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Why you trippin'?

You can be a tourist in your own hometown

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Photos by Leslie McKeller

"I'm a loser! I've only been to one of these places, and it was in the third grade!"
"Embarrassed to say, but I have not made it to any of these yet."
"I just found out last week that there was such a place."

These were just a few of the responses we received during an informal survey asking locals if they'd visited one of Chucktown's more celebrated tourist destinations. The majority of those surveyed had never stepped on the boat to Fort Sumter or viewed the majesty of Angel Oak or done any number of the things that those Bermuda short-wearing, fanny pack-brandishing, camera-flashing vacationers love to do.

Charlestonians, what gives? You're living in a city Condé Nast Traveler magazine ranked the third best place in the U.S. to visit for 2007, and which the Southern Living Readers' Poll named the best southern city. We have a tourist industry that cranks $5 billion into the local economy annually. That's practically a dollar for every time you flip off a slow-going carriage tour, people. So it's amazing how many locals overlook the fascinating tourist attractions Charleston has to offer.

Holy crap, Holy City! Be you in Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley, South of Broad, or Goose Creek, it's time to check out the historical, hysterical, patriotic, and poetic places that make Charleston a tourist mecca.

Fort Sumter

"The Late Unpleasantness," as Charleston's old guard politely referred to the Civil War, all started on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter. Six days after South Carolina seceded from the Union, Maj. Robert Anderson moved his Union troops from Fort Moultrie (also worth visiting) to Fort Sumter. Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard demanded Anderson and his troops surrender. He refused and the war was on. And without it, Bo and Luke Duke would have been stuck driving a Pinto called the Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Today you can catch a ferry at Liberty Square and take a 45-minute trip across the water to Fort Sumter where park rangers give a genuinely captivating account of the fortress' military history. The trip also offers a great view of the Charleston peninsula, the dramatic new Cooper River Bridge, and Patriots Point.

According to Mary Graham of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, 250,000 visitors travel to Charleston from around the world to visit this landmark each year. And to think that all you have to do is navigate Calhoun Street and hop on a boat.

Fort Sumter
Jan. 2-Feb. 28, ferry departs from Patriots Point, 1:30 p.m. daily, and Liberty Square 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Adults $14, children $12

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

"Why should you go to Patriots Point? Because it kicks ass!" says James Burns, self-dubbed history pimp extraordinaire, a.k.a. living history coordinator at Patriots Point. The kick ass-iness he's referring to would be the maritime collective that makes up the Point including the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier that served in WWII and Vietnam; the USS Laffey, a.k.a. the Ship that Wouldn't Die; and the USS Clamagore, one of the last of the Cold War diesel submarines. All are on display for your pleasure, and Burns has the perfect tour for you to enjoy. He calls it the "eat, sleep, work, and poop tour," which he promises will show you what life was like for the sailors aboard these vessels. "I include the poop part because you get to see the latrines," he adds. Now where else can you get that kind of additional bonus?

Burns attributes the lack of local tourists to the ships' visibility. "You see it from the [Arthur Ravenel Jr.] Bridge or downtown and think that's all there is to it. I'm guilty of not seeing stuff! I've never been to Fort Sumter," he admits.

And according to one visitor, it wouldn't have taken him long to get there. "I had a visitor ask me what time the Yorktown left for Fort Sumter." For the record, the 900-foot-long, 27,000-ton aircraft carrier will not be taking you to Fort Sumter. Just wanted to clear that up.

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Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum
1 Patriots Point Road
Mt. Pleasant
9 a.m.- 6:30 p.m.
Adults $15, children $8

Charles Towne Landing

Virginia has Jamestown, Massachusetts has Plymouth Rock, but did you know that we have Charles Towne Landing? The site where English colonists established the first permanent European settlement in the Carolinas in 1670 is literally a few blocks away from Manny's restaurant. Strange rip in the space time continuum there, no?

Charles Towne Landing is no longer the retro-1970s abomination you once knew. A new state-of-the-art kid-tested, mother-approved museum just opened. When you get there, you'll find ongoing archaeological digs, living history educators, a petting zoo, and bike paths. Plus they shoot muskets and cannons if you visit them on the right day. The chance to learn a little bit of history doesn't stand a chance to watching stuff get blowed up real good.

