Charleston’s House and Garden Tours

calhoun mansion garden

House and Garden Tours are the perfect way to spend a gorgeous day in downtown Charleston. Each tour is within walking distance of each other, the tours are organized by a central street. Along each tour, you are welcome to view inside eight or more private houses and gardens. The tours highlight historic architecture and the colonial buildings, as well as revealing the rich history of Charleston. The guides at each tour can provide further information about the historic homes and gardens. Throughout the tour, guests can also see collections of furniture and art. The streets that provide house and garden tours include Tradd Street, Broad Street, South Battery, East Battery, Church Street, King Street, Anson Street, and Charlotte Street. The beautiful gardens throughout the tours perfectly demonstrate Charleston and its sophistication. Guides along the tour explain the garden designs, plant material and the history behind it all. The tours are on foot, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Not only will you learn more about the history of Charleston, but it is also a great opportunity to view the gorgeous historic houses and gardens you pass by throughout the city. Between all the tours offered, you have the chance to view approximately 150 private historic houses within 10 colonial and antebellum neighborhoods. Reservations can be made and tickets can be purchased, which is strongly encouraged. The Historic Charleston Foundation offers their House & Garden Tours in the spring and The Charleston Preservation Society offers theirs in the fall.

calhoun mansion garden 3edmonston alston 2calhoun mansion garden 2

History of the Old Exchange

Known as one of the three most historically significant colonial structures in the country, the Old Exchange Building is filled with rich history dating back to when Charleston began. When built in 1767, the Exchange Building accommodated commercial imports and exports with its Palladian architecture, as well as supported the political and social scene in Charleston; as Charleston was the most prosperous port in the South. The Exchange Building was played a big role in the developing nation. The Declaration of Independence was read on the very balcony that still stands today. And the Legislature met at the Exchange Building to ratify the new State Constitution in 1790. During his stay in Charleston in May of 1791, George Washington also hosted banquets and events at the building. The Old Exchange does not only represent all the bright and wonderful parts of America’s history. For generations, slaves were sold on the same balcony that the Declaration of Independence was read. Underneath the building, pirates, deserters, civil war prisoners and socialites were chained with heavy iron. Disease, sickness, rats and death ran rancid throughout the dungeon and the dead were often left to rot with the living prisoners. One famous pirate held in the Old Exchange Dungeon until his execution in 1718 and known as the “gentleman” pirate was Stede Bonnet, who was taken under the command of Blackbeard for a number of months. Declared a national historic landmark in 1973, many people claim that the building is haunted with ghosts of the prisoners that were once held in the dungeon, and the upstairs is filled with colonial spirits. The Old Exchange Building preserves much of the nation’s history and is an unforgettable experience! For more details, visit their website.

The Beautiful Battery Has a Dark Past


battery-houseToday, the Charleston Battery is a beautiful place shaded by large oak trees overlooking the Charleston harbor, but the Battery has many layers of history behind it. The Battery has not always been a place full of beauty. In fact, it has been the place of many deaths as well as a war. The Battery got its start in 1670, when passengers sailing into Charleston harbor were greeted at the tip of the peninsula. At the very tip of the peninsula was a place where the local Indians disposed of many white oyster shells, giving the point the name White Point. The town of Charleston began to develop near and around the Battery. Before 1752 battery-treeswhen a hurricane battered the Battery, poor people set up shacks and called it home, and in 1770, elegant homes were built at the Battery, which many still stand today. During the War of 1812 when the British blockaded Charleston Harbor, large caliber guns were placed along the White Point and the name the Battery was coined. After the war, the oak trees which still stand today were planted. Under the shade trees at the Battery is a stone monument reminding visitors that White Point was the location of many pirates’ executions. Over the course of five weeks, roughly fifty pirates were hung underneath the beautiful oaks. Though not captured and hanged at the Battery, the notorious Blackbeard blockaded the Charleston harbor and demanded medical supplies. Among the not so lucky pirates though, was Stede Bonnet also known as “The Gentleman Pirate.” He was born into a wealthy English family and SAMSUNG CSCbought his way into piracy. Once he was captured, he was imprisoned in the home of the town’s Provost Marshall. He escaped the house, but was captured and found guilty, sentencing him to be hanged. His crew was hanged two days before him at White Point, where their bodies were left hanging. Stede Bonnet was hanged at the Battery on December 10, 1718 and his body remained hanging for several days after execution until his body was dumped in the marsh with the remains of his men. The history behind the Charleston Battery is memorable in both good and bad ways. Such a beautiful part of Charleston was once the death place for many as well as a place of war.

