Welcome to the South, where the grass is [actually] greener, the humidity is high and the people are as sweet as their iced tea. I just spent four days going from my best friend’s hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina to Charleston and back again.
A short trip filled with good food, great people, charming sights, and beautiful landscapes.
A lot of people asked me when I told them where I was going on vacation this summer, why I would pick South Carolina? And to be honest, I’m not sure it would have pulled my attention on it’s own. But I am grateful that it got pushed to the top of my list because my best friend (Elizabeth) was itching to show me around the place she grew up.
SMALL TOWN LIFE IN SPARTANBURG
I arrived at the Charlotte airport in the middle of the night. We drove the hour and a half through massive highways to dimly lit streets to get to Elizabeth’s childhood home in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The city is filled with all of the hometown charm you could imagine growing up with when you live in a place that isn’t tainted by big cities and their expanding populations. A part of the world you can still count on to not rearrange too quickly.
Elizabeth’s childhood home is a place that I really feel everyone should have their own version of. Being deprived of it myself, I have always been envious of having a space that freezes pieces of who you were in time so you can always refer to them – a living encyclopedia of your life on display like a museum.
Photos marked every inch of wall space in her parents home. From baby snapshots, to holiday pictures and senior portraits. They lined the way to the room that held the tears of high school break ups and echoed the sound of endless conversations with girlfriends. The same place she marked up her first diary and vetoed countless first day of school wardrobe choices.
You can easily waste a day in downtown Spartanburg. Stopping at the Coffee Bar for a jarring bolt of artisanal coffee before spending the late afternoon and evening sipping on craft beer in the garden of the Growler Haus. That is exactly what we did on my first day there.
I’ve spent a lot of time in big cities, with choices so endless that deciphering through them enough to choose the best is daunting . Even more so than filtering through which spots are actually worth your time, instead of just tourists traps armed with a good location and masked by an inviting storefront.
With coffee shops and craft beer bars being a dime a dozen on the streets of New York City, it was a breath of fresh air to be in a place with such limited choices that the passion is concentrated into just a few local spots, serving the best the city has to offer – no Zagat guide required.
JUST ENOUGH BIG CITY FEEL IN CHARLESTON
However, even with the charm of a small town, I can ultimately see how simplicity has the ability to breed boredom, and we looked no further than Charleston, South Carolina to offer everything we couldn’t get in Spartanburg.
So we drove across the state, stopping for lunch in Columbia, and I got to continue the tour of the place that created my best friend, as well as every other wonderful person I met while I was there.
Charleston is a dream come true for people like me who grew up in a populated suburb in California centered between big cities like Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim. I need to feel like I’m in a big town but I still long to live simply.
As much as I fantasize about living somewhere in the country, with a farm that has an animal shelter’s worth of dogs in the back yard, I know I would get bored and restless. That’s just who I am, and I try not to fight it – which is exactly why a place like New York has always called to me.
But Charleston gave me just the perfect amount of both – small town charm, with a tiny side of big city.
We stayed with close friends of Elizabeth’s in Charleston, so I can’t recommend a good hotel to stay at. With that said though, as their guests, we had mints and water bottles placed in the spare room, along with wine, beer and a cheese plate sitting out upon our arrival, only to wake up in the morning with fresh bagels and mimosas – talk about a Southern welcome!
We were fortunate enough to be in Charleston on a Saturday while the Farmers Market was happening in Marion Square. Countless of local shops and fresh food lined the open patch of freshly cut grass: a great place to find local treasures and strong coffee. If you can visit when this is taking place (every Saturday from 8am-2pm), I suggest it.
While tracing the steps of all the must-doers in Charleston, we made our way up and down Kings Street, to the old slave market (more modernly referred to as the City Market), to Rainbow Row with it’s colorful houses and oldest liquor store in the country still operating on the corner, and to Waterfront Park.
We shopped at the small boutiques, bought Strawberry Daiquiri booze pops from an ice cream truck on the street, enjoyed craft beer on a rooftop at Pour Taproom, and spent the evening drinking $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon tall cans at the Alley.
I trotted through Charleston with a group of girls who didn’t need Yelp for suggestions, knew which building of the College of Charleston campus we could find public restrooms in and where to stop for lunch (The Blind Tiger Pub) for a great drink selection and the best wedge salad I have ever had in my life.
When it came time to drive back to Spartanburg, we took the long way around and stopped by the 500-year-old Angel Oak tree on John’s Island and the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, two southern treasures that shouldn’t be missed on any visit to South Carolina.
Towards the end of my time there, I started to feel a touch of jealousy. I silently wished California were to me what South Carolina is for my best friend.
Not just a place that you needed to get away from but also a place that you ultimately wanted to find your way back to. A place you completely belong to, and not just another point on a map that you can scatter little pieces of yourself before moving on. A place that you’re tethered to and no matter how far the string reaches, you have that safety net of being anchored to the one place that will always want you.
I don’t know that feeling myself, and I’m usually pretty content in my ignorance, but I’m grateful for South Carolina and the tiny peep hole they lent me into their world. And if I learned anything when I was down there, it’s that y’all are also welcome to visit anytime you want.