Festivals. The North Charleston Arts Festival, May-1-9, isn’t the only no-cost event in the area. Get details on a variety of public happenings at www.sciway.net/tourism/charleston-events.html.
Check out the parks. The Battery and adjoining White Point Gardens, at the tip of the peninsula, are public areas with classic photo ops of Fort Sumter, SullivansIsland and the Yorktown at Mount Pleasant. The grounds are rimmed by classic mansions. Waterfront Park, several blocks northeast, faces the Cooper River and has swinging benches for relaxing, plus several fountains where kids can splash and wade.
Pyrotechnics. Brittlebank Park faces the Ashley River and is the site of various outdoor events. Be there any Friday evening Charleston’s minor-league RiverDogs are playing a home game next to the park at their baseball stadium (“The Joe”): A fireworks display follows those games. Team schedule: http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/schedule/index.jsp?sid=t233.
Karpeles Manuscript Museum, 68 Spring St., is one of 14 operated in American by the Karpeles Foundation that showcase important and original historic documents and manuscripts. Open Tuesday-Friday. Details: www.rain.org/~karpeles/chasfrm.html.
Philip Simmons Gardens, at St. John's Reformed Episcopal Church, 91 Anson St. Perhaps the most famous artisan in the area is the late Philip Simmons, a famed ironworker whose decorative pieces are on display at the Smithsonian and elsewhere. The church had its two gardens decorated with his work. On Facebook, check out the Philip Simmons Foundation page.
Art tours of the French Quarter. See the neighborhood first populated by French Protestant settlers in Colonial days and now flush with art galleries. It’s between South Market and Tradd Street, Meeting Street and the Cooper River. You can pick up a map to 30 galleries on its cobblestone streets and explore on your own. Also, free guided tours are staged from 5 to 8 p.m. the first Fridays of May, October and December. Get the map and other info at www.frenchquarterarts.com.
The farmer’s market at Marion Square (King and Calhoun streets) is held Saturdays throughout the year. Growers, city residents and visitors mingle in the heart of downtown. Besides produce, there are crafts for sale, art on display, and (often) street performers.
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, 1254 Long Point Road, Mount Pleasant. The National Park Service preserves 28 acres of Charles Pinckney’s 715-acre plantation, Snee Farm. Charles Pinckney was a principal architect and signer of the U.S. Constitution. An 1828 Lowcountry cottage serves as museum and visitor center. Details: www.nps.gov/chpi/index.htm.
The Angel Oak, 3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island. The live oak here is believed to be more than 1,500 years old, and has the size to prove it. It's 65 feet tall, has a circumference of 251/2 feet, and shades an area measured at 17,000 square feet. See the tree, have a picnic. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Details: www.angeloaktree.org.
Charleston Tea Plantation, 6617 Maybank Highway, southwest of downtown on Wadmalaw Island. In the 1960s, Lipton Tea established this as a test farm; it's owned by Bigelow now. America's only working tea plantation is home of American Classic Tea, and is a 127-acre plantation harvesting more than 150,000 tea bushes. Free admission; free factory tours. Details: www.charlestonteaplantation.com.
The College of Charleston, established in 1770, is a major university in the George Street area downtown. Take a 75-minute walking tour of campus with a student tour guide. You’ll learn about life there, as well as the history behind some of the buildings – including Randolph Hall, the oldest continually used public building in the nation. Reservations recommended. Details: http://admissions.cofc.edu/explorethecollege (click “Campus Visits”).
The college's School of the Arts often holds free performances/events/shows during the school year in the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Simons Center for the Arts and The Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts. Details: www.sota.cofc.edu/newsevents/calendar.
ACE Basin NWR. It’s free to visit the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. “ACE” stands for the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers that form this wetland populated by migratory and year-round birds and other animals. There are several trails to walk. The land is made up of three units, and the one closest to Charleston holds historic Grove Plantation House, built in 1828 when the acreage around it was used for rice farming. It’s free to tour the house. Details: www.fws.gov/acebasin.