Fort Moultrie is a Must-See when visiting Charleston


Fort Moultrie, the first fort on Sullivan’s Island, protected Charleston from British occupation in 1776. Throughout the years between 1776 and 1809 the fort continuously suffered destruction from war and neglect until it was rebuilt with brick in 1809. Today the fort stands in its restored form to portray different periods throughout its history. Visit the fort and you will take a walk through history from the Palmetto-log fort in 1776 to the World War II Harbor Control Entrance Post. Fort Moultrie, the visitor center, historic fort, and parking area are open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. You can access the fort by car on Sullivan’s Island with an entrance fee. Those who have the America the Beautiful-National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass have free admittance. At the fort, self and guided tours are available as well as a visitor center and museum that features a 20 minute film about the fort’s history. This is a must for any visitor in Charleston seeking to learn more about Charleston’s history. This well preserved and well furbished fort uses videos, artifacts and dioramas to bring the history of Fort Moultrie to life. The various sections of the fort represent the various periods in history in which it played a role. Whether it is rainy or sunny, the fort is a perfect place to visit. Not only is it convenient because you can easily access it by road, but you can stay as long as you wish. Fort Moultrie is a must do on your itinerary for your Charleston visit.

Charleston’s Graveyards Reflect Rich History


The graveyards throughout Charleston serve as the final resting place for many people famous to the city. St. Philips churchyard is home to the graves of John C. Calhoun, Edward Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, Christopher Gadsden and Dubose Heyward; and Magnolia Cemetery is the final resting place of Thomas Bennett, Langton Cheves, Horace L. Hunley and Robert Barnwell Rhett. The Circular Congregational Churchyard is teeming with history with some of the oldest gravestones in Charleston. These graveyards contain over 500 gravestones, the oldest dating back to 1675, which is the oldest known grave in Charleston as well as the oldest surviving tomb structure composed of a round-topped brick burial vault covered in stucco and negated of any markings. Many wealthy Charleston families kept up their lavish taste with the gravestone art imported from New England. The gravestones in Charleston’s graveyards display beautiful decorations and art influence of the Puritan ways in New England with symbolic images of plants such as weeping willows, pomegranate, figs and acanthus; and other common gravestone decorations include the hourglass and a common inscription of the Latin phrase “Memento Mori,” which means remember, you must die. Another popular symbol amongst the gravestones is the skull which symbolizes death. One of the rarest symbols that appear on two gravestones in St. Philip’s is the complete skeleton. The gravestones in Charleston’s graveyards still bear the thin rule-lines used by the artisans to keep the lettering straight, which can be seen with close inspection. Charleston graveyards are a quiet and beautiful place to reflect upon the rich history of the city.

Sweet Grass Baskets are more than just a Charleston Souvenir

sweetgrass1Introduced to the Lowcountry in the 17th century by Africans from the regions of West Africa, the Sweetgrass Basket has become a Lowcountry trademark. Enslaved Africans brought the skill of making the baskets when they arrived to the Lowcountry as slaves. The enslaved Africans often made baskets for use on the plantation as well as for sale. Many Africans who were no longer able to work in the fields spent their days making baskets. The art of making baskets from sweetgrass began to change due to the Civil War and Emancipation. Women began making smaller baskets for use in their own homes to store food as well as on plantations. The baskets also began to be made as an art form for sale. After the Civil War, Mt. Pleasant in particular landed many black families that began mass producing show baskets for profit. In the 1900’s, basket makers began selling the sweetgrass baskets in gift shops and by catalogues that were owned by white businessmen. Merchants began buying baskets that were attractive to tourists which modified the art of basketmaking. Today, sweetgrass baskets vary in shape and size. Basket makers can be found in the Mt. Pleasant area as well as many places in sweetgrass2Charleston. The baskets are mainly made by women who no longer work outside of their homes and the sweetgrass is still mainly gathered by men. Although tourism allows the art to economically prosper, the use of land threatens the natural resources needed to make the baskets. The survival of the production of sweetgrass baskets, unique to the Lowcountry, relies on the tourists as well as others who purchase them. For more information, visit this website.

