About four years ago my husband and I began a tradition of taking a trip for our anniversary instead of doing gifts. After 20 years of marriage the gift idea pool was running dry. To make it a surprise and more fun we switch years planning the trip and the other person can’t know anything about the trip or destination until arrival. It is so much fun!
This year Michael planned a trip to Charleston, SC where we’d go on our own Bill Murray Safari! He lives there and is often seen about town. We watched a documentary on Netflix , The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man, which discussed the odd stories people have about running into the movie star. This was his inspiration for the trip. To make it even better we would be traveling on the train overnight, which I had never done. This is why we only took backpacks. I did not know the reason until we arrived at the train station in Birmingham. I was told only to, “pack light, and bring a swim suit”. Not much to go on especially for a woman. I am very proud to say that this backpack holds clothes and supplies for 4 days of travel for which I had to no idea what to plan for!
I was surprised that the dinning car offered two vegan meal options. One was veggie burger and the other was a pasta marinara. Both were very good, which was another surprise because I was expecting a meal akin to airline food. A heads up to any future train travelers. Seating in the dinning car is limited so the hostess will seat you with other travelers. This does not bother me at all. I like to talk to people when traveling but I know that some do not. I did not get a photo of the dinning car. I was just so excited and in the moment that several things went undocumented. There was a section of our journey where we changed trains, leaving our sleeper car, and rode in the business section. This was very comfortable. More room than coach seating on a plane and the bonus of being able to get up and walk round.
“Wandering through its streets can be dreamlike and otherworldly, its alleyways and shortcuts both fragrant and mysterious, yet as haunted as time turned in on itself.” – Pat Conroy
The train arrived 2 hours behind schedule which was not a big deal since we had no obligations other than to ourselves, but it meant getting dinner was now not an option. After an “interesting” Uber ride to the hotel we just grabbed some fries and beer at a nearby pub then crashed. Our hotel, the Days Inn, is perfectly located in downtown Charleston. It is walking distance to City Market, Waterfront Park and the Historic Area. It is also walking distance to City Lights Cafe which I sniffed out first thing the next morning. This is a small cafe owned by two artists, Dos Banditos, whose prints decorate the walls. I was so busy admiring the art work that I lost my place in line! I really wanted to purchase the print, Sideways. It is part of a series, The Great American Road Trip. Something in this print reminded me of places I’ve been before and seeing it made me long to go back. So many of the prints in this series pull up the simplest landscape or moments and draw out the beauty in it, making it very poignant. Alas, taking it was not possible on this trip. They do have a website so I may order it in the future. They even had some vegan muffins and energy bites! We spent the morning drinking coffee and wandering through the open air City Market. We found beautiful puzzle boxes (kids), bracelets with large hand-blown glass beads (my sister), and a necklace with an iron pendant from a metal worker there (Michael).
For lunch Michael had already scouted out a vegan restaurant with great reviews. Gnome Cafe is located near the MUSC campus and has some very tasty options. It was so nice to go into a restaurant and know that I could have anything on the menu! I chose the South Grit bowl with eggplant bacon and kale, sprinkled liberally with nutritional yeast. It was very good. I’m not a huge fan of kale because it is bitter and tough. I would have used spinach instead. My preferences aside the dish was yummy and I ate nearly all of it. I only held back because I already knew I wanted one of the banana nut muffins with caramel frosting I’d seen when ordering! Michael had the breakfast burrito. He could’ve added eggplant bacon or hemp sausage but did not. I should’ve pushed him to get the hemp sausage because I’ve never tried that before and having missed the opportunity haunts me. The breakfast burrito was great though and he ate every bit of it, then helped me with the muffin.
On our second day Michael had booked our parasailing adventure with Tidal Wave Water Sports. The parasailing was not going to begin until 2:00 so we headed to Isle of Palms early to explore the area and beach beforehand. The difference in atmosphere between historic downtown Charleston and beachy Isle of Palms is significant. Isle of Palms is busy and a bit touristy right at the beach but if you walk just a few blocks away it calms down and seems like just simple, small coastal town. We both agreed that having any alcohol before the parasailing would likely be a bad decision, so we just explored the shops and relaxed on the beach for a few hours.
“Once the screaming and laughing died down everything became very quiet.“
Tidal Wave just started offering a shuttle service which was a nice help for us. When we arrived at the dock it was a quick process to sign waivers and get our go pro camera. We opted to get the Tidal Wave package which gives a longer ride and the use of a GoPro camera. I like how we were able to just take the SD card from the GoPro with us. Disclaimer: I have never used a GoPro before, so the filming is all over the place. I decided not to add it here. The experience of essentially being a human kite was amazing. Once the screaming and laughing died down everything became very quiet. For a few moments Michael and I just held hands and looked at the amazing landscape below us.
I loved this. It was so much fun. We were on the boat with two other groups. One, a large family including the grands who also went up, and a father with his twenty something daughter. On the way back we noticed some dolphins. Our captain was nice enough to stop and let us get some video. When we returned home I told our daughters they must go parasailing when we go on our Disney cruise this summer (yes a Disney cruise!) I hope the company they use is as great as Tidal Wave. The owner even gave us a ride to the Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island where we were having dinner that night!
