Family Travel, Day Trips and Places to Visit in Maryland

Grits & Grins in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, S.C. packs history, beaches, family fun and great food into this town full of Southern Charm. Every spring millions of families on the East Coast will head south in search of warmer weather, beaches and family fun. While Florida may seem the obvious choice, charming Charleston, South Carolina serves up a side of history with its springtime sunshine.  

With March temperatures averaging in the low 70s and the city’s gardens in full bloom, spring is the perfect time to visit. Charleston is a nine-hour drive from Annapolis and a 90-minute flight from BWI on Southwest.

“Charleston is the ideal location for a family getaway,” says Doug Warner of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It does not matter if your family’s preferred vacation style is high-energy or low-key; Charleston offers plenty of

age-appropriate activities designed for family fun.”

Charleston features world-renowned restaurants and museums, and miles of unspoiled beaches, so it’s easy to see why Charleston was recently voted America’s favorite city by Travel + Leisure magazine.

Take a Carriage Ride

The most popular way to see the Charleston is from the top of a horse-drawn carriage as it clops its way through the cobblestone streets of the historic district. Carriages are stationed at the City Market and meander through residential streets of the historic district, ensuring your family a bird’s-eye view of the city’s grand homes and gardens. Carriage tours range in price but most companies like Palmetto Carriage Works ( or Old South Carriage Company ( offer coupons and discounts right on the spot at the City Market or through hotels and the Charleston Visitors Bureau.

Visit a Plantation
Immerse your family in the South’s unique history with a visit to a plantation. At Middleton Place (, visitors can wander among the 65 acres of terraced gardens, tour a preserved slave cabin or view a 900-year-old live oak. At Drayton Hall (, the oldest preserved plantation in the country, families can tour a Georgian-Palladian mansion, stroll the banks of the Ashley River, or take a fascinating African-American history tour. Magnolia Plantation ( offers the most activities for families, with a tram that tours the extensive grounds, a petting zoo, and a boat ride through flooded rice fields where kids may even spot a gator or two.  

Taste the Lowcountry Cuisine
Foodie families will discover gastronomic heaven in a city known for its delicious cuisine. Try the famed shrimp and grits at Hominy Grill ( or savor the South’s best breakfast at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit ( Kids will love hearing the story of Poogan the dog at the city’s most haunted restaurant, Poogan’s Porch (, which serves up southern favorites like fried chicken and finger-licking ribs. For a traditional Lowcountry shrimp boil, make the short drive over the gorgeous Arthur Ravenel Bridge to Mt. Pleasant and dine on the creek at the Wreck (, a local seafood haunt named for the trawler that landed on the same spot in Shem Creek during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  

Soak Up Some History

Charles Towne Landing
Located on the Ashley River, Charles Towne Landing ( is a historic site where settlers arrived in 1670 to found the Carolina colony. Families can tour the Adventure, a replica 17th-century ship, watch colonial reenactments, see cannons being fired, or stroll the 80-acres of gardens and live oaks.

Fort Sumter
Take your kids to Fort Sumter ( the place where the first shots were fired on April 12, 1861, sparking the Civil War. Fort Sumter is only reached by boat and ferries depart from Liberty Square (340 Concord Street) in the historic district or from Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant. Patriot’s Point also affords the opportunity to tour the USS Yorktown, an enormous aircraft carrier. Kids will love the ferry ride over to Fort Sumter and the two-hour guided tours included in the ticket price begin right on the boat. Inside the Fort, kids can explore the cannons and observation decks or take part in the Junior Ranger program, which challenges kids to a scavenger hunt as they solve the hidden mysteries of this national landmark.

Beaches and Wildlife

Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach
The Charleston area is home to miles of beaches, from secluded Isle of Palms to the natural state parks of Kiawah. Families don’t need to travel far to sink their feet in the sand, with Sullivan’s Island just nine miles from downtown. Sullivan’s Island is known for its quiet beaches and small-town charm. Explore the local boutiques or grab a bite at Poe’s Tavern, named for Sullivan’s most famous one-time resident. Military buffs will love Fort Moultrie, a historic landmark with a visitor’s center featuring artifacts from pre-Revolutionary times through the Cold War.

Families looking for more action should head to Folly Beach, also known as the Edge of America. Just fifteen minutes from downtown, Folly is known as one of the best surfing spots on the East Coast. Kids can take surfing lessons at Shaka Surf School ( or take a dolphin-watching tour with Flipper Finders ( on the Folly River. Young anglers will love Folly’s fishing pier that extends more than 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean.  

South Carolina Aquarium
Located right on Charleston Harbor, the South Carolina Aquarium ( is home to more than 5,000 animals, including alligators, a bald eagle, eels, sharks and sea turtles. The aquarium invites kids to touch whelks, sea urchins, stingrays and horseshoe crabs in their touch tanks or take a walk through native salt marsh aviaries where they can see herons and puffer fish. Kids can even take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sea Turtle Care Center, which nurses injured South Carolina sea turtles back to good health.  