Celebrate Social Media Day in Charleston


Social medialites from around the Lowcountry will gather together to celebrate this phenomenon that keeps us all connected from 4-7 p.m. Monday, June 30 at The Alley in downtown Charleston. Why? The Charleston Hospitality Social Media Group noticed that sponsors a national Social Media Day and wanted to get in on the buzz. Some of the other cities around the country that celebrate Social Media Day are San Francisco, Atlanta and New York. All the Charleston Hospitality Social Media Group had to do was get our mayor to recognize it in an official proclamation (those were the terms with Luckily, under the direction of Katie Wells, Mayor Joe Riley jumped on board and proclaimed June 30 Charleston’s Social Media Day.

A small committee of members from the Charleston Hospitality Social Media Group got together to plan the day. The event will include fun prizes from Charleston area attractions, restaurants and others in the hospitality industry, including Middleton Place, Circa 1886, French Quarter Inn, Bulldog Tours, Charleston Harbor Tours, and Magnolias Restaurant. Some of the categories for prizes are “Most Spirited Award,” “Best Charleston Picture,” “Most Creative Use of the Hashtag #chsyou,” “Charleston Foodie Pix,“ and “Selfie with a Charleston Celebrity.” Participants are encouraged to share their prize entries on Twitter and/or Facebook using hashtag #chsyou.

The event has also really racked up on sponsors. The list is long, but some of them include Bulldog Tours, French Quarter Inn, KEW Solutions, 4Q Launch and The Modern Connection. The event has garnered lots of attention and even had representatives talking about the event on the local TV show, Lowcountry Live.

Charleston’s Social Media Day is sure to be a hit and is the first of many annual Social Media Day celebrations to come. For more information, visit the Charleston Hospitality Social Media Group’s Facebook page.

A Charleston Summer Selfie Contest with Bulldog Tours

bulldog tours selfie contest
We are so happy to announce our Summer Selfie Contest! We will be conducting this contest through Facebook and Twitter. Simply upload your selfie taken in front of a famous Charleston spot and you could win a free trip to Charleston. All you have to do is get the most “likes” for your selfie. Once you upload your photo to Facebook, we’ll move it to a designated album for the contest to facilitate easy voting. If you share your photo on Twitter, be sure to tag us (@BulldogTours) and use the hashtag #bulldogtoursselfie. We’ll add photos shared via Twitter to the Facebook album as well.

The winner gets a two-night stay at the Palmer Pinckney Inn in Charleston, a $50 gift card to Cru Café and four tickets to go on our tours (either the Charleston Strolls or your choice of one of the night tours). The winner will be announced at noon on August 1, 2014. You may share your photos and vote all the way up until August 1.

Please note that the hotel room will be valid for two nights from Sunday through Thursday and expires on August 1, 2015. The $50 Cru Café gift card expires on May 30, 2015. The four tickets for Bulldog tours expire on August 1, 2015. This contest is for a limited time and is in no way sponsored by Facebook or Twitter. Also, please note that we reserve the right to refuse a photo for any reason.

For more information, please contact Theresa Stratford, marketing director for Bulldog Tours, at or 843-722-8687.

The Differences in the Charleston Area Beaches

Edisto Beach Camping

Edisto Beach Camping

The Charleston area is definitely known to tourists for its history and old southern charm. Many tourists, however, come with the sole purpose of hitting the beach. Our Charleston beaches are quite beautiful and known for their magnificent oceanfront homes. There aren’t many hotels in and around the beaches, so rental homes are by far the most popular accommodations among tourists when staying at the beach. We attempted to break down the differences and similarities of our area beaches so you can visit the one – or two – that best fits your vacation style.

Isle of Palms - The Isle of Palms is located east of Mount Pleasant, joined by the Isle of Palms Connector bridge. The Isle of Palms has a popular public park where visitors can pay to park. It’s a good choice because parking is limited on the Isle of Palms. There is also a small strip of shops right on the beach. Probably the most popular hot spot in that area is The Windjammer – home to small concerts, beach volleyball and happy hour specials. There are a couple of nice restaurants along that same commercial strip. The Palms Oceanfront Hotel and the Seaside Inn are hotels located oceanfront at the Isle of Palms. They book up quickly so if you want to stay in a hotel there, rather than a home, book the hotel early.

