Boasting a large variety of exhilarating attractions for visitors of all ages, Charleston is a great place to spend your next family vacation. There is an abundance of outdoor activities. The South Carolina Aquarium, the Fire Truck Museum and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry will appeal to most children’s sense of adventure.
1.South Carolina Aquarium
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When you need to find the perfect attraction for children of all ages you need look no further than the South Carolina Aquarium. The aquarium offers your children the chance to get up close and personal with up to 5,000 creatures including birds, alligators, otters, fish, turtles, sharks and many, many more. You could easily spend an entire day enjoying the varied programs which include All about Otters, Turtle Talk and All about Alligators. Children can touch and feel various sea creatures in the Touch Tank and hand-feed stingrays in The Shallows. Strollers are welcome (and can be hired on site) and there are changing stations and feeding rooms for younger visitors.
South Carolina Aquarium, 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC 29401, