A recent visit to Charleston’s Magnolia Plantation & Gardens reminded us of the beauty of this extraordinary property. Magnolia has been selected as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Gardens” by Travel + Leisure magazine—the only garden in South Carolina honored with this distinction. Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, it’s the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry and the oldest public garden in America; its doors opened to visitors in 1870.
If you go, we suggest you start with a half-hour guided tour of the Drayton family home, the core of which was built prior to the Revolutionary War. Ten rooms, furnished with Early American antiques, are open to the public. Afterward, explore the surrounding gardens, some sections of which are over 325 years old.
You could spend several days exploring the plantation. Take a 45-minute tram ride past wetlands, lakes, forests and marshes to observe alligators, turtles, egrets, herons and more, or board a boat for a ride through the old rice fields. On another day, view five well-preserved former slave cabins that date to 1850, the zoo and nature center, and the Audubon swamp garden (a mecca for bird photographers). The website has a list of what’s in bloom each month and a weekly newsletter for birders. 843-571-1266, magnoliaplantation.com
The McLeod Plantation, established in 1851, is an important Gullah/Geechee heritage site situated on 37 beautiful acres by Wappoo Creek near the Ashley River. At times unprofitable to farm, it went through a half-dozen owners, including slave traders, before the Civil War.
Black soldiers from Massachusetts lived here during the war, and freedmen occupied it afterward. The property reverted to the McLeod family after the war. In 2015, the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission acquired the house from the Historic Charleston Foundation and has turned the main house, agricultural outbuildings, pre-war gin house and six cabins for enslaved families into a fascinating museum. The plantation’s modesty stands in contrast to some of the more lavish plantations in the region. But, as Shawn Halifax, the cultural history interpretation coordinator for the Park Commission, explains, “The McLeod site is much more representative of what would have been the norm in the 19th-century South.”
McCleod’s excellent tour guides describe the struggle between white planters, who wanted to perpetuate the plantation system, and the enslaved, who simply wanted their freedom. They tell a tragic story about the production of lucrative Sea Island cotton, prized for its long fibers and softness, and how long after the Civil War, whites, desperate to keep cheap labor, enacted Jim Crow laws to keep African-Americans in virtual bonds. Be prepared for a direct, unvarnished lesson in Southern history. 843-762-9514, ccprc.com/1447/mcleod -plantation-historic-site
The Vintage Lounge, which opened late last year at 545 King St., adds a new dimension to upper King’s bar and restaurant scene. This swanky retreat was conceived by partners Nathan Wheeler and Mike Shuler to stand apart from other bars in the neighborhood. They envisioned an upscale oasis for an older crowd, a place “to chill out with a nice glass of wine and small plates in an atmosphere with an upbeat vibe.”
Contributing to that vibe is a sleek décor that subtly echoes the past. Overhead, a barrel-vaulted ceiling shimmers with patches of gilt applied in a “crumbling plaster” effect. Plush chocolate-brown banquettes and matching, low mid-century-style chairs invite guests to relax awhile.
Wheeler, who acts as general manager and sommelier, says the partners wanted to “revisit wine in a way that made it fun and easy to approach.” To that end, he has assembled a collection of wines from all over the world.
Vintage Lounge offers over 50 wines by the glass as well as flights that change with the season. The menu comprises cheeses, charcuterie and small plates. The music? Jazz, of course. 843-818-4282, vintagechs.com
“When it comes down to it, we’re about serving food that’s good for you in a casual, relaxed environment,” says our server at Basic Kitchen, a buzzing restaurant in Charleston’s historic district. She explains the owners are inspired by international flavors and committed to serving healthy food.
During our recent lunch visit, we found this attractive eatery delivers all it promises. Housed in a historic building with floor-to-ceiling windows and a covered courtyard filled with plants and herbs, the restaurant is bright and welcoming. Offerings emphasize local produce, whole grains, healthy oils and spices, sustainably raised meats and wild-caught seafood.
The Vietnamese chop salad features local shrimp, cabbage, romaine, red peppers, snap peas and cashews with a chili lime vinaigrette. It disappears fast! The Basic Bowl, a delightful medley of brown rice, sesame kale, braised beans, grilled Brussels sprouts and grilled sweet potato, comes with a sauce of blended kale and spinach. Tempting desserts include a coconut brown rice pudding with mango and the vegan cheesecake.
The restaurant is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Kate and Ben Towill. Kate, a Delaware native, has a professional background in design; Ben, born in England, has an extensive background in the hospitality and restaurant business, having created four renowned New York City eateries. The couple also runs a company, Basic Projects, that has designed both residential and commercial projects.
Basic Kitchen, located at 82 Wentworth St., is open Tuesday through Friday for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Saturdays for brunch and dinner; and Sundays for brunch only. 843-789-4568, basickitchen.com