It’s easy to drive 1,200 miles in 7 days when the highway is lined with 70 foot-tall thick lush greenery unlike any road you’ve ever seen, when occasional corn fields break up the miles and water towers proudly boast the names of the tiny towns we pass through. After three full days in North Carolina, we ventured further south to explore Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and visit one of my college cross country teammates on the South Carolina coast.
We didn’t make it much past the state line before it was time for another coffee stop. The touristy town of Myrtle Beach was the perfect place to stretch our legs and find local coffee shop #4 of the trip: Caffe Diem. This place was so unique! The coffee shop and bakery had freshly baked pastries but also a full lunch menu, with a shop offering locally bottled sauces and jams, funky handmade jewelry and trinkets as well as antiques and one of a kind decorations. Little white wooden tables and benches next to tall windows added a feminine touch (and perfect selfie lighting apparently ha!)
We couldn’t leave Myrtle Beach without touching the sand, so we jaywalked across the highway (not something I could say in California!) and walked two blocks until this gorgeous platform greeted us. I absolutely LOVE that the beach had pink and blue umbrellas and chairs sitting out for any day-trippers to use. And that wispy tall grass definitely doesn’t line the Pacific like it does here. I spent most of our time on Myrtle Beach playing photographer ;)
Soon enough we were back on the road and heading towards Charleston where the humidity really started to creep in. The sun was shining and our hotel was my favorite of the four we stayed in on this trip. The Courtyard Charleston Waterfront by Marriott Hotel was right on the marina, sitting a couple stories up so that even the first floor had an elevated view of the water and the marshland and the bridges. Our room was upgraded to a water-facing corner room with not one by TWO balconies and I broke a sweat in the hotel gym which I had all to myself. A huge balcony had corn hole and white rocking chairs for guests, which we used on the second morning to sit and watch the sunrise. Yes, I wake up before dawn even on vacation.
Charleston was every bit as charming, historic and picturesque as I pictured it to be! The hotel also offered a shuttle downtown which we took advantage of – no need for directions or parking! The Battery follows the water, which we walked along across from the 18th century plantation homes and civil war battle memorials. The pineapple fountain looked exactly as I’d seen on Instagram ;) Some streets were still made of cobblestone and it seemed like no two houses looked exactly the same. A Spanish-style home neighbored a colonial brick house which sat next to a white French home with black shutters. It’s a happy lookin’ place with so many bright colors!
The city market runs along Market St. (go figure!) for several blocks and had tons of fun local touristy vendors. I learned that sweet grass baskets are a popular thing in this area which is also referred to as lowcountry. We ate at the fittingly-named Lowcountry Bistro for hands-down the most southern meal of our trip:
Chicken & Waffle….but not just ANY chicken & waffle. A sweet potato bacon cornbread waffle with cinnamon pecan butter and bourbon maple reduction. Carolina Crab Cakes with Red Rice, Collard Greens, and Mac N Cheese. OH MY GOSH. I gave myself the “vacation mentality” for part of the week, in order to enjoy my time in the south and experience the culture without being too strict about workouts and nutrition for the entirety of the trip. This was so far from anything I’d typically eat but so common for the area we were in! We loved everything!
After finding King St., Rainbow Row, The Battery, and the City Market, we were completely soaked from the humidity and the heat. One of my teammates from college had moved the Charleston the month before with her boyfriend and his daughter, and they were hosting us for dinner and drinks in their new apartment. This was the first time I’d seen someone from college since I graduated and I was so excited! Its so funny to see each other in our “grown up life.” We had only known each other as students and runners. Here we were with full-time jobs. Lauren was living with a five year old and I was on a vacation I planned for myself. We drank wine and had zucchini lasagna and talked all about life in the south until it was time to head back to the hotel because the next morning we were watching THE SUN RISE! :)
I think the Magnolia Plantation was my favorite part of South Carolina….though not every moment was wonderful at the time. Peacocks and miniature ponies greeted us as we walked the plantation grounds with our morning iced coffees from local coffee shop #5 Kudu’s in Charleston. Again, thanks Mama Nature for the A+ weather! We booked the 9:30am tour of the Magnolia house, where we got a whole history lesson on the founding family (no pictures allowed inside, sadly.). Once the house tour was over, we were encouraged to explore the property which backs up to the Ashley River, contains a few swamps, miles of “trails”, beautiful gardens, bridges, and wildlife.
Our first (and second) alligator sighting occurred as we walked near the Ashley River looking for this elusive “Observation Tower” to get a better view of the plantation. The trails that guided us to this tower (which, I’ll just warn you now, we never made it to) were very narrow, and cut right through very tall and wild trees with many cobwebs. Earlier that morning, we saw two spiders that were bigger than any spider I’d ever seen. They were thick and black and giant….I can’t really describe them and we couldn’t get a good picture. I’d say they were easily the size of a pancake (I’m hungry and that is the only comparable measurement I could come up with, hah!). SO CREEPY. As we walked along the paths by ourselves, we felt webs on our arms. We stopped in front of a large web that sat eye-level, looking for the spider. There were TWO of the massive black spiders sitting in the corner. We were in total agreement that a damn observation tower was not in the cards for that day and immediately turned around. We walked back so cautious, waving our maps and protecting our face with our hands. City girls! ;)
Our time in South Carolina was brief but I saw everything I came to see and eagerly awaited Savannah, GA. I’ll save that for another day! :)
I interrupt your regularly-scheduled southern roadtrip recap post to bring you a special announcement: It’s Strong Like My Coffee’s 3 year Blogiversary! Somewhere between a birthday and an anniversary…whatever you want to call it, this little site has been goin’ strong for three years now. And I look for any reason to celebrate ;)
This past year, the blog evolved to include more lifestyle-related content like DIY projects, travel posts, and sports marketing job shenanigans. I got to work with companies like Chobani, Quest Nutrition, and Better Body Foods. I became a Sweat Pink Ambassador for Fitfluential and started planning a redesign after I graduated college and need an update to the “healthy college girl” theme. Things have been busy! :)
My first and second blogiversary desserts were both coffee-themed, which seems appropriate! So I’ve found a healthy, CLEAN recipe that is summer-y, caffeinated, sweet & pretty (which is always a requirement). It’s called “Nice Cream” because even though the texture and flavor can fool you with it’s creamy goodness, it’s actually pureed frozen bananas. Which basically means you can eat the entire container without feeling guilty. But sharing is always encouraged. :)
- 5 ripe bananas, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
- 2/3 cup STRONG brewed coffee
- 1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/2 cup non-fat vanilla yogurt (Greek or regular)
- 1/3 cup coconut sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate
- Combine frozen banana chunks, cooled coffee, yogurt, almond milk, coconut sugar, vanilla, and cocoa powder in a food processor. (If you do not have a large-sized food processor, you might want to break this up into two batches!)
- Once the banana mixture is pureed into a smooth creamy bowl, hand-stir in dark chocolate pieces. (I used Ghiradelli squares with a high percentage of cacao.)
- Pour into a metal or glass bowl, and freeze for at least two hours before scooping and serving.
- Sliced bananas and sprinkles optional, but highly recommended! :)
Celebrating never felt so healthy :) Happy Blog Birthday!
Good morning! Rather than my typical #throwbackthursday post, I’m excited to start recapping my summer southern roadtrip!
My 4 days in North Carolina were absolutely packed so let’s just get right into it. :) The 200 mile drive from Charlotte to the Atlantic Ocean was the most scenic highway I had ever driven (until later in the week, travelling from Savannah to Asheville). It was strange to this city girl that the 2-lane highways had no shoulder, and were tunneled in by massive green trees. The rural roads were broken up by water towers and corn fields until the highway would randomly come upon a traffic light…that was so odd to us! Driving along an interstate and BAM – red light.
Before I go much further, I just have to send a public shout-out to whatever forces had a hand in making this trip completely in our favor. The weather, the timing, the travel, the people we encountered…everything was better than I could have expected and you know how rarely things go better than planned! July is historically the most humid and stormy month for this region; we lucked out with blue sky, white clouds, and bearable humidity through 95% of the trip. We also got a $150 discount on our rental car, a free upgrade to a waterfront hotel room with not one but TWO balconies, complimentary happy hour cocktails in the top floor lounge, front row parking in the touristy downtown locations, uncharacteristically pleasant weather for this time of year, and not even so much as a hiccup in our plans. Don’t worry, this abnormal streak of good luck did not go unnoticed or unappreciated!
We made it to Wilmington around 10am, and obviously our very first stop was a local coffee shop. I did my research (thanks Pinterest!) beforehand and knew about a few local hotspots we had to check out. Java Dog is a dog-friendly cafe in historic downtown in The Cotton Exchange shopping center.
The Cotton Exchange was once a flour and hominy mill in the 1800s. The 8 brick buildings are connected by hallways and now house 30 locally-owned shops and restaurants. It’s such an ecclectic and unique center, and I love that the historic landmark is preserved so well! Wilmington’s main street runs one block up from the river, Cape Fear, which hosts the USS Carolina and the River Walk. East Coast Beach-y shops and restaurants line the street with nautical decor and southern charm; green trees drape the sidewalks like umbrellas and horse-drawn carriages sit waiting for tourists. It really feels like walking through a quaint town straight from a movie set.
Wilmington had several highlights: the boardwalk along Cape Fear. Shrimp & Grits at Front Street Brewery. The Bellamy Mansion. Port City Java coffee shop for their sugar-free coconut and almond coffee flavors. UNC Wilmington’s campus tour (and a private tour of the brand new rec center from a super sweet grad student!). Wrightsville Beach. But I think my favorite activity was touring the Airlie Gardens.
The Airlie Oak is massive and gorgeous with wispy moss dangling from the branches, which looks enchanting. The gardens extend out to the water, with docks cutting through the marshy grass. Fun Fact: The TV show Dawson’s Creek was filmed in Wilmington, and so was One Tree Hill.
The garden featured a seasonal garden of sunflowers which was my favorite :)
Southport Beach is not too far of a drive outside of Wilmington and well-worth the one-lane highway commute. Southport can be recognized from Nicholas Spark’s movie Safe Haven and the TV show Revenge. The beach has cute wooden swings, a long fishing dock, a historic home, tons of local antique shops, and the best restaurant – Fishy Fishy Cafe. Our waitress was so friendly and we chatted about life in Wilmington. The baja fish tacos were BOMB and the view was even better!
Honestly, I was just trying to soak it all in! I’m hugely attracted to anywhere that has water….not that I was ever a water baby or avid swimmer, I just think it’s beautiful to look at and be near. Wilmington is central to both a river and the ocean – Cape Fear and the Atlantic, via Wrightsville or Carolina Beach. Southport and Kure are also just a short drive away, and ponds, marshes and little lakes are scattered around the area. Later in the roadtrip, I ventured to the western side of North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains to explore the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. But I think this is a good spot to hit the pause button before I overload you with my Carolina Cloud 9 :)