As a photographer based in Charleston, SC, summer is my busiest time of the year. So instead of vacationing elsewhere, I like to escape in my own city for a few days at a time. Given that Charleston won the 2016 “World’s Best City” award by Travel & Leisure, after being a top city for the past four years, there’s plenty to see and do and see as a guest in my own city!
As an underwater, lifestyle and portrait photographer, I work in incredible locations all over the Charleston area. But having a few days off at a time means that I get to share those places with my family.
There are so many fun and well-designed boutique hotels to choose from such as Zero George, The Spectator and The Restoration. I am also dying to check out the newly opened Dewberry, which features a solid brass bar, that runs the length of one of the walls. But for a real escape (with a voyeuristic twist!), I prefer to look on Airbnb to see what all in historic downtown Charleston. I’ve come across amazing places to stay on there, the most adventurous being a houseboat that’s docked at the Charleston Marina.
My favorite spot though is a cute little carriage house tucked into a garden behind a huge historic Charleston home South of Broad. I love to pretend that it’s mine, all mine! Bonus to booking a carriage house with a pool! It’s hot as blazes here in the summer and there’s not a more refreshing way to cool off. Even in an unheated pool, you can swim here from April until October.
One of the nice things about basing yourself in downtown Charleston is that you are in a central location to be able to explore. Here is my ideal long weekend itinerary:
If it’s a Saturday, I’d get up and walk or bike to the Charleston farmer’s market. I love getting a juice from Huriyali and if your kids are with you, they’ll want popsicles from King of Pops. Check out their newly opened “pop” bar, Crooked Crown, that sells specialty alcohol infused “poptails”.
I’m a vegetarian and my favorite Thai restaurant downtown is Basil. It’s great for lunch or dinner. My preferred spot is at the counter, where you get a little cooking lesson watching the cooks season and stir fry your dish.
I love Blue Bicycle Books on Upper King Street. The shop is full of new and used books. Keep meandering south on Upper King Street and you’ll find yourself in the main shopping area. Whether you like to window shop or ‘shop til’ you drop’, there’s something for everyone, from boutiques to antiques.
Once you cross Broad Street you are officially “SOB” or “South of Broad”. This is the prime historic district full of photo opportunities, incredible homes and gardens. I love taking a carriage tour through the city and learning incredible stories about the historic homes you pass. There’s a reason so many people are getting married here in the ”Holy City”!
Be sure to make reservations at the Obstinate Daughter for dinner on Sullivan’s Island! It’s about a 20 minute drive from downtown, over the Ravenel Bridge. The food and cocktails are perfect and you can have the most delicious ice cream afterwards at Beardcats.
A beach walk on Sullivan’s Island in the evening is to die for. Bring your camera. You’ll see the lighthouse, tidal pools, and if you’re lucky, animals in the water that are bioluminescent. Be sure to stay off the dunes and watch out for sea turtle nesting areas!
One of my favorite drives is River Road to Kiawah Island Golf Resort on Johns Island. Driving down River Road is like going back in time. You drive past miles of oaks, dripping in Spanish moss and roadside stands where you can buy produce on the honor system. If you hit it at the right time (July), you pass fields of sunflowers as well. There are lots of photo opportunities along the way, especially if you are driving during “golden hour”. Every time I drive this road, I feel the urge to stop for photos.
There’s a great shopping area just before Kiawah called Freshfields Village. I always stop at Indigo Books for Dorothea Benton Frank’s latest and stock up on picnic items at the grocery store there. There are lots of great boutiques as well. GDC Home is great home décor, inspiration and gifts. My favorite clothing store, J. McLaughlin, has a men’s and a women’s shop and Seacoast Spots and Outfitters is an outdoor store that has everything you need to look and be sporty.
You don’t have to be a guest at Kiawah Resort to book a kayaking tour from Mingo Point. The nature here is incredible, we’ve seen everything from dolphins to manatees.
If you’re there to celebrate, book a room at the Sanctuary for the night, Kiawah’s 5-star hotel, and enjoy cocktails out on the lawn. I’ve yet to do this, but I think about it every time I’m out there photographing a wedding.
My favorite thing about Charleston is the walkability. Often times, when I’m photographing couples or families downtown, I’ll have them meet me at Waterfront Park by the Pineapple Fountain. There are incredible views here over the water, cobblestoned streets, a pier with swings and a view of Fort Sumter. From here, I like to stroll into the French Quarter and explore the art galleries. The Vendue is curated by RLS and always has some really interesting pieces of contemporary art.
If time permits, be sure to explore Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark and plantation along the Ashley River. It is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens and another great spot for photos.
The photos are from the series, “Nostalgic for Summer”. It features images of Charleston from the water that capture the joy and freedom of childhood summers.
Leigh Webber is an underwater, travel and lifestyle photographer based in Charleston, SC. Her work centers around the motto, “Collect Moments Not Things”. To view more of Leigh's work, visit her here.