Long recognized as a prime tourist destination for those eager to blend top-tier food, unique pieces of history and small-city Southern charm, Charleston has plenty to offer eager travelers.
But generally left off the "must-do" and "must-see" lists are some of the residents in the surrounding area: About 23,000 or so service members and civilians who make up the Joint Base Charleston community.
Whether you're soon to join their ranks, are already stationed in South Carolina or are just looking for some travel guidance of your own, Military Times offers these five suggestions:
TOURISTS AT THE TABLE
Charleston owns the top spot in Condé Nast Traveler's reader's choice contest for small cities, claiming it six years straight. And when CNT put out a list of 25 things to do in the city, it didn't have dieters in mind – more than half involved food or drinks.
That list, and lists submitted by Military Times readers, have two things in common. First, the area specialties veer toward fresh seafood, brunch items like specialty pancakes, and Southern staples such as chicken and waffles. Second, don't forget your wallet: Aside from the food types above, the most common word in reader-submitted reviews was "pricey."
Good to know: Can't decide what to eat? Want some options, or don't want to worry about reservations? Consider the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square – open Saturdays, with multiple local vendors featuring made-to-order meals.
HOW TO TAKE AIM
Sportsmen making a new home at Joint Base Charleston can get state licenses and permits to hunt and fish on installation property. Naval Support Activity Charleston offers about 10,000 acres of forest and wetlands.
Military members living in South Carolina qualify for resident hunting and fishing licenses. Get more details and up-to-date rates at the base's outdoors recreation centers; bring a valid military/Defense Department ID, a driver's license and your Social Security number.
Base permits require a license, completion of a hunter safety course and "approved firearm registration," according to base officials, before you can head out after deer and wild turkey.
Good to know: Live in South Carolina but home on leave? Per the state's Department of Natural Resources website, you can hunt or fish without a license – just present a leave and earnings statement. You'll need permits for certain big game, migratory birds and hunts in wildlife management areas.
Whatever you're doing downtown or nearby, there's a good chance Joint Base Charleston's information, tickets and travel office will help you do it cheaper. Discounts are available on a variety of tours, sporting events, plantations, amusement parks, historic sites, even tourist must-dos like carriage rides and the South Carolina Aquarium.
Good to know: Some of these deals may match or beat the posted prices at the city's historical attractions (see details, Page 36)
A BIG, BIG BRIDGE RUN
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge spans the Cooper River, stands more than 570 feet high and covers more than 13,200 feet from downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant. It's the largest cable-stayed bridge in North America.
And on April 1, you and several thousand of your closest friends can run across it.
The annual Cooper Bridge Run began in 1978, easily outdating the Ravenel span, which opened in 2005. It's one of the largest 10-kilometer races in the U.S., supports numerous local and national charities, and features a military presence – runners from Joint Base Charleston and ROTC units from The Citadel are regulars.
Good to know: Oprah Winfrey entered the race in 1994 under an assumed name, according to an official race history. She finished 3,839th out of 7,355 official finishers.
Online: Registration information and more at www.bridgerun.com.
TRIP WITHIN A TRIP
What's a road trip without the road? If you've already sampled Charleston's sites and want more regional flavor, head south to see:
- Beaufort: It’s not just home to a Marine Corps air station. Its entire downtown area is considered a national historic district.
- Hilton Head: Two hours from Charleston, take in a new beach or one of two dozen top-tier golf courses.
- Savannah, Georgia: Also about two hours south, pick from luxury hotels to downtown ghost tours and everything in between.
Good to know: Not everybody's on vacation – tack on at least 30 minutes to your travel time if you're heading into (or out of) the above locations during rush hour.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.