On our last full day in Charleston, we decided to wake up early and watch the sunrise since we had such fun with the sunset the day before. We looked at the Weather Channel App on our phones to figure out what time to expect the sunrise, and got up at 6am in order to make it to Sullivan’s Island in time. Sullivan’s Island Beach is only about ten minutes away from the Charleston Harbor Resort by car, and we found parking pretty easily since it was so early. We walked down the path and onto the beach and this is the first thing we saw…
…it was gorgeous and cold and we had the beach to ourselves. Danny hunted for sand dollars and star fish, and we even came across a stranded jellyfish or two.
Once the sun was up and the magic of the early morning light was fading, or, our hands go so cold we had to leave, we hit up the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Turns out the breakfast buffet turns into a sit-down meal during the week, and the waitress told us we could order anything and everything on the menu and it would be covered by our Groupon. We clarified a couple of times to make sure we really understood correctly and then went for it. Danny ended up with the smoked salmon, a bagel, breakfast potatoes, and two pop tarts. I thought I was going a bit…lighter?…with the fruit plate, toast, and breakfast potatoes. But look at that fruit plate! It wasn’t exactly light, but it was awesome.
We packed up and drove down the road (literally about one or two minutes) to Patriot’s Point. When we first decided to go to Charleston, I was searching for Groupons in the area and found one for Patriot’s Point at 50% off, and went for it. There’s a lot to see at Patriot’s Point: the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier that fought in World War II, the USS Laffey destroyer, the USS Clamagore submarine, and a Vietnam Experience Exhibit. We spent about four hours exploring and climbing and learning.
We started out on the USS Yorktown. We visited the dentist, the kitchens, the living and working areas, the fire and engine rooms, the flight deck and bridge, just to name a few.
^^ Danny’s looking a bit concerned because he was preparing to go to the dentist for real a few days later. ^^
^^ Danny’s standing in front of what it took to make 10,000 chocolate chip cookies on board the USS Yorktown – 500 eggs, 165 pounds of flour, 3 cups vanilla, and more. And just look at that beater he’s holding! With around 3,500 people onboard, they needed a lot of cookies! ^^
^^ This is an Apollo 8 simulator that, until right now, we thought was actually Apollo 8. Turns out the real deal is in Chicago in a museum. It was pretty crazy to imagine being onboard Apollo 8 as it spend six days traveling to the moon’s orbit and then back to earth. The USS Yorktown actually picked up Apollo 8 after it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean in December 1968, which is why they have a simulator on board. ^^
^^ The size of the USS Yorktown is really unbelievable. Just look at how she towers over Danny. ^^
^^ The USS Laffey fought in World War II and in April of 1945 was hit by 22 Japanese bombers and suicide kamikazes, but was kept afloat by the 336 man crew who fought back and shot down eleven of the attackers. It was pretty neat exploring vessels that played an important part in American history. ^^
^^ The USS Clamagore was commissioned just a few weeks before World War II ended, and thus missed out on the action of war, and spent most of her days operating out of Key West and Charleston. The Clamagore was especially interesting for us because Keith, Danny’s dad, served on a submarine while he was in the navy. Walking through the (very) narrow passageways and imagining ourselves living in such a small, dark, cramped space underwater for so long was pretty crazy. ^^
From there, we went through the new Vietnam Experience Exhibit. I found this part particularly fascinating. Perhaps because I’ve toured a couple of aircraft carriers before, and we explored the HMS Belfast in London just three months prior, and for me at least, all of those ships start blending together, but I haven’t been to many museums or interactive experiences about the Vietnam War. We walked through a replica of a support base, which included bunkers, a mess hall, and an observation tower. There was also a river patrol boat, ambulance, and three different helicopters that were all used in Vietnam. We accidentally got into a part of tour with some Vietnam veterans that had been a part of some of the battles portrayed in the exhibit, which really brought things to life for me.
After Patriot’s Point, we went to the Brown Dog Deli for lunch, just like on our first day – we just couldn’t beat their reasonable prices and great food, not to mention the convenience of being familiar with where it was, parking, and all that good stuff.
After lunch we went back to The Battery for a stroll, explored some charming side streets, and stopped for one last look at Rainbow Row for one last classic Charleston hurrah.
^^ That’s our little red rental car in the bottom of the picture! ^^
^^ Charleston is so charming (and classy!) at Christmas. No inflatable Santas here. ^^
At this point, we had about three hours before we had to return our rental car. We took a gamble and decided to drive out to Folly Beach on James Island. Once we got there, it was worth it, but we hit a lot of traffic on our way there, which resulted in a pretty limited amount of time at the beach. We found a place to leave the car, put on our flip flops, and hit the beach. Walking down the steps and through the grass, it seemed like any ordinary beach, but it wasn’t long before we discovered it was really special…
…the way the clouds reflected off of the water was amazing. What a special moment that we caught as the sun was going down.
