Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Charleston's Barrier Islands-Beautiful Beaches, Abundant Wildlife, Great Stays, And Pleasure Packed

Folly Island near Morris Island Lighthouse
Visit the city of Charleston and you will be surrounded by elegance and charm at every turn of the corner, but the historic downtown district is only the cake of the Lowcountry. Step outside of Charleston and you will be covered in the frosting. Charleston is surrounded by beautiful inlets, grassy creeks, pristine marshes, and a host of barrier islands where all the beach action and numerous water activities take place.

The barrier islands of Charleston each have a distinct history and character of their own, each offering something different for residents and visitors. Some are accessible by bridges and some only by a ferry or a private boat. I frequently visit Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, Folly Island and on occasion Kiawah Island. I have yet to visit Capers Island, which is only accessible by boat, and unless I buy a boat or get invited onto someone else's boat heading that direction, will remain for me uncharted. Bulls Island can be accessed only by ferry and I have plans in the near future to be on board.
Fishing on pier at Isle of Palms
The Isle of Palms was the first barrier island I visited while vacationing the Charleston area and remains my beach of choice. I have fished and kayaked its backwaters and inlets, ate at its restaurants, and stayed in its vacation homes. On a warm, clear night, you will often find me sitting on the upper deck of Coconut Joes overlooking Front Beach and the pier taking in the beautiful sunset. During the day, you could spot me standing on the shore with baited hook drifting in the currents of Breach Inlet - an ideal place for surf fishing and watching the dolphins splash around. Next time you drive over the H.L. Hunley Bridge be sure to wave, and I will wave back. An even better place from which to watch the dolphins of Breach Inlet is on the rooftop bar of the Boathouse Restaurant located just before you cross over to Sullivan's Island. If you are looking for some nighttime action visit the Windjammer and for daytime action there is plenty of golf at the Wild Dunes Resort.
Kitesurfer in the "Bath"

As you look across Breach Inlet from the Isle of Palms to Sullivan's Island, on a breezy day you will likely observe a flock of colorful kites moving back and forth across the skyline. Those would be the sails of the kitesurfers who come to this area of Sullivan's Island referred to as the "Bath" - an almost landlocked body of water surrounded by sand. Aside from the kitesurfers, SUPers come here for the calmer waters. Sullivan's Island is home to historic Fort Moultrie and the Charleston Light - the light sentinel that guides seafaring vessels into the Charleston Harbor. One of its more famous residents was Edgar Allan Poe. The island was the inspiration behind his short story "The Goldbug" and Poe's Tavern is a popular eatery you will find packed out on any given day.

Folly Beach is fondly called by its longtime residents the "Edge of America". A prominent landmark of this eclectic beach community is the Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier. The 24 feet wide and more than 1,045 feet long pier is the second longest on the East Coast. From the end of the pier, you can get a good look at the beach in either direction and for a small fee experience some of the best saltwater fishing in the area. On scheduled nights, there is shag dancing with the Moonlight Mixers. Folly Beach is also one of the top surfing beaches on the East Coast. You will find the top surfers of the area hanging out at a small strip of the beach called the "Washout" - best waves in Charleston waters. On the north end of Folly, you can take pictures of the Morris Island Lighthouse and on the other end you can walk around the tip to Folly River where the tidal rapids move in and out like the Niagara River of Niagara Falls. You can rent kayaks, SUP boards, boats, and vacation homes.
SUP board
Across from Folly, past Stono Inlet, is Kiawah Island. Kiawah Island has a recorded history that stretches back to 1675 when it was purchased from a native tribe. It is unique among South Carolina barrier islands. Unlike Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach, it remains environmentally sound and commercial development is virtually non-existent. It is home to the exclusive Kiawah Island Golf Resort. The resort will be the center of attention starting August 9th. The 94th PGA Championships will be played on its prestigious Ocean Course. The resort has four other championship courses and an array of amenities the whole family can enjoy. The only public beach access is on the west end of the island called Beachwalker Park.

