May 20, 2009

Charleston on my Mindful

(a view of the Charleston Harbor and Peninsula)

Charleston, SC is one of the most beautiful and historical cities in the world. Case in point, I spent a semester studying in Prague, and it was pretty, but I wasn’t that impressed. I grew up in this coastal southern city with a small town feel, and it spoiled me, and the good news is, it will spoil you too. And probably surprise you. Charleston is a sophisticated and increasingly mindful city whose Democratic Mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., is currently serving his 8th term. Some of the clichés hold true of course, the good ones. The pace of life is slower here and friendly locals have helped Charleston earn the title of “best mannered city” in the country.

Move: Blue Turtle Yoga Studio offers a wide variety of classes, and teachers like Kelly, Eli, and Andrew are inspiring and creative. Blue Turtle is also that truly rare thing—affordable. $35 gets you a week, and $65 a month, of unlimited classes. Charleston is famous for its historic houses and churches (and the oldest Reform synagogue on the East coast). Skip the traditional tourist buses and tours, and rent a bike from the locally owned Bicycle Shoppe. The city’s oldest buildings all have plaques, visible from the street, detailing their history. Stroll the College of Charleston’s picturesque campus or any of the city’s numerous lush and peaceful historic graveyards.

(the Cistern at the College of Charleston)

Eat: In Charleston, mindful and foodie can go together like Shrimp and Grits (trust me), the city’s culinary darling. Chef Robert Stehling at Hominy Grill brings the dish to perfection, and he recently won a James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef is the Southeast. Stehling, the son of organic farmers, began using local ingredients and sustainable seafood before they were buzzwords. Chef Mike Lata at F.I.G. (Food is Good) was a runner-up for the prestigious award, and his menu features a commitment to seasonal cuisine and simplicity. The name really says it all. For a scrumptious meal even college kids can spring for, check out Monza Pizza for fresh salads and delicate, yet hearty, pizza. Like the aforementioned restaurants, Monza has plenty of delicious vegetarian options and a strong commitment to local, heirloom, and sustainable ingredients. Monza is also located near the epicenter of Charleston nightlife—bars abound. If you get a little too stumbly, you can always call Charleston Green Taxi and grab a Prius home.

Shop: King St. north of Calhoun is a nexus of fun, independently owned boutiques and stores. Fifty-Two-Five (corporaterocksucks.com) sells records and CDs in a decidedly High Fidelity atmosphere, but without the elitist attitude. Need a new pair of Chacos? Venture south of Calhoun on King to find Half Moon Outfitters, an outdoor shop boasting a knowledgeable staff and a distribution center in North Charleston that was awarded the state’s first LEED Platinum distinction.

(Folly Beach aka: Edge of America)

Go: The most beautiful beaches on the East Coast are about twenty minutes from downtown Charleston. Sullivan’s Island is pristine and not very crowded. Play on the beach or rent kayaks to explore the island’s inlets. About 40% of America’s slaves entered the US through Sullivan’s Island, and the newly dedicated Toni Morrison “Bench by the Road” honors slaves and their history.

(Kayakers on Sullivan’s Island)

Go west of the city for Folly Beach, a quirky surfer town nicknamed the Edge of America. Rent a board from McKevlins surf shop, a local favorite, or have them set up a lesson. Afterwards, try the delicious, well-spiced, vegetarian Obrero taco at Taco Boy.

(the author enjoying the Obrero Taco)

See: About to kick into gear, the annual Spoleto Festival USA, held the last week of May and first week of June, is an unrivaled international arts festival featuring modern dance, ballet, theater, opera, chamber music, jazz, and visual arts. Its local counterpart, Piccolo Spoleto, showcases homegrown talent, and many events are free. Take in some raucous improvisational theater any time of year and see the Have Nots! at Theater 99. Stop by the recently renovated Old Slave Mart Museum. A museum dedicated to African-American history, it is located in a former slave auction house and sits on the longest remaining cobblestone street in the city. The Charleston Farmer’s Market operates in accessible Marion Square from April to December. I can’t get enough of the Charleston Crepe Company and the delicious local strawberries. The very large market also features local artists and live music. (For the late night music scene, check out the Pour House, a short drive out of downtown. It’s also across the street from the Terrace Theater, Charleston’s premier venue for independent film; they also have a great beer selection.)

(Old Slave Mart Museum)

Be: The newly opened Jivamukti Yoga Center, the only Jivamukti center in the US outside of NYC, features free meditation classes three mornings a week. Waterfront Park offers beautiful, panoramic views of the Harbor and plenty of benches and porch swings from which to appreciate the view.

(Waterfront Park)

Stay: Charleston’s first hostel, the NotSo Hostel, makes staying downtown affordable. The hostel recycles, composts, grows their own vegetables, and has a native species garden in the works. They have a peace mural, and two certified Yoga Teachers in residence. The Phoebe Pember House and studio is a welcoming bed and breakfast in a 200-year-old property with beautiful gardens, artists in residence, and daily yoga class, including Kundalini.

As locals say, Charleston is a great place to visit, but a better place to live. But whether you’re here for a quick visit, or in it for the long run, Charleston is now a mindful place to be.

(Blythe and Vikki, the assistant manager and manager of the Notso Hostel, practicing partner yoga)

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