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Charles Towne Landing
Hwy. 171 between I-26 and Hwy. 17
West Ashley
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Adults $5, children $3

Middleton Place Plantation

"At Drayton Hall you get history, at Magnolia you get gardens, but at Middleton you get both history and beautiful gardens. It's the whole package." That's Middleton in a nutshell according to Mark Maloy, an historic interpreter on the property. History-wise, the Middletons are one of the most remarkable families to have lived in the Lowcountry. (Unlike Rhett Butler's people who are entirely fictional.) They boast a president of the First Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a governor of South Carolina, and a signer of the Ordinance of Secession. Essentially the first half of your U.S. history textbook.

Carolina Gold rice was the family's big cash crop (cotton who?). And the production of the starch allowed the family to make Middleton Place their showpiece. The formal gardens which were established in 1741 following the styles of André Le Nôtre, the man who created the gardens of Versailles. In addition to the landscaped gardens, Middleton Place is working to bring back historical livestock including water buffalo, which you can see on the property today.

Middleton Place Plantation
4300 Ashley River Road
West Ashley
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Adult $25, children $5

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The H.L. Hunley

The Hunley was the first submarine to sink a warship and a pioneer of undersea warfare. Thirty-two men lost their lives working on the vessel, and it ultimately sank with a crew of eight aboard. Astoundingly it was recovered in 2004 and can be viewed at the old Charleston Naval Base. (We can't comment on the rumor that Sen. Glenn McConnell has a rubber ducky-sized replica of the Hunley that entertains him at bath time.) Set aside a free weekend because due to its continuing preservation, visitors are welcome only on Saturday and Sunday.

The H.L. Hunley
Warren Lasch Conservation Center
1250 Supply St.
North Charleston
Sat. 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sun. 12-5 p.m.
$12

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Angel Oak

"Angel Oak? What's that?" John Prim asks. Now 29, he's lived in Charleston since middle school. Still, he says, "I can't believe I've never heard of it." For those like Prim who have never seen this deciduous masterwork, Angel Oak is one of the most majestic hidden gems of the Lowcountry. In fact, at more than 1,400 years old, Angel Oak is reportedly the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi, although at one time Strom Thurmond gave the tree a run for its money. Think of it this way: it sprouted nearly 1,000 years before Christopher Columbus discovered America.

The oak stands 65 feet tall and bears a canopy of 17,000 square feet of shade. The tree is tucked off Bohicket Road on Johns Island and is free for any and all visitors.

As Joseph Campbell said, "God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, 'Ah!'" Just say ah.

Angel Oak
3688 Angel Oak Road
Johns Island
Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 1-5 p.m.
Free

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The Old Slave Mart

Drivers be warned: Chalmers Street is a precarious ride. But if your shocks can absorb the ballast stone road — and your tender tummy can take the jostling, it's more than worth it to see the newly reopened Old Slave Mart Museum at the end of the road.

Following the ban on the importation of slaves, domestic trade became highly profitable. Former Chucktown sheriff Thomas Ryan opened the Mart in 1856.

Closed since 1987, the new museum just reopened this year, and today only a portion of the original complex remains. Inside you'll find an interactive series of visual and audio exhibits that vividly expose the peculiar institution. (Behold the power of a well-designed euphemism. How clever it must have sounded back in the day to make the rather horrible business of slave-trading sound like, well, a boarding school for young wizards. Now, not so much.)

The Old Slave Mart
6 Chalmers St.
Downtown
Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
$7

Charleston Tea Plantation

Traditionally, Charlestonians have been tea drinkers. "The British always imported. It wasn't until they colonized India that they started trying to make tea in the 1850s," says Margarita Hart, an educational tour guide at the Charleston Tea Plantation. Once the Brits had caught on to tea production, their southern cousins gave it a go as well, to very little success. Incidentally, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is built on an old tea plantation that went bust, according to Hart.

Nowadays tea's thriving in the Lowcountry thanks to the Charleston Tea Plantation, owned by Bigelow Tea Company. On the Wadmalaw Island plantation, you can see how tea is processed as well as take a trolley tour of the property. Robin Farmer, production designer for Stephen Duvall Catering and Events, decided to take his mother there after the company catered the plantation's opening. "Yeah, I made him promise to take me," his mother said. After all the sweet tea you've consumed while living in Charleston, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit as well.

Charleston Tea Plantation
6617 Maybank Hwy.
Wadmalaw Island
Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. 12-4 p.m.

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St. Michael's Episcopal Church

You're never out of sight of a steeple, and that's why we call Charleston the Holy City. We've got more God than the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Even if you're not practicing, it's worth peeking in (and potentially bursting into flames) to see some of the outstanding architecture. Pick a church, any church, on the peninsula, and you probably won't be disappointed. St. Michael's is noteworthy due to having been visited by G.W. — and by that we mean George Washington — during his great tour of the South. It's the oldest church on the peninsula. The Sir Christopher Wren architecture, chancel decoration by Tiffany, and impressive iron gate work make it the quintessential Charlestonian church.

St. Michael's Episcopal Church
71 Broad St.
Downtown
Open most days
Free

Avery Research Center

At 125 Bull St. you'll find an archive of more than 4,000 primary and secondary source materials documenting the history of black Americans in the Lowcountry. Warning: For those folks who have it in their heads that the image of the American South pictured in Walt Disney's Song of the South was the historically accurate one, you're in for a very rude awakening. For any information concerning the African American experience in Charleston, the Avery with its galleries, museum, and archives is a resource one shouldn't ignore. It's truth. It's factual. You may or may not find it satisfactual.

Avery Research Center
125 Bull St.
Downtown
Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 12 -5 p.m.
Free

Karpeles Manuscript Museum

Heading down obscurity lane, you might come across the Karpeles Manuscript Museum. You've probably driven past it hundreds of times on Spring Street. It's that big Roman revival number to your right. Housed inside the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, are — what else — manuscripts, tons of them, the older and mustier the better. It's free, and good news — it's not packed. "We usually get about seven visitors a day," says Executive Director Stephen White. The current exhibit features documents from great women throughout history.

Karpeles Manuscript Museum
68 Spring St.
Downtown
Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Free

Mepkin Abbey

If you can get past the PETA controversy, Mepkin Abbey is still worth visiting. It's a monastery for Trappist monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, emphasis on the "strict." The monks rise at 3 a.m. every day — or the time that many of our F&B friends are just beginning to cut loose after a long night's work. They dedicate their life wholly to contemplation, and as their website reports, live a "life of solitude and silence, assiduous prayer, joyful penance, and work ..." And sell eggs. Well, at least until about a week ago. There's a lot to be admired at Mepkin Abbey, both the monks' dedication and the beautiful grounds on which they live. It's a place of quiet observance and reflection. Don't let a little animal rights scandal deter you.

Mepkin Abbey
1098 Mepkin Abbey Road
Moncks Corner
Tues.-Fri. 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m.,
Sun. 1-4:30 p.m.
Free

Postal Museum

Hail, bail, mail, and jail — it's always one-stop shopping at the Four Corners of Law. Which is why you'll have time to visit an overlooked attraction, the Postal Museum. Inside the main post office at Meeting and Broad just beyond the queue is a small room dedicated to Charleston's mail delivery history. A note of caution: If mannequins freak you out, stay away. Stay very far away.

Postal Museum
Corner of Meeting and Broad Streets
Downtown
Open whenever the post office is open
Free

Morris Island Lighthouse

Every major port city has one — a lighthouse. But not every harbor has one that's a thousand feet from shore. What's one doing out there? That's a question that College of Charleston student Erin Holaday may have asked when she first spotted the lighthouse during a geology class field trip. Holaday, like many locals, happened upon the Morris Island Lighthouse by chance. You have to drive to the very tip of northeast end of Folly Beach to get an up-close glimpse. As a result of erosion, the lighthouse was in a pretty precarious state not too long ago, but thanks to Save the Light, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting Charleston's Oldest Lighthouse, it will hopefully last for generations to come. Find out more at www.savethelight.org.

Morris Island Lighthouse
Northeast end of Folly Beach
Available all hours
Free

College of Charleston Communications Museum

At the corner of St. Philip and George streets sits the Communication Museum, and inside that museum is a man. A man who knows more about the audio world than Jim Henson knew about the magic of puppetry. And Jim knew a lot. Curator Richard Zender knows his stuff and will tell you all about the eclectic array of phonographs, early televisions, every possible type of radio conceivable, microphones, holograms, LPs, laserdiscs, and 8-tracks on display. (No word on whether or not Zender has that Frampton Comes Alive 8-track you lost back in '78 when you were perpetually high off of marijuana and the Aqua Net that held your feathered hair in place.)

Communication Museum
College of Charleston
58 George St.
Downtown
Mon.-Fri. 12-4 p.m., except CofC holidays
Free

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