Plantation Visits #2 – Magnolia Gardens – Charleston, South Carolina

Entrance Sign (Photo: Personal collection, not intended for financial gain).

I have done quite a bit of traveling. I have also visited more than two hundred historic sites since 2009. In all of my travels, THIS, Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, is the most impressive, the most memorable, and the most important historic site I have ever visited.

Historic marker (Photo: Personal collection, not intended for financial gain).

Magnolia is rich in American history which dates back long before the American Revolution and continues to this day. The plantation was founded in the last quarter of the 17th century and they opened the gardens to the public one hundred years later in 1870. Since then, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens has become the most visited plantation and gardens in the United States.

Entrance to the Peacock Cafe

The visit to this wonderful historic site should definitely be a planned trip. You should allow for a full day to be set aside for your visit to ensure you have the time needed to see everything the plantation and gardens have to offer. Lunch can be purchased on site at the Peacock Cafe, where, if you’re as lucky as we were, an adorable peacock will come by your table to say hello. No fear! He is very polite. You can also bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it in the designated picnic areas. Either way, lunch will be a great time. The Peacock Cafe is very affordable.

The cost of admission and tours was a bit shocking at first. I will repeat this multiple times throughout this blog, but the prices you pay are totally worth what you will experience.

The cost to enter the plantation grounds is $20 for adults and $10 for children (6-12). Kids 5 and under are free. Basic admission gets you entrance to the Historic Gardens, the Petting Zoo, the Conservatory, the Orientation Theater, the Peacock Cafe, the Gilliard Garden Center, and the Gift Shop. So, if you are traveling with children under the age of 5, this might be all you really need. But if you want more of an experience, then the pricing goes up.

Each of the following tours are an additional $8 per person, per tour: the Historic House, the Nature Tram, the Nature Boat, the Slavery to Freedom Tour, and the Audubon Swamp.

So, just for an example, two people wanting to visit the gardens, the house tour, the nature tram, the nature boat, and the slavery to freedom tour would pay $60 per person. If any other tour is added, there is an additional $8 fee for each tour per person.

Sometimes, there is an offer for an “ALL Inclusive Pass,” which allows you access to everything offered. The cost for that pass is $52 per person. Please note that the website should be checked before your trip in case any changes occur in pricing. Assume you’ll pay the max and hope when you get there that the all inclusive price is available.

If you live in the area, or close enough to visit multiple times within one year, a Membership Pass is available. See the website for information. You can reach the website by clicking the link at the top of this page.

I arrived at this Plantation completely unaware of anything I would experience here. I saw a small add in the travel magazine in the hotel boasting about the gardens so I decided to check it out. Remember, part of the fun about traveling is the little side trips to unexpected places. Again, I was shocked by the pricing, which was not listed in the travel magazine’s ad. But, fortunately, we arrived on the day they offered the all inclusive pass. But I will admit right now, and I mean this, if I was to go back tomorrow, I would pay whatever they charged to experience everything again. That is how magnificent this historic site is and I am being very sincere. Just a quick note for those who are sitting back asking, “how much was she paid to say that?” The answer, I am not being paid one cent to say anything about this plantation. I am just sharing my personal opinion.

The Front Entrance and beautiful Oak trees, dripping with Spanish moss. Excuse our car. (Photo: Personal Collection)

I decided to begin my day by taking the Nature Tram. I wanted to see the property and learn about this plantation first, before committing to how I would make my way around this site. I had hoped that the tour guide would make suggestions for the best order in which to see everything my ticket allowed….which was everything.  Sadly, I learned nothing about the plantation on the nature tram, but I saw incredible things. I had never seen anything more beautiful other than in movies or nature shows.  There were gorgeous trees and beautiful swamp areas with alligators and turtles living untamed and untouched by humans. Because we started early, we had the added pleasure of the new days sun hitting the water on the swamps making for breathtaking landscapes. I saw snakes moving quickly across the tram path and birds in the water and in the trees, as well as in the air. There were so many different species of birds, and the tour guide named every one of them. What I did not know until later in the day was that John James Audubon visited this plantation often and painted the birds found here.

