Weekending in Charleston
A novel African American museum marks a new era of self-reflection for this Southern city.
Even historic cities like Charleston, South Carolina, are ever-evolving. Case in point: The “Holy City’s” new International African American Museum opened in June. Some 20 years in the making, the project reimagined the site of Gadsden’s Wharf — the arrival point for nearly half the enslaved Africans brought to North America between 1670 and 1808 — as a groundbreaking destination that recognizes the devastation inherent in the slave trade while also celebrating the beauty of the African diaspora. If you’re planning a weekend in Charleston — both Frontier and American Airlines now offer direct two-hour flights from PHL — the museum should be your first stop.
What to do
Dedicate at least half a day to the IAAM, whose galleries combine modern art from the likes of Demond Melancon — known for his glass-beaded canvas portraits — with historical analysis and technology such as immersive sound and video displays. “We aim to leave folks grounded but not weighed down,” explains Malika N. Pryor, the museum’s chief learning and engagement officer. Further your education by taking a Black history tour of town with Frankly Charleston. Run by Franklin Williams, it’s one of the city’s few Black-owned walking tours and provides an unflinching look at the past.
Where to eat
Because of its waterfront location (Charleston Harbor Marina sits on an inlet of the Atlantic formed by the Ashley, Wando and Cooper rivers), seafood abounds. Head to Leon’s Oyster Shop for frozen gin-and-tonics, barbecued oysters and fried chicken in a converted body shop. For a taste of Gullah Geechee cooking (which you’ll learn about in your visit to IAAM), head to Bertha’s Kitchen, a lunchtime staple for red rice, fried fish and okra stew.
Where to stay
Reserve a room at the Pinch, a luxurious new property from Philly’s own Method Co. (You know them from Wm. Mulherin’s Sons and Hiroki.) The 25-room boutique hotel sits just off bustling King Street in three buildings, including two Victorian-era structures that have been fully updated to create a vibe that feels distinctly Southern in a totally un-cliché way (no seersucker in sight). Rooms from $595 per night.
The Can’t Miss List
1. Cruise the racks at Hampden Clothing, where friendly attendants will help you choose designer pieces from all over the world.
2. Get a treatment at the Hotel Bennett: The facials and massages are a balm to bodies tired from navigating the cobblestone streets.
3. Visit the Preservation Society of Charleston for a wide selection of goods (from treasure boxes to cookware) made in the city.
4. At the Ordinary, sip rum drinks and eat platters of the city’s best seafood.
5. Visit the Center for Birds of Prey to watch sea eagles, hawks, owls and more take flight.
Published as “Jaunt: Weekending in … Charleston” in the November 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.