isle of palms | part two | day trip to Charleston

by | Jun 2, 2021 | Travel | 39 comments

Get ready for a lot of pictures of classic low-country southern architecture, because today I’m sharing about our little excursion with my mom to Charleston, SC.

When we first started talking about things to do in the general area of Isle of Palms, Charleston rose to the number one thing I wanted to do.  We didn’t really want this vacation to be about running around and doing touristy things, but the beautiful old city of Charleston was too close to not visit.  The guys weren’t really interested, so we left them back at the beach house.

The best way to cover the most ground in Charleston is to do a carriage tour, so we signed up for one shortly after we arrived.  There are several companies who offer the tours at a couple of different price points.  We went with Palmetto Carriage Works because they had the earliest opening and they had the option to buy out an entire row for just a little bit extra ($70 regular price for two seats, $90 for the entire bench.)  We liked this option so we weren’t crammed in with two other people and so I could take pictures on both sides of the carriage.  As a bonus, we ended up on the back row, so I could take pictures out the back of the carriage as well.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

While we were waiting for our carriage ride, we checked out Charleston’s famous market.  It used to be a place where meat, produce, fish, etc. were sold, but it’s now a place for local artisans and vendors to sell their wares.  It’s a bit of a mixed bag, as is the case with most similar venues.  There are some makers selling their unique creations, but there are also people selling things that are certainly manufactured as well as touristy stuff like roses made out of palm leaves and t-shirts.  As you walk through the buildings, you see a repeat of a few booths with the same products.  My mom bought a silver rice bead necklace and I bought a sunhat.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

We really lucked out on the weather.  It was warm, but not overly hot and humid.  There was a nice breeze and, under the shade of the carriage, it was a delightful way to tour the city.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

I was definitely one of those people who was hanging out of the carriage madly taking pictures.  I didn’t want to miss things because I was constantly looking through the lens, but I also wanted to take home a lot of inspiration for drawings and paintings.  There was too much to see to remember it all.

The tour itself was wonderful!  Apparently, the carriages go on different routes, so it’s a bit of a luck-of-the-draw which route your carriage will take.  We drew the lucky straw and hit the coveted highlights – Rainbow Row, Fort Sumpter, the large homes along the water, etc.  We also lucked out with a wonderful guide who was entertaining and incredibly knowledgeable about the area.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

(I love that this pink house is no 30 1/2)

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

The light was perfect for taking painting inspiration photos.  There were strong shadows and the trees created dappled light on many of the buildings.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

Charleston lived up to its reputation of having beautiful architecture.  I was so in love with the shutters, windows, brass hardware, window boxes, side porches, and haint blue ceilings.  You can definitely see influences from Europe.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

Homes in this area range from $1-6+ million, so you have to save your pennies if you’re going to live in one of these houses.  As pretty as they are, I’m not sure I’d want to pay that much (even if I could) to live in such a bustling area.  The place was hopping with tourists, carriages, traffic.  I can imagine a run to the grocery store is time-consuming during peak times given all of the activity.  But, oh, the houses are breathtaking.  My home-loving heart was all a-flutter.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

One interesting detail is that many of the front doors enter onto a porch instead of the interior of the home.  Most of these houses also had courtyards and walled/fenced gardens.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

(You can see the entrance onto the porch in the photo below…)

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

I loved this old home particularly, which was slightly off-kilter due to age.  It was built by a relative of George Washington (my uncle George, in case you didn’t know), so, naturally, George Washington spent a night there.  When we talked to my great-aunt about that, she laughed and rolled her eyes.  “George Washington has stayed everywhere, it seems!”

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

While most of the homes are private residences, some of them are open to tours and some are museums that are just now reopening to the public.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

Many of the homes are now painted in pastel colors (inspired by the Caribbean roots of the city), but most of the homes originally had faux stone facades and would’ve been gray.  Brick was considered a poor man’s material, so the brick was covered in faux stone treatment.  I’m not sure if the brick homes have been restored or if they were brick to begin with and perhaps the shame of the neighborhood at the time!  It’s funny how home trends come and go and what was once looked down on is considered desirable today.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

I love the color combination on this house – creamy yellow, soft green, haint blue, with bright white and black details.  Not only were most of these homes great studies on architecture, but also color palettes.

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

Notice the enamel house number?  Just like what you see in Europe!