I was able to see baby alligators, so many of them that when the tram passed by, they all jumped into the water. I took film footage of this and when I watch it, I am as thrilled to see those babies as I was the first time. There must have been twenty or thirty of those little fellas.  Some of the alligators were resting on man-made ramps that were placed in the middle of the water to encourage the alligators to sun there, instead of on the tram paths. I took several pictures of alligators sharing the ramp with turtles, but if you look closely at this picture, it seems one turtle became a snack. I am thankful I did not see that happen, I just caught the “before it was swallowed” picture.

Alligator with a turtle in his mouth, sunning. Sorry about the quality, he was way out there and I was zoomed in way too far,(Photo: Personal Collection)

One of the best aspects of the wildlife here is that they are free and wild. There is zero interaction between the wildlife and humans on this property. If an alligator is on the path, the humans remain back and wait until the intriguing creature decides to move out of the way. What they eat is what is available in nature.

The birds truly made for some beautiful pictures. I loved seeing so much wildlife along the tour. I wanted to do this tour again, but we had many others still ahead of us. In all honesty, I could ride this tram over and over on the same visit and not get bored. There is so much to see and everywhere the tram takes you is just more after more beautiful sites to behold.

We followed the nature tram with a visit to the Historic House Tour. All I want to tell you about this is the stories told here are true and truly unbelievable. I was blown away when the tour guide told us how they got this magnificent house to this location. You have to take the tour to learn the story, but suffice it to say, water was very important. The furnishings in the home are just beautiful and this is where I learned how wigs, during the Colonial period, were cleaned. Again, fascinating history. The house is grand and the tour takes roughly 45 minutes. The guide keeps you highly interested and the time seems to just fly by. The decent does not discuss any aspect of slavery and if a question is asked during the tour, the guide encourages you to take the Slavery to Freedom Tour. I think this is to ensure that two things happen: (1) The reputation of the family is not tainted by the stain of slavery, and (2) They ensure there is a reason to take the slavery tour.  If the house tour discussed slavery, many might opt out of the Slavery to Freedom Tour.  I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of no slavery questions in the house, and house slaves were never discussed either, but when I took the slavery tour, I fully understood why they keep the topic separate. In the end, the house tour is worth the price of admission because the house itself and the stories told there are truly unforgettable.

(Photo: Personal Collection, not intended for financial gain).

After the house tour, we walked around the gardens. This was a lovely, self-paced tour. There were so many flowers that this Californian had never seen before. I just found every one of them to be exquisite. The gardens are well marked with signs explaining what the plant or flower is and when it appeared in context to the history of the plantation. This part of the tour is self guided and can be a quick walk through or a leisurely stroll. The gardens are part of the admission price and there is no additional charge to walk the gardens. I am glad we did, however, because we were able to see more of the grounds behind the home. We stumbled upon a historic marker denoting an event with the British Army as well as some cannon balls that should be seen.

We visited the Peacock Cafe and enjoyed lunch. The sandwiches are very good and they were fairly priced. There are several choices so I am sure there is something available for everyone.

After lunch we decided to to the Audubon Swamp Tour. That was incredible. It was a pretty small group of us, maybe 14 people, and we traveled through what was once the rice paddy. We saw birds, so many species of beautiful birds, and there were a few alligators and some fish that have decided to call the area home. It was so relaxing and the tour guide told wonderful stories about the land and how it has changed since it was a working rice plantation. How the birds migrate to and from the plantation and what species have been living on the land for generations. The guide explained tides to us and how when the tide is low, planting or cultivating the rice can occur, but when the birds come back in, so does the water. We were so relaxed and there was a cool breeze as the boat moved through the waterways. This tour is an additional $8 charge and is well worth every penny and should not be missed.