Capers Island is totally uninhabited, except for the abundant wildlife that makes this island its home. The only access is by some kind of floating devise; preferably a boat. The adventurous person, after acquiring a free permit from the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, could rent a kayak at the Isle of Palms Marina and paddle out to the island where he or she could camp overnight. The somewhat less adventurous could hire Barrier Island Eco Tours to shuttle their group of 7 or more to and from Capers Island. No facilities of any type are on the island, so campers should come prepared with their own water, food, equipment, first aid kit, and whatever else. On the weekends and holidays, the island is a favorite place for boaters to put ashore. The island is an excellent place for surf fishing.

Bulls Island is one of only two Class 1 Wilderness Areas on the East Coast. No bridges connect this island to the mainland. A ferry run by Coastal Expeditions is the only way on. After leaving the Awendaw docks and weaving in and out of the backwater creeks, you are turned loose to wander the 16 miles of hiking trails and over seven miles of undeveloped beaches upon arrival. The wildlife is incredible. Over 270 species of migratory birds including bald eagles, snowy egrets and great blue heron call it home. Loggerhead sea turtles nest on the island along with a huge population of alligators. Well, you get the picture, and plenty of them. Bikes are allowed and cash encourage, tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Go to Coastal Expeditions for the complete details.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Third Thurday in Summerville: "The Wizard of Oz" Delights and Lots Of Fun For Summervillians

With all the thunderstorms lately, it's surprising nobodies house has gotten sucked up by a twister. July's edition of Third Thursday was to be no exception. Around 4pm the skies over Summerville were looking darkly ominous. But thunderstorms are pretty much routine in the Lowcountry this time of year, when the temperatures soar and the humidity spikes. Experienced residents take them in stride and know they come and go as quickly as you can say "Somewhere over the Rainbow". In fact, the James F. Dean Theater has issued a tornado warning for August 2nd and continuing to the 12th. "The Wizard of Oz" is expected to blow into town and when that happens, things will get wicked in more ways than the weather. There is a 100 per cent chance of a twister and somebodies house is going to get sucked up.

The Flowertown Players have been working hard to present what promises to be a delightfully entertaining show. The large cast, including a large group of local kids, have spent many hours learning their lines and choreography. The logistics involved in this musical production are challenging for the set designers, but they are proving themselves up to the task, and the rewards will be great for the audience. The numerous stage settings will whisk away to the Land of Oz and Munskinville putting you on the journey down the yellow brick road to the gates of the Emerald City. The cast made a preview appearance in full costume in Town Square and mingled among the Third Thursday crowd.
Dorothy and Tin Man
Cowardly Lion looking brave
Summerville's royalty, Bill Summers, was in court-the courtyard of Aura Lee's Jewelry, Handbags and Accessories to be more exact-handing out handshakes and Yuenglings. By the time my group arrived, all the Yuenglings were gone, supporting evidence Aura Lee's shop is a favorite Third Thursday stop. Bill was joined by Brad Mallett, owner of Coastal Coffee Roasters. Coastal Coffee Roasters has quickly become one of Summerville's busiest hot spots serving up their signature blend of roasted coffee accompanied by weekly scheduled events for your entertainment. If you have some musical talent, contact Brad and he will be happy to give you consideration. Danny Trump's amazing cheesecakes are also featured at Coastal Coffee along with craft beers and wines. Due to the scattered showers lingering around at the start, Chelsea Summers had to cut her usual Third Thursday singing appearance short at Aura Lee's. You can catch Chelsea performing at various venues around Summerville and surrounding areas. For a complete list of her appearances click on Chelsea Summers.
Bill Summers and friends
When we first arrived, our first stop was to be the Eclectic Chef on Short Central, but had to wait for the arrival of the rest of the party. We milled around the shops sipping on wine and eating pretzels provided by the various establishments, a tradition of Third Thursday. There was a man in the courtyard of Short Central, I didn't get his name, singing old tunes like "Garden Party" by Ricky Nelson. When we finally sat down to eat, the raindrops began to fall, but the umbrella on the table protected us-to some degree. My back got a slight soaking, especially when a certain someone would shake the umbrella.
Live entertainment
Kathy, Hanna, and Glen
White Gables well represented
Our planned, final destination for the evening was to be Accent on Wine. We were briefly sidetracked by some old vehicles on display at the end of the Town Square at W. Richardson. The temptation to take pictures of the old cars with someone posing next to them could not be resisted. Some dreams never fade. We pressed on. Accent on Wine was packed-no surprise. Filling an available stool immediately upon vacancy is a must. We chose the bar to sit at, the heart of the shoppe. Stephane filled the place with his usual humble smile, explaining wines and offering tips with a colorful French accent.

