Movie buffs are lured by Charleston’s timeless beauty and inimitable ambience. over the years, the city has been featured in various historic and romantic films, including three shot at Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant: the 1980s mini-series North and South, based on John Jakes’ novels and starring Patrick Swayze and Kirstie Alley; Queen, the 1990 sequel to Alex Haley’s landmark Roots; and 2004’s The Notebook, starring Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Gena Rowlands and James Garner.
Founded in 1681, Boone Hall is widely recognized for its gorgeous entry drive, lined by 274-year-old live oaks elegantly draped with Spanish moss on either side and is known as “the most photographed plantation in America.” The awe-inspiring Georgian-designed mansion there was built in 1936 by Canadian Ambassador Thomas Stone. Guided tours of the first floor allow guests to see the atmosphere that would have surrounded a Coastal Carolina planter’s family.
Boone Hall also happens to be one of the oldest working farms in the country, continuously growing and producing crops for more than 300 years.
Another favorite destination for cinema fans is Middleton Place, which is set on the banks of the Ashley River. The Patriot — starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson and Leon Rippy — was filmed there in 2000.
A National Historic Landmark with the oldest landscaped gardens in the U.S., Middleton Place boasts 65 acres that were first planted in 1741. It’s the birthplace of Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and son of the 2nd president of the Continental Congress. Amazingly, the Middleton family has maintained ownership of the property for 320 years.
Thanks to an extensive variety of flowering plants — including centuries-old camellias, azaleas, kalmia, magnolias, crepe myrtles and roses — Middleton Place is in bloom every day of the year.
Visitors often opt to take relaxing tours of the property aboard a carriage, but those who prefer to explore on their own can take a nature walk. Guided tours take visitors through the house museum and gardens where an expert leads a fascinating 30-minute discussion of the garden design, history and horticulture. Make sure to visit the stableyards where you can watch weavers, potters and blacksmiths demonstrate period skills as they were practiced by those who were enslaved at Middleton Place.
But for the biggest attraction of all head to historic downtown Charleston. The city offers a wealth of sights and is easy to explore, but you may not get all the inside knowledge on your own. Charleston has so much history that the best way to take it all in is in small doses with carriage tours, walking tours or harbor cruises.
The Market Area, horse-drawn carriage tours last about an hour and will clop you through 30 city blocks, down cobblestone streets imbued with more than 300 years of Revolutionary and Civil War history. Licensed guides, who are tested experts on Charleston’s history and its influence on national events, provide the kind of great insight you don’t get in your average high school classroom. Die-hard romantics can hire a private carriage for two or four.
Given that Charleston has always been a port city, the harbor is its lifeblood. Hopping aboard a SpiritLine Cruise allows visitors to see more than 75 points of interest — including Fort Sumter, the Battery mansions, breathtaking Ravenel Bridge and even dolphins swimming in the harbor — from a different perspective. Harbor tours, dinner cruises, private dining events, sightseeing and packages that combine your cruise with other popular destinations make this a great way to enjoy the city.
Back on dry land and moving farther inland, a short drive on the Maybank Highway — one of the most scenic roads in the country — can lead you to Wadmalaw Island, which lies just south of Charleston and west of Kiawah and Seabrook Islands. Because it cannot be commercially developed and the only way to get there is via a bridge that crosses over Church Creek, much of Wadmalaw Island remains refreshingly untouched.
It is home to the last remaining working tea farm in the United States: the Charleston Tea Plantation. Producing more than 320 varieties of black and green teas on the 127-acre property, the plantation is especially known for nine very special flavors that include its original American Classic Tea — the only tea in the world that is made exclusively with tea grown in the United States. According to the U.S. Tea Association, most of the teas in the world are grown in South America, Asia and Africa. American Classic Tea is the official tea served at the White House.
With a history going back to 1666, the plantation offers a window back in time. For more than 150 years, growers tried to produce tea for consumption on American soil. Then in 1888, Dr. Charles Shepard made it a reality in nearby Summerville. In 1963, his tea plants were transplanted from Summerville to a 127-acre tract on Wadmalaw Island. After 24 years, the property officially became the the Charleston Tea Plantation. In 2003 it was purchased by Bigelow, the second largest tea producer in the U.S.
Open seven days a week, the Charleston Tea Plantation is perfect for a day trip. Though they offer sandwiches, you might want to pack a nice lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic tables under the oak trees.
There are a number of other options for quick and satisfying day trips from the heart of the city. Charleston County Parks (CCP) offers a diverse menu of outdoor locations, each with its own set of enticing experiences suitable for every age group.
If birdwatching is your calling, CCP’s Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a bird-lover’s paradise. Located south of Charleston on the Savannah Highway near Ravenel, more than 250 species have been identified on the park property, including American bald eagles, swallow-tailed kites, painted buntings, great blue herons and snowy egrets.
History buffs are easily impressed by McLeod Plantation Historic Site on James Island. Part of the federally recognized Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor in South Carolina, it has been part of Charleston’s and America’s southern heritage since 1851. Originally McLeod was a working cotton plantation where the cash crop was grown and harvested by enslaved peoples brought from Africa.
During the Civil War, it was occupied by Confederate forces and used as a hospital for their troops. After the evacuation of Charleston in 1865, the plantation was taken over by African-American Union soldiers from Massachusetts. Today the mansion is restored, as are five clapboard slave cabins.