How to use credit cards to travel for free (aka credit card hacking)
The hubby and I just spent four marvelous days in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a much needed break from the regular grind of our everyday lives. With a new puppy and baby on the way, a few days away from responsibility, agenda, and the Minnesota cold were exactly what the doctor (or midwife in my case!) ordered.
We chose Charleston because we heard it was a laid-back city with a great food scene. And the weather is obviously warmer than it is back home for us. That was all we needed to book the trip and go. Between my flight voucher I still had to use up and the husband's frequent flier miles, we were able to fly basically for free, which is always a bonus. In addition, staying at AirBnB's over hotels freed us up some money to use towards eating delicious food. Which you can sure bet we ate a lot of!
Here's a rundown of our itinerary, including and most importantly, what delicious morsels we devoured along the way:
4 Days in Charleston, South Carolina
Day 1 (Saturday):
Arrived late and took a Uber to our AirBnb in Mount Pleasant. Was a one bedroom decorated in the most elegant way. According to the husband, it had one of 'prettiest bathrooms' he had ever seen. There were not one but TWO chandeliers in the bathroom!
After sleeping for a few hours we got up and took an Uber to Sullivan Island. There we walked along the beach. It was sunny and in the 70s, and my heart was rejouicing!
After our nice stroll we had lunch at The Obstinate Daughter. Highly recommend for the food, atmosphere, and service. We split the shrimp roll with geechie grit frites and the shrimp arugula pesto pizza with olives, grilled artichokes and lemon. Both were delicious, but the shrimp roll and those frites were out of this world!
After another walk on the beach, we took another Uber up to Boone Hall Plantation. We took a open-air tractor ride (well that's what we would call it here in MN!) around the grounds to see all of the crops they still plant. It's still a major farm, and was really cool to see where they put everything and how it grows. Afterwards we toured the house, which was featured in the Notebook as well as a few other TV shows/movies. It was interesting to hear all about the history of the plantation, who it's owners were/are, and learn more about the role slaves played during different periods of time.
After our trip to Boone Hall Plantation, we took another Uber back to our place and got ready for the night. We had dinner reservations at Butcher and Bee. We ordered the warm bean dip with their homemade pita bread, cauliflower with green tahini, curried cashews, and pickled raisin, and bacon wrapped dates for starters. First course was crispy sweet potatoes with tamarind chutney, yogurt, and cilantro. Main course we split the Whole Grilled Sea Bass with turmeric coconut curry, chickpeas, and Israeli couscous. The fish and that curry sauce was some of the best I've had. But I could have even just had the chickpeas and couscous with the curry, it was that good. We also had a custar-like dessert with local strawberries and meringue drops that was fabulous.
Day 2 (Sunday):
We moved Airbnb locations this day, so after we got up/ready we took an Uber into downtown Charleston where we were staying to drop off our bags. From there we went to brunch at Poogan's Porch. We had the she crab soup (crab soup with sherry vinegar- our Uber driver told us we had to try it once!) and biscuits and gravy to start. The biscuits were so fluffy and light and the gravy was not too thick with big chunks of sausage in it. Best biscuits and gravy to date.
After that we split the Tennessee Hot Chicken and the Shrimp and Grits. The chicken was perfectly crisp on the outside and so juicy on the inside. It was served with blue cheese Brussels sprouts slaw and a brioche bun and was so SO good! Of course we didn't snap any pictures as we dug right in.
From there we walked the downtown area to explore. So many beautiful homes and so much history in that area. We stumbled upon Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier and indulged in some drinking chocolate and treats. The hubby had these fruit bites made of pureed fruit (apricot and strawberry) and rolled in sugar, and I had a earl grey dark chocolate truffle.
After making it home, we got ready and headed out to an early dinner at Rodney Scott's BBQ. They were out of a chicken, ribs and cornbread (what I really wanted!), but we had some pulled pork, mac and cheese, coleslaw, hush puppies and beans. The beans were phenomenal, but other than that, nothing I would go back for. We've had just as good of BBQ here in Minneapolis. It's likely you could find other/better places in Charleston, and I'm sure there are some good ones out there. Either way - if you go, I wouldn't necessarily waste your time/money at this place.
From dinner we headed to Charleston Pour House which had a funky hippie vibe. The outdoor bar was open and there was a great band playing. People with dreads and bell bottoms everywhere. The best part? You can bring your dog! There were several dogs running around chasing/playing with one another. My dog loving hippie spirit was in heaven.
Day 3 (Monday):
Monday we woke up and stopped at the famous Callie's Charleston Biscuits for a few biscuits. We sampled almost every kind they had (6 total) but our favorite weren't the buttermilk biscuits themselves, but the shortbread ones. Especially the shortbread with blackberry preserves inside. One of the most delicious bites of biscuit I've eaten. Hubby seconds that.
After that, we walked down to the ocean where we caught the ferry just in time to see Fort Sumter. Fort Sumter was were the first shots of the Civil War were fired. It was chock full of history, but the best part (for me at least!) was the dolphins that rode our wake the entire ride back.
