10 Things To Do In Charleston With Kids

Charleston is world renowned for its friendly and hospitable people. Combine that with gorgeous beaches, a rich history and some of the yummiest food ever and you’ve got yourself a perfect family vacation destination. Here are my top ten things to do with kids in Charleston…

1. South Carolina Aquarium. Located directly on the beautiful Charleston harbor, the aquarium is educational in mission and style, a total must see. There are examples of marine life and ecosystems from the upstate of SC to the shore and beyond. The biggest exhibit includes a great ocean tank housing thousands of different species of fish as well as sharks and a loggerhead sea turtle. While the aquarium does not actually keep Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins inside, generally all you need to do is walk out onto their terrace and you can watch them in their natural habitat, which is even better if you ask me. Check out their website for special offerings, and if you have the time, you can also take a behind the scenes tour of the Sea Turtle Hospital, which helps rehabilitate and release sea turtles from all over the east coast.

2. The Charleston Water Taxi. While this particular business is co-owned by my brother in law, I would still recommend it even if that were not the case. Even though Charleston is super walkable, sometimes you just need to take a load off. The Taxi is cheap (10 dollars – ride all day!) and is a great way to see the Holy City from a different perspective. Again, the dolphins are everywhere, it only takes about 30 minutes to get across and if you park on the Mt. Pleasant side of the harbor, parking is ample and free, both of which are rarities in our lovely city by the sea.

3. Also conveniently located on the Charleston Harbor is Patriot’s Point. The crown jewel in this naval museum complex is the USS Yorktown, a heralded aircraft carrier turned war memorial. Your kids will love this one, I promise. Not only is the ship gigantic, there is so much to see. Not much of it is off limits, so you really do get to check out all the good stuff, plus there are aircraft, a flight simulator and other touch stations that bring the experience alive. (Note: If it is August or September when you visit, be warned – there is no climate control and it’s hotter than seven hells.)

4. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge, locally known as the Cooper River Bridge, is a beautiful and very pedestrian friendly bridge that is suitable for almost anyone to walk on. I’d say four to five year olds and up could swing it at a leisurely pace. It’s free, it’s gorgeous and it provides an amazing view. You can see for several miles out into the ocean and beyond. There is always a breeze up there and it’s perfectly safe – the guard rail is very high and there is a thick and tall cement barricade between auto and foot traffic. There is also a wonderful park complete with playground and pier near the base of the bridge on the Mt. Pleasant side, perfect for spending an afternoon doing something fun and free!

5. Plantations – I’m going to string these all together because there are several all located near each other in the West Ashley area of Charleston. Drayton Hall, Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens are each outstanding examples of plantation life and each boasts it’s own particular claim to historic fame. All have beautiful grounds and gardens, educational activities that provide hands on learning as well as the museum house itself. Located in a line down the Ashley River, these plantations are a must. In the East Cooper area of town is Boone Hall, which was recently made famous (again) by being the location for the nuptials of Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds. Boone Hall has a world famous avenue of oaks (major photo op) and also has tons of hands on activities perfect for engaging kids. There is tons of gorgeous space, perfect for picnicking with your children, or just letting them run off some steam.

6. The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. Located on the Meeting Street “Museum Mile”, the children’s museum is perfect for taking a breather from the walking around that you will surely be doing through the historic district. There is an enormous art room, a medieval “castle” for pretending, puppets and dress up. There’s a water room (plastic aprons provided), a grocery store, a fishing boat replica and many other stations for kids to play. There are always lots of kids at the museum, so your child will basically have instant friends to hang out with. The staff is super friendly and helpful, making this stop a must, especially if you have kids under ten.

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7. And here’s the biggest draw of all in my opinion…the BEACH! Charleston is fronted by several barrier islands and therefore we have some spectacular beaches. There are county parks located at Kiawah and the Isle of Palms and I’m a huge fan of them – I buy a county park pass every year solely for beaching it. Parking, restrooms, showers and snack bars make the county parks an amazing resource for visiting families. There are several other awesome public beaches as well, including Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach and Edisto Beach. Edisto is typically the least crowded but it’s also the furthest away from Charleston. Long story short, you can’t go wrong with any of these because of the built in entertainment and the affordability. During the summer, we usually go at least 3-4 times a month.

8. Vickery’s– located on Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, Vickery’s has good food, reasonable prices and is totally low-key and casual. The view is amazing – shrimp trawlers come and go all day long, you can walk the docks where they pull in to sell the seafood, there are almost always dolphins to watch and they have the best Bloody Mary’s in town.

9. Poe’s Tavern. At one point, Sullivan’s Island was home to author Edgar Allen Poe, who apparently was known not only for his gift of dark storytelling, but also for his love of good food and drink as well. Taking a cue from the writer, Poe’s is located about a block from the beach and has amazing food. The vibe is casual and relaxed, the food is delicious and the location is awesome.

