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The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com


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More people than ever are considering a trip to Charleston, but I've met so many visitors who said, "We've wanted to visit, but we waited until we could go without our kids because they'd be bored."

So wrong. Let me set the record straight: there are SO many things to do in Charleston SC with kids! 

As a former kid who grew up in Charleston and current parent to two kids growing up in the Lowcountry, I can attest that there are tons of places that are awesome for kids of all ages to learn about this Southern city's history and charm.

Bottom line: don't leave the kids at home if you're planning at trip to the Holy City! While they might not appreciate everything we have in my hometown, there's still plenty that will amuse the entire family.

In fact, the vast majority of what Charleston offers is kid-friendly. It's a welcoming city, and most restaurants, shops, and attractions will do their best to make visitors of all ages happy during your stay.

And, as a bonus--you might find a few things to do when you return on a kid-free trip in the future!

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The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com
My daughter on one of our many trips to the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry

1. The Children's Museum of the Lowcountry

I feel like this is a cheat entry because, duh, it has the word "children" into it--obviously, it's going to be kid-friendly.

As I wrote in a post not too long ago, the CML is particularly awesome as far as kiddie museums go, so if you're out and about in downtown Chucktown, add this to your list of must-do activities.

On top of themed rooms like a pirate ship, a kid-sized grocery store, and a multi-level castle, the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry also has weekly dance classes, an annual festival, and a wonderful Early Starts program for the youngest visitors.

There's also an art room with a different daily art project and open ended art supplies, an outdoor area perfect for picnics, and a water room that my kids are obsessed with.

One of my favorite parts of CML is the exhibit room that changes regularly with new themes and props. Over the last year or so, this room has had bunk beds and forts for the kids to climb all over, a build-your-own-project area with real tools from Lowe's, and a music room celebrating American jazz.

While it isn't the biggest children's museum we've visited thus far, CML remains a friendly, welcoming place with a fantastic staff. It's well worth the entrance fee. (And, no, I'm not getting paid to say any of this!)

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com
My daughter at Magnolia Plantation's petting zoo

2. Magnolia Plantation

Yes, I'm including a plantation on this list. Most parents will run away screaming at the idea of taking any kid under the age of 11 or 12 to a plantation.

I will admit, some of the area plantations are less than kid-friendly with their priceless antiques and strict do-not-touch policies. 

Magnolia Plantation is a great way to introduce your kids to the history of plantations, slavery, and the antebellum South since there are multiple ways to experience this property.

If you've got very wee ones, skip the house tour completely and roam around the extensive (and gorgeous!) gardens, check out the petting zoo, or take the train or boat tours. You can get a feel for the plantation and its history without worrying about knocking over that 200 year old vase!

Magnolia Plantation is aware that different visitors have different needs and expectations of the property, so they've got an a la carte approach to their ticketing system.

If you want to just do the garden and petting zoo, that's a base ticket. You can then add on a house tour, a boat tour, tram ride, and more.

This approach is also fantastic because it allows families with multiple children to pick and choose different options for each kid. Your 5 year old might want to do the petting zoo while the 10 year old wants to learn more about the house.

There's no need to pay for a stressful house tour for the 5 year old, so you can easily split the family for 45 minutes while an adult and one child go on the tour.

Check their website before you go as they're great about offering additional kids' programming free with the purchase of a base ticket.

  

3. U.S.S. Yorktown

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com


Who doesn't love a gigantic floating museum?

This WWII aircraft carrier has been permanently placed into the mud at Patriots Point so that future generations can learn more about World War II and the sacrifices that our veterans have made for us. 

It's on my list of things to do in Charleston SC with kids because it's one of the places that they can touch, see, and even smell history (oh, that lovely musty historic smell!).

Plus, there are always school tour groups around, and no one worries about the noise or kids running from section to section. There are also other military craft to explore, as well as aircraft onboard the Yorktown.

The U.S.S. Yorktown is located right on the Charleston harbor, so from this perspective, you'll have stunning views of downtown, James Island, the bridge, and Fort Sumter. Bring the camera!

For extra family fun in Charleston SC, experience the Yorktown on an overnight youth camping trip (for groups of 10 or more). Maybe you'll see the ghost that's rumored to haunt it...

4. Carriage ride

Your child might not remember a single fact that the carriage driver tells you about, but he or she will totally remember that time you rode in an old fashioned horse-pulled cart.

While your kid oogles at the horse and waves at all of the people on the street (and the ticked-off locals trying to drive past the super slow cart), you'll be free to learn all about historic Charleston SC.

Or, if your kid is anything like I was from the age of 8 onward, he or she will get all sorts of information about the Battery, the houses South of Broad Street, the City Market, and French Quarter. History nerds forever!

