Being the largest city in South Carolina, Charleston is a charming city you can’t miss out on. Known for its incredible culinary delicacies, beautiful marshlands, colorful streets, and enchanting personality of locals, visiting Charleston with kids is a pleasure. Curious? Our guide will tell you everything you need to know for the best family city break. From the best things to do in Charleston with kids, the best areas to stay, and must-try dishes, you can be sure your time in this history-packed city will be well spent.
When to travel to Charleston
Spring: March, April May
Charleston is most beautiful during the spring. Flowers start to bloom and decorate the streets of the city. Peak tourist season starts at around the end of April, so make sure to make bookings in advance to avoid high hotel rates and competition in lodging. We recommend visiting the yearly Festival of Houses and Gardens; it’s the perfect opportunity to visit the inside of Charleton’s iconic properties we only tend to see in movies. Trust us – it’s a magical experience!
Summer: June, July, August
Summer isn’t the best time to visit the city. Since children are off school, Charleston tends to fill up pretty quickly; so crowds can be expected, especially in kid-friendly attractions. However, if you’re thinking of travelling during summer, we recommend you to spend some time at Folly beach or Sullivan’s Island. They’ll still be quite crowded, but the open space helps quite a lot.
Fall: September, October, November
Fall is algo quite a good time to visit because the warm weather lasts until December. During the fall, Charleston is filled with exciting festivals and outdoor events that will keep you busy no matter when you go. The LowCountry Jazz Festival, MOJA Arts Festival and Taste of Charleston are some of our favourites!
Winter: December, January, February
One of the best things about Charleston is that it never truly has terrible weather, not even in the winter! Temperatures don’t tend to go under 40°F. The Festival of Lights in December is one of the most famous in the city, one which we recommend going for; but prepare for high accomodation prices and crowds.
Best places to stay in Charleston
When visiting Charleston with kids, staying downtown is probably the option. Not only will you be surrounded by culture and history, but you’ll often be at walking distance from some most popular attractions like the Waterfront Park, Rainbow Row and the Charleston Museum. There are many options for accomodation, and finding good dining is never a challenge. There’s always something to do and see!
West of the Ashley
If you’re looking to experience a different side of Charleston, staying at the West of the Ashley River is where you’ll find it. No matter where you look you’ll always find beautiful beautiful oak trees and marshland filling the view. When travelling with kids, staying at the West of the Ashley River may be a good option because of the more subtle nightlife and buzz in comparison to downtown Charleston. It’s also located close to Middleton Place, one of the oldest landscapes in the entire country. You can also find the Charleston Zoo here too, something your kids will appreciate.
The French Quarter is a wonderful sub-suburb in downtown Charleston. This small neighborhood houses some of the most beautiful old buildings of the city; once inhabited by a large French population. It’s also located very close to other important historical buildings like the Pink House Tavern and the Oak Slave. If you’re thinking of staying over the weekend with the kids, it may be one of the best options. It may be easier to fill your day with activities, and get the most out of your experience of Charleston.
How to get around Charleston
The best way to discover downtown is by foot. Since the city is a gem in itself, exploring it by foot is the only way you’ll truly manage to take in everything the city has to offer. Streets and pavements tend to be quite well maintained too, in case your child needs a stroller.
If you’re on a road trip or travel to Charleston by car, you’ll be happy to hear there is plenty of parking available across the city. However, keep in mind this might get quite expensive, so it may be better to opt for public transport or walking unless you’re thinking of going to attractions further from the city center.
Bus & Trolley
Buses and trolleys are probably the most popular ways of moving around Charleston. DASH is an incredible free shuttle service that takes you through three different routes around the city free of charge. It’s the perfect way to save time (and money!) when travelling around with children and strollers.
Uber and Lyft
If you’re not too worried about budget, booking a car with Uber or Lyft is always a good idea. It’s a nice way to pamper the family with a little more luxury of convenience too! Hiring a car service can also be handy if you want to move towards locations farther away from the city like beaches.
Taxis are available all around the city, but tend to be quite expensive, especially if you want to reach places like James Island or Folly Beaches. Fares to places around the city vary from $25 to $45 depending on the time of day and destination.
How much time to spend
Charleston is a great destination for a weekend getaway with the family. Within two or three days, you’re able to take in pretty much all of the main attractions to see, and get a sense of the true city life.
Things to do in Charleston With Kids
1. Charleston City Market
The Charleston City Market is one of the most vibrants places to visit in the city. Built in the 1790s, it’s among the oldest markets in the country and contains the businesses of around 300 creative entrepreneurs. Many of them sell wonderful handmade items from local artists and craftspeople; perfect for souvenirs or gifts for family back home. Remember to look out for sweetgrass baskets; they’re originally from African tradition, and have been handcrafted in Charleston for more than 300 years. We strongly encourage you to try some of the amazing food around the neighborhood. The 12-layer coconut cake by Peninsula Grill is one of Charleston’s most famous desserts… and yes, it exceeds expectations!
