The word “road trip” has taken quite a beating on the silver screen in the past few years. First, Tom Green reduced it to a mindless adventure punctuated by random acts of rodent consumption in his 2000 movie “Road Trip.” Then in 2002, Britney Spears encapsulated the joys of female bonding on the road-less-traveled in the impeccably crafted masterpiece “Crossroads.”
Some might say that those movies capture exactly what the road trip experience is all about — a journey free from conscience and laden with non sequiturs — while others may yearn for a vacation a little less Mickey Mouseketeer and a little more thoughtful. Luckily, a road trip to Charleston, South Carolina offers the best of both worlds: a visit to one of the richest historical treasure troves in the nation, teeming with both well-preserved vestiges of America’s past and nightlife attractions that cater to college students.
Located on the jagged shores of a strip of rich coastal plains known as the Low Country, downtown Charleston is situated on a peninsula shaped by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers that meets the waves of the Atlantic Ocean with brazen courage. On the other side of Charleston Harbor, one can already find one of many remarkable historical landmarks not uncommon to the city — the infamous Fort Sumter, where Confederate soldiers blasted cannons during the first battle of the Civil War.
According to South Carolina native Robert Inglis ’07, Charlestonians are keen to repeat a mantra that proclaims, “Charleston is where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers join to form the Atlantic Ocean.”
“Charlestonians are famous for being a little arrogant,” he said.
Joseph Nussbaum ’05, who has lived in Charleston his entire life, concurred.
“The rest of South Carolina sucks compared to Charleston,” he said. “[Charlestonians] like to think we’re separate from that.”
Surprisingly, Charleston is but a hop, skip and jump away from Yale — just plan on making a very long jump. According to the infallible experts at MapQuest, a trip from New Haven to Charleston extends a mileage of a little less than 850 miles and takes a total of almost 14 hours to drive (although MapQuest probably doesn’t consider the time-saving trick of driving above the posted speed limit). Yet while the numbers may scare off the inexperienced road tripper at first, the directions are nearly foolproof — just hop on Interstate Highway 95 and take it all the way south until you hit I-26, which will take you eastward directly into Charleston. The search for the I-95 onramp in New Haven is probably the most difficult part of the trip. Once you’re on the road and have driven for a good six, seven hours, you’ll notice some subtle but marked changes.
“You can always tell when you left the Northeast and entered the South because the accents and the trees change and everyone’s nicer,” Charleston native Melissa Hazell ’05 said.
This becomes all the more apparent once you arrive in Charleston.
Indeed, the pace of life is much different down in Charleston, making it the ideal destination for Yalie road trippers needing some R&R after midterm hell. Burnt out Elis can capitalize on the slower pace of life and enjoy the pristine beauty of Charlestonian antebellum-period architecture — three-dimensional illustrations of South Carolinian and American history.
Fortunately for those college visitors on a budget, splurging for pricey carriage rides and guided tours is not a necessity in Charleston, especially if you’d just like to get a glimpse inside the city’s many mansions. Most of these mansions are conveniently located along what is called “The Battery,” a strip of well-preserved of buildings that once housed affluent plantation owners and now serve as public museums. One of the most prominent of these is the Edmonston-Alston House, once owned by the Alston rice plantation family. A trip to Charleston offers the added bonus of nearby plantations that hearken to the South’s once entirely agriculture-dependent economy, such as Drayton Hall on the Ashley River, and several historical churches that allow Charlestonians to lay claim to the nickname “The Holy City.”
Charleston offers quirky historical landmarks as well, such as the Old Exchange Building, which, according to Hazell, was used by pirates like Blackbeard. Inside the Dock Street Theater, the ESP-equipped say there lives the ghost of a woman trapped on the old second floor before the floors were raised several feet higher. Visitors can thus come to the theater and supposedly see her legs and the hem of her dress sticking out of the ceiling.
But you might be asking, “Why would a Yalie history major like me drive fourteen hours to learn more about the Civil War?” Luckily, Charleston has much more to offer than that. With the 9,000-student College of Charleston in the heart of the city, Charleston is a college town that has plenty to keep you entertained after the museums close.
“Charleston actually has a huge local music scene,” said Nussbaum.
He recommended clubs such as the Music Farm and Cumberland’s in the downtown area, which regularly feature popular local bands like Jump Little Children.
South Carolinian insiders also know that Charleston beaches by far surpass those of nearby Myrtle Beach, to which tourists often flock during peak seasons of the year.
“[Charleston] beaches are really nice and uncrowded, and because of the way that the current works there, they’re really wide. There’s just this huge amount of beach space to do whatever you want,” Inglis said.
Folly Beach has frequently been mentioned as one of the best beaches in the area and has been dubbed by locals as “the edge of America,” both literally and figuratively. Folly Beach is a popular site for those looking to try water sports, such as windsurfing and surfing.
“Charleston is the Carribean of the South,” Hazell said. “It’s on the water and there’s so much to do. I love it.”
Charlestonians eagerly advertise their city as a one-of-a-kind destination. Keely Robinson ’05, like other Charleston natives, cited her city’s status as “the friendliest city in America for the past 15 years in a row.” Indeed, the Charleston they portray is a city well worth the 14-hour drive.
“Just don’t do it alone,” Nussbaum warned.
Inglis was quick to point out that the drive through their neighbor to the north, the “other” Carolina, almost ruins the trip.
“It gets pretty monotonous going through North Carolina. It’s just a lot of pine trees, so you need some good CDs,” he said. “But Charleston is the carrot on the end of the stick.”
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