My attention was diverted to one of the wine advisers who was pouring a double mixture into a tall, slender glass. I inquired about it. Stephane informed, "If you are looking for something light and refreshing, the Belini is a good choice." The wine adviser, sporting a British accent, poured the mixture and I tried my first $3 Belini. I downed  the bubbly blend of champagne and peach schnapps while pondering this paradox: A Brit and a Frenchman behind the same bar. Miracles never cease to amaze. Time passes by quickly when you are sipping wine and making with the chit-chat, and that is what Accent on Wine is all about. There is no loud music in the background. Just the pleasant sound of laughter and friendly talk.
Keri living a dream
There will be one more last summer evening Third Thursday August 16th before the kids go back to school. Live music will be all over town and the usual Art Walk. The following Saturday, August 18th, Summerville's residents by the thousands will gather for the "Summerville Night at The Joe". There will be pre-game festivities to partake in and then watch the Riverdogs take on Augusta. August 25th will be the 13th annual "Race for the Ark". The 5K race is held in historic Summerville winding through its beautiful streets. It benefits the Ark services.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Accent On Wine In Summerville-Serving Great Wine And Gourmet Items With Light Conversation

It was a typical TGIF night in Summerville. The sun had settled below the tree line. The last of its amber rays were filtering through the motionless trees. There was no breeze to play on the leaves or to evaporate the humidity that clung to my skin. I circled the square to evaluate the parking situation.

The Montreux was jam packed with local patrons on the prowl armed with an arsenal of one-liners looking to down some domestic suds with a side order of "are you from Tennessee". The bartenders masterfully juggled the drink requests while Zero To Never played loudly. If you were looking to have a quiet conversation, your were in the wrong place. The back patio was more conducive to chit-chat, if you didn't mind the smoke.

I was more specifically in town to case out one of Summerville's more popular, cozy establishments where conversation is as light as a Nederburg Lyric. I had to settle for a parking space with a bit of a walk and made the trek toward the W. Richardson end of the store strip right on the town square. The pavement was still warm from the days heat. My sandals were still slightly damp from an earlier swim.

When I entered through the store's door there was no mistaking the main attraction that draws the residents and visitors of Summerville to this quaint shop. Accent is on wine. The interior space was unobstructed, and even though the space was not large, the illusion of being larger than it actually was prevailed upon my senses. The walls on both sides were lined with shelves of bottled wine from all over the world. Seating was to the left and right by the front windows. A large bar was straight ahead from the entrance with wooden stools around its perimeter. The bar area was the obvious center of attention.
Shelves of wines
Some of the seating area
I took a seat at the bar. I was immediately greeted by the bartender. I am not a wine freak. I know wine basically as red and white, sweet and not so sweet. Beyond that, wine names are as illusive to me as the ghosts of Charleston. When I do drink wine, I usually choose red simply because I had read that red wine is better for you. Something to do with antioxidants. So, I was in serious need of assistance on what wine to select. A close friend sitting next to me already knew what she wanted and suggested I try her choice. The bartender quickly produced a glass and offered me a sample, which I appreciated. It was a Pinot Grigio produced by Cornaro from the region of Veneto, Italy. This selection was entered on the bill and attached to a small wind up toy with an identical one set on the bar in front of us. This was their unique way of keeping track of each customer's order.