2. Joe Riley Waterfront Park
If you want to spend a day outside in Charlestone with your family, make sure you put the Joe Riley Waterfront park on your list. Not only will you have a great view of the coast, but you can bring your own food and a blanket to make a perfect picnic out there. One thing to not forget are towels and swimsuits for your little ones. There are a couple of fountains there, including the Pineapple fountain, where they can play while you’re lounging and relaxing.
3. Cooper River Bridge
Visiting the Cooper River Bridge is definitely one of the first things to do in Charleston with kids. Extending 2.5 miles across the Cooper River, this impressive bridge connects the city of Charleston and Mount Pleasant. It’s strong enough to stay standing after earthquakes, and has become one of Charleston’s most recognized landmarks. Kids are easily impressed by its giant structure, so we definitely recommend driving or walking though it on the pedestrian lanes – especially during sunset. Otherwise, there certainly tours you can book that will take you across which also offer interesting historical explanations.
4. Carriage Tour
Although Charleston is amazing to discover on foot, a carriage ride takes your experience to a whole new level! You can imagine it’s one of the best things to do in Charleston with kids…getting a sense of 18th century luxury is always a treat.
We recommend booking a ride with Palmetto Carriage Works. It’s the oldest tour company in the city, and has the most knowledgeable staff. They have endless, authentic stories to tell about Charleston and its intricate past. You can choose between public or private carriage rides. They typically take you around 30 of Charleston’s most beautiful historic blocks in the downtown district; showcasing mansions, landmarks, important buildings, gardens, and explanations about the architecture and people that gave this city its character.
5. Beaches Around Charleston
One of the best things about Charleston is how close it is to the beach. In fact, Charleston has five different, unique beaches: Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms and Seabrook Island. All beaches have great restaurants and dining options; we highly recommend spending an entire day at one of them.
Kiawah Island is one of our favourites due to its amazing maritime forests, sand dunes and wide array of wildlife including whitetail deer, bobcats and sea turtles. It’s certainly one of the best beaches to visit in Charleston with the kids as it never fails to be exciting and fun for everyone. Folly Beach is perfect for families. It’s a great beach to spot talented surfers and fishermen, and even for paddle boarding. Seabrook Island is another of our favorites. Extending for three miles, you can do all sorts of things with the family; from horseback riding, to kayaking and sailing.
6. The Battery
The Battery is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Charleston with kids. It’s a city landmark which used to be a coastal defense artillery. Today, it’s also a park that kids love to run around in and play on a sunny day. It’s the perfect place to come to when you want to spend an easy afternoon away from crowds or intense sightseeing. Simply grab a few snacks, a blanket, and enjoy the day outdoors!
7. Old Village Mount Pleasant
The Mount Pleasant Old Village is one of the most beautiful places to see when visiting Charleston with kids. It’s one of the oldest communities and neighborhoods, made up of families and young professionals. Back in the day, it used to be home to the most wealthy residents of Charleston. Because of this, it’s known for its incredible original mansions and estates. Today, many of them have been renovated to keep the picturesque image of Mount Pleasant alive. Make sure you don’t miss the Pitt Street Pharmacy! It still looks like it dates back to the 1800s with its charming signs and next-door diner. If you stay the night, make sure to book a room at The Old Village Inn. Your family will love it.
8. Boone Hall Plantation
Standing since 1681, the Boone Plantation is one of the greatest symbols and representations of southern heritage. It’s characterized by what seems to be endless rows of oak trees leading to the house and its beautiful gardens. If you’re looking to take a closer look at what used to go on a couple of centuries back, it’s definitely at the top of the list of things to do in Charleston with kids. There are several activities you can choose to do while you’re here. First, the guided mansion tour will let you look into the lives of the wealthy; including their collections of antiques and luxurious items. There is also a great plantation tractor tour; a 30-minute ride around the 700 hectares of land showing you more about the history and how it’s still a working farm today – this one is a favorite among visitors. The acclaimed tour around the slave cabins and the slave history presentation is important to visit; it’s a great opportunity to teach your kids about the events that have shaped the world today.
Website: The Boone Plantation Address:1235 Long Point Rd. Mt Pleasant, S.C. 29464 Hours: Tue - Sat 9 AM - 5 PM Sun 12 PM - 5 PM Cost: Adult $26 Senior $23 Child (6-12 years old) $12 Child (under 5) Free
9. Fort Sumter
If you want to experience a piece of exciting history, you’ll find visiting Fort Sumter to be one of the best things to do in Charleston with kids. Fort Sumter is a sea fort known for two important battles; one of which pretty much represents the start of the civil war. During your visit, the kids will especially love the ferry ride to the fort. The ferry departs daily from 9 AM to 5 PM from two different locations; the Maritime Museum and Patriots Point Naval. It’s a great, quick attraction you can visit when you’ve got an hour or so to spend!
10. Middleton Place
Middleton Place is an incredible piece of United States’ history in Charleston. Beautifully preserved, it shows how life used to be like for the African slaves and American families that lived here . From the Colonial period until the Civil War, you’ll be able to hear all kinds of stories of people who experienced it all. Middle places great importance on storytelling, and on sharing the truth from the various people that lived here at the time. Because of this, we definitely consider it to be one of the best things to do in Charleston with kids. We encourage you to converse and ask for their opinions on the matter too, to spark the curiosity and awareness of US history.
