Charleston, South Carolina A Multidimensional Destination

Article excerpt

With a grace that has weathered three centuries, Charleston, South Carolina, is a place of welcome to 3 million visitors every year. The city continues to top of favorite travel destinations for its hospitality, variety and value. This year, there are more reasons than ever to experience the city's 1,000-acre historic district, scenic harbor and resort beaches nearby.

Charleston is treasured for its harmonious blend of old and new. Centenarian church spires point skyward, while gallery signs point to a watercolorist's first exhibit. Lovingly preserved antebellum homes are adorned with freshly planted flowers. Antique shops and trendsetting boutiques beckon with intriguing wares. The luxury golf resorts at Kiawah Island, Isle of Palms and Seabrook Island nestle gently into the ancient coastal landscape. Restaurants offer the traditional flavors of the region's cooking along with the latest culinary delights, and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns and modern hotels alike serve up generous portions of Southern hospitality.

Adding a unique and enlightening dimension to the Charleston experience is the newly opened, $69 million South Carolina Aquarium. Sixty inviting exhibits throughout the 93,000-square-foot facility let visitors explore the state's distinct aquatic habitats -- mountain streams, rivers, lakes, salt marshes and the Atlantic Ocean.

A spectacular two-story Great Ocean Tank, equipped with the tallest aquarium window in North America, provides' views of reef, seafloor and open sea environments. Among the aquarium's collection of 10,000 animals native to the region are river otters, snakes, turtles, fish, jellyfish, sharks and 70 kinds of birds. Interactive displays and special exhibits geared for toddlers make the aquarium a memorable and rewarding experience for visitors of any age.

The South Carolina Aquarium extends over Charleston Harbor, offering panoramic views of harbor activity and historic Fort Sumter. Artifacts from the fort, which was fired on by Confederate forces at the outset of the Civil War, are part of an exhibit on display at the Charleston Museum on Meeting Street.

"City Under Siege: Charleston in the War Between the States, 1861-1865," open through September 4, offers visitors an opportunity to understand a little-known chapter of American history. The exhibit provides glimpses of life during the siege of Charleston, using objects from the museum's extensive period collections. Historic documents, personal letters, uniforms and clothing illustrate Charleston's role in the conflict that changed the history of the South. Besides interpreting military and naval operations, the displays explore the effects of the siege on citizens, soldiers, slaves and free blacks. Included in the exhibit are a child's dress made from cloth brought through the blockaded harbor, china raffled to raise money for a gunboat and the Fort Sumter daily log kept during the siege.

The Charleston Museum, founded in 1773, is the first ever established in the U.S. Another of its exhibits details the efforts now under way to raise the H.L. Hunley, a sunken Civil War-era submarine whose location was discovered by American author and adventurer Clive Cussler in 1995.

For naval history of a more recent era, a trip across Charleston Harbor to Patriots Point is in order. Here at the world's largest naval and maritime museum, visitors can see the World War II aircraft carrier Yorktown and other historic vessels, a maritime museum and the National Congressional Medal of Honor Museum.

For those who enjoy exploration by water, boats based at the Charleston marina offer harbor cruises and trips to Fort Sumter. Sailboat charters are available as well. For an adventure into the area's saltwater creeks, cypress swamps and black-water rivers, kayak nature tours are another option. Inshore and offshore fishing are also popular activities.

Annual tours of Charleston's private historic homes and magnificent gardens are offered by the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society of Charleston. …