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Take a Trip to Charleston, South Carolina, for New Museum, Other Cultural Stops

As the International African American Museum opens, consider these destinations to complement your visit

spinner image Aerial view of downtown Charleston, S.C., with the Cooper River Bridge in the background.
An aerial view of downtown Charleston, South Carolina, with the Cooper River Bridge in the background.
Getty Images

After a five-month delay, the newest museum in Charleston, South Carolina, the International African American Museum, is set to open June 27. The museum originally planned to open in January, but in December it said it needed more time to keep exhibits safe from the city’s humidity, particularly notable along the coast.

The museum sits on Gadsden’s Wharf, the entry point for thousands of captured Africans who would be sold into enslavement in America. A ground-level memorial garden for these African ancestors will allow museumgoers to reflect in the space.

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The International African American Museum promises to tell the untold stories of Africans in the Americas, including the history of the Gullah people, who’ve been living on and near the barrier islands off the coast of South Carolina for more than 200 years.

If you’re planning to visit the museum, reserve tickets in advance; they’re required for entry. The museum started taking online ticket reservations April 30.

Once you have reservations, build out the rest of your Charleston itinerary with these places that also celebrate the culture and history of Black Americans. 

What to see

The Denmark Vesey statue at Hampton Park is a tribute to a man whose impact traveled far beyond his Charleston home. He was one of the founding members of what is now Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. After his death, he was celebrated as an abolitionist hero for his supposed role in planning an insurrection to free enslaved people in Charleston. The sculpture sits inside Hampton Park, one of Charleston’s largest. Hampton Park is about a 12-minute drive from the International African American Museum, near The Citadel military college.

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Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s, the Old Slave Mart Museum was as an auction site for enslaved people in South Carolina. Today, it’s a museum that narrates Charleston’s involvement in the slave trade through a self-guided tour. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors. The museum is wheelchair accessible, and visitors can generally view all the exhibits in less than an hour. Located about a mile south of the International African American Museum, the Old Slave Mart Museum doesn’t have its own parking lot, but street parking is available nearby. Pay attention to signs; some parking allows for one hour free, but other spots are metered.

spinner image Sweetgrass baskets, made by Gullah artisans, are sold at the Charleston City Market.
Sweetgrass baskets, made by Gullah artisans, are sold at the Charleston City Market.
Alamy

Watch Gullah families practice traditional basket-weaving techniques at the Charleston City Market, also about a mile south of the International African American Museum. The market has roots that date back to the early 1800s. It’s four city blocks long and home to many vendors selling goods from nearby. Sweetgrass basketmaking is the standout, as passersby can witness the 300-year-old tradition. Charleston City Market is wheelchair accessible.

Where to eat

Nigel’s Good Food is a well-known Charleston standby thanks to low-country soul food staples like shrimp and grits, but barbecue lovers shouldn’t miss out on owner and executive chef Nigel Drayton’s second venture, the Slaughter House BBQ & Brew, about a 30-minute drive northwest on Interstate 26W from downtown Charleston. Drayton won awards three years in a row for his oysters recipe at the Lowcountry Oyster Festival and has received the most community votes to claim the top restaurant spot in GeeChee One Magazine’s annual awards to celebrate businesses, artists and filmmakers in the Carolinas.

spinner image Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ is located on King Street in Charleston, S.C. Scott won a James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2018.
Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ is located on King Street in Charleston, S.C. Scott won a James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2018.
Courtesy Angie Mosier

Another top-notch barbecue option comes from Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ. Owner and pitmaster Scott won 2018’s James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the Southeast. His restaurant is known for its signature pork dishes and cooks eight to 10 hogs every night over hot coals. Although pork is the star, catfish, turkey and brisket are also on the menu. Save room for dessert: The banana pudding is a standout.

If you’re seeking great seafood, Simply Seafood on Johns Island is a highly rated choice. The menu is full of seafood boils, from garlic blue crab to crawfish. Oysters, shrimp and even alligator bites help round out the offerings. Johns Island, South Carolina’s largest island, is about a 25-minute drive west of downtown Charleston. Three rivers surround the 84-square-mile barrier island, which is known for its many farms and for the Angel Oak Tree, a southern live oak estimated to be at least 300 years old.

If you’re not familiar with Charleston chewies, best described as a brown sugar blondie, make sure you get the treat while you’re in town. Charlestonites usually point out-of-towners to one place to pick them up: Daddy’s Girls Bakery. The family-owned bakery got its start selling treats in barbershops and beauty salons. Now it sells cakes, cupcakes and the famous chewies from a North Charleston brick-and-mortar store.

What to do

The Gullah community heavily influences Charleston’s culture, including its food, language and folklore. On Alphonso Brown’s two-hour Gullah Tours ($25 per person), he teaches visitors about Gullah history and notes significant contributions by Black Americans in the Charleston area. Brown is fluent in Gullah and introduces travelers to the Gullah language. He also includes notable stops such as Denmark Vesey’s home, an area that was part of South Carolina’s underground railroad, and a stop at Mother Emanuel AME Church, the oldest AME church in the South.

If you’re interested in using the International African American Museum’s Center for Family History as a genealogy resource, consider visiting the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture to further your studies. The center holds historical records for a number of churches, funeral homes and families, as well as manuscripts and other documents from civil rights activists from the greater Charleston area. Self-guided tours are available. Guests are encouraged to register in advance, but admission is free. The center provides chairs for people who cannot stand for long periods.

Joseph Fields is a third-generation Gullah farmer who grows certified organic fruits and vegetables on his 50-acre farm. During strawberry season (April to June), Fields offers you-pick strawberries. For everything else, visit Fields’ nephew’s farm stand on the property, called Fields Farm Produce Market. Devonne Hammond sells his uncle’s and other low-country farmers’ seasonal produce, including muscadines, cucumbers and tomatoes. He also sells local honey, coffee, meat and more. The farm stand is wheelchair accessible. The farm and farm stand are on Johns Island, a 24-minute drive from downtown Charleston.

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