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Charming Charleston, South Carolina


What’s not to like about Charleston, South Carolina?

Okay, so it’s hot in the summer, but it’s hot in Maryland too. With family-friendly beaches on either side of Charleston, a historic downtown with educational activities that are also fun,

Charlston also has world-class shopping for moms (3 designers from Project Runway call Charleston home) and enough great restaurants to make any foodie happy, Charleston is the perfect travel destination for families.



Charleston Area Beaches

Three ocean beaches, Isle of Palm, Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach, are less than a 30-minute drive from historic Charleston. Each beach has its own distinct personality and they all have wide sandy shores perfect for beachcombing and digging in the sand.

Isle of Palm (iop.net) was developed after World War II as an affordable place for veterans to buy a home and raise a family. It still has a family feel to it with a county park at the northern end, a boardwalk, marina and wide selection of restaurants. Leashed dogs are allowed on the beach and golf carts are a popular way to get around the island.

Sullivan’s Island (sullivansisland-sc.com) is linked to Mt. Pleasant by a long series of low bridges over the marsh to the beach. It’s a beautiful drive to an island with grand live oak trees, big old beach houses and pathways over the dunes to the beach. Edgar Allan Poe was stationed on Sullivan’s Island in 1827. His story, “The Gold Bug” features the island and the Edgar Allan Poe Library is housed in a former Spanish-American War battery. There are no hotels or motels on the island and limited seasonal rentals.

Folly Beach (follybeach.com) describes itself as “the home of sea, sand, and surfing, historical and cultural sites; a maritime forest; Morris Island Lighthouse; gourmet food, endangered species of birds; and southern hospitality.” Surfing is a favorite pastime on Folly Beach, particularly on the east end of the beach. There are three county parks on the island, a fishing pier, historic lighthouse, a wide variety of lodging choices, restaurants and shops.

Beaches a little further away from Charleston include Kiawah, Seabrook Island and Edisto Beach.

Historic Charleston (charlestoncvb.com)

It’s easy to take day trips from the beach into historic Charleston, but if staying at the beach isn’t for your family there are plenty of lodging options. Typical chain hotels, historic hotels, small B&Bs or a stay in a converted carriage house tucked away in the gated garden of one of the grand old houses are all possibilities.

Now for the fun part. There are so many things to see and do in Charleston that it would take a very long stay to cover them all. There are several visitor centers in and around Charleston, one very near the Children’s Museum. It’s worth a stop so you can decide what you want to explore.

What follows are some of the highlights grouped by the ages and/or interests of the kids in your family. Please note that parking in the historic part of Charleston is very limited and traffic can be congested. There is a large parking deck near the aquarium and several others throughout town. Wear sturdy walking shoes and consider parking for the day and walking or take alternative transportation like a pedicab or horse drawn carriage from point to point.

Little Kids Visiting Charleston

Pirates used to kidnap Charleston residents and hold them for ransom. Now kids can command their own pirate ship at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (explorecml.org. 25 Ann St, Downtown Charleston). Recommended for up to age 10, other exhibits in the children’s museum include a medieval castle, art room and the Charleston Market. Allow at least 1.5 hours to enjoy the museum. They are closed on Mondays. $7 admission. There are plenty of nearby restaurants.

The South Carolina Aquarium (scaquarium.org. 100 Aquarium Wharf, Downtown Charleston) is a short walk from the Children’s Museum. Do your kids like to hold scaly, pointy, slimy critters? The touch tank at the aquarium lets kids touch the Atlantic stingray, sea urchins and horseshoe crabs. You can visit South Carolina’s only sea turtle hospital and get a behind the scenes tour to see how injured sea turtles are taken care of. There is a 4-D movie and the tallest fish tank in North America full of creatures. Check their website for hours and prices.

From the Aquarium you can stroll or hop on the CARTA bus to Waterfront Park at the end of Concord Street. Waterfront Park runs about a half mile along the Cooper River and offers the entire family a place to relax and watch the big ships pass by. Public restrooms are available. If it’s hot, all the kids in the area usually get wet playing in one of the water fountains. If you continue walking just a little beyond the river pathway you will eventually come to the Battery Walk and White Point Gardens which borders the merging Ashley and Cooper Rivers on one side and some of Charleston’s famous grand historic homes on the other side. Meeting and King Streets head back into the commercial part of Charleston with restaurants and shops.

Charleston for Military/History Buffs

The Hunley (hunley.org)

Aside from aforementioned pirates, Charleston has played significant military roles throughout U.S. history and many surviving artifacts are available to study and visit. What has been described as “probably the most important [American underwater archaeological] find of the [20th] century,” by Dr. William Dudley, Director of Naval History at the Naval Historical Center, the Hunley, the world’s first submarine is now on display. The mysterious sinking of the Hunley is only eclipsed by the dispute revolving around the discovery and eventual rising of the Hunley by a team headed by noted author Clive Cussler. Scientists and conservationists are studying the vessel during the week but tours of the Hunley are available on Saturdays and Sundays. The Hunley is housed underwater in a 90,000 gallon conservation tank. Artifacts found on board the submarine, films and interactive exhibits that let you feel what it was like to be a crewmember of the Hunley are part of the tour. Located in North Charleston.

Patriots Point (PatriotsPoint.org)

Covering naval history from WWII through the Gulf War, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum allows visitors a chance to relive moments aboard the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943. Stand on the flight deck beside vintage aircraft, go into the hangar bay, and see the ship’s galley and where the crew slept. The submarine Clamagore, commissioned towards the end of WWII, is also available for touring of the control room, engine room, berthing and messing areas with displays throughout the submarine. Patriots Point also houses the Destroyer Laffey, a Navy flight simulator that puts you in the cockpit of an F/A-18 fighter jet, the Medal of Honor Museum and a model Vietnam Naval Support Base. Patriots Point is located on Charleston Harbor in Mount Pleasant.

Fort Sumter National Monument (FortSumterTours.com and http://www.nps.gov/fosu/index.htm)

The first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Reduced to mere rubble during the Civil War, parts of the fort have been recreated and are open for touring. Accessible by boat only, you can reach the fort by leaving from Patriots Point or in downtown Charleston. The official National Park Visitor Education Center is located next to the Aquarium. Admission to the visitor center is free. Exhibits provide a look at the commerce and issues that lead up to the Civil War. Boats to Fort Sumter leave from behind the Visitor Center.

For a closer look at the issue of slavery, The Old Slave Mart Museum (OldSlaveMart.org) which is within walking distance of the Fort Sumter Visitor Center focuses on slavery from the perspective of the buyers, traders and slaves. Once known as Ryan’s Mart, the museum site was once used to sell slaves.

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