So what makes Charleston so special?
1. The Charleston Visitor Center---This state-of-the-art facility right in the middle of town is an attraction in itself. You can view a short movie about the area, pick up literature of every kind, make reservations for hotels, tours, or dinner, or just browse the huge photos and maps along the walls. If you don't feel welcome after stopping here, you might as well go home.
2. The History---It's everywhere. From the stately old mansions to the renovated row houses, you'll quickly realize that Charleston knows the importance of preservation. I recommend one of the theme-type tours and you'll learn things in a few hours that make the whole trip more meaningful. Note: Charleston is not a perfect little city by any means...They have suffered through fires, wars, and hurricanes that played a crucial role in what you'll see during your visit.
3. The Culinary Experience---Charleston has hundreds of restaurants and pubs, and we found the food and service superb for each dining experience. Several signature dishes occurred, either in the classic form or creatively prepared, on most menus...She Crab Soup, Carolina barbecue, and fried green tomatoes.
4. The Geography---Charleston has its harbor, and, of course, is known for its pleasant climate. However, it does get REALLY HOT in Charleston during the summer, but they don't seem to let it cramp their style. Instead, they've built piazzas to take advantage of ocean breezes, and they've built brick courtyards with overhanging trees for shade. They're taking the harbor to a whole new level, too, by luring cruise lines to include Charleston as a destination.
5. The Trolley---The best way to experience Charleston is on foot, but when you're tired or it's pouring, you take the trolley. The trolley has several routes (all clearly color-coded on a simple map) that run regularly throughout the city. The purpose of the trolley system is to cut down on traffic and make access to shopping and dining easy. It works...and best of all, it's free!
While reflecting on my trip, I can't help but think that Cincinnati has many of the successful pieces of Charleston's development already in place. I realize Cincinnati doesn't have the good fortune of warm weather year-round. However, Cincinnati is filled with historic buildings, has a reputation for fine dining, has a city center already developed around Fountain Square, has spectacular views of the Ohio River as it meanders through the hills, and has plans in place for expansion of mass transit. Seems to me the only thing we're missing is the fried green tomatoes, a signature dish! Any suggestions?