updated 09/11/2012 AT 11:00 AM ET
•originally published 09/11/2012 AT 5:15 PM ET
When Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds tied the knot in a super secret ceremony in Charleston, S.C., on Sunday, many wondered why the couple chose the historic city.
“Charleston is one of the most sought after wedding destinations in the southeast. It’s the most relaxed tranquil place. It’s just a little slice of the past,” a source tells PEOPLE. “[Reynolds] had [gone] there as a child, locals say. It’s one of his favorites and he brought [Lively] there to vacation.”
Leading up to their wedding, the couple had, in fact, escaped to Charleston several times.
Over Thanksgiving, Lively, 25, and Reynolds, 35, stayed in a quiet bed and breakfast, says an onlooker.
“They looked like they were totally in love. Ryan was stroking her hair and they walked around holding hands. At one point, they went over to a little gazebo on the property and sat around laughing, talking and joking around. They seemed very at ease with each other.”
A few months later, the Green Lantern costars returned.
“I saw them on April 1 at Leaf. They were laughing together and you could tell they were enjoying their meal. When they left they were holding hands,” a different source says. “People left them alone, but eventually people started to realize who it was.”
Then a few weeks later, the couple was spotted again dining at Halls Chophouse, a family owned restaurant in the Upper King District of Charleston.
“Halls is a much more intimate setting and definitely an upscale dining experience. It’s known for its prime cuts of beef. It’s amazing. There’s a live piano player and sometimes saxophonist. The restaurant in general has a more vintage and classic feel,” the source says.
While at Halls Chophouse, Lively and Reynolds enjoyed their meal like any other couple out to dinner.
“They were very normal, they did not give off a pretentious vibe at all. My mother would not have known they were celebrities,” the source says. “They seem like very happy and very content and relaxed. Nothing about the way they were acting was showy. It just looked like genuine love. It was natural.”
As for why the couple chose Charleston for their big day, it’s clear the city offers a respite from the demands of two acting careers.
“The amount of times they’d come to Charleston, it was a lot all at one time especially for people who are so busy,” the source adds. “They don’t live in North Carolina or Virginia – they live in New York. I could tell it was a special place for them as it is for many people. It’s a very special place for a lot of people. You could tell it’s their place.”