Last updated on February 9th, 2023 at 03:50 pm
We visited Charleston, South Carolina as part of our East Coast Road trip in the US. We loved it’s colourful charm and in particular the mesmerising live oaks covered in Spanish moss. It’s a city with some dark history but we felt that was an important thing for the kids to experience too. Read on to find out more about things to do with kids in Charleston SC.
What is Charleston SC most famous for?
Originally named ‘Charles-Town’ in honour of King Charles II, the city became Charleston in 1783. It’s well known for its southern charm and the architecture is a particular draw. One of the best ways to view downtown’s pretty, colourful buildings is by taking a horse-drawn carriage through the city.
Charleston is South Carolina’s oldest and largest city and it has deep historic roots. Not all of them positive. It’s in and around Charleston that you’ll find many of the plantation houses which drew on slave labour. You’ll also find the Slave Mart and the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon in the downtown area.
Charleston has some of the best family-friendly beaches in the United States (take a look at 20 Best East Coast Beaches For Families for more on the east coast of America). It also has mouth-watering dining options too. Make sure you try some southern BBQ while you’re on your Charleston SC family vacation!
What is the best month to visit Charleston SC?
We visited Charleston in July and it was incredibly hot. The shoulder seasons (Spring and Autumn) are the best months to visit. The weather is still warm and there’s plenty going on. Summer is still great though. Just make sure you plan accordingly with plenty of water, sun cream and some indoor activities in Charleston.
Is Charleston a good place for kids?
Although Charleston might have a reputation for being a top destination for couples as it’s so romantic, a Charleston SC family vacation is actually an excellent choice. There are lots of activities for kids in Charleston SC. Just take a look at the list below for some inspiration!
How many days in Charleston with Kids?
We spent 3 days in Charleston and this allowed us a day to see the sights in the centre of town, a day at a plantation house and a day at the beach. That felt about right for us – but you could easily enjoy a week in and around Charleston if you have longer to spare.
Things To Do In Charleston SC With Kids
South Carolina Aquarium
South Carolina Aquarium features over 5000 animals, with the highlight being its Sea Turtle Care Centre. Travel through South Carolina’s contrasting habitats, from the mountains (eagles and otters) to the ocean (sharks and turtles) via the aquarium exhibits.
Kids will love the Touch Tank where they can have a (gentle) feel of crabs, stingrays and sea urchins.
South Carolina Aquarium completes important conservation work helping several different species of turtle. Their care centre rescues, rehabilitates and releases turtles back into the the wild. They also work with other like-minded organisations to help reduce plastic in the oceans and ensure turtles’ (and other water-based animals) habitats are safe. A great lesson in conservation as well as one of the top things to do with kids in Charleston SC!
Opening hours are from 9 am till 5 pm, daily, apart from on holidays.
Address: South Carolina Aquarium, 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC 29401
Boone Hall Plantation (and the Avenue of the Oaks)
There are a number of plantations to choose from and you should definitely add at least one to your list when you visit Charleston. A visit to a plantation is not an easy history lesson, but we felt it was an important one to access.
We chose to visit Boone Hall. Magnolia Plantation and McLeod Plantation are also sound choices, with Magnolia being particularly family orientated. However, we found that there were quite a few ‘add-ons’ at Magnolia, while pretty much everything was included in Boone Hall’s entrance ticket.
Plus, at Boone Hall Plantation, you get to see the famous Avenue of the Oaks (see the image at the top of this post) and the unique brick slave houses they have there. Allocate at least half a day. If you have time, a full day ensures you experience everything on offer.
If you visit Boone Hall, your ticket will include:
- A tour of the plantation house
- A live presentation of the ‘Gullah’ culture
- Plantation Tractor tour
- Slave History Talk
- Garden tour
- Entrance to the Butterfly Pavilion
- The Slave huts and museum
- The Avenue of the Oaks
For film buffs: some of The Notebook (featuring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) was filmed here. Boone Hall featured as Allie’s family’s summer home.