10. Hominy Grill, The Kickin’ Chicken and Mellow Mushroom. I have these lumped together because they are all casual, all yummy, all reasonable, all located on the Charleston peninsula, all “local”. Kickin’ Chicken has great sports watching without being somewhere you wouldn’t take your kids and super delicious wings. Mellow Mushroom has great pizza and a laid back vibe and head to Hominy Grill for amazing local/regional food including world famous shrimp and grits. Yum.

Notes: The Charleston peninsula is where the historic district is in all it’s fabulous glory. It is extremely walkable but has horrendous parking, what with being four hundred years old and all, and the parking enforcement people do not play. Do yourself a favor and leave your car in a parking garage and get out on foot. Wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen. If you come in the summer, it is extremely hot – stay hydrated!

Got any Charleston tips of your own? Leave them in the comments!

About the writer

Rebeccah is an almost a lifelong resident of Charleston, and loves her city to a degree that some people would consider unnatural. Her thoughts and adventures can be found at Connelly Confusion.

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Eric West 7 days ago

You might also want to try the new Scavenger Hunt tour in Charleston by Urban Adventure Quest. A great way to get them interested in the sights because they are playing a game. Lots of fun.

SarahGrace 4 months ago

Boone Hall is also very child and pet friendly. Market place downtown is exciting for the kids and I usually let them get a little $5 gift. There are also lots of pottery places (Kiln Time is my favorite) that I take the kids to paint

Hannah 4 months ago

I agree with all of these and have done almost every on. The water taxi and Ravenel bridge are on my to do list. Maybe I’ll catch one this weekend! !:)
p.sp.s. The aquarium is fantastic and well worth it. The staff are wonderful and will answer any questions you have

Eileen 5 months ago

Traveling from NY to Charleston in August with two boys ages 6 and 2. What are the best family friendly hotels preferably with a pool and access to the beach or a close drive.

Megan 5 months ago

Thank you for this list. I planned my trip with my 2 and 5 yr old using several of your ideas, all of which were wonderful. We especially loved the children’s museum, Magnolia Plantation, and James Island park
(Playground). Thanks!

Fekadu [FK] 6 months ago

Hello Rebeccah,
I appreciate your hard work in providing support for Charleston community.
I am trying to create a community website that encompasses Ethiopians living in Charleston SC; having the idea of providing information about Ethiopia and Charleston Sc, education links, entertainments, and more.
Do you mind if I ask you how you get the links to “10 Things to do in Charleston With Kids”?
I would like to have something similar to that in my website: http://www.ethiocharleston.com Do you have an RSS feeder or how do you get those latest updates?
Thank you and keep up the good work,
FK

Beth C. 7 months ago

There are many parks in downtown Charleston that are great for children and adults alike! On the eastern side of the peninsula is Waterfront Park – a world-renowned linear park on the Cooper River at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. It has a pier with shade-covered porch swings, a large fountain in which children may play in warm weather, picnic tables, a green lawn area, and the famous “Pineapple Fountain” seen in all of the Charleston advertisements. Herbert Hazel playground is a short walk south from Waterfront Park and has two nice playgrounds, a community building, picnic tables, a tennis court, basketball court, baseball field, and a dog park.

On the western side of the peninsula is Brittlebank Park on the Ashley River. It has a large playground that is handicap accessible, a covered fishing pier with a boat dock, and picnic areas. Next door to the park is the Joseph P. Riley, Jr. baseball stadium – home of the Charleston Riverdogs. And just northeast of the baseball park is The Citadel (The Military College of SC) and Hampton Park, a 64-acre park with many trails, beautiful oak trees, gardens, a gazebo, and large duck pond with a bridge.

Annoyed 8 months ago

Appreciate the info, but what’s the point of the annoying ad blocking access to the page?
Nothing says ‘I don’t care about my readers’ better than flashing an ad in their face as they’re
reading your website.

Kaelyn 10 months ago

Page’s Okra Grill is a new favorite restaurant in the Shem Creek area of Mt. Pleasant. Very casual, outdoor seating, and amazing traditional Southern food. And the new pier park in Mt Pleasant underneath the new bridge is awesome! It has a great playground and pier. Don’t forget to visit the water parks!

Shauna 10 months ago

Thank you so much for this! It’s been so helpful in planning our trip.

Aileen 1 year ago

Charleston resident here and in the past month we have been to both Vickery’s and Poe’s with my family. We love Vickery’s because the location is wonderful. It is on the water and right next to a boardwalk. It is kid friendly and the turkey pita is to die for.

Poe’s was a little more pricy but the location can’t be beat and the food was very good. Maybe she meant Moe’s, the chain and not Moe’s Tavern?

K.May 1 year ago

East Battery along the Charleston Harbor…a few blocks from Rainbow Row.

forever m@mmy 1 year ago

Hi,

What is the place on the photo?
I’ve seen it for a few times now, on different websites but can’t find.
That’s the must see for me!

