Before I moved to Columbia two years ago I had never been to Charleston. After we moved, my husband, who is in the Air Force Reserves, transferred to Charleston Air Force Base for reserve duty. Now we go to Charleston quite frequently and my whole family LOVES it!
When you think of Charleston you probably think of going to the beach, soaking in the sun, and making a sand castle with your kids while you watch the pelicans fly overhead. And while a day on any of Charleston’s five beaches is relaxing and wonderful, there’s a lot more to Charleston than just the gorgeous sandy beaches. It truly is a family vacation spot that has something for everyone. Let’s explore all the area has to offer!
As I mentioned above, Charleston boasts five pristine beaches: Kiawah Island, Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, and Seabrook Island. You can’t go wrong with any of them! All offer an array of restaurants and lodging, and are quaint and inviting. If you’re looking for a beach that’s close to the city, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are the place to stay as both are within 12 miles of downtown Charleston. My favorite beach is Sullivan’s Island. It’s never overcrowded, it’s not at all a touristy town, the beach is always very peaceful and serene, and I never have trouble finding parking.
Aquarium & Museums
Charleston has quite a number of exciting museums to explore that are appropriate for all ages.
The SC aquarium is seated on the Charleston Harbor and is home to more than 5,000 beautiful sea creatures and other animals found across SC. There is a touch tank, where children and adults can touch and feel several species of invertebrates, including hermit crabs, sea urchins, horseshoe crabs and stingrays. The aquarium also has two play areas and, if you’re lucky, you just might see a staff member walking around with an alligator you can pet.
Our trips to Charleston are never complete without a stop at the children’s museum. My 5 year old asks me all the time if we can go. This is a MUST for families with young children. The museum has nine different interactive play areas, including an infant/toddler area. Areas include an art room, a large pirate ship, a Publix grocery store, a medieval castle, an outdoor garden with a fire truck, and more! Admission is only $10 for SC residents (there is also an educator and military discount).
This is a great museum for children and adults. The fire museum has over twenty fully restored fire vehicles and priceless antique firefighting artifacts. There are also demonstrations to help families learn about fire safety. The museum has interactive exhibits, a fire engine driving simulator, and an indoor children’s play area with a slide and functioning fire pole. Adult admission is only $6 and children 12 and under and military are FREE.
Pirate Tours and Ghost Tours
Yep, you read that right. Pirate tours and Ghost tours. A unique experience you won’t find anywhere else!
These tours are fun for children and adults. You will be guided on a tour of Charleston by a pirate and his or her (real) parrot. This group offers a variety of pirate tours and also a ghost tour. There is a general pirate tour and also a children’s tour, which is a treasure hunt.
My boys and I recently participated in the children’s treasure hunt and we all enjoyed it. Our pirate Sabrina and her parrot toured us around the beautiful White Point Gardens, while giving us pirate history and leading us on a treasure hunt. On this tour, children receive a pirate sword, treasure map, treasure from the treasure chest, and are able to make their own pirate flag. Plus, since the children’s tour takes place in White Point Gardens, you can spend time exploring this beautiful park on the Charleston Harbor before or after your treasure hunt (White Point Gardens is home to nesting Herons that you will see walking around, offers an amazing view of the harbor and Fort Sumter, and boasts a variety of old cannons and a Confederate Monument).
Bulldog tours offers four different ghost tours that take you through different areas of Charleston that are said to be haunted; The Haunted Jail Tour, Ghost & Dungeon Tour, The Dark Side of Charleston Tour (due to adult material this tour is only for those 18 and older), and the Ghost and Graveyard tour. While these ghost tours are fun, they are not recommended for small children. In fact, some of the tours they don’t even have admission for children under 7. So, if you have littles leave them at home and bring the “big kids.”
The city of Charleston is full of history! You can see it and feel it as you drive through downtown and the surrounding areas. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love exploring all the historic sites Charleston has to offer.
If you’re a Civil War buff you won’t want to miss this one. Climb aboard the boat and tour this historic area on the Charleston Harbor where the Civil War began.
This open air market has been the heart of Charleston since 1804 and is one of the nation’s oldest public markets. The market boasts many different vendors who sell unique items you won’t find anywhere else. Here is where you can also find Charleston sweetgrass baskets, which were once used on plantations and are now considered works of art. The market also provides a variety of food vendors. While you may think this shopping area is just for mom, it’s actually something your whole family will enjoy. There is plenty to see and do as you walk through the market and you can even catch a horse drawn carriage ride, if you like. My young boys really enjoyed this area.