Address: 1235 Long Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
There’s a two storey museum at The Old Exchange, but the most interesting part for children will be the guided tour of the cellar (otherwise known as ‘The Provost Dungeon’). The cellar was converted into a dungeon by the British during the American Revolution. American prisoners of war, British soldiers and slaves were all held prisoner in its dank and dark confines over that period. It’s certainly got a spooky feel to it.
Charleston became the largest, wealthiest and most influential city in the south during the American Revolution, The Old Exchange became a meeting point for local Patriots and the US constitution was approved here.
The Old Exchange is open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday with a later opening time of 11 am on Sundays. Children under the age of 12 are half price and those under 6 years old go free.
Address: Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon, 122 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29401
Children’s Museum of the Low Country
Make sure you add the Children’s Museum of the Low Country to your list of things to do in Charleston with kids. It has some great interactive exhibits for children and it’s a place for them to learn and explore via play. There’s an Art Room, the Speak Loud studio, Kids’ Garden and a Pirate Ship for children to enjoy. There’s also the Publix Market, a fun grocery store experience for little ones. Plus the Boeing Brightlab which encourages kids to make and build… particularly good for those budding engineers!
The museum is open 9 am to 5 pm every day, apart from 12pm on Sundays. No need to purchase tickets in advance – just turn up.
Address: Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, 25 Ann St, Charleston, SC 29403
There are some beautiful beaches on Charleston’s coast and visiting one should without a doubt feature at the top of the list when it comes to things to do with kids in Charleston SC. Folly Beach (just south of Charleston) is probably the most family-friendly.
You might hear locals refer to Folly Beach by its nickname: ‘The Edge of America’. With its powder-white sand and warm, calm water it’s perfect for smaller children who want to try out boogie boarding for the first time. It’s also well known for surfing – with the most popular spot known as ‘The Washout’.
Park at Folly Beach County Park which has some lovely picnic areas and a pelican rookery. You can rent chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards from the kiosk here. This part of Folly beach is well served in terms of lifeguards and has changing rooms and a decent snack bar.
Address: Folly Beach County Park, 1100 W Ashley Ave, Folly Beach, SC 29439
Wildlife Boat Tour
Barrier Island Eco Tours run several different types of boat trip for families. These include a Sunset Dolphin tour and a crabbing and fishing tour. A wildlife boat tour is the perfect way to explore the waterways and marshes surrounding Charleston.
Charleston Outdoor Adventures is another great choice, offering plenty of different ways to explore Charleston’s coast and waters. They have a Dolphin Eco Tour, Morris Island Lighthouse Tour, Fossil Hunting Tour and a Full Moon Boat Cruise. Charleston Outdoor Adventures also provide Kayaking Marsh tours, paddleboarding and fishing trips.
A Horse and Carriage Ride
Riding on a horse and carriage is undoubtedly one of the top recommendations for things to do in Charleston with kids. Or if you’re kid free, for that matter (it’s definitely one of the most romantic things to do in Charleston SC). It’s a quintessientially ‘Charleston’ activity! Palmetto Carriage Works is the oldest of the carriage companies and well regarded. You can book group or private tours of both the downtown area and the commercial district. Their website even has answers to questions about the welfare of the company’s horses. Always a good sign.
Carriages will usually take you past Rainbow Row (on East Bay Street) and its delightful pastel coloured buildings on.
The Charleston RiverDogs
Catch a game of baseball with the Charleston RiverDogs. They usually play from April through to September and you can purchase tickets to games on their website. If you’re visiting in the summer months, this is certainly one for the list of things to do with kids in Charleston SC. Check ahead; they often have fireworks after Friday night games.
The Charleston RiverDogs adopted their name in 1994 and it’s thought to be a reference to Charleston’s location at the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Fun Fact: actor Bill Murray is co-owner of the Charleston Riverdogs and has a home in the area.