I could go on and on, but I’ll just let you soak in some of the beautiful houses in the pictures I took…

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

charleston south carolina | miss mustard seed

After our carriage ride, we decided to walk about a mile to a used book store I looked up.  It is Blue Bicycle Books and is a wonderful little local book shop.  In addition to carrying used books, they also have new books featuring local cuisine, artists, authors, etc.  I inquired about their art books and the woman behind the counter pointed me to a section of books on a shelf that spanned about 18″.  My hopes were not high that I would find something up my alley in such a small selection, but I did find one book with a cover that immediately spoke to me.  I had only recently been introduced to Fairfield Porter through the book At Frist Light, a book about Maine artists, their works, homes, and studios.  I flipped through this hefty book for a few minutes and knew I wanted to add it to my reference library and enjoy reading it while I was at the beach.  The book was $75, so that gave me pause, but this was the only souvenir I would buy, so I decided it would be worth it.

fairfield porter | an american classic | miss mustard seed

When I got home and looked the book up online, I saw that it was selling for $190-400 online!  So, what was my $75 book splurge is now my $75 book bargain and I feel very pleased with myself for having unknowingly sniffed out such a great find.  I’ve already marked some pages and I can’t wait to do some studies of his paintings.

fairfield porter landscape | an american classic | miss mustard seed

I used the painting on the cover of the book as inspiration when I was painting one of the Charleston homes I photographed.  The thing I loved most about that painting was the reflected light on the underside of the trim and roof, so I tried to capture the red roof reflecting on the second story of this home.

original oil painting of charleston home | miss mustard seed

I am planning to paint more of the homes I photographed to include in the next collection I’ll be selling.  All of the paintings will be inspired by my trip – beaches, boats, houses, and shells.

original oil painting of charleston home | miss mustard seed

The sun was high when we finished our little trip to the book store and it was getting hotter, so we decided to take a bike taxi back to the market to do a little bit more browsing before we left for home.  We did walk by a French patisserie and I had an immediate memory of eating a beignet in Paris.  I did an about-face, “Maybe they have beignets!”  Sadly, they didn’t and I think the young man behind the counter didn’t even know they were a French pastry because he pointed to another bakery and mentioned they had more southern comfort specialties.

Believe it or not, we didn’t eat at one of the many amazing restaurants Charleston has to offer.  I’m a little ashamed to say we drove back to the beach house and just picked up milkshakes from Chick-fil-a on the way.  In our defense, we had an early dinner planned with the guys, so we didn’t want to be too full when pimento cheese grits, hushpuppies, and crabcakes were in our near future.

Dining in Charleston will have to wait for our next trip, which is already being planned for next year.

I love that a trip like this can serve multiple purposes.  I had a wonderful, rich time with my family, but it was also a way to gather creative inspiration.  And, this trip to Charleston specifically had me brimming with ideas.

You can read more about our Isle of Palms trip in these posts…

Isle of Palms | part one | the house & the beach

Tips on Shelling

And you can read more travel posts HERE.

39 Comments

  1. celestial

    I had the ride of my life (and nearly my death) in Charleston. Three years ago we visited this wonderful city with another couple. We decided to see the city via a carriage ride, much as you did. Unfortunately, the horse whose carriage we rode upon was newly introduced to the city and did NOT like it. He alternatively ran, bucked, startled, and expressed great fear with everything going on around him. I grew up around animals and could tell he was extremely agitated, as did one traveling companion, while the other two were blissfully unaware of what was going on. We didn’t get much commentary as the driver had her hands full trying to control the horse and keep him from running into traffic and other carriages. We made it back to the central station where the driver called for “horse pick-up”, thank goodness. I do hope Trigger’s future didn’t involve glue in any way, but I will never go on another carriage ride EVER. Charleston on foot was infinitely safer.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Oh my, that horse never should’ve been pulling a carriage full of tourists. That really is a shame. Our team was an experienced one and did a great job throughout the city.

      Reply
  2. Renee B

    What a wonderful trip in so many ways!!
    I can see you doing a whole series on the doors alone!!

    Reply
  3. Jane

    looking forward to seeing your paintings of the homes you photographed. your post evoked feelings for me…Charleston is our getaway and we always go when it’s not busy. next time you must eat!

    Reply
    • Diane

      My son and I visited Charleston a few years ago. We learned that if those porch doors were open, the residents were home to receive visitors. Try to visit the slave museum the next time you’re there. It’s incredibly moving.

      Reply
  4. Julie N

    BEAUTIFUL! We love Charleston and its architecture along with the beautiful flower boxes. Much inspiration in this post and your paintings are stunning! Enjoy your summer!

    Reply
  5. Pam Emma

    I loved seeing Charleston through your eyes. I love it here and I never get tired of going down Rainbow Row, looking at the old houses and the iron work is just wonderful. I have lived here for almost 5 years and in April, when family came for a visit, I went on my first carriage ride and it was wonderful. I enjoyed taking them to my favorite places and we had such a great time. I am looking forward to seeing more of your paintings.