^^ Folly Beach was also chock-full of starfish. I mean, we were pumped to find two on Sullivan’s Island that morning, but little did we know that we would literally see hundreds later on that day. It was unreal. ^^
^^ Confession time: we brought some starfish home with us. Being the animal lovers and vegans that we are, though, we made sure that they were really dead before we took them. They spent about a month in our freezer, and now they’re in a plastic grocery bag on our kitchen table, so I’d say they have a better life with us anyways ;) ^^
^^ This is, I think, a horseshoe crab we found on the beach. Although he was very dead, we left him there. Gotta draw a line somewhere. ^^
The sunset ended, which made it easier to leave the beach, which was good since it was after 6pm and we had to return our rental car by 7pm. We checked into our hotel, Aloft, unloaded our luggage and starfish, brought the rental car back to Hertz, and took the shuttle back to the hotel. After much hemming and hawing, we finally decided to just order pizza for dinner. It arrived around 9pm, a couple of the toppings we’d ordered. We called, and they sent another pizza…around 10pm. It was a late night of eating lots (and lots) of pizza, washing off the starfish and wondering if they were such a good idea as their scent overwhelmed our small hotel room (Aloft hotels may have style, but the rooms are small).
Day 4 was great. We squeezed a lot in, we were up early, and we stayed up late. Patriot’s Point wasn’t our favorite, but most of the time we felt like the only ones there, which was really nice. The displays were old (possibly original to when the Yorktown was opened as a museum in 1975) and an audio guide tour included in admission would have been nice. The time we spent at the beach in the morning and the evening, though, was definitely the highlight of our day. I won’t soon forget that sunset and the beach covered in starfish.
We snuck in a little bit of sleep and got up bright and early the next morning and caught our 3:30am shuttle to the airport so that we could board our flight at 5am. But before we could board, the worst part of our trip…
Some background: before we left Colorado, I grabbed a bunch of one dollar bills – we rarely carry cash when we travel, so we often find ourselves in a bind when we take shuttles, taxis, etc. – you know, situations where you should give a small tip. So I tried to prepare ahead of time for these sorts of things. Well, between having to pay to park all over Charleston and having to tip a few more times than anticipated, we were fresh out of any sort of cash when we got dropped off at the airport that morning. The driver had been talking about how important the tips were to him on the drive, though, and we were getting really anxious as we arrived at the terminal. Nothing was open at that time so we had to use an ATM and withdraw a $20 bill, which was really like $25 since there were a couple of fees added on for the ‘convenience’ of using it. I begged a store that was just opening to make change for me but they refused. So we tipped our shuttle driver $20 for driving us to the airport, something we’d already paid the hotel for. It was a frustrating start to our day, but we knew that it would bless our driver and felt like we were left without much of a choice.
We ate our leftover pizza before going through security, flew to Charlotte, and then onto Denver without any trouble. We arrived home in time to throw in a load of laundry and get ready for Danny’s work Christmas party, which was that evening. Phew. It was a long day, but we were glad to be home.
I’m so glad that we decided to tack on some time to Danny’s work retreat, and see some of Charleston. I left feeling like we had seen everything I wanted to, which is always a good feeling at the end of a trip. Sometime I’d love to return when it’s warm enough to enjoy the water and tour some of the nearby plantations and historic homes.
If I learned two things about Charleston, it’s this: it’s charming and it’s accessible. I don’t need to explain charming, I think. I mean, just Google ‘Charleston’ and you’ll be convinced. As far as accessible goes, it’s not a huge city (London and Paris, I’m looking at you) where you could spend weeks and still not see it all. After only a day or two we felt comfortable getting to and from and around the downtown area without our GPS. We battled traffic only on the last day, when we were joining everyone and their brother trying to get home from work on a Monday evening. I think it’s unusual to find a city with so much history and so much to see and do but have it still feel so small and accessible. We really appreciated that about Charleston.
December was an excellent time to visit Charleston – no humidity, beautiful Christmas decorations, no crowds, deals all over the place (remember all the Groupons?) – and I felt like four days was just about right to see everything we wanted to. Although, I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have complained about some more beach time…but who wouldn’t? Thanks, Charleston, for being the perfect getaway from the cold and snow of Colorado. We’ll be back.