We decided to take the Nature Boat, more than anything because everywhere we had been was just beautiful and filled with lovely birds. The stories were rich with historic details and some were just downright surprising. The boat captain stopped to let us look at a rice paddy gate. He explained that these gates regulate the water flow in and out of the paddy. These gates allowed the rice growers to control the water that came in and out, which contributed to the success of the output of rice on the plantation.


The hardest story to hear was how young enslaved children, usually between the ages of five and twelve, were required to position themselves in the water at the level of the gate where the water was to not rise above. The child, usually boys, would keep their mouth open at the inflow spout and as the water rushed in, once their mouth filled up, sometimes choking them, the gate would be closed. It was impressed upon us that this was not a pleasant job and could lead to drowning. I was saddened to learn this, but this is why I came…to learn about the experiences of enslaved people who lived on these plantations. This was their reality, so I needed to learn it. When you think about the treatment of enslaved children, it is hard not to feel ashamed of how they were abused.

I saved the tour I was most excited about for last. The Slavery to Freedom Tour.

This is an example of the slave cabins on this plantation. These were built around 1850 and were much larger than what was described as the previous cabins. This cabin may have housed as many as four slave family at one time. This area has five or six cabins and they are all in different degrees of condition.  Some have been left as they were in 1850. Others have been updated on one side to denote the way in which the cabins changed after the Civil War and for sharecroppers, while the other half was left to show what the cabin looked like before the end of slavery. I am not showing you pictures because I want you to experience these for yourself. The tour guide tells of the experiences for those enslaved and those who were made to work in the rice paddy.  Some were attacked by alligators.  Some enslaved people lost arms or legs or their lives.  The attacks were swift and violent and there was always a fear of attack. This made me so sad that, not only were the lives of those enslaved on this plantation hard,  but to live with the fear of being attacked while working, especially by a stealth hunter like an alligator, was just tragic to me.

We learned that on this plantation, the overseer was an enslaved man. That, as I have learned through reading and in course work, was the hardest position to be in on the plantation.

More of the slave cabins. These cabins were moved here as part of the Slavery Project and the work done here is to educate tourists to the harsh reality of slavery. Our tour guide was clear in telling us that had it not been for the men and women who were forced to live in total bondage, gave of their sweat, blood, and tears, and sometimes their lives, our nation would not have become the agricultural force it was and we may never have become a free and independent nation. Our tour guide provided us with a list of books that he suggested we read to add to our learning. This tour was enlightening, truthful, and historically accurate. I appreciated this tour guide and I will go back just to tour the slave dwelling again.

If you are brave enough to take a walk through the back wooded area behind these cabins, there is a former slave cemetary back there that should not be missed. Please be aware, there are alligators back there. I would not venture out there without speaking to someone first.  I am not sure if a tour guide is required or if they have added the cemetery to the tram portion of the tour. I am, however, a big believer in that we must visit these old slave cemeteries and pay our respects. Even though most graves are unmarked, and we have no idea who is laying there, we should still visit the final resting place of the people whose labor built this country. What we do know is that those buried in those graves were human beings who did not deserve the life they were brought to, or born into, and we certainly owe them a debt of gratitude.

The sites along the walk paths are beautiful. This bridge takes visitors across the water as they walk through the gardens. While we were there, a bridal party was having pictures taken on the bridge.  I was able to get one picture, and sadly, it is not the best.

Everywhere you look there are beautiful views. I think this is not only the most beautiful place I’ve visited, but it is also the most educational. Again, stay for the entire day, and take every tour available. You will leave having experienced something. I know, for those of us in my group, we each took away something different. The car ride home was filled with great discussions of what we saw and learned here.

The Magnolia Gift Shop is wonderful. There are gorgeous prints of Audubon birds and landscapes. There are knick-knacks that are beautiful. All of the normal gift shop items are present; books, mugs, t-shirts, etc., but there are many small treasures you might want to take home, if you take a few minutes and really look around.

If you have never been to a place as what Ive described here, you must add Magnolia Plantation and Gardens to your list of places you must visit. by the way, this is a photographer’s dream location.

I hope you’ll visit and take away something you’ll never forget…


Happy Travels…






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