The Collegian
Thursday, August 18, 2022

Charleston: Not too late for a last-minute spring break

If you're looking for a last minute spring break destination that's a drive away and more affordable than a week on a tropical beach, Charleston, S.C., might be the place to stay.

Charleston, which fosters a blend of contemporary culture and a sense of historical pride, fulfills the label of a college town, offering an array of busy bars, chic stores, art galleries and impressive beaches.

Daniel Jones, a travel agent at the AAA Mid-Atlantic Southside Richmond office, said Charleston is a popular destination nationwide, and is a well-known city internationally as well. Annually, Charleston has about 4.21 million visitors.

Jones said Charleston was an appealing destination for all ages, including college students who visit for spring break.

Charleston has relatively mild weather year round, so if visitors don't want to brave the scorching summer heat, Lou Salvino, a marketing representative for Festiva Resorts in Charleston, said fall and spring are the best seasons to visit.

For the spring break season, the average high temperature in March is 66 degrees, eight degrees warmer than the average high in Richmond. The temperature makes it possible to enjoy the beach on sunny days during March, making Charleston a warmer, although not tropical, destination for Richmond students on spring break.

College-aged visitors like to come anytime, Salvino said, but spring break seems to be the most popular time to come to Charleston.

"They like the beaches during the day and the bars at night," Salvino said.

Perrin Lawson, the deputy director for the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the quality of shops, restaurants and entertainment are partly a result of the presence of several colleges in the area, which include the College of Charleston, the Citadel, Charleston Southern University and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Restaurants & Nightlife

Charleston's nightlife offers a variety of bars, which often host live bands or disc jockeys at night. Late-night spots range from Irish pubs to sushi bars, all mostly concentrated within a few blocks.

"There are tons of bars," said senior Joanna Hanby, who has visited Charleston twice.

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"There's a huge night scene, even for older people."

Henry's Restaurant & Bar and Wild Wings Cafe are both restaurants on North Market Street that have busy bars and live bands many nights each week. Clubs are less common in Charleston, but a dance club can be found on the second level of Purple Tree Lounge, which is also located on North Market Street.

Nearby on East Bay Street, you can find Tsunami Japanese Restaurant, which transforms into a hopping bar with drink specials and a small dance area at night. A few doors down is Wet Willy's Daiquiri Bar, where dozens of colorful frozen drinks are visible through clear, circular displays on the wall as they are mixing. There is also a small dance floor with a DJ.

On the same street, there is the Rooftop Bar at the Market Pavilion Hotel.

There are usually long lines to get in during the weekends, Hanby said, but from the roof you can see the entire city and the beaches at night.

Lawson said the nightlife in Charleston can be relatively expensive for college-aged visitors. But if you visit Charleston on a college student's budget, there are ways to maximize your money, such as making use of happy hour and drink specials at the various bars.

For those who want to spend more money on dining, Charleston provides an assortment of options, including American, Italian and Asian restaurants, but the genre that dominates the dining scene is seafood, and rightfully so.

Beaches and accommodations

Downtown Charleston has its attractions, but it is also a short drive from several beaches, and Jones said the proximity between the old, historical buildings and the beaches was rare.

"You don't see many places like that anymore," Jones said.

Visitors can rent beach houses, which can accommodate small or large groups, on several islets surrounding Charleston, including Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island.

The beaches are a main attraction for college students who visit Charleston, but beach rental agencies often do not rent houses to groups of young people, Lawson said.

There are few hotels on the beaches, so college-aged visitors usually stay in surrounding areas just outside of downtown Charleston, Lawson said.

Although staying downtown is expensive, it is appealing because it eliminates any need for transportation, but if you can't afford it, there are a variety of less expensive hotels that are a five-minute taxi ride from downtown.

Salvino said most college-aged visitors who come to the Charleston area prefer Folly Beach. It's the "hippy-dippy beach," Salvino said, while Isle of Palms is more reserved.

Folly Beach, southeast of Charleston, extends about six miles with beach houses stretching from one end to the other. Depending on where you stay in Folly, downtown Charleston is a 20 to 30 minute drive away, which allows people to enjoy beach activities during the day and the restaurants and bars of Charleston at night.

During the day on Folly Beach, you can visit the Morris Island Lighthouse and the Folly Beach Fishing Pier. If you don't want to travel into the city at night, Folly beach has several casual restaurants and beach bars in town.

If you're visiting Sullivan's Island or Isle of Palms, you'll find a calmer beach atmosphere that is a hybrid of southern mentality and the feel of the Hamptons.

Downtown

The size of Charleston makes many things accessible by foot.

"It's a walking town," said Tom Beck, a bartender and manager at Tropical Toast at Diana's, a restaurant adjacent to the Days Inn on Meeting Street.

Hanby said: "People are out and about all the time. Everyone's really laid back and relaxed."

Marion Square, a green on Calhoun Street that spans between King and Meeting streets, is a hang out spot for students who attend college in Charleston, Salvino said.

"At any given time, you'll see a ton of college students," Salvino added. Many locals extend their southern hospitality to the visitors in Charleston. Senior Lauren Kleimola, who spent fall break in Charleston, described the atmosphere of the city as "fun and friendly." She said Charleston was oriented toward outdoor activities, referring to outdoor seating at restaurants and the shopping setup at the Market.

"Anything you want to do, I feel like you could do it outside," she said. A hot spot for shopping in Charleston is King Street, where a variety of stores are located. Shoppers can find clothes and shoes from high-end retailers and boutiques, as well as less expensive chain stores, and souvenirs are easy to find with College of Charleston shops and a Jimmy Buffet store.

Scores of art galleries are located in the downtown area, displaying the work of nationally recognized artists as well as local artists, and some galleries include courtyard displays.

Running parallel to King Street is Meeting Street, where many hotels are located. Nearby, shoppers can find more unusual and hand-crafted items at the Market, which begins at the junction of Market and Meeting streets.

Vendors at the Market rent space and tables where they can sell homemade items, such as painted and carved pieces of palm, unique jewelry and local art work. Other people sell souvenirs, such as Charleston sweatshirts, T-shirts and postcards. The Market, which extends for several blocks, is open daily year round, with daytime and evening hours.

Charleston used to be comparable to Savannah, Ga., or Wilmington, N.C., but not anymore, Jones said. It is also similar to old European cities, but many of those have changed as well.

"Realistically, I don't think you can compare it to anywhere in the world," he said.

That's not to say that the locals are modest about their southern pride (love for the South is unmistakable in Charleston.) Confederate flags might be easier to spot than American flags in the Palmetto City, and most of the souvenir shops sell memorabilia adorned with confederate designs or sayings such as, "The South will rise again."

Beck said that Charleston was "too southern" for him, citing the preppy clothing as an example. It's also common to see men in uniform, as Citadel students frequent the restaurants and bars during the weekends.

The choice of several nearby beaches and the historical charm of this cosmopolitan beach town make Charleston an opportune place for travelers who are looking for a variety of activities, and it continues to draw a wide range of visitors.

"People come here and like it and tend to come back again and again," Lawson said.

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