If you’re looking for a day in the sun near Charleston but you’re not a huge beachgoer, head to Hunting Island lighthouse. There, you’ll get a little bit of everything: a stretch of beach, views of the ocean and marshes, a lighthouse history that dates back before the Civil War, and a cardio-mimicking climb to the top.
The lighthouse is unique in that it is constructed of cast-iron sections that can be taken apart and put back together just in case it ever needs to be moved (like it was in 1889). If you go to the top and look at your immediate surroundings, you can see why this was necessary. Marshes, sand dunes, and layer after layer of sand washing into the Atlantic are all within spitting distance. The tides are strong and though many people soak and swim in the waves they can be dangerous – a key to many of the stories that claim the lighthouse as haunted. From the keeper who couldn’t save a child to the moaning child at the top of the lighthouse, beachgoers and park rangers love to tell tales of ghosts that haunt the structure.
The park itself is green and lush and full of places for camping and relaxing for the weekend, yet it doesn’t feel too busy or packed with people. This is the kind of place you take your time getting to and enjoying before reentering the workweek.
Another way to relax in the south is with tea and sunshine. Sweet tea is basically a euphemism for the region itself, and while you could pick it up at any number of restaurants or front porches in Charleston, I wanted to find out from where it all came.
The Charleston Tea Plantation doesn’t look like much in a photograph, but photographs can be deceiving. I found the tea plantation to be one of the most interesting places we visited – but then, I love tea. Hot, cold, iced, made by the sun, loose leaf, fruit-flavored, mint-infused, made with honey, simply brewed, or whipped into a chai tea latte, I like them all.
The tour of the fields sounds boring – I mean, they’re crops. And it very well could be, but our trip had an interesting guide punctuated by a tape that talked about the history of tea, tea growing, tea making, tea consumption in other countries, and this particular tea plantation. It is surprisingly funny. You’re also able to tour the greenhouses and watch how tea leaves are harvested in the main facility (note: don’t stumble into the tour last minute because you won’t be able to see a thing over taller people and rambunctious children).
The best part, however, is tasting all of the teas in the shop. All of them. Don’t you dare leave without trying them all, mixing two or three to create even stronger flavors.
– M. Ray Hall