Wild DunesWild Dunes is a beautiful private resort located adjacent to the Isle of Palms. It is a gated community with a Links Course and a Harbor Course. The Boardwalk Inn there provides a four-diamond experience. Guests at Wild Dunes also have the option of staying at The Village at Wild Dunes in a guest room, studio, one- or three-bedroom suite or a penthouse. They can also rent a vacation home or condo elsewhere on the property. Guests at Wild Dunes can relax on the beach or in one of the many sparkling pools, rent a bicycle, or play tennis. Guests can also check out all the services offered at the Sand and Sea Salon or dine at one of the resort’s six restaurants. Wild Dunes is great place for those that want the real resort experience.

ft-moultrieSullivan’s IslandSullivan’s Island has a pristine coastline along with magnificent beachfront homes and is located next to the Isle of Palms. This beach is known as more of an upscale area closer to Charleston. There is a small strip of restaurants and shops on Middle Street that many locals and tourists flock to for the nightlife. Poe’s Tavern, Sullivan’s Island Restaurant, Dunleavy’s Pub and Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ are just a few of the main hot spots. There aren’t any hotels on Sullivan’s Island, but there are plenty of homes for rent. Fort Moultrie is a great place to visit if you are looking for a historic attraction. Meander through the fort and visit the museum to learn all about this historic gem.

surfers11-follyFolly BeachFolly Beach is located on the other side of James Island about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston. Folly Beach has a laid back vibe. It is known for its surfing and casual atmosphere. Folly Beach is a slightly larger community with one large hotel and several small inns and many homes for rent. There is a strip of shops and restaurants on Center Street that is very popular with tourists and locals alike. Many of the restaurants turn into bars at night making the nightlife at Folly Beach quite entertaining. The Folly Beach Pier is a common fishing spot, hosting many fishing tournaments throughout the spring and summer. Folly Beach is also home to the Folly Beach County Park. There are 200 parking spots there and restrooms for people who want to spend the day at the beach. Parking is limited at Folly Beach and strictly enforced so parking in the public areas may be your best option. Morris Island, which is right off the coast of Folly Beach, is a popular island for boaters to visit. The Morris Island Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places as it was built in the late 1700s. It is one of the most photographed lighthouses in South Carolina.

Edisto BeachEdisto Beach is about an hour from downtown Charleston. The beach itself is more secluded than some of the other beaches in the Charleston area. There isn’t a hotel, but there are many reasonably priced homes to rent. There are campgrounds and cottages at the Edisto Beach State Park. Campers can set up right on the beach by the dunes. Edisto definitely has that small beach community atmosphere that is quite appealing. There are only a few restaurants and one grocery store so visitors should come prepared.

sanctuaryKiawah IslandKiawah Island is located on the other side of Johns Island so it is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Charleston. Kiawah Island is a private community. Visitors cannot enter without a pass at the gate. Kiawah Island is home to nine golf courses, two of them being private for Kiawah Island Club members only. Tennis is very popular on the island as well with two large tennis facilities. There are several miles of trails on the island for visitors to walk or bike and a nature center where guests can register for paddling, walking, or fishing tours, and many other activities. Dining is not hard to find on Kiawah Island. The Sanctuary, which is the island’s five-star hotel, according to Forbes, has four dining options within the hotel itself. There are several other options at the other golf course clubhouses and at Freshfields Village, which is an upscale shopping center at the entrance to the island. We should also mention the spa experience at Kiawah. The Sanctuary Spa has some great options for anyone who wants to completely relax. In addition to the hotel, Kiawah Island has villas and private homes for rent. There is also a public beach before the gate. Visitors to the public beach, called the Kiawah Island County Park, do have to pay for parking, but once inside they have access to public bathrooms, showers, a snack bar and lifeguards.

Tour a Charleston home for a true authentic experience


Edmonston Alston house on East Battery

Going on a home tour in Charleston is a unique experience that every visitor to Charleston should try. Not only do you get to experience what life might have been like in the 18th and 19th centuries, but you get an up close look at the detail and precision that went into constructing these spectacular homes. Touring these historic homes and mansions bring to life the ways in which Charleston’s elite lived. Here we highlight five of Charleston’s historic homes that are open for tours. Read on and then decide which homes you would like to see on your next visit to Charleston.