    Reply
  6. Janet Arden

    I’m so glad you loved Charleston. We have been going to Kiawah Island every summer for almost 35 years now, and we always spend time in Charleston. The roses made from sweetgrass are sort of a by-product of the sweetgrass basket weavers. I’m sure you saw the baskets for sale in the market and maybe even on a few street corners (the ladies at Meeting and Broad Streets are my favorites to buy from). Sweetgrass baskets are a uniquely American folk art and very collectible.
    Enjoy your book. That was quite a find!

    Reply
  7. Babs

    Who needs to fly to Europe when we have Charleston! Your wonderful photos reminded me of France…the light was so perfect and the compositions just so enticing. Can’t wait to see some of your paintings and studies. What a fabulous vacation you had with your beloved family…certainly takes some of the sting out of the last 15 months.

    Reply
  8. Elizabeth Millinghausen

    Charleston is one of my very favorite cities in the world, so the fact that the words “Chick-fil-A” are in this post absolutely does my head in.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, I know! And I usually make a point of eating a local places, but we were ready to head out and didn’t see a place to grab something small.

      Reply
  9. Rhonda Roark

    It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I live in Charleston and love it, but you should plan a trip to my other favorite – St. Augustine Fl – which is America’s oldest continuously occupied city. Your boys will be happy there too with the 42 miles of beautiful beaches and you and your mom can visit the historic area which is just a few miles from the beach.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I actually went to school at Florida School for the Arts, so I was just about an hour away from St. Augustine. I went there several times to go to the beach with my parents or friends. I did a tour there one time, too. It’s a great area!

      Reply
    • CharAnn

      I, too, love Charleston and St Augustine – but also Savannah and Beaufort, SC. I could visit these places again and again, and still want to return.

      Reply
    • Warren Wagner

      Marian’s dad here. We LOVE the St. Augustine beaches. We lived in Orlando for 20 years and were up there ALL the time. Thanks for highlighting this American treasure. (But don’t tell anyone. It’s getting crowded!)

      Reply
  10. Betsy

    My husband and I did a walking tour a few years back. It was basically a architectural tour. Fascinating for sure. I have to admit hearing what transpired at the market from our guide was unsettling and changed the way I felt about going back.

    Reply
  11. Sheri

    Charleston is on my list to experience so this was a real treat to read! I cannot wait to see more paintings that you do inspired by this trip.

    Reply
  12. Gail Braddock

    As an amateur artist who has lost motivation for quite some time, I loved reading what you found inspiring about your visit to Charleston. I had an oil painting teacher who would invariably take weekend trips there for inspiration as well. I’ve been there a few times but neither time was I on my own time so I will have to plan a trip there very soon!

    Reply
  13. Kaelsma

    I SWEAR I lived in Charleston in a previous life – it felt THAT familiar to me!

    Reply
  14. Pat Godfrey McRee

    Loved tripping through Charleston with you, Marian! Such a wonderful and unique city! I experienced those streets as a young, broke Navy wife of nineteen. While my husband was at sea I got a job operating the bookmobile from the King Street Library and spent my days off walking past those houses you photographed and reading on the beach at Isle of Palms. Thanks for the memories!

    Reply
  15. Carol

    You’ve inspired me to go there on one of our vacations. My husbands niece, Sam, is a tour guide there so hopefully we’ll get the top notch tour. I’d love to see your paintings of Charleston. I admire your work and you pr thought that goes into everything. Thank you for a wonderful get away reading your post. Hugs.

    Reply
  16. Emily Lynn

    Charleston is so beautiful! It’s been several years since we were there last but it’s definitely on my list to visit again. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the your work inspired by the area!

    Reply
  17. Rhonda Badger

    Thank you for sharing these Marion. I live in New Zealand but my husband and I did a carriage tour some years ago now and these brought back a lot of happy memories. Such a beautiful place.

    Reply
  18. Margaret

    The green house on the left of the second photo below your comment about definitely seeing the European influence belonged until the last year or so to my daughter’s long time boyfriend’s stepfather and she has spent a great deal of time there enjoying what is one of her very favorite cities.

    Reply
  19. Irene Kelly

    Just love Charleston been there many times once right after a bad storm and was so amazed how fast they had bounced back pulling together all their strengths. The restaurants are so so good sure hope most endured this pandemic.You are well on your way to another book with all these amazing photos. You could name it “Just Doors” with maybe a few gardens thrown in. Savannah is another great Southern city with pretty street scenes viewed from carriages.

    Reply
  20. Felicia Hollingshead

    Marian, if you are planning a return trip and wish to enjoy a phenomenal dinner while in Charleston, look up the restaurant Husk. Basically, you might need to make reservations this year for a spot next year!! Thank you for sharing your trip with us!! Such a beautiful city!

