There are places that you visit with a long list of things to do and see. And then there are places you visit because you like the vibe and you’re happy to mostly wander around and soak up the place. Charleston is the latter type of city for us. We liked just being there, and did a lot more wandering for the sake of it than we often do.
Here are a few things we did do and liked and the things we would go back for.
The Best Things To Do in Charleston With Kids
Charleston Farmer’s Market:
Held in Marion Square on Saturday mornings from April through November, we liked this sizable farmer’s market for it’s community vibe and insight into local food and culture. We sampled huge muscadine grapes, sweet potato pie and boiled peanuts. The market has grown since we visited, with more prepared foods and artisans like sweetgrass basket makers.
Stop to Eat: We ate fantastic shrimp & grits cooked to order for breakfast. Tiny Traveler liked watching a fellow make mini-donuts in a portable fryer, and of course we had to buy a batch.
Mount Pleasant Memorial Park:
It’s next Patriot’s Point, literally under the Arthur Ravenel Bridge you use to cross the river. We went because a tour guide tipped us off to a playground here. The park has a nice lawn for running around, a small but spiffy playground with a nautical theme, and special events throughout the year. The nice surprise was the Mount Pleasant Memorial Pier, which juts 1,250 feet into the river and offers great views of the city and harbor.
Stop to Eat: While on that side of the River, we drove around a little and happened upon Red’s Ice House (right), on Shem Creek. It’s the sort of casual waterfront place where you drink beer and eat grilled shrimp and oyster po’boys out of little red plastic baskets lined with checked paper. The food was as tasty as the place was casual and kid friendly.
A City Tour:
Charleston is a city with a lot of official history and a a good dose of juicy unofficial history. A tour is essential to get to know the town. I’d recommend a walking tour with kids who have the attention span for it, maybe 4th grade and up, and with babies who will happily spend an hour or two in a carrier.
For ages in between I would choose a carriage tour. They are shorter and a little less in-depth but you’ll still learn a lot. The novelty of the horse-drawn carriage will keep little kids occupied for a good part of the ride. If they get bored, it’s easy enough to pass them a snack, book or small toy to pass the rest of the time.
Stop to Eat: The area around Broad Street is full of good places to eat; most attract a mix of locals and tourists. We returned twice to Pearlz Oyster Bar just north of Broad because its happy hour coincided with our dinner time and included a great deal on local raw oysters. We slurped a dozen, coupled with local beer and wine, while Tiny Traveler shared corn fritters and other snacks with us.
The Waterfront Park:
At least once daily we walked along the waterfront south of Queen Street, looking at boats on the water, appreciating the pineapple fountain, trying out the bench swings and running around on the grass at the Battery.
Stop to Eat: We made sure to stop at Jestine’s Kitchen, a casual joint known for its home-style cooking. We went for fried chicken (with fried okra and cole slaw) and shrimp & grits, which they only do on Sunday. We cleaned our plates.
What We Would Go Back For To Charleston
Explore More History:
Back in town we would likely visit the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, which has a colorful history. Kids can do scavenger hunts through the building and sign the Declaration of Independence.
Visit a Plantation:
The plantations are expensive but I think I would go back to tour one of the mansions and learn more of history around them. We visited family friendly Magnolia Plantation, but skipped the house tour and just explored its small petting farm, extensive gardens, slave quarters and a surprisingly cool walkway through a swamp. Next time around I think I might try the newly opened McLeod Plantation (below) on James Island because of its focus on the Gullah culture and its unique location.
Note: If you go, bring a picnic lunch, the plantations are tucked away down country roads without stores nearby.
Hit the Beach:
I have heard only wonderful things about Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, Kiawah and Isle of Palms, all less than an hour from the city. So next time around we will surely take a day, maybe two, to hit the beach in search of swimming and good oyster shack.