48-Hours in Charleston

Growing up in New York City, I never felt the need to learn to drive. Once I began traveling, I found that having a license might be beneficial. Unfortunately, the urge to hurry up and get my driver’s license still hasn’t quite taken root. Do I let not having a driver’s license hinder me from exploring off the beaten path locations? Heck, NO!

Before every vacation I do a ton of research to see what I can do. For those “off the beaten path” activities, I search vigorously to see how I can utilize public or private transportation to reach locations that are usually better served by car. What I’ve learned from years of travel is that where there is a will, there is a way. See below for “Tips on getting to “off-the-beaten-path” locations with or without a car.

To begin your 48-Hours in Charleston, start with the museum crawl I wrote about in my 24-Hours in Charleston, SC post. The next 24-hours will be spent traveling to some currently (and some previously) off-the-beaten path excursions.

To start this beautiful day, my mom and I made our way to the Charleston’s Visitor Center to catch our Lowcountry Loop Trolley for their now discontinued “Island Sip and See Tour.” This tour included a visit to three charming, hidden gems onboard a beautiful vintage-style trolley: Irvin-House Vineyards (now Deep Water Vineyards), Firefly Distillery and Charleston Tea Plantation.

The first stop on our tour was the Charleston Tea Plantation.

First brought to the shores of the U.S. from China in the 1700’s, it took over 150 years for the camellia sinensis tea plant to propagate in South Carolina and to produce tea for consumption.  In 1888, Dr. Charles Shepard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, South Carolina leading to the first successful production of American grown tea.

In 1963, the Tea Plantation was relocated to an old potato farm on Wadmalaw Island. For the next 24 years research was conducted on this experimental farm.

In 1987 William Barclay Hall, a third-generation tea taster, purchased the farm and converted it from research and development to a commercial operation. In 2003, the Bigelow Family purchased the Charleston Tea Plantation and formed a partnership with the former owner, William Hall.

Since 2003 the Charleston Tea Plantation has been transformed into an American icon. Today, this true working tea farm presents a unique learning experience. It remains the only 100% American tea producer in operation in the United States that creates specialty teas and maintains the prestigious American Classic brand.

Visiting the Tea Plantation was magical. I learned about tea making from planting through processing through brewing. I got to see workers surveying tea leaves as they grew, to observe tea growing experimentation happening in a greenhouse on the grounds, and to see the machines that process the tea leaves from their branches into tea.

Don’t sleep on a stop in the gift shop. I never knew there were so many tea-related knickknacks and brick-a-bracts. If nothing else, sit in one of the rocking chairs that line the front porch to the shop, enjoy the view or breeze, and sip on a tea libation.

The grounds of the tea garden were stunning. There were so many little nooks, crannies, and relaxing spaces where a person could just sit and enjoy the breeze, wander off in their own thoughts, or enjoy a day in nature with their significant.

The next stop on our tour was the Irvin-House Vineyards.

Irvin-House Vineyard (now Deep Water Vineyard) started in 2001 on a scenic spot on 48 acres on Wadmalaw Island. The grounds contain a tasting room, a renovated party barn, and colorful flower and vegetable garden. The wine is fermented from homegrown muscadine grapes in five varieties of wine (Tara Gold, Magnolia, Live Oak Reserve, Mullet Hall, and Palmetto).

In 2015 Jim and Ann Irvin, the original owners of the winery, retired. The new owners, Jesse and Andrea, purchased the winery and changed the name to Deep Water Vineyards.

Jesse and Andrea continued the tradition of inviting visitors to the winery to enjoy a wine tasting, explore the many walking trials, hang out with the many animals that make the winery home, explore the garden, and enjoy time around a large pond. You can also bring your family, both human and furry, and enjoy a picnic lunch. Even the outhouse was a cute distraction. I wasn’t brave enough to try the tire swing that rested gently against the ground when stationary. LOL!

If you’re like me, you’re going to make a beeline to the gift shop to see what souvenir you can purchase to bring home.

I am not a huge wine drinker, so I really enjoyed the time sitting at the picnic tables eating the “Island Sip and See” tour’s provided lunch of a chicken salad sandwich, tuna salad and some Famous Amos cookies for dessert.

The next stop was the Firefly Distillery. Now located in North Charleston, the distillery’s tasting room was formerly located a very short distance from the winery.

In the tasting room we got to experience several flavors of Sweet Tea vodkas and bourbons. They were infused with fresh tea from the neighboring Charleston Tea Plantation and blended with real Louisiana sugar cane. Even though, most alcohol and spirits aren’t my cup of tea (see what I did there), I still enjoyed participating in this part of the day.