While sitting at the bar, the conversations came as easy as swinging on the wooden swings in Waterfront Park on a Sunday morning. Within the few brief moments of introductions, I learned the couple to my left were regular visitors. They offered their experience and shared their life stories. Before my brief visit to Accent on Wine came to an end, I knew them intimately. It brought to mind a French proverb, "In water one sees one's own face, but in wine one beholds the heart of another." Sip on wine and suddenly you are a philosopher, eat chocolate and you are suddenly a lover. I apologetically hesitate calling the servers bartenders because they are much more. The two on duty that night fielded questions and orders proficiently. They are wine advisors. After leaving, I decided to return another day to get a more detailed summary of the story and the staff that make Accent on Wine a success.

Two days later I returned. I introduced myself to the wine advisor on duty, Joshua Walker, who was accompanied by Vinny Wedderspoon. He informed me the owner, Stephane Peltier, was not present. He was in France, which also is his place of birth. So, I didn't get to meet him in person. Joshua shared with me some background information on Stephane. First, he emphasized that Stephane is a humble man who doesn't like to elaborate about himself or his accomplishments, but wants all attention focused on the store and what it brings to historic Summerville. He was a sommelier for fourteen years at the prestigious Woodlands Inn with a resume that includes serving the Queen of England.
Vinny Wedderspoon and Joshua Walker
There were only two other patrons in the store besides myself. So, Joshua was able to take some time to enlighten me on what they offered. The store has a selection of wines you can purchase by the bottle, which includes 40 wines under $10 and 150 over $10. At the bar, 30 different wines are available for you to sample provided for the sole purpose of teasing your wine buds in the right direction. Aside from the wines, 50 specialty beers from around the world are offered. If you want something without the kick, there is a large selection of non-alcoholic beverages as well.

A great wine store for sure, but Accent on Wine is also a gourmet shop. It offers numerous cheese platters accompanied with bread and apple at $5 a serving. Charcuterie, seafood, pate', mousse, and terrine platters are offered at $5 a serving. But the highlight of my visit was being treated to Accent on Wine's offering called Lunch Bites. It is a three inch nosh served with apple slices, raisins, and nuts on a wooden platter. You can purchase one for $1.90, but bet you can't eat just one. I was served "The Vinny". C'est magnifique. There is a long list of "Lunch Bites" choose from. Menu selection.
The Vinny
Chocolat de Fumee
Accent on Wine is open 11am to 9 pm Monday to Wednesday, 10 pm Thursday to Saturday, closed Sunday. Tuesday is wine tasting day. July 24th is "Great Discovery Wines" event from 5pm to 7pm for $10 a person. Wednesday is "Teacher Appreciation Day" all day. Thursday is "Bellini Special Night" at only $3 a glass. July 31st is "Food and Wine Tasting with Paul from Sellsfish Premium Seafood" starting at 5 pm and ending 7 pm for $10. Location is 132 S. Main Street. Phone: 843-832-1212. Calendar of events.

The ladies should like this famous wine quote. "Men are like a fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and it's our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you'd like to have dinner with."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Coastal Coffee Roasters In Summerville Was Jammin' With Justin James And Chelsea Summers

When people ask me what it was that brought me to Summerville, I have no clear cut answer other than White Gables, a beautiful development off of Central Ave patterned after homes in Charleston. Of the seven years I have been here in South Carolina, I hadn't spent a whole lot of time in downtown Summerville. Over the years I went to some of its restaurants, investigated the history of some of its more prominent landmarks, but mostly just passed through it on my way to Charleston.

