What Rocks in Charleston, SC?
I know that taking a break and running off on a vacation in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign is probably ill advised…. But hey, sometimes that is how schedules work out. (My wife’s spring break was last week and I wanted some sea shells, so off we went!)
Why Charleston? We had heard it was a good spot to go for a few days and like exploring new places. My wife was eager to see the beach and I was eager to eat some fresh seafood. I’m a total fresh-is-best snob about it, having grown up on Long Island. I rarely partake of the frutta del mar that is shipped here in Ohio. We spent two days in downtown proper and three days on Folly Beach. How was the trip? Sort of a mixed bag… both locations were a lot more touristy than I expected, but there were some cool things to do:
The coffee shop scene in downtown Charleston is pretty strong. We stayed at an airbnb just a house or two down from Black Tap Coffee which had really rich and chocolaty batch brew coffee and excellent pastries. (The Banana Nutella turnover was my favorte)
I really liked a place called Eclectic Cafe and Vinyl, which we found more towards the Medical University area and away from the tourist zone. I would say that most cities I have visited in recent years have had some sort of comb record store coffee shop/bar and they range in quality from “very cool” to “good on you for trying” Eclectic is very cool. The selection of records is small, but quality and easy to browse through despite also being a small restaurant. Like a lot of smaller, newer record stores the stock is mostly new reissue type stuff with whatever used/vintage records they can find mixed in. The food was excellent! My wife and I split an arugula salad with strawberries and a fancy peanut butter sandwich. (I normally don’t order PB sandwiches at restaurants but this thing was AMAZING. House made peanut butter. Granola. Lots of fresh apples. Totally worth it) The guy behind the counter, who I assume was the owner/manager, was super nice and informative. He tipped me off to two other local record shops. (Vinyl Countdown which ended up being closed when we went and Monster Music & Movies, which I talk about more below.)
Later that night we went on a walking ghost tour of downtown Charleston. There are apparently several touring companies that do these in Charleston, but we went with Bulldog tours after getting free tickets after being suckered into sitting through a presentation on “wholesale” travel service packages. (Which is a funny story, but doesn’t fit in with the “what rocks in Charleston” theme.) They have a bunch of tour options and we opted for the one that included a visit to the historic customs house. Despite being there with a small crowd, it was legit creepy to be in a place where political prisoners and pirates were shackled in a dark damp room. Our guide, Braxton, was a knowledgeable and vivid storyteller. He also liked my Johnny Ramone t-shirt with Derf artwork, so he’s a man of taste. I recommend asking for him if you go to Charleston and take a ghost tour.
After a couple of days downtown we headed out for a couple of days on Folly Beach. Again, a lot of things there that really aren’t my bag, but I enjoyed the trip out that way for the cool things we found along the way.
First we made our way to Monster Music and Movies. It’s in a strip mall about 20 minutes from downtown and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. (Bigger record stores in the burbs live on the same spectrum as vinyl cafes.) Again, I was happy to find out that this was an excellent store. A large reasonably priced used selection to go with a ton of new stuff on both vinyl and CD. Plenty of DVDs and fun impulse buys. I went in figuring that I would maybe find a record or two to remember the trip by and ended up grabbing enough stuff to do a whole new issue of Tales from the Crate! (For the uninitiated, that’s my zine where I take a $50 budget to a record store and write about what I find. That’s good news for the De-Luxe subscribers on the current kickstarter who will be getting an extra publication this year!) https://www.monstermusicsc.com/
There were quite a few thrift stores and antique malls along the way to the beach and we stopped at 3 or 4 of them. The best was the Terrace Oaks Antique Mall. Terrace Oaks has what I think are two connected storefronts, one of which has two floors… So lots of room with lots of vendors, Upstairs they had a surprisingly well priced and nice selection of records. (Antique malls are notorious for over-priced records. Whoever is selling at Terrace Oaks has them priced the same as a record store) They also had an adorable little spaniel named Luna greeting customers… so A+ to this store!
The best place we ate on the trip was at the Bowen’s Island restaurant. On Folly Beach there were a bunch of busy restaurants which while not chain-places, had a chain restaurant vibe. Bowen’s Island is definitely more of what I’d call a “joint.” You wait in line to place your order, and from what I can tell there is always a line, then go gather up your condiments of choice and find a seat to wait while they cook it up. We chose a couple spots on the outdoor balcony overlooking a inlet river and watched the sunset. It was really gorgeous. We even saw a dolphin flipping around, batting his fish dinner into the air with his tail. The wife and I shared a “big ol' seafood Platter” which included two pieces of fried fish, two crab cakes, a whole mess of both fried and boiled shrimp, some sides and order of extra hush puppies. The fried stuff was perfect, not greasy or overly salty. The boiled shrimp were tender. I really liked the little cup of coleslaw they gave us, which had a sweet and sour type dressing as opposed to a mayo based dressing. (If I had known, I would’ve gotten a big side of it because this meal, as great as it was, kind of cried out for a dose of ruffage.)