The final destination on our tour was the Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island. Due to rain on previous days, it wasn’t guaranteed that we would be able to drive down the road to get to the entrance to the Angel Oak. Luckily enough, according to our tour directors, the access road was opened on that very day. Squee!

According to the Angel Oak website, “The Angel Oak Tree is estimated to be in excess of 400-500 years old, stands 66.5 ft (20 m) tall, measures 28 ft (8.5 m) in circumference, and produces shade that covers 17,200 square feet (1,600 m2). From tip to tip Its longest branch distance is 187 ft.”

I am by no means a nature lover, but this tree was magnificent. With its thick trunk and twisted limbs that reached to the sky or dove into the earth only to emerge a short distance later, I was mesmerized by the sheer size and beauty of it. If there is one place on this itinerary that I would definitively recommend warranted a visit, it would be to go see the Angel Oak on Johns Island.

After a busy day, we got back to Charleston late in the evening. We were tired and didn’t want to venture far from our hotel. After asking our tour directors their recommendations on the “one place” we should eat while in Charleston, we wound up at Hyman’s Seafood.

Many people on this trip that we talked to recommended going to Hyman’s because it was a Charleston institution. Known for is raw oysters, people kept saying, “Everyone eats at Hyman.” Charleston local love it.

I don’t like oysters, but I thought, how bad could it be. It’s a seafood place. Surely they have other great seafood dishes. I ordered the shrimp and catfish platter with a side of mac-n-cheese. In my opinion, this place was a DUD.

As it arrived, after an extremely long wait, the food looked okay, but upon trying it, the fish and shrimp were lukewarm floppy disappointments. I won’t even go into the horror that was the mac-n-cheese, but I blame myself for ordering it. It was the only side they had that I would eat besides french fries, and I really didn’t want fries. Out of all the events of the day, this was the only disappointment and the one thing I would change.

After dinner, we made our way back to our hotel for some rest and relaxation. My mom and I wasn’t going to let one bad meal ruin our amazing day. Besides, we had another day of activities planned for the next day and we needed the recharge our energy.

Tips for getting to “off-the-beaten-path” locations with or without a car:

  • Figure out what locations are “must see” for you and make a list.
  • Check the locations’ website to see what options they recommend for getting to their location. For example, on the Deep Water Vineyard’s website, they recommend traveling with David at Holy City Transportation or Sea Island Tours. Read the information carefully to confirm the pickup location where the tour begins.
  • Use Google Maps to find directions from where you are staying to each location on your must-see list. This app will show you directions utilizing a car, public transportation, walking, ride share, and biking. Once you choose how you want to travel, more options may come up.

NOTE: For the public transportation option, you can specify the date and time (depart at, arrive by, or the last available transit), what mode you want to take (bus, train, subway, etc.), and route options (best route, fewer transfers, less walking, etc.).

  • In some cases, there won’t be a public transportation option. In this case, I would recommend checking to see how much it would cost to utilize a ride share service like Uber or Lyft. Just be cognizant that you will need to use the same service to get back to where you are staying.
  • If you want to splurge, I recommend hiring a private driver to take you around to the places you want to visit. In this option, shop around; the cost will vary by provider. Plan your itinerary and provide and approximately length you will utilize the service. Once you book and start your ride, relax and enjoy the scenery as someone else carries you around from place to place.
  • The final option, if you have a driver’s license and you enjoy driving, rent a car. This option may work out to be cheaper than the other options listed above.

Below is an itinerary and map of the locations mentioned in this blog post.

Sites visited (with current addresses):
 Charleston Tea (Plantation) Garden
 6617 Maybank Highway
 Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
 (843) 559-0383
 Website: https://charlestonteagarden.com/
 Deep Water Vineyard
 6775 Bears Bluff Road
 Charleston, SC 29487
 (843) 559-6867
 Website: http://www.deepwatervineyard.com/
 Hours: 10 am to 5 pm (Tues-Sat)
 Firefly Distillery
 4201 Spruill Avenue
 Charleston, SC 29405
 (843) 557-1405
 Website: https://www.fireflydistillery.com/
 Hours: 12 pm to 6 pm (Mon-Sat)
Restaurant visited:
 Hyman’s Seafood
 215 Meeting Street
 Charleston, SC 29401
 (843) 723-6000
 Website: https://www.hymanseafood.com/ 

Let me know what you think of my recommendations for 48-hours in Charleston, SC., which includes starting with my 24-Hours in Charleston, SC blog post.

Winter S., Savory Sweet Neat

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