The Nathaniel Russell House – Located at 51 Meeting St. near High Battery, the Nathaniel Russell House is known as one of the country’s most important neoclassical dwellings. The Historic Charleston Foundation purchased the home in 1955 and used it as its headquarters for 37 years. The home has been restored back to its original 1808 furnishings and the grand formal garden was updated as well. Nathaniel Russell was a wealthy merchant from Rhode Island who participated in the African slave trade. He married and had two daughters. The home remained in the family until 1857 and then served as a school for Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy until the early 1900s. The home remained a residence until 1955 when the Historic Charleston Foundation purchased it. In 1995, the Historic Charleston Foundation embarked on a massive restoration project to transform it back to its original appearance. Visitors will see period artwork, furniture and the detailed finishings that make this home special. They can also learn about the African Americans who were responsible for maintaining one of the nation’s grandest homes. Tours are docent led and last 30 minutes. The cost is $10; $5 for children 6-16; free for children under 6. The hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Call 843-723-1623 for more information.

Calhoun Mansion – The Calhoun Mansion is not just a home, it is indeed a mansion. Located at 14-16 Meeting St., this home boasts 35 rooms, a grand ballroom, Japanese water gardens, 35 fireplaces, a 75-foot domed stair hall ceiling, khoi ponds, a private elevator, three piazzas and a 90-foot cupola. The home was built in 1876 by George W. Williams for only $200,000. Williams died in 1903 and after that the home went through a succession of owners and fell into such disrepair that it had to be condemned in 1972. The home was then bought by a Charleston native who spent the next 25 years and $5 million restoring it back to its original beautiful design. The home, which is the largest single-family home in Charleston, is now open to the public for tours, but does remain as a private residence. Admission is $15 per person and tours start at 11 a.m. on the hour and half hour, lasting until 5 p.m. A New Grand Tour is offered of the entire residence lasting 90 minutes for $75. Call 843-722-8205 for more information.

Heyward-Washington House – This brick double house is hard not to notice at 87 Church St. in the heart of Charleston’s historic district. It was built in 1772 originally as a townhouse for rice planter Daniel Heyward’s son, Thomas Heyward Jr. In May 1791, George Washington stayed in the home for a week during his visit to Charleston and since then the home has been known as the Heyward-Washington House. Heyward signed the Declaration of Independence and was a patriot leader. He was captured by the British in 1780 when he was an artillery officer with the S.C. militia during the American Revolution. He was exiled to St. Augustine, Fla., for one year and returned to Charleston in 1781. The home was sold in 1794 and was used as a residence by several different owners until it was acquired by the Charleston Museum in 1929. In 1930 it opened as the first historic house museum in Charleston and became a National Historic Landmark in 1978. Visitors to the Heyward-Washington House will see priceless pieces from the 18th century. There’s a carriage shed and a kitchen dating back to the 1740s. The gardens surrounding the home are nothing short of exquisite. The home is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $10. Call 843-722-2996 for more information.

manigault-stairwayJoseph Manigault House – Gabriel Manigault built this home, located at 350 Meeting St., for his brother Joseph. The Manigaults were descendents of French Huguenots who came to the United States to escape persecution in Europe. Joseph became a great success in Charleston. He owned plantations, sat on the state legislature and was a trustee with the College of Charleston. The Manigualts thrived at rice planting, which made them a wealthy family. The home is a great example of how the affluent family lived and how their slaves assisted them. Many of the collections in the home are wonderful examples of early 19th-century American, English and French influences. Visitors can tour the home, the gardens, the kitchen, slave quarters and stable. The cost is $10 and the house is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Call 843-722-2996 for more information.

Edmonston Alston House – Take a stroll along the Battery and you’re sure to notice the Edmonston Alston House, located at 21 East Battery. The house, constructed in 1825, has deep roots in South Carolina history. Set along the Charleston Harbor, Gen. P. T. Beauregard watched the shots of the Civil War from this home’s piazza in April 1861. In December of that same year, Gen. Robert E. Lee took refuge at this home the night a wide-spread fire threatened the hotel where he was staying. Visitors to the home can peruse the elaborate collection of family heirlooms. Despite numerous hurricanes and earthquakes that have threatened the home, the heirlooms have survived for more than 150 years. The home was originally owned by a wealthy shipping merchant, Charles Edmonston in 1825. Economic panic forced Edmonston to sell the home to Charles Alston, a member of the Lowcountry rice planting dynasty, in 1837. Alston immediately went about updating the home to a Greek Revival style adding a piazza with Corinthian columns, a cast-iron balcony and a rooftop railing bearing the Alston coat of arms. The home is open for 30-minute tours from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 1-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Cost is $12; $8 for students and children (ages 6-13). Call 843-722-7171 for more information.