draytons and the Bowens family, an African American family that lived and worked at Drayton Hall before and after emancipation. Since 1974, when Charles and Frank Drayton sold their ancestral home to the National Trust, visitors have been able to transport themselves into the past with more ease than rubbing the beard at the Lincoln Memorial.
The main house, a sweeping example of Georgian Palladian architecture, is the oldest near-original, unrestored colonial home in the United States. Like a helpful ghost, the grand rooms and original fireplaces whisper history into the ears of all visitors, telling tales of British and colonial soldiers who occupied the house during the American Revolution. Views from the portico are filled with drooping trees, spanish moss, and a grand driveway. Surrounding the estate, an undisturbed historic landscape backs up to the Ashley River, and also encompasses A Sacred Place, the oldest African American cemetery in the country still in use.
Captain John Ward Jr. presides over Affinity Charters’ trio of seaworthy vessels, which slice through Charleston Harbor’s surging whitecaps during boat tours, charters, and fishing trips. Ward Jr. holds a 100-ton Masters License from the U.S. Coast Guard, and his overarching goal is to provide guests with experiences that are safe, exciting, and productive.
During fishing trips, Captain Ward Jr. taps his more than 25 years of experience navigating Charleston's aquatic arteries to usher fisherpeople through the nutrient-rich ecosystem. Attendees cast their lines for numerous seasonal species, including sea bass, Spanish mackerel, and the increasingly rare leather boot.
Dolphin-encounters tours put seafarers face-to-bottlenose with an undulating army of slick-skinned mammals splashing through their natural habitat. Alternatively, information-hungry patrons can climb on board for an eco tour, where Captain Ward Jr. imparts facts about the harbor’s ecological ebb and flow, as well as its vibrant panoply of blacktip sharks, barracudas, and mer-senators. The harbor and sunset cruise allows drifting duos to observe the sun’s incandescent descent into a kaleidoscopic loch of rippling reds, oranges, and yellows, which glint off of downtown Charleston.
Eric Lavender is one of very few men in the world who can show up for work each day in a pirate costume and expect to keep his job. The licensed guide and professional storyteller, who has been featured on networks such as the Travel Channel and SCETV, also has an unconventional coworker—Captain Bob, a chatty blue and gold macaw who perches on his arm. Sometimes aided by other guides in pirate and colonial garb, he introduces visitors to lesser-known aspects of Charleston's more than 300-year history on walking tours to National Historic Landmark buildings.
During his signature pirate tour, Eric divulges stories of buccaneer revelry and crimes, such as Blackbeard's harbor blockade, or unveils local spooky legends and pieces of Gullah lore on his ghost and pirate tour. Eric also leads custom walking tours and teaches children about pirate lore and city history through his educational programs. And, on pub tours, guides show visitors to some of the city's historic taverns, where they reveal which colonial musicians got their start at open-mic nights.
Though built only in 2011, the nonprofit Redux Contemporary Art Center’s new 12,000-square-foot facility stays bustling all year, hosting six to eight free exhibitions in two galleries. After taking in the artwork, visitors can attend numerous free events, such as artist talks, film screenings, panels, and concerts. More than 100 classes foster artistic inclinations throughout the year as local qualified instructors help students master disciplines such as painting, drawing, and printmaking.
Redux's galleries stay full thanks in part to its 22 private artist studios, which accommodate emerging and mid-career artists with up to 240 square feet of creative space. Twenty-four-hour studio passes grant access to Redux’s darkroom, print studio, and woodshop. To encourage a sense of community, artists can participate in quarterly critiques, attend visiting-artist lectures, and debate their studio neighbors on artistic controversies such as whether Michelangelo’s David is as good as the earlier one he sculpted from Play-Doh.
When the Charleston Museum was founded in 1773, South Carolina was still a British colony. Today, the museum is itself a historical gem, surviving both the American Revolution and Civil War and acquiring an astounding collection of South Carolinian artifacts along the way. Nine permanent exhibits include the Armory, brimming with antique weaponry, and the Lowcountry History Hall, which chronicles the land's metamorphosis from a tribal society into an agricultural empire, telling the story with early trading goods, slave badges, and pottery. Temporary exhibits change regularly, keeping visitors on their toes in the same way changing cell phone numbers every 24 hours does.
The museum extends its history-preserving mission to two area homes: the 19th-century Joseph Manigault House, once home to a wealthy rice plantation owner, and the Heyward-Washington House, where George Washington once stayed during a weeklong visit to the city. Restored rooms, period pieces, and loudly snoring grandfather clocks await guests during scheduled tours.
To assure fantastic seafaring on Charleston's waterways, Captains Source assembled a team of top-notch captains, each as unique and diverse as the tours they charter. Every captain boasts a U.S. Coast Guard 6-Pack license and is certified by USOBE or Clemson for the specific excursions they lead, assuring expertise piloting the ship and in the field of harbor history, fishing, or wildlife. Captains who are great with kids and families ferry them out onto the bay and estuaries for dolphin sightings and insight into the region's marine life, and harbor history tours reveal Charleston's close connections to the American Revolution and Civil War. Like the captains, the aquatic company's boats are also suited specifically for the tour, including sailboats, yachts, and offshore fishing boats. Wanting to make the glistening waterways available to the public for all occasions, they accommodate charters for business meetings, birthdays, reunions, and searches for runaway sea legs.