72 Hours in Charleston with Kids

Folly Beach, a short drive from downtown Charleston, is a perfect spot for sand, surf and sunsets. Photo by Christian Perello/Adobe Stock
Folly Beach, a short drive from downtown Charleston, is a perfect spot for sand, surf and sunsets. Photo by Christian Perello/Adobe Stock

For a charming city that seamlessly brings together history and nature, all while captivating visitors of all ages, look no further than Charleston, South Carolina. Situated along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and renowned as one of the most iconic cities in the Lowcountry region, Charleston beckons with its historic cobblestone streets, centuries-old oak trees and Southern hospitality.

Although Charleston is an amazing vacation spot year-round, my favorite time to visit is in spring — the weather is mostly sunny and pleasantly warm, much nicer than the sweltering humid Southern summers.

72 Hours in Charleston with Kids
Charleston’s iconic architecture gives the city a special sense of place

What to See and Do in Charleston with Kids

Day 1

Start your morning with a hearty Southern-style breakfast of shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy or corned beef hash at Millers All Day  With all-day breakfast and an extensive menu to appeal to the pickiest of eaters, this is a great spot in the middle of downtown Charleston to kick-start your journey. After a delicious meal, walk over to the Charleston City Market. The market, which stretches across four city blocks, is lined with artisanal shops stocked with goods from handmade organic jams and biscuits to sweetgrass baskets. Not only does it offer kids an interactive way to engage with the local history and traditions, it also makes a wonderful spot to begin souvenir shopping.

There are a variety of ways to sightsee in downtown Charleston; it all depends on your preferred mode of transportation and who you are traveling with. A horse-drawn carriage ride is a good choice with a little one, as the cobblestone streets make it a hassle to travel around with a stroller. Carriage rides will take you through the historic district of Charleston, where you will see classic mansions, churches and other historical spots. If you want a bit more adventure, join a Pirate Walking Tour and enjoy learning about the history of Charleston in the company of a swashbuckler. Be sure to get a picture in front of Rainbow Row, a cluster of 13 pastel-painted historical homes that are a perfect photo op.

72 Hours in Charleston with Kids
Handmade sweetgrass baskets are a signature souvenir from Charleston City Market

In the afternoon, head to the Charleston Museum for a diverse display of birds, herbs, bugs and fossils native to the Lowcountry and beyond. My little ones love spending time in Kidstory, which offers a hands-on exhibit catered to the interests (and size) of children. Here, kids have the opportunity to try on colonial-style costumes, learn how to tie a pirate knot and hear about the Gullah people and Native Americans through an interactive storytelling station. For a more interactive experience, opt for the Children’s Museum, which offers a painting station, a mini market for a fun roleplaying experience, and a Brightlab that features real tools and materials to work on small projects.

End the day at the Charleston Waterfront Park, where you can enjoy a stroll along the Battery seawall and White Point Garden. This open green space is a great spot to relax or for kids to let go of some excess energy while the adults take in the scenic views of Charleston Harbor.

Here you will also find the iconic Pineapple Fountain, a symbol of Southern hospitality, and get a good look at the Cooper River Bridge, which lights up at night. Rental boats are available at the Maritime Center if you’d rather get out on the water.

72 Hours in Charleston with Kids
Wander amid trees draped in Spanish moss at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. Photo by eurobanks/Adobe Stock

Day 2 

Begin your second day at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Originally a historic house and rice plantation, this estate has been open to the public since the 1870s. There is so much to see here that I highly encourage you to plan your day in advance to maximize your time. Start by taking a stroll through the historic gardens for a view of the Camellia Collection and the Barbados Tropical Garden. Stop by the wildlife center, which features various birds of prey, pigs, peacocks, foxes and even some of the lizards, turtles, snakes and alligators native to the Lowcountry. If you are traveling in summer, be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and insect repellant, as mosquitoes are plentiful.

Make sure to get tickets for the nature train, which takes you on an unforgettable adventure across wetlands, forests, marsh and swamp — we have taken this tour every time we have gone to Magnolia Gardens and the kids love it so much. Depending on the time of year, you are sure to spot alligators, golden silk orb-weaver spiders, snakes and more. After the nature tour, spend time at the four restored slave cabins on site to learn about the people who worked and lived at Magnolia. Before you go, walk the Audubon Swamp for a chance to see even more of the wildlife that the region has to offer.

TIP: Magnolia Plantation is best experienced early in the morning so you can beat crowds and get out of there by noon.

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For a shorter outdoor experience, opt for one of the many U-Pick options in Charleston. Our favorite is the Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens U-Pick, which allows families to harvest their own seasonal produce and includes a ride to the fields in a tractor — this was the highlight for our son!

After lunch, head over to the South Carolina Aquarium. With more than 5,000 animals and a variety of exhibits geared towards the education and conservation of the ecosystem, it is a great learning experience and an engaging way to spend your time. Kids can spot sharks, sea turtles and penguins among other species, and get hands-on with hermit crabs, stingrays and horseshoe crabs in the touch tank. The Aquarium features a Kids’ Coast with hands-on exhibits for children to understand water filtration systems and other scientific concepts.

If you and your family are fans of ghost stories, spend the evening on one of the many walking ghost tours around the city to get a spooky (and fun!) perspective of Charleston and its history.

72 Hours in Charleston with Kids
Folly Beach, a short drive from downtown Charleston, is a perfect spot for sand, surf and sunsets. Photo by Christian Perello/Adobe Stock

Day 3

No trip to Charleston is complete without a visit to one of its famous beaches: Isle of Palms or Folly Beach. Spend the day sunbathing, swimming and enjoying the coast, or opt for a structured boat experience where you can participate in crabbing, island exploration, dolphin spotting or fishing. You can rent equipment to be set up on the beach prior to your arrival or bring your own. I recommend arriving early as you will be met with crowds at the beach around noon and beyond.

A great indoor alternative is the Patriots Point Navel & Maritime Museum, an interactive museum aboard the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier. The museum features scenes of life aboard the boat during WWII, plus aircraft and other machinery used during the time. Patriots Point will particularly appeal to history buffs and kids interested in seeing fighter planes, helicopters and the inside of a ship.

Spend some time exploring Shem Creek, where you can rent a paddleboard, catch sight of shrimp boats or enjoy fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants. You can opt to take the water taxi back to the downtown area or bike along the Ravenel Bridge. After a delicious meal — perhaps at Edmund’s Oast or Port of Call, two of our favorites — enjoy a stroll down Broad Street and end your adventure at Moultrie Playground with a view of Colonial Lake.

Though the Lowcountry is synonymous with slower living, Charleston offers a dynamic combination of history, food, and adventure that is not to be missed.

Relevant Links:

Browse all family-friendly accommodations and activities in South Carolina on Ciao Bambino

Charleston Place: Genteel charm in the heart of town

A grand, gracious beach retreat at The Sanctuary at Kiawah

Favorite family spring break getaways in the Southeast

Southeast college tour and vacation itinerary

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