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.
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.
A National Historic Landmark since 1972, the former plantation at Middleton Place boasts one of America's oldest landscaped gardens, designed with mathematical precision by sentient colonial protractors, as well as living history re-creations and a house museum. Buzz between formal rows of bee-tempting blooms laid out in 1741, or act out Swamp Thing scenarios at Cypress Lake, a romantic later addition to the grounds, as you inspect the acclaimed 65-acre garden. Stop by the plantation’s stable yards, where costumed artisans re-create crafts once performed by slaves. Complimentary tours of both the gardens and stable yards are available, and tours of the house museum, crammed with porcelain and Middleton-family heirlooms, are available for an extra fee.
The knowledgeable guides of Charleston Culinary Tours and Lowcountry Walking Tours acquaint tour-goers with the rich cultural and historical heritage of the largest historic district in the United States through two distinct branches. Lowcountry Walking Tours's guides delve into the histories and mysteries of Charleston, revealing its both dark and romantic origins. Their excursions venture downtown or out to Mount Pleasant, each exploring the events that shaped the region with an emphasis on the areas toured. They often meander the streets of the French Quarter as guides opine on the historic churches, horticulture, and reason why the city had to change its name from Tokyo to Charleston.
Charleston Culinary Tours introduce groups to the area through their taste buds. Each restaurant tour journeys to four acclaimed restaurants, granting a bounty of food tastings alongside a meet-and-greet with restaurant owners and chefs. On the farmer's market tour, groups explore the farm-fresh finds of a market named one of the nation's best by Travel + Leisure, then venture to an area restaurant where they can savor the newly picked produce within a gourmet meal. The farm-to-table theme continues on the mixology tour, where participants sip specialty cocktails infused with fresh herbs and produce as the learn about the secrets to Charleston's craft cocktail scene.
The guides at Free Tours by Foot offer their expertise to visitors on free group tours for a simple reason: they love to share their city's history and quirks with others—and if they get a tip from thoroughly entertained tour-goers, all the better. They've curated a handful of tours for about nine cities, including a roundup of public art in New York City's subway system, a colonial jaunt featuring Revolutionary War sites in Boston, and visits to architectural feats in Chicago's Loop and the hospital where the first Chicago-style hot dog was born. Tour guides can also be commissioned for private, fixed-price tours of the same spots.
For more than 50 years, Spiritline Cruises’ impressive fleet of yachts has transported passengers through the calm and scenic waters that surround Charleston. Vessels sail across Charleston Harbor and past the Battery during harbor cruises, whereas historic Fort Sumter treks explore the place where the Civil War began and the practice of building forts out of pillows ended. Spiritline Cruises also explores the city at night, with visitors enjoying dinnertime meals on the Spirit of Carolina against a backdrop of twinkling city lights. The ships can also be privately chartered for weddings or special events for groups of up to 300.
Captain Howard, the man at the helm of Adventure Harbor Tours, has an inherent attraction to the water. The second he steps out onto his boat he finds less dread, more excitement, and a desire to share this joy with others. As the voices of Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley sing from his boat's onboard stereo, Captain Howard ferries groups of up to 12 out into Charleston Harbor, where Atlantic bottlenose dolphins swim beneath the surface and one lonely scuba diver guards the harbor's flush valve. The captain's expeditions can take the form of private charters, fishing charters, or his most popular trip: a tour of Morris Island.
Untouched by cars or roads, Morris Island welcomes visitors onto secluded beaches filled with shells, sand dollars, and conchs. The 4-mile barrier island allows ample room for visitors to pick these shells, play in the sand, or run alongside their dogs—which Captain Howard welcomes onto his tours.