It wasn't until I attended a Third Thursday that I began to take notice of its businesses and the warm hospitable spirit that is the brick and mortar of this truly southern community now overtaken by northerners with a love for what the Lowcountry offers. Aura Lee's Jewelry, Handbags and Accessories became a hang out for me on those occasions, the place where I met the Summers, a well known and well liked family in the town. Aura Lee Summers is the owner and Bill Summers greets patrons with a warm handshake and free Yuengling. Chelsea, their daughter, is the sweetheart of Summerville. She sings and plays guitar at various venues throughout Summerville and surrounding areas. Keep an eye on Chelsea, she is going places. Chelsea was one of the reasons for my visit to Coastal Coffee Roasters this stormy evening.
Bill, Aura Lee, and me
Coastal Coffee Roasters has won the hearts of Summerville's residents and has become the local hot spot. It is a family owned and serviced meet and greet hangout for people who just want to unwind with a cup of their own personalized coffee blend. And although their passion is coffee, they have added wine and craft beers to their selection. Brad and Jacki Mallett will do what it takes to win your patronage starting with a friendly smile. If you have doubts about what selection you want to try, they are more than willing to offer you a sample to tease your taste buds in the right direction. When not behind the counter, you will see them milling around rubbing shoulders with the friends. Special events and live music are also scheduled throughout the month. For a complete take on the services they provide go to Coastal Coffee Roasters. This night, Chelsea was opening for main headliner Justin James, a singer/songwriter from the Dominican Republic.
Chelsea Summers
Coastal Coffee Roasters sits just off of N. Main Street at 108 East 3rd. North Street. There is no flashy neon sign marking its location. It is just a simple, white and red brick building, mostly white, with a garage door. When I first walked through its entrance the open atmosphere and decor gave me the feeling of being at a party in a friends garage. There was an odd collection of old chairs and tables, the kind you would find in garage sales, all randomly spread around the floor. Right away I wanted to start shooting hoops at a basketball net hanging on one of its walls. There were burlap bags above the counter and on the walls, and to the right was the mother-of-all coffee machines. The stage area was set to the left. Some old couches were provided to sit on, the kind you might see on the porches of the coastal shacks in Gullah country. It was a cozy, comfortable state of happiness. Go figure, Summerville's flower, the azalea, was painted on the wall. Chelsea was already into one of her sets when I arrived.
Brad Mallett in white shirt and daughter behind
Coffee machine
Coastal Coffee Roasters' crowd
James and Brandi with friends of White Gables
It was to be Justin James first appearance in South Carolina. Born in Vancouver, Canada, Justin was an avid windsurfer who traveled to other countries at an early age looking for the perfect wind and wave. At the age of 20, while in Venezuela, he was attacked by a tiger shark and the next phase of his life was decided. During his recovery he wrote his first song. From that moment, there was no looking back. He spent a lot of time in Los Angeles perfecting his musical talent and traveled up and down the West Coast. His home is now the Dominican Republic. He wears the beach on his sleeve, has a Buffet attitude, and a Jack Johnson style, but all uniquely Justin. Currently he is on a three month tour of the East Coast, the Midwest, taking him back south through New Orleans and ending in Florida. Summerville was honored as his first stop on the tour. His next gig, the Windjammer on the Isle of Palms, Thursday, July 12th. For his full schedule go to Justin's tour. For his complete bio, music, videos, and lyrics go to Justin James. As Justin would say it's "A beautiful Life".
Justin James
Coastal Coffee Roasters would like to remind you "Life is too short to drink bad coffee".

Friday, July 6, 2012

Charleston's Watersports And Hot Spots are Tops-Fun And Sun For Visitors And Locals-Tour, Rentals

Kitesurfing in the "Bath"
It was a beautiful Charleston June day. Most of the country was engulfed in a heatwave, South Carolina included. Weather forecasts were calling for 100 degree heat, but on the IOP it was a breezy 89 degrees. At least, my car's temperature gauge said so, and I wasn't going to dispute it. I parked my car on the IOP side of Breach Inlet across from the Boathouse restaurant. Parking here is a matter of chance on a day like this one because spaces are limited. Today, fortune was on my side. I headed out onto the beach.