Once back to shore, we were starving and headed to 167 Raw. They are famous for their lobster roll, but the waiter we had suggested the scallop po'boy (as did the lady next to us!) and so I went with that. Best decision ever! One of the best seafood sandwiches I've ever eaten, and that's not a joke. Scallops were cooked perfectly (I'm not usually a big scallop fan due to the texture) and they were topped with beet reduction, some sort of green sauce (sorry - that's the best I can do!) and microgreens. The hubby and I shared some shrimp cocktail to start and he had a swordfish taco that he loved.
From there we made our way to the Rooftop Bar at The Vendue. Enjoyed a few drinks (basil strawberry lemonade for me) and some good people watching. You could see the ocean from afar, and the weather was perfect. Recommend checking out if you're looking to soak up the sun and kill some time.
We continued walking from there and stopped to get some happy hour deals at Pearlz Oyster Bar. The hubby had 1/2 dozen oysters, pork rinds, and I had the corn fritters dusted with powdered sugar. The food was good, but nothing spectacular. Hubby loved the pork rinds (not my thing) and I enjoyed the take on corn fritters. Was a good place for a quick/cheap bite to hold us over till dinner.
For dinner we had reservations at Husk, the James Beard award winning chef Sean Brock's restaurant. Every ingredient is sourced from the South (even the olive oil is from Texas!), which was really unique for us. We started with some drinks (I had a non-alcoholic drink made with shrub which was fantastic) and the pig-ear lettuce wraps. They were mentioned as a must-try in Charleston, and the waitress recommended them as well. Although good, I couldn't quite get over the texture of pig ear (I also felt like my dog!) and wouldn't eat them again. However, it was one of those unique things you just kind of have to try!
For the main course I ordered the pan-fried catfish with Carolina gold rice, and the hubby had the pork shoulder with pork belly inside. They were both really good, and really unique. The catfish was done perfectly and the husband drooled over his pork ("one of the best pork dishes I've had ever" - can you sense a theme going on here this trip?!).
Overall the food was a bit on the salty side for me, but my husband likes to remind me that I have a low salt tolerance (or so he thinks!). The dessert was my favorite part. Olive oil cake with local strawberries and fresh whipped cream. If you would have asked me before this pregnancy if I wanted dessert I would have answered "no, I'm not much of a dessert person". Boy how things have changed.
Day 4 (Tuesday):
On our last day in Charleston we rented a car so we could take a day to explore on our own terms (and it was cheaper than taking multiple Ubers throughout the day!). Our first stop was breakfast at Early Bird Diner, which had been featured on one of our favorite shows: Diners, Drive-In's and Dives. I ordered the Chicken and Waffles and the husband had the biscuits and gravy. The chicken and waffles is what they are known for, as the chicken is drizzled in honey mustard dressing and the combo of the two are spectacular. Although the fried chicken wasn't as good as the Hot Tennessee Chicken we had at Poogan's porch, the combo of the dressing and the syrup was so scrumptious. The waffles were so light and fluffy on the inside and perfectly crisp on the outside. I don't order waffles out a lot, but these were some of the best.
We enjoyed the biscuits and gravy more at Poogan's porch as well, just because this gravy was a bit on the thicker creamier side and we preferred the chunks of sausage in our gravy. Either way though, still a good taste of Southern home cooking.
After breakfast we made our way down to Folly Beach for a walk along the ocean and a stop for a drink at one of the hotel beachside bars. It was cloudy all day, but still magical for us to be on the ocean.
We stopped at Roadside Seafood to split a basket of fried shrimp and fried green tomatoes. I love fried green tomatoes, and both were served with excellent dipping sauces.
Finally, we headed back to our hotel to nap and get ready for our final meal at FIG (Food is Good), also known for their use of local seasonal ingredients. FIG was by far the fanciest place we dined at, and we were also the youngest people in there! It was one of my favorite dining experiences of the trip. We shared the ricotta gnocchi with lamb bolognese and beet soup with buttermilk and pumpernickel breadcrumbs. I had the seafood stew and the hubby the swordfish with orange, greens, and spiced granola (very unique - and very good!). We also shared the dessert with fresh strawberries (we kept having to order them as they were so good down there!), lavender shaved ice, and strawberry panna cotta. It was wayyyy too fancy in there for me to feel comfortable snapping any pictures, so we dined and chatted our way through the night without any distractions. HIGHLY RECOMMEND this place and making reservations beforehand.
Our last stop of the night was to catch some music at the Tattooed Moose. They are known for their duck club, but being we had just eaten, we split a side of duck fat fries with garlic aioli before leaving (definitely not needed - but worth it!).
And that my friends, sums up our 5 days in Charleston. It was a wonderful city filled with extremely friendly people, beautiful architecture, hard-to-believe history, delicious food, and a old-world charm you just can't find around here.
We will definitely be back. But until then, we'll be here. Enjoying the fresh snow and 30-degree weather. Is it spring already?!