Diversions

Within the State: Exploring SC History and Wildlife in Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina, has much more to offer than sunny beaches, good restaurants, and plenty of shopping. The city is the ideal weekend getaway at any time of the year thanks to a few key attractions that are perfect for exploring no matter the weather.

By Lilly McKinney

Charleston, South Carolina, has much more to offer than sunny beaches, good restaurants, and plenty of shopping. The city is the ideal weekend getaway at any time of the year thanks to a few key attractions that are perfect for exploring no matter the weather.

The South Carolina Aquarium, located in the Charleston Harbor, is a two-story complex housing flora and fauna native to the Palmetto State as well as distinctive visiting exhibits featuring animals from around the world. The Mountain Forest, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain exhibits have plants and animals ranging from a bald eagle and river otters to an albino alligator and Venus flytraps. The Carolina Seas is an impressive 15,000 gallon tank, home to the fish and sea creatures that live around the reefs and barrier islands off the coast of South Carolina. The current featured exhibit is a journey through Madagascar, complete with lemurs, bamboo sharks, and a Nile crocodile. Though tickets are priced at $24.95 apiece, the aquarium offers an incredible chance to explore South Carolina’s native species.

For history buffs, Charleston is the place to go. Forts Moultrie and Sumter are both located in the area, and tours of these historic monuments are offered daily. Both Moultrie and Sumter are part of the National Park Service, and Fort Sumter has special significance as the place where the Civil War began: on April 12, 1861, Confederate troops fired upon the fort and shortly thereafter Union forces surrendered. Fort Sumter is free to the public and is located a short ferry ride across the Charleston Harbor (the ride costs a nominal fee). Fort Moultrie, located on Sullivan’s Island, was incomplete when the British first attacked it during the American Revolution on June 28, 1776. The fort held off the battleships and thus saved the city of Charleston from occupation. The current structure is actually the third iteration of Fort Moultrie in existence, but many of the features have remained the same. In the late 1800s large cannons were installed, and the fort even played a role during World War II due to the threat of submarine and aerial attacks. A tour of the fort is free of charge.

Angelfish can be seen at the Sourth Carolina Aquarium in Charleston alongside other sea creatures native to the state’s costal regions Photo courtesy of Sidney Dills
Angelfish can be seen at the Sourth Carolina Aquarium in Charleston alongside other sea creatures native to the state’s costal regions
Photo courtesy of Sidney Dills

Another historical landmark is the USS Yorktown, also located in the harbor at Patriots Point.  Built during World War II for the U.S. Navy, this aircraft carrier retains all the working elements of a battle ship, including airplanes, a submarine, a flight simulator, a fully furnished brig, and an engine room and flight deck. The tour introduces you to life on the Yorktown, and you can easily spend a full day exploring. Tickets are $18 apiece.

For another piece of Charleston history, visit Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner. This community of Roman Catholic monks was established in 1949. Formerly the Mepkin Plantation, the Abbey is home to beautiful grounds, gardens, and historic buildings. Open Tuesday through Sunday, the Abbey offers free guided tours that teach you more about monastic life and the former plantation.

On a pleasant day in Charleston, consider stopping by Cypress Gardens, also in Moncks Corner. Cypress Gardens is an outdoor adventure, home to a butterfly house, an aquarium and reptile exhibit, a Cypress swamp with canoe tours, and 3.5 miles of walking trails. Tickets are $10 with a $5 fee for boat rentals. The gardens are especially pretty in early spring.

Charleston is well worth a visit at some point during your years at Furman, and chances are you can even find an event that pertains to one of your courses. That in itself is enough of an excuse to skip town for the weekend and explore all that South Carolina has to offer.

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