Tale of Two Cities: Mount Pleasant vs. James Island, SC

By Mark A. Leon

By Mark A. Leon

Between historic Charleston lies two very distinct communities, each defined by its own unique culture, attitude and neighborhood aesthetics.  How can two towns just miles apart have such a distinct difference in personality?  Let us dissect the differences and similarities and thus allow you to draw your own conclusions.

This piece was inspired by two recent social outings, one on Thursday evening in Mount Pleasant at Basil and Sol and the second on John’s Island at JB’s Smokeshack.  While enjoying a quiet lunch and writing a letter at JB’s, I met Chuck, a lifelong resident of this area who grew up hunting on the farms that are now defined by the intersection of Highway 17 and 526.  It was this conversation and my food and beverage interaction in Mount Pleasant that drove the need to write this article.

Let us dig right in and look at the true differences between Mount Pleasant and James Island

  • Dining Prices – There is a definable difference between dining in Mount Pleasant and dining on James Island.  At Sol, two tacos and a 16-ounce craft beer will run you $18.00, with $2.21 in tax and $4.00+ in tip = $24.21.  On Wednesday at Lowdown Kitchen, a 10-inch specialty pizza and glass of house red wine will run you $9.00, with $1.15 in tax and $3.00 in tip = $13.15.  At Paisano’s on Tuesday, you can get a calzone with two meats and two veggies for $6.00 plus tax.  At White Duck Taco, a taco will run between $3.50 and $4.50 and for Happy Hour, a Tecate is $1.00.  A bowl of she-crab soup at Roadside Seafood is $.6.00.  We aren’t going to go through all menus at all dining establishments, but on average, there is a dining disparity.
  • Original Music – On any given night in Mount Pleasant from Shem Creek to Arts to Wild Wings, live music is abundant and so is the chance of hearing Wagon Wheel.  The music is heavily dominant on cover songs.  That is what the customers want to hear.  There is no doubting the musical eye of the Charleston Pour House on James Island and their ability to find the most amazing original music acts in the Southeast and around the country so we give this category to James Island.
  • Brand Awareness – James Island is defined by a unique culture of small and family owned business.  As you drive through you, will see a Sonic, Walmart, AutoZone and Waffle House.  Not much else in terms of chain retail and dining.  Mount Pleasant is a whole other story.  TJ Maxx, Lane Bryant, Kohl’s, Michael’s, Nordstrom’s Rack, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bed Bath and Beyond, Gap, Old Navy and the list goes on.  Very brand focused.
  • Coffee Houses – This one is very close.  Mount Pleasant has Collective Coffee and Metto, two incredible coffee shops.  James Island has Muddy Waters
    Old Pitt Street Bridge

    Old Pitt Street Bridge

    and How Art Thou.  We are going to give this one a tie.

  • Beaches – Another close one.  Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island vs. Folly Beach.  This debate can go on and on.  In terms of accessibility, great dining, fun playful environment, we will also give this a tie.
  • Trivia – Once again we are at a stalemate.  Locals and Wild Wings are among the local establishments with live trivia in Mount Pleasant.  The Break and O’Brion’s are popular sites on James Island.  Tie.
  • Dog Friendly The Barrel, James Island County Park, Sip, How Art Thou, James Island Sunday Brunch, The Charleston Pour House, Bohemian Bull; all speak volumes on how dog friendly James Island is.  Dogs are considered residents in these parts.  We know The Shelter does a lot with Pet Helpers and we admire that.  Overall, Mount Pleasant is a little behind on the support of pups and dining.
  • Attitude – This one may come under some scrutiny, but we stand behind it.  James Island is the Jimmy Buffett of the Charleston area communities.  No matter where you go, we greet you with a smile.  If you are drinking or dining alone, don’t expect to be too long.  There is a genuine friendliness that is infectious on the Island.  Mount Pleasant is a bit more stand-offish and not as inviting of strangers.
  • Natural Scenery – Mount Pleasant has Old Pitt Street Bridge, Old Mount Pleasant and Shem Creek.  All beautiful open areas of natural wonder.  James Island has Riverland Drive, James Island County Park, Dock Street Park, Mcleod Plantation, Harborview Road, Intercoastal Waterway, Sunrise Park, and Scenic Fort Johnson Road.  James Island is still untapped with its ample marsh, wooded areas and parks area and thus gets the victory lap in this category.
  • Traffic – I think we can comfortably call Folly Road and Highway 17 almost a dead heat.
  • Organic Food – Mount Pleasant wins by one – Whole Foods vs. Earthfare in a tug of war, but with Mount Pleasant having Trader Joe’s on its side, it has more muscle.  With both having respective farmer’s markets, we have to give this one to Mount Pleasant.
  • Hippie Lifestyle – We have to give the edge to James Island.  Mount Pleasant is a stone throw from Awendaw Green Barn Jam, but with the Brickhouse Drum Circle, Folly Beach (recently voted the Most Hippie City in South Carolina) and the Charleston Pour House, we have to give the victory to James Island.

There we have it, the differences and similarities between James Island and Mount Pleasant.  If we missed any categories, please comment below.

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