Thanks

Eric 1 year ago

County Park on James Island is awesome. Don’t forget the fishing pier on Folly too.

JennFantastic! 1 year ago

This is a joke, right? I mean, not to be rude, but even just glancing at the list it is CLEARLY NOT about doing stuff WITH KIDS? Vickery’s? Poe’s Tavern? And that is just TWO things . . . You might as well have said Applebee’s (Vickery’s). Not sure when this was posted, but the last one is restaurants/bars, too. Moe’s Crosstown is a BAR, not a restaurant, but it DOES have FABULOUS food. So, the first half of the list is great, despite some shortcomings of a few listed places (just from my opinion as a local who has gone with kids). The last half is just a handful of restaurants tossed out . . . did the author run out of ideas? Maybe just call it FIVE places to go with kids in Charleston and make more sense. Really not trying to sound like a pain, but I was really disappointed with this post since I read it looking for a good idea.

Natalie 2 years ago

Was googling indoor places to take toddlers (out of the norm, and while it is unbearably cold here in Charleston) and came across this….Must say thiugh, I CANNOT believe there isnt anything about James Island county park! I live on JI and probably go 4-5 times a week. It’s a whopping $1 to get in the gate if you don’t have a pass ($65 for yall who live in Charleston…free entry plus also to the annual festivals like Cajun fest, etc) and has MILES of trails, huge playground with areas divided up appropriately based on age, a large water park for the summer time, rock climbing wall, the list goes on and on and on. It’s all fenced in and gated and is a very safe, clean, and convenient place within 10-15 minutes of Folly Beach. Even if you’re visiting Charleston, check out staying at JICP….my parents rent one of the cabins on the marsh whenever they come to town….they’re quiet, clean, safe, and NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT THEM so its like this hidden jewel 5 minutes from downtown…not to mention the view.

Gerry 2 years ago

I’m traveling through Charleston over the winter holidays and wanted to know if you have any special tips for travelers visiting during that time of year. I was also wondering if you had any recommendations on places to stay and in which area of Charleston. We’re an active family with kids ages 9 and 4. Any help would be much appreciated.

Jenny 2 years ago

I would a bit disagree with Erin that Charleston Aquarium is just nice but not better. I guess it is better. It would have been best if the family entry was cheaper. If you don’t have annual pass then it is pretty expensive for a medium size family.

Joan Moore 2 years ago

Where does the water taxi dock on the Charleston side?

VMozzer 2 years ago

Loved the article on Charleston. I can’t find your email though. Would love to drop you a message to ask a few questions…Thanks!

Erin 2 years ago

I think the Charleston Aquarium is wonderful, but we have an annual pass and go often. It is over $100 for a family of four to go once, ouch. I have been to the aquarium in Myrtle many times, also, we were locals for many years, and while it is really nice, I disagree it is better, and def not worth the drive from Charleston. I have to say, all these are excellent suggestions if money isn’t an object at all.The plantations are really expensive, and I wouldn’t even bother doing Middleton or Drayton with kids, as they are definitely geared toward adults,and imo, not as pretty as Magnolia. Magnolia however, is great, totally kid friendly, with miles of georgeous, stroller friendly walking trails, a playground, and a petting zoo. If you cant find at least 1000 photo ops here, you’re walking with your eyes shut!! We have memberships to Magnolia, which we use often, and Middleton, which we use hardly ever. The staff at Magnolia is very kid friendly, they are “kid tolerant” at the others.
The Charleston county parks are wonderful, too, and cost $1 a kid, $2 per adult. Wannamaker park and James Island park have sprinklers for the kids to play in, and there are full size water parks (@ $15 per person) at Wannamaker and Mount Pleasant , along with excellent bike/walking trails, and great playgrounds. If you have a state park pass, DEFINITELY check out Charlestowne Landing, in West Ashley-has reenactors, cabins, a large wooden boat the family can board , a small zoo, and lots of pretty trails. There’s an Earth Fare grocery nearby that has delicious, organic cafe fare, and last I checked, kids eat free Thursdays.
The children’s museum truly is good, and there are free trolley rides that run right around the corner @ 15 minutes to points all around downtown. My kids never turn down a trolley ride!
Be sure to stop into the Robot Candy Store and the Blue Bicycle Bookstore on King Street-both very cool and very kid friendly :)

Courtney 3 years ago

Chucktown resident as well…
and I got to say… I think the aquarium is an absolute waste of money! Better off driving up to Myrtle Beach and going to the aquarium there!
Any restaurant on Shem Creek is awesomely amazing. (vickery’s, reds, shem creek b&g)
The kids museum is AMAZING.
Also… There’s this place called Wine &Design… they have kids classes during the day and adult classes at night (bring your own wine!) It’s inexpensive and so much fun!