The general admission ticket includes access to its formal garnes, a presentation and exhibit of life at the plantation in the 18th and 19th century, and guided tours for the gardens, about enslavement at Middle Place, and livestock. Guided tours don’t exceed 40minutes; perfect for keeping kids entertained.
Website: Middleton Place Address: 43000 Ashley River Road Charleston, SC 29414 Hours: Daily 9 AM - 5PM Cost: Adult $26 Student (14 years old and up with Student ID) $5 Child (6-13 years old) $5 Child (under 5) Free
11. Angel Oak Tree
Charleston is home to one of the most beautiful and enchanting trees in the country. The Angel Oak Tree is thought to be around 500 years old, and a survivor of many earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. Its majestic branches stretch out until 187 ft, and shades 17,000 square feet. Although it’s the city’s property, it lives on a couple’s estate where locals say to have seen the ghosts of former slaves appear as angels.
Address: 3699 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island, SC 29455
12. Children’s Museum of the LowCountry
With a mission to spark children’s potential, the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry welcomes families from all different backgrounds to discover and explore unique experiences and activities to drive curiosity and enthusiasm through the magic of play. They refer to them as ‘learning adventures’ – children can create masterpieces at their art center, take part in environmental or science-oriented programs, and way more activities that will last in their memories forever.
Website: Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry Address: 25 Ann Street Charleston, SC 29403 Hours: Saturday 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Sunday 12:30-5 p.m. Cost: Adult $10 (SC residents) or $12 (non-SC residents) Child (under 12 years old) Free
13. Charleston Aquarium
Who doesn’t love aquariums? The South Carolina Aquarium is one of our favourite places to go in Charleston with kids not only because of their beautiful exhibits with colorful fish, but also because of their visibly deep love for animals, and their passion to protect them. In the aquarium you’ll find a lot more than fish – you can find alligators, sea turtles, sharks, birds, and even eagles!
Website: South Carolina Aquarium Address: 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC 29401. Hours: Daily 9AM - 5PM Cost: Adult (over 13 years old) $29.95 Child (3-12 years old) $22.95 Child (under 2 years old) Free
What To Eat in Charleston
Fried Green Tomatoes
Iconic to southern cuisine are fried green tomatoes. Their name is pretty self-explanatory; they’re simply unripe tomatoes coated with meal and fried. They can be served with a side dipping sauce of aioli ranch dressing. This simple meal is spectacular and the perfect fuss-free dish for kids to try.
We recommend visiting Magnolias, Sunflower Café or The Grocery for the best green fried tomatoes in Charleston. Many of these restaurants have been making them for decades, so you can be sure to only try the best!
Another typical dish in Charleston is cornbread. Whether it comes in muffins, a loaf or a skillet, cornbread is by far among the most loved southern dishes in the country. You’ll find cornbread very easily everywhere in the city, but here are a few places we recommend going to for the best of the best: Martha Lou’s Kitchen, Slightly North of Broad, and Hominy Grill. Remember – when it comes to cornbread, the older the restaurant, the better the bread!
3. Fried Chicken
Not placing fried chicken as one of the best things to eat in Charleston with kids would be a crime. There’s no one better in the country to make fried chicken than the talented cooks of the south, that’s for sure! And we all know it’s probably one of the most kid-friendly meals to have on vacation. Charleston has a long list of places serving exquisite fried chicken, but Leon’s Oyster Shop, Early Bird Dinner and Bertha’s Kitchen are known as legendary. They’re so good there tends to be lines of people waiting for service, but don’t let this intimidate you. The staff at these places work quickly, and are extremely nice.
4. Crab Rice
Crab rice is another southern dish our kids have fallen in love with. As southern cuisine generally is, it’s very simple but packed with amazing flavours and spices. It’s especially famous along the coastal communities, where they can access the freshest crab. There are many ways to make the dish; some people use bacon, others fried eggs, and others combine it with different seafood. Nevertheless, you can always expect your mouth to water. Here are some of the best crab rice places in Charleston: Nana’s Seafood & Soul, Gillie’s Seafood and the Charleston Crab House.
5. Shrimp and Grits
Shrimp and grits is another of the south’s most iconic meals. Traditionally, it’s meant to be eaten as a breakfast dish, but you can enjoy it at any moment of the day. Grits is essentially boiled cornbread, and is served with shrimps and gravy. It’s a delicious dish to try while visiting Charleston with kids; you won’t be able to keep them off it! Husk, Acme Lowcountry Kitchen, and The Glass Onion are among the best places to eat shrimp and grits in Charleston. They have very special ways of making the dish their own, giving you a completely different experience in each restaurant you go.
We hope your time in Charleston is as wonderful as ours is. Our family holds this city very close to our hearts, and can only hope you love it as much as we do. What hidden gems have you discovered in Charleston? Are there places we have yet to explore? Let us know in the comments!