Mar 27, 2010

South Carolina, you had me at the shrimp & grits

Since my first visit a long time ago, New Orleans - specifically the French Quarter and Garden District - has been my favorite place to go. Forget Bourbon Street - give me a beignet and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, then let me amble around Jackson Square, buy some remoulade sauce at a Central Market, slip into some out-of-the-way courtyard eateries, browse through some antique stores and funky art galleries, and I am in a state of bliss. Before Katrina, a ride on the trolley all the way to the end of the Garden District and back was a wonderful (and cheap!) way to see the stately (and not-so-stately) homes, schools and other sites along the route. Our last visit required taking a city bus to get us back to the French Quarter, to gather our luggage just in time to catch our flight. The bus ride was not as magical as the trolley, and a painful reminder of the blight that Katrina left on this city.

No matter how seldom I actually visit NOLA, I have my favorite spots burned into my mind and heart, and I can find them with my eyes closed. Well, maybe not quite that intimately - but definitely without a map or a moment's hesitation. Every visit feels like I'm going home.

My first visit to NYC was a business trip, pre-Giuliani's cleanup efforts; I was pregnant and taking no chances with the subway or the streets. I saw little of the city, and had zero desire to ever return. But a second visit to NYC a few years ago mesmerized me much like NOLA, but for decidedly different reasons. Manhattan practically hums with energy, and you tingle when you step out on the street. Seeing Rockefeller Plaza lit up with Christmas splendor, standing outside the NYSE on Wall Street, meditating near the site of the WTC towers, enjoying the lush beauty of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taking a stroll through Central Park, an afternoon of Monet and Manet at MONA, a Knicks game at Madison Square Gardens, and of course, a real Broadway play combine to spell magic. In a future trip, I'm sure I'll be ferreting out my favorite places, and finding new favorites in a New York minute, no pun intended.

And now South Carolina - especially Murrells Inlet and Charleston - has joined NOLA and NYC on my short list of absolute favorite places to visit.

Sleepy little Murrells Inlet is part salt marsh, part fishing village, and a gorgeous, pristine state park/beach (Huntington), where the dolphins came out to play a few yards from where we were standing, and the starfish threw themselves on the beach (we took pictures and threw them back.) Walt Disney cannot hold a candle to that sort of magic, try as they might. The seafood of this area is legendary, the people are friendly - as small town southerners are - and the pace is definitely laid back. And if that's not enough, it's ridiculously convenient: only a few minutes from Myrtle Beach's shopping, and a couple hours to Charleston, on the sweetgrass basket highway. (Yes, of course we stopped ;o)

Charleston - like NOLA - boasts dreamy architecture in town, magnificent plantations all around the city, great shopping, and utterly amazing food. I'm sure it sees its share of revelers and party-goers, but the atmosphere is decidedly more family-friendly than NOLA.

I've fallen hard for South Carolina's charms. I just hope my husband REALLY loves all the golf courses there, since I think I might be wheedling a repeat visit (or two or three) in the near future. For now, I'm content to put a sticker on my car window - a palmetto tree and crescent moon. Of course, mine is orange.