On the way to Isle Of Plams our Uber driver had shared some Bill Murray sighting stories with us along with giving us the name of a few good restaurants in the area. That’s how we ended up at the Obstinate Daughter. The staff at Tidal Wave also had great things to say about this restaurant. The atmosphere is upscale casual. I was kinda wishing I had a better outfit than the pull over dress I’d used for alternating between the beach, parasailing, and shopping all day. I’m glad we didn’t miss it though, the food here is wonderful. I even had a dish with beets that was super delicious! The plate I had was actually: Roasted Beets with peppers, ricotta, pistachio, horseradish & pomegranate molasses (without the ricotta). Michael chose the Anson Mills Farro Piccolo which had brussels sprouts, peanuts, balsamic & black truffle, with farro. Fabulous! The waitress was very helpful in helping us pick a vegan option and letting the chef know about any changes. We added Friets as an appetizer. This is fried polenta with marinara sauce. They were gone it about 90 seconds.
Leaving here was the beginning of our Bill Murray Pub Crawl. I wish it could become an annual event for us. We started at Poe’s Tavern. This is local favorite and for good reason. Honoring Edgar Allen Poe’s time at Fort Moultrie, the tavern offers good food, drink, and atmosphere. It was already very busy when we showed up at about 6:30 PM. We sat on the porch, near the door (so we could see if Bill Murray came in). After people watching and enjoying about three drinks (I may have lost count) we decided to move on. We went to Dunleavy’s Pub for a few beers next. While sitting outside a couple of locals shared their Bill Murray stories (either their own or from a friend of a friend). Still no luck for us though so we moved on. We decided to find a place closer to the hotel. The Uber driver of course had a couple Bill Murray stories to share. I was beginning to think ____. We had our beers, our last stop sadly ending our evening without a Bill Murray sighting.
The next day we wondered around the historic district and Water Front Park. I love the architecture of the houses here. Along the street it looks like the front door of a house when really it’s a door connecting to either a garden or a long porch that runs the side length of house. Houses here are generally two rooms wide with a hallway going between. The porch has large windows or doors which allow a constant breeze. As you can see I have a fondness for iron work, gates, and stairways.
We hadn’t totally given up yet on trying to spot Bill Murray so we had lunch at the Brown Dog Deli. There are several vegan options here, but I had my heart set on a hot dog. It was so yummy! Finding a truly good vegan hot dog is hard to do and I was hopeful but skeptical that this would be tasty. It was so good I called later to find out what brand they use. Lite Life is the best vegan hot dog I’ve ever had!
In our wanderings we had passed by a dinner theater that was too tempting not to check out. Unfortunately, we didn’t act quick enough and the show at the Black Fedora Theater was booked up by early afternoon. We decided to go on the eco boat tour with Charleston Outdoor Adventures and do a ghost tour later.
The boat tour was very informative. I learned a good bit about the ocean area of Charleston that I would not have looked for otherwise. For instance the oyster shells for restaurants are dumped back out in the oyster beds along the shores to give the Spat(that is the oyster larvae ) something to cling to while forming. Our captain, Josh, also discussed the hunting methods of some birds and dolphins and why they use those particular techniques. The trip also included a stop at Morris Island where we could get a good view of the the light house, which was on land at one point, and look for shells and or sharks teeth. I really wanted to find Michael a shark tooth and despite looking for the entire 45 minutes on the island, we did not. One of the children in the family that shared the boat did though. I was so jealous. Internally I debated about offering a trade, either all my collected shells or out right cash for the tooth, but I figured the parents would not let that happen and I didn’t want to reduce my self to talking a child out of such a great find which will undoubtedly be a symbol of the great trip he had to Charleston himself.
“Seeing the lightening and realizing I was now standing ankle deep in water it occurred to me that I could be the next ghost on the Charleston ghost tour!”
The next stop on our adventure was the Ghost of Liberty walking tour. I’ve never done a ghost tour and never wanted to either. I will not hesitate to do another though even after this harrowing experience. There were warnings of a thunderstorm early in the day. In fact when we called to book the tour the representative told Michael that the tour would not be cancelled due to weather. If we did not show up that was our choice, no refunds. As we waited for the tour guide, dark clouds began to gather and move directly toward Water Front Park where we were to meet up. Just as our guide, Don, arrived so did large gusts of wind and the dark clouds that had been gathering came together and released a heavy down pour while lighting began to streak across the sky just above us. Seeing the lightening and realizing I was now standing ankle deep in water it occurred to me that I could be the next ghost on the Charleston ghost tour!
Don was unfazed by the weather. He told us not to worry, that the storm would gust and blow for about 10 minutes then it would move out quickly. He led us to an alcove in a building near by to wait for the other guests. No one else came. So off we went. Just as the tour scheduler said, “no cancellations due to weather”. The Don came back with some umbrellas and he proceeded to give us a fabulous tour. The weather began to calm down in about 10 minutes, just as he predicted. In fact by the end of the tour we didn’t even need the umbrellas any more. The tour was very interesting and full of so much information that I won’t attempt to pass it on here. I highly recommend going on the tour. If you are lucky Don will be with you, rain or shine. I also learned that the churches are open to public during weekdays which I did not know or I may gone to check them out.
The next morning I grabbed some coffee at City Lights Cafe, we headed out, and went home via the train. I look forward to visiting Charleston again. I am still hoping to see Bill Murray!
Where we went in charleston, South CAROLINA:
- Gnome Cafe
- Obstinate Daughter
- City Market
- Water Front Park
- Tidal Wave Water Sports
- Charleston Outdoor Adventures
- Poe’s Tavern
- Dunleavy’s Pub
- Brown Dog Deli
*I just want to note that no one at these establishments knew that we would write about our experiences with them, nor were we paid by any establishment for a review*
Please tell me about your top picks of places to eat and things to do in Charleston, South Carolina. I definitely want to go back there one day!