Address: Charleston RiverDogs, 360 Fishburne St, Charleston, SC 29403
The Angel Oak
The Angel Oak is a live oak tree located in Angel Oak Park on St Johns Island near Charleston. The tree is thought to be between 400 and 500 years old and has managed to weather a number of natural disasters and remain standing.
The 65 feet high Angel Oak is a popular Charleston tourist attraction, with almost half a million visitors each year. This famous oak got its name from a wealthy black slave owner, Justus Angel, who owned the estate the tree is on. Folklore has it that the ghosts of former slaves have been seen in the form of angels around the oak.
Angel Oak Park is open every day, other than holidays. Children are not permitted to climb the tree, but it’s definitely worth visiting this impressive living piece of history and perhaps enjoying a picnic in the park. Make sure you add it to your itinerary of things to do in Charleston SC with kids.
Address: 3688 Angel Oak Rd, Johns Island, SC 29455
North Charleston Fire Museum
For any child who loves the idea of being a firefighter, the North Charleston Fire Museum is the place to head. The museum has 20 fire vehicles from different time periods – some date back to the 1700’s. There are interactive displays and equipment kids will enjoy and the museum tells the story of how firefighting has changed over time. Tours are provided by retired firefighters.
The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10am till 4pm. It’s a good choice if you’re looking for indoor actvities in Charleston SC – whether it’s to have some time out from the rain or from the sun.
Address: The North Charleston Fire Museum, 4975 Centre Pointe Drive, North Charleston, SC 29418
Charleston Waterfront Park
Charleston Waterfront Park is a great spot to sit, relax and soak up the atmosphere. Take a stroll along the riverfront walking paths or sit and eat lunch on one of the many benches along the way. Make sure you check out the art deco style fountain topped with a statue of a Palmetto tree.
From Charleston Waterfront Park, you’ll have a great view of the Battery, Charleston Harbour and the Cooper River Bridge. The park runs along a half mile stretch of the Cooper River. There’s a pier at the southern end of the park – it’s a great spot to spend a while watching the large ships coming in and out of the harbour. One of the top picks for free things to do in Charleston SC.
Address: Charleston Waterfront Park, 1 Vendue Range, Charleston, SC 29401
Pirate Adventure Cruise
Younger kids will love the Charleston Pirate Adventure Cruise. Lasting one and a half hours, kids can dress up and take on a pirate name if they wish. They’ll become part of the Black Ghost Crew as they voyage down the Ashley River with songs, games and lots of fun along the way.
The meeting point is Ripley Light Marina, and one responsible adult is requested to accompany the child or children on the cruise. Cruises run from May to September. One of the most fun activities for kids in Charleston SC!
Address: 56 Ashley Point Drive, Charleston, SC 29407
Where We Stayed:
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Charleston. It’s well positioned for excursions, great value and breakfast is included. There are plenty of places to eat within walking distance and a Piggly Wiggly supermarket just across the road. This is a great place to stay if you have a car, as it’s not in the centre of town.
Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Charleston SC
Swig and Swine offers some of the best barbeque meat platters around (try the family platter which comes with loads of different meats and 3 sides), It also has its own shop with a great selection of t-shirts which are sure to make you chuckle!
Address: 1217 Savannah Highway, Charleston, SC 29407
The Crab Shack at Folly Beach offers some good seafood specialities and southern dishes (think hush puppies and crab legs). A great place to stop before or after your visit to the beach. No reservations taken.
Address: 26 Center St, Folly Beach, SC 29439
Boxcar Betty’s serves some of the best burgers you could hope for. The southern fried chicken burgers are their speciality but their beef burgers are equally divine, as are their chips and all the toppings on offer. They do a kids meal of chicken tenders, fries, fruit cup and drink.
Address: 1922 Savannah Hwy Charleston, SC 29407
If you’re considering an east coast road trip or want to check out guides for other city breaks in the US, take a look at 12 Best Things To Do In NYC With Kids and 12 Best Things to do in Washington DC With kids.