The wind was keeping the interior heat and humidity off the beach. The tide was near its high point and the ocean's waters were pouring into the narrow inlet, famous for its deadly currents. No swimming allowed, especially at high tide. My plan was to round the tip of the IOP and head up the beach towards the pier, a fairly decent hike. My goal was to take pictures of the beachgoers as I went. I was particularly looking for SUP boarders. On the way I stopped and talked to a few of the people fishing off the beach along the inlet. One young gentleman I talked to was visiting Charleston from Boston. There was no concealing the heavy Bostonian accent. He asked about tours in Charleston. I picked his brain a little to find out what type of tour he would be interested in. I gave him several options and then moved on.
SUPers on the IOP

I spotted a few SUP boarders in the surf and decided this was the spot, about the halfway point between Breach Inlet and the pier. I planted my towel and kicked off my Rainbows. Most of the people in this area of the beach are likely vacationers, staying in one the beach houses lining the shore. I pulled my camera out and began to look for a hot shot. The SUP boarders were making a good shot difficult. They kept on falling off their boards in the heavy surf. The whole idea was to get a picture of them standing on their boards. So, I began to look for other, more interesting footage. There was a family of four taking turns on a skimboard. When it wasn't their turn the two daughters, who looked to be in their twenties, did somersaults in the water. Somersaults in bikinis, interesting. A young couple nearby, possibly honeymooners, were playing paddleball, but not quite the image I was looking for. The best footage was of a man, after completing preparations to kitesurf, taking off down the beach on his board towards the pier with kite in hand navigating the cresting waves with ease. The SUP boarders were still tumbling around in the surf.

I looked down the beach in the direction of Breach Inlet. I saw what looked like a flock of colorful birds dipping and diving  along the beach just beyond the inlet point of Sullivan's Island. At least, that was the best image comparison I could come up with to describe what I saw. In reality, it was the colorful kites of the many kitesurfers who flock to a basin of water on Sullivan's Island called the "Bath". The shifting sands are always changing the topography of this area, but the "Bath" has stood the test of time and has always been a kitesurfing hot spot.

View The Bath in a larger map

Finding a place to park on Marshall Blvd could have been difficult, all of the locals frequent here, but today I was fortunate and had no problem. To reach the best vantage point for picture taking, I had to cross a narrow band of fast-moving water near one of the beach houses. There were a lot more Sup boarders taking advantage of the calmer landlocked water in the Bath. The breeze was perfect for this type of watersport, kitesurfing that is, and was no doubt the main reason for the large turnout. My guess, there were at least twenty kites criss-crossing the sky at any given time. For picture taking, the kitesurfers did not disappoint. They were more than willing to show off their stuff. Keep your kites toward the "eye of the wind".

This is just one of the many places that make Charleston a top destination for water activities and beautiful beaches. Its diverse barrier island network with its vast maze of intracoastal waters stretch north and south of Charleston from Bull Island down to Seabrook Island. Bull Island and Caper's Island are inaccessible by car, but on any given weekend and holiday boaters flock to these islands for their isolated, untouched beauty and large quantities of shells. You can camp overnight on Caper's with a permit and a ferry runs excursions to Bull Island for $40 per person. The excursion to Bull Island is excellent for families and photographers. Kayaking out of the IOP Marina is also an option.

Folly Beach is known as one of the top thirty surfing beaches on the East Coast. The locals flock to the area they call the "Washout", a four block section from 6th to 10th street. The beach itself slightly curves back towards the NW through the break and the waves are less likely to close out than other locations. It is the only relatively consistent break in SC. It becomes very crowded during bigger swells, especially when hurricanes sit off the coast. Its like a big stage.

There are many outfitters (Charleston Watersports, Charleston SUP Safaris, Air and Earth, Tidal Watersports, and Island Paddle Adventure) ready to satisfy your curiosities if you are in need of equipment and lessons. Tours, safaris, boat rentals, surf boards, SUP boards, kayaks, and jet skis are available. Just pick your poison, as the saying goes. There are also several cruises to choose from for a relaxing tour of Charleston's breathtaking bay, famous rivers, and diverse intracoastal waterways like the Palmetto Breeze, Spiritline Cruises, and Charleston Harbor Tours. Maybe, you just want to sit on the beach with your family and enjoy the surf. Charleston is the place.