    Reply
  21. Bea

    I loved your account of your Charleston visit. I was there many years ago and I’d love to go back. I also so enjoy looking at beautiful homes and your photos of the lovely homes were such fun to see. Your visit brought back memories of my trip there decades ago. Loved the photo of you and your mom.

    Reply
  22. LINDA MCCULLEY

    Originally Charleston homeowners were taxed by how much of their home fronted the street so they built them with the side facing the street to save on taxes hence the entrance onto the porch instead of the front door. We southerners can be very resilient!

    Reply
  23. Patricia Worklan

    I love Fairfield Porter. That book was quite a find. This post made me want to visit Charleston, thanks for the lovely photos.

    Reply
  24. Linda

    Charleston is my all time favorite city to visit and I dream of living there one day. We celebrated our 25th and 30th wedding anniversary there and will be returning at the end of September for our 40th! The home tours are so interesting and I could photograph the doors and gardens to the homes all day long! Thanks for sharing your photos and look forward to seeing more of your paintings from the trip.

    Reply
    • Mary

      Next year, make sure you and mom visit some of the wonderful art galleries–but leave the boys at the beach! My husband and I have been visiting Charleston every year for about 5 days in March. We stay at a VRBO and roam around on our bikes, visiting Art Galleries, bookstores, and my favorite art supply store, Artist and Craftsman Supply on Calhoun Street, even though neither of us “need” anymore art supplies!

      Reply
  25. Mary S

    I’ve always wanted to visit Charleston and your pictures and descriptions of the
    city has just added to that desire to go there. It looks like you had a wonderful
    time there. Someday….. Thanks for sharing your trip!

    Reply
  26. Mary

    I love love love Charleston!!!! I went around ten years ago and my friend and I took a Photo walking tour and our guide was great. Since you like photography, you may want to try that next year…it was a great experience. And the food…..next time be sure to partake, you won’t regret it. BTW, the lobster rolls at the Wild Dunes (IOP) are wonderful also! I love the market as well and I, too, brought home a silver rice necklace. So many great things to see and do. I cannot wait to go back.

    Reply
  27. Kim

    One tiny detail that I saw on many of the houses are the iron S-shaped shutter holdbacks. These are operational and allow the shutters to be open or closed, based on moving the S. We had these on our house in Illinois, as we had full working wood shutters, and my dad spent his childhood summers in the Deep South. I never liked it when it was windy and the shutters on my bedroom windows would rattle!

    I also applaud your choice to paint the houses you are photographing. I started doing that 2 years ago and it is giving me immense joy to see my favorite houses painted (by me!) and where I can see them without having to take a trip. My own little “neighborhood” on the wall.

    Reply
  28. Jeane Gallo

    I think the tale about the houses being taxed by the street frontage is a misconception. Actually, they faced that way so the piazzas could take advantage of the sea breezes. Also, most of the windows of the rooms which have piazzas go all the way to the floor. You can open them fully and actually use them like doors.

    The palmetto roses are supposed to only be sold by youngsters who register with the city. It was an idea to encourage youthful enterprise.

    I’ve lived in a town near Charleston for almost 40 years. It is the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited. The food is fabulous almost anywhere you go. Right now most of the restaurants are having difficulty with keeping enough staff. The visitors’ center is a valuable source for information when you visit. You can make many reservations right there. Also, there’s a free bus service that goes all throughout downtown.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      You are right, Jeane. Our guide said that the houses were not built with a narrow street front for tax purposes. He also said that it is rumoured they were built that way to make them narrower targets in case of attack, but that isn’t the case either. It is because it takes advantage of the sea breezes!

      Now, I did learn on a tour that the houses in Massachusetts were built with narrow fronts for tax purposes!

      Reply
  29. Sam

    Have been going to Charleston every year since 1980. One of the best cities in the world. Lately traffic, loud car radios, parking meters and obnoxious roaming tourists have taken some of the shine off.

    Reply
  30. monique odman

    I so enjoyed the tour, what gorgeous houses, the front doors are so beautiful, all the details of this Southern architecture are in human scale which is what is being lost in our big cities. It is wonderful that preservation has been a strong concern in Charleston.
    Ha but the heat, I could not stand, you can tell by the double shutters on both sides of the windows that it was to keep cooler way before AC. Your shots are perfect, I like that you noticed the house numbers, we bought ours in France many years ago and the enamel sign is still intact on our house in Brooklyn.
    Who knows if we will visit Charleston, we were in New Orleans which has a bit similar house style.
    And I am happy that you bought this book.

    Reply
  31. Kris

    I haven’t been to Charleston for many years but your post brought back happy memories. I agree with your other commenters that Savannah and Beaufort are also lovely …. but Charleston is my favorite. I also toured a plantation in that general area–the main house was beautiful but …. maybe disturbing is the best way to describe it?

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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