By Katie Moosbrugger
Our family recently enjoyed a short stay in Charleston, SC, over spring break. In previous years, my husband and I had only visited Charleston without kids, so when we made the decision for this trip, I took time to research things to do and places to visit with kids in and around the city. I came up with an agenda full of ideas, but as it turned out, we wound up doing only one thing from my list. And yet, we had one of the most memorable mini vacations!
That’s what is so unique about Charleston. You can fill up your days with a million things to do and places to visit, or you can just explore the city on your own terms. Either way, you’re sure to have a great time.
Since we knew the weather wasn’t going to be great, we opted to spend most of our time in the city. We rented an Airbnb just a few blocks off of King Street (the main shopping area) so we could be in the center of it all, but not have to worry about spending a fortune on a downtown hotel room. Although not the fanciest of accommodations, our little studio apartment rental was perfect for our short trip.
As soon as we arrived, we headed out on foot to explore. If I have one piece of advice for your visit, it’s to wear comfortable shoes. No matter what you plan during your days, you will do a ton of walking. After a quick bite at Five Loaves Cafe (highly recommended by a local and was definitely worth it!), we spent the first day checking out the French Quarter District, Antebellum mansions, cobblestone streets, gardens and parks, the incredible shopping, and the gorgeous sights along Cooper River.
Some of the things we saw included the Historical Charleston City Market (a 200+ year-old market that spans four city blocks and is full of food, arts/craft vendors); beautiful historic churches (be sure to step inside); Waterfront Park (pictured to the right) which offers great views of Cooper River as well as beautiful canopied walkways and fountains; Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (a former Revolutionary prison and City Hall – offers tours!); the College of Charleston; Charleston City Hall; and shopping on King Street (we actually had to visit King Street several times to take in all that shopping).
That evening, we took the kids atop the roof at the Vendu where my husband and I enjoyed a cocktail while we all took in the bird’s eye view. Then we headed to PawPaw for an incredible dinner of Southern cuisine.
On our way out of PawPaw we discovered Holy Spokes, the bike share program in Charleston, where you can rent a bike by the hour or the day. A full day rental was only $12, so for our second full day in Charleston, we rented bikes and toured parts of Charleston that were not so easy to walk to. In full disclosure I would not recommend touring Charleston on bike if you have little kids. There were areas we biked through – and crossed over – that were pretty nerve-wracking even for us adults. Biking through the city streets is even a little dicey. However, if you’re up for the challenge, this was a highlight of our trip.
While on bike, we got to tour The Citadel (in a word – amazing), and then we cruised all the way down to the Battery to see White Point Garden (a shady waterfront park at the southern tip of Charleston that features historical statues and cannons and incredible views), Rainbow Row (13 pastel-painted Georgian-style row houses from the late 1700s), and many more beautiful sights!
On our third and final day in Charleston, we did the one thing I had on my “Must Do List” – and that was a historical tour of Charleston by horse and carriage. We booked our ride with Palmetto Carriage Works, the oldest carriage tour company in Charleston, and we could not have been more impressed. Their tour guides are some of the most knowledgeable and experienced guides in the city, and on top of that, our guide was also hilarious. Palmetto Carriage Works offers public tours (what we did) and private tours, as well as hour tours (what we did) or shorter evening tours. You also have the option to take a combo tour – where you bundle your carriage ride with either a plantation tour or a harbor tour, or a tri-combo tour that adds on both a plantation and a harbor tour.
One thing that I loved learning about Palmetto Carriage Works is all the care they give their 40 horses and mules. When the animals are not “working,” they get pasture time outside of the city. Every day and after every ride, the animals have their temperature taken to be sure the conditions are safe. If their temperature is too high, if the outside temperature reaches 95 degrees, or if the combined temperature and humidity level reaches 110, then they are pulled from service.
Every carriage tour is done by lottery, meaning you cannot choose the area of Charleston in which you’ll tour. At the start of every ride, a lottery decides which route the guide takes you and, as you can imagine, there are no “bad” tours in Charleston. They are all equally interesting and beautiful. We wound up taking a ride through Ansonborough – an area we had never explored before!
After our ride, the sun came out strong so we capped off our trip with a good four hours on Sullivan’s Island. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic trip!
While we thought our visit was fantastic, our trip barely scratched the surface of all the things you can do in Charleston. Below are more ideas, plus restaurant recommendations. (NOTE: The Cooper River Bridge Run (the city’s largest event) takes place in April each year. Keep that in mind when planning a trip to Charleston as the city gets very crowded!)
Other Restaurants to Recommend(not all are appropriate for little kids – check the web site for more detail)
Brown Dog Deli
Harold’s Cabin (owned by Bill Murray who is often seen around town and dining there!)
S.N.O.B. (Slightly North of Broad)
Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub
Other Attractions In and Around Charleston (including some for little kids!)
Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens
Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
Ghost & Vampire Tours
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
McLeod Plantation Historical Site
North Charleston Fire Museum
Shem Creek Park (kids can watch shrimp boats come in and sometimes spot dolphins)
South Carolina Aquarium
What else can you add to my list of things to do – and restaurants to try – in Charleston? Please leave a comment with your favorite recommendations!
For other family vacations and day trip ideas, visit our “Recreation and Travel Category” here!
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