These tours of the city are a great way to get an overview of the main parts of the peninsula as you'll head past most of the must-see attractions between the City Market (see below for an entry on that!) and the Charleston Harbor.

Sure, you could walk the same area, but it's way more fun to go on a horse-drawn buggy.

You can also visit the stables of the carriage companies downtown and feed the horses a carrot or two while they're off duty.

Not only is this an enjoyable interaction for kids, it's also free!

5. Fort Sumter

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com


Much like the carriage ride, the history might not stick with a smaller child, but the boat ride, fake cannons, and rambling stairways definitely will.

My older child would visit for the boat ride alone, which provides incredible views of the Charleston harbor, downtown skyline, the U.S.S. Yorktown, and Mount Pleasant's Old Village.

Older kids will get a kick out of the Junior Ranger program (ask a fort ranger for more details) and the Flat Ranger/ Soldier program.

Overall, Fort Sumter is really kid-friendly, as there are plenty of open areas for kids to explore. There's no need for hushed voices here, either!

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com
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6. City Market

Let your child meet local artisans, taste homegrown food, and pick out a new toy at the City Market downtown. 

Many ill-informed people will tell you that the City Market was where slaves used to be bought and sold. Absolutely not true.

The Old Slave Mart is located elsewhere (on Chalmers Street), so if you want to teach your child about this horrific part of Charleston's past, you'll want to redirect your itinerary there.

(Note: while I wholeheartedly recommend the Old Slave Mart to families, you'll want to consider your child's disposition and tolerance level before heading there. It's a very well done museum, but doesn't shy away from the difficult and heart wrenching parts of the slave trade in Charleston, so it's best for kids 9+.)

The City Market, on the other hand, is where people--including slaves--came to buy and sell fruits, veggies, and handmade wares. To this day, that's exactly what you can get there...as well as a bunch of other things.

A recent remodel of the area a few years back enclosed and air conditioned part of the market, and now you can get yummy food from downtown restaurants and see mini-versions of some of downtown's most popular shops like Caviar and Bananas or Wonderworks.

It's always a noisy, bustling place, and it's one of the things to do in Charleston SC with kids that never fails to elicit big smiles from the younger visitors.

7. The Beaches


Although there's more history to explore than you could ever manage in a single family visit, you need some down time, too. 

When your kids have learning overload, that's when you need to head to the beach.

Lucky for you and your junior crew, we're spoiled for choice here in Charleston with options on both sides of downtown. 

If you're staying in Mount Pleasant, both the Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island beaches are within a 10 minute drive. 

If you're staying in West Ashley, Folly Beach is closer. 

Each of the area beaches has its own charm and appeal. Isle of Palms has a fantastic county park right on the water and beautiful streets lined with palm trees. 

Sullivans Island is more secluded feeling since the residents allow the underbrush to grow up much more than on IOP. 

Folly Beach has a laid back vibe and is popular with surfers thanks to the Washout.

You really can't go wrong no matter which beach you choose since they're all beautiful and an easy drive from downtown!

8. Fort Moultrie

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com
At Fort Moultrie with both kids doing a scavenger hunt!

While Fort Sumter out in the harbor is the obvious choice for most visitors, Fort Moultrie is more of a hidden gem.

Run by the National Parks Service, Fort Moultrie is located on Sullivans Island and is a 20 minute drive from downtown.

Fort Moultrie is particularly important to South Carolina history since this is where we get the palmetto tree symbol on our flag. The original fort was constructed from palmettos, and the construction allowed the soldiers to successfully defend themselves from British ships in the harbor.

In addition to the Revolutionary War significance, it's also served the state during multiple other conflicts, most recently as a base during World War II.

This layered history is laid out in the fort so visitors can learn about the original construction steps away from the underground bunkers from WWII.

I've taken my kids several times and they adore something new every time we go.

There are plenty of hills to run up and down, cannons to touch, and bunkers to explore. You'll also get some phenomenal views of the Atlantic Ocean from the top!

When you're done touring the main property, you can walk the ring around the fort where there are additional information signs.

Back across the road--and behind the visitors center--you'll find picnic tables next to the Intracoastal Waterway for an al fresco lunch.

9. Hazel Parker Playground

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com

Sometimes, your kids need to burn off steam.

In between your horse and carriage tour, dining at some of downtown's best restaurants, and learning about South Carolina history, your kids will need a break.

Just head down to the Battery for one of my favorite parks on the peninsula!

Hazel Parker playground is mostly frequented by locals, so you're sure to find a new Charleston friend or two while you're there.

The playground also only has one small-ish sign on East Bay Street, so you might even walk past it without realizing what it was.

Once you head through the gate, your kids will be delighted to find swings, a grassy field perfect for impromptu soccer matches, and plenty of green space to run around.

This property also offers picnic tables if you'd like to buy some tasty treats from Normandy Farms bakery or Bakehouse Charleston and enjoy them harborside.

10. Angel Oak

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com

If your kids aren't wowed by this tree, I don't know what will impress them!

First of all, it's massive.

Where the giant sequoias grow up, this tree has grown out. And out. And out.

Some estimates put it at two thousand years old, which is incredible.

Best of all, little travelers are encouraged to walk around the tree, touching and feeling it as they go.

The Angel Oak is also in a completely enclosed space, so you don't have to worry about your kiddos running off into the wilds of Wadmalaw Island.

Getting here requires a car, but the 20 minute or so drive from downtown Charleston will be well worth it.

11. Charleston Tea Plantation

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com

While you're in the area to see Angel Oak, you might as well go a little further into Wadmalaw Island and check out North America's only tea plantation.

Your kids will enjoy the (air conditioned) indoor tours where groups are led through the process of planting, harvesting, and processing different types of tea.

There's also a great tea tasting station in the attached gift shop, so you can get a free sampling of what the Charleston Tea Plantation produces.

If you are true tea enthusiasts or want to learn more about the day-to-day requirements of running a tea farm, there are also outdoor tours available.

12. Hampton Park


This expansive park might be your new favorite spot in Charleston thanks to the beautiful green space that it provides.

Around the corner from the Citadel campus, Hampton Park offers towering oak trees to climb, a pond to meet some new duck friends, and plenty of paths to walk between historic tours.

If you're visiting during the spring, you definitely need to make a visit, as the azaleas in bloom are every family photo dream.

My kids love the playground on the end closest to Rutledge Avenue, which has swings, monkey bars, slides, and everything else that makes a play space fantastic.

13. Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com

We love this site for a few reasons:

1) It's free. Yay!

2) The Junior Ranger program is one of the best we've discovered.

3) It's easily doable in just a few hours.

4) It's not as well known as other local historic sites, so we often have the place to ourselves. In fact, the Charles Pinckney site is right across the street from Boone Hall Plantation, but it's so quiet, you'll feel like you're out in the country.

Charles Pinckney was a member of a prestigious Lowcountry family and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence if you're into early American history.

The house on site has been divided into 4 areas, 3 of which delves into an aspect of the family farm's history: Charles Pinckney's library, the property's archeological digs, and the Gullah-Geechee history. (The 4th room is where you'll find the gift shop and rangers.)

Have your kids experience the Geechee language by reading a passage from the Bible in the Gullah-Geechee room. Or, let them explore the many historic artifacts that have been found on the property.

The rangers are extremely cordial and have gone out of their way to help us during our visits.

Definitely do the Junior Ranger program here, as it's a small property that allows you to easily work inside the house and out in the field to fully experience the history.

Plus, there are covered (!!!) picnic tables and public restrooms next to the parking lot so you can make a day out of your experience.

14. Try a new restaurant!


Charleston is a foodie town, but that doesn't mean it isn't accessible for most families.

When you're in town with your kids, pop into one of these delicious spots:

Fuel. It's inside an old gas station and has a hip, casual vibe. We love dining on the patio out back!

Jestine's Kitchen. A short walk from just about anywhere in downtown, this one room restaurant might be small on space, but its menu is big on everything else. Their pecan crusted chicken is one of my forever loves, and the come-as-you-are atmosphere means it's great for kids.

Vickery's on the Creek. This Mount Pleasant restaurant is right on Shem Creek. Ask for a table on the porch so your kids can spot a dolphin while they're waiting for their food.

Hall's Chophouse. I recently tried the steakhouse that everyone raves about and was an instant convert. Yes, it might be pricey--and it's one of the trendiest places in town--but we saw multiple families while we were there. Much of it is served family style, so bring your appetite.

Tommy Condon's Irish Pub. The ceilings are low, there's paneled wood everywhere, and you might feel as if you're on the Emerald Isle! This downtown classic is tucked on a side street near the City Market and offers up comforting pub grub to please the whole family.

Sugar. So many sweets, so little time. I've sampled most of the cookies and cakes from their menu over the years and haven't ever had a bad taste.


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When it comes to a trip to the Holy City, you can't really go wrong when you're traveling with little kids. 

Even as a local, people tend to go out of their way to help me when I'm struggling with strollers and shopping bags, and I've seen others extend that courtesy to visitors time and time again. 

Not only is this a fantastic place to learn about South Carolina history, you'll also teach your kids so much about early American history while you're in town, too. 

Add in a few fun nights out in our restaurants, and you've got a family vacation that no one will ever forget!

P.S. Want even more Charleston suggestions? I've got tons in the archive!


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The Best Things to Do in Charleston SC with Kids | CosmosMariners.com