Election season 2016 was so stressful and exhausting, you may have forgotten to occasionally pause and drink in the rapturing beauty of our city. From historic houses and cobblestone streets, to live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, Charlestonians aren’t at a loss for idyllic scenery even on the most mundane of commutes home. Pardon our slow walking pace or under-the-speed-limit driving as we gaze upon our favorites (and finally de-stress) this week.
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East Bay St along the Battery
South of Broad The majestic houses along the Battery are by far the most iconic image of the city. Although you might get stuck behind carriages taking the same leisurely route, enjoy the opportunity to take it slow and soak in the view. On one side, you’ll see the facades of historic mansions angled to catch the seabreezes in such a way that they seem stacked like pastel-colored dominos around a gentle curve. Opposite that, you’ll see the seawall promenade along the waters of the Charleston harbor.
South of Broad Legare St is the address for the largest pieces of property south of Broad, and it’s easy to imagine the wealth that must have been required to build these magnificent residences. Some of the homes are hidden behind iron gates and brick walls, but others rise far above the live oak trees that shade the street. Although most Charlestonians tire of Gone with the Wind references, you can’t help but imagine Scarlett O’Hara entertaining a bevy of suitors on the grounds of one of these houses.
Entrance road to Botany Bay Plantation
Edisto Island The draw of Botany Bay is its boneyard beach, the undeveloped beach full of shells and dotted by the “skeletons” of many trees. However, the drive into the wildlife management area is a jewel of its own. Turn onto a sandy dirt road that is enveloped by the maritime forest of oak, loblolly pine, and cabbage palmetto on all sides. If you roll down your windows, you can hear the sounds of birds, smell the sea air filtered through the green leaves, and begin to exhale the stresses of the built environment as you slowly make your way to the parking area and the beach beyond. The unspoiled beauty of the drive in feels a little bit like a magic gateway.
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
Downtown/Mount Pleasant This bridge opened in 2005 as a replacement to two bridges that still live on in local memory as roadways where you were “taking your life in your hands every time you crossed the river.” The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge also gave us a front porch of sorts where we walk, exercise, and even stand Charleston Strong. Like any good porch, it takes on a magical quality at night. The cable supports are lit above you as the harbor stretches below the bridge in a wide, dark ribbon that curls from the sea northward. The port lights dot the horizon on one side, and if you are lucky, the moon can be rising on the other.
Downtown Named in honor of St. Philip's Episcopal Church, this street starts off the Market and winds its way to White Point Gardens. Walking is the preferred transportation on this stretch, because the stroll will give you time to take in cemeteries, gardens, and probably be in earshot of a carriage tour spouting a snippet of the history. You will walk past the Instagram-worthy facade of the Dock Street Theatre (where Edgar Allen Poe’s mother once performed), so pause for a shot or two of the ornate ironwork. The street widens as it curves at the intersection of Water St, and the houses seem to relax as well since they aren’t oriented the same way facing the street. You’ll be dreaming of moving to this lovely stretch of Charleston by the time you reach the end.
King St from Spring to Broad
Downtown This has been the prime shopping district for the Holy City for more than 100 years, and it’s still a worthwhile place for shopping and strolling. Although more chain stores and big hotels have moved to these addresses in the last few years, there are still plenty of quirky eateries, local shops, boutiques, and more. Look closely and you’ll find the classic cocktail bar Proof, epic used bookstore Blue Bicycle Books, the clothing boutique Worthwhile, and CO, a slender restaurant that makes a mean noodle bowl. By the time you make it to Berlin’s, you might just have shopped 'til you dropped.
Longitude Lane off East Bay St
South of Broad If you want to go back in time, simply take a few steps onto the cobblestones in this alley. Originally built as a simple lane during the era of the walled city (1690-1720), Longitude Lane is now one of the toniest addresses in the city. It is easy to see why -- there’s no escaping the magic that the combination of history, salt air, slanting afternoon light, tropical foliage, and beautifully maintained houses creates.
Ashley River Rd between Bees Ferry and Summerville
West Ashley This stretch of Ashley River Rd is dotted with new developments, storage units, and other small businesses, but drive patiently and the road stretches into a protected area right along the river. This road is Charleston’s “plantation alley,” where you can find some of the most iconic homes in the South, from Magnolia Gardens to Middleton Place and Drayton Hall. Since they’re set by the river (the historical mode of transportation to these addresses), you won’t be able to see much from the road, but you will enjoy some unspoiled forest beauty that whispers to grandeur just out of sight.
Downtown A walkway instead of an official street, the Gateway Walk is nevertheless one of the most beautiful paths in the city. Although it’s officially maintained by the Garden Club of Charleston and open to the public, by its very nature it seems to be a hidden gem. The Gateway Walk winds through some of the city’s oldest church cemeteries, whose gravestones range from the late 1600s to the modern day. The slender peninsula has been inhabited for hundreds of years, and after a Gateway walk, you won’t need to see a ghost to feel the presence of those who have come before you to live and make their way in Charleston.
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Stephanie Burt lives and works in Charleston and she often parks further away from her destination just so she can enjoy a walk on one of these lovely streets. What she doesn’t always remember is that high heels and cobblestones don’t always go together. Follow her on Twitter at @beehivesteph or catch up on her culinary chats through her podcast, The Southern Fork.