Hotels in Charleston can be pricey, but luckily there are endless choices from luxurious full-service hotels with pools to charming bed-and-breakfasts. For a central location in town, check in to the Hampton Inn Historic District (from $169; 345 Meeting Street; or The Mills House Wyndham Grand hotel (from $220; 115 Meeting Street;, located directly across from the historic City Market. For a budget-friendly option, stay just outside of the historic district in West Ashley at the Comfort Suites, West of the Ashley (from $95; 2080 Savannah Hwy.;, located in close proximity to several plantations and an easy 10-minute drive to downtown.  

For more information on Charleston, including detailed family-friendly itineraries, visit the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau online at

—Katie Riley

Best Winter Hikes in Maryland

It may be winter but that doesn't mean you need to be stuck inside. It just might be the best time to take a hike with the kids now that the leaves are off the trees.

Best Winter Hikes in Maryland



It’s time you dig the hiking boots out of the closet and get over the idea that a trek through the woods is only a summer pursuit. A bit of frost on the ground, snow in the trees, or frozen breath in the air is no reason to resign the family to the couch. Just throw on a warm hat and gloves, thick socks, and an extra layer or two, and hit the trail. Together with your family you can rediscover your favorite hiking spots, or perhaps check out a new locale. We’ve got the best hikes in the Anne Arundel county area; hikes at the five parks listed below can be done year-round, though whether it be because of seasonal wildlife, enhanced vistas, or lack of usual crowds, they each hold special winter appeal.

Check the websites for possible entrance fees.

Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary
11704 Fenno Road, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772, 301-888-1377

Bird’s the word—more specifically, goose is the word—at Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, where the fields and ponds play host to around 5,000 wintering Canada geese. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is, and just observing the strutting, preening and honking of this many geese could fill a short winter’s day. But if you can tear your kids away from the spectacle of so many birds in one place, pick one of the park’s three trails to explore. The Mounds Trail offers the most diverse scenery, cutting through deciduous forests as well as winding along a marsh. With the bare trees and lack of undergrowth in winter, your chances of spotting deer are high and if you’re lucky, you may even see a beaver hard at work.

Calvert Cliffs State Park
10540 H.G. Trueman Road, Lusby, MD 20657, 301-743-7613
Even the most hard-to-impress kids (and adults) can’t help but find it just a little bit cool to hold in their hands proof of life from 15 million years ago. And that is exactly what you can do at Calvert Cliffs State Park. The broad, flat, red-blazed trail meanders alongside a marsh for 1.8 miles before reaching a small Chesapeake Bay beach strewn with fossils from the Miocene era. Over 600 different fossils have been identified so far; put your own eye to the test trying to guess what life-form left its mark on the shells and rocks you find. 

Elk Neck State Park
4395 Turkey Point Road, North East, MD 21901, 410-287-5333

When the winter wind kicks up the waves in the Chesapeake and they crash hard against the shores of Eastern Maryland, the highest lighthouse on the Chesapeake holds a particular power. Only 35 feet tall but located on a 100-foot bluff, the Turkey Point Lighthouse at the end of the Elk Neck State Park peninsula is a beacon easily accessed via a short 1.0-mile hike down a wide path. Make the trip, and then stand with your kids on the shore and imagine what life might have been like in 1833, when the lighthouse was constructed to guide ships entering the shallow waters of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

Rocks State Park
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, MD 21084, 410-557-7994
The Susquehanna Indians found the 190-foot promontory that is the centerpiece of Rocks State Park to be fit for royalty, hence its current name of King & Queen’s Seat. The producers of the movie version of Tuck Everlasting thought it a pretty special place too, incorporating it into their film. You and your family will understand the appeal once you clamber up and over the many rocks for which the park is named and reach the renowned perch, from which the region spreads out in front of you. If it’s wet, save this hike for another day as it will be too slippery to be safe, but if it’s just a cold, crisp day, the view will be far and wide. The visitor’s center staff will help you map out a 2.2-mile circuit that ends with the King & Queen’s Seat or show you shorter and more direct routes to the goal. Before you leave the park, head to 19-foot Kilgore Falls to get acquainted with the second highest waterfall in Maryland. The winter mist makes it all the more alluring.

Adkins Arboretum
12610 Eveland Road, Ridgely, MD 21660, 410-634-2878

If your family can’t take a walk in the woods without making frequent stops to inspect the surrounding plant life and wonder just what you’re looking at, then head to Adkins Arboretum to take advantage of their free audio tour. The same system that keeps families entertained and in-the-know at museums has been adapted to the great outdoors. At 35 different stops along the arboretum’s 4 miles of pathways, you’ll get mini-lessons on plants common to the Delmarva Peninsula’s meadows and forests.

Theresa Dowell Blackinton is a local freelance writer and the author of Moon Outdoor’s Take a Hike, Washington, DC, which is available in bookstores.

You may be interested in the following related articles:

Maryland Hikes to Take With Your Kids

Five Fantastic Maryland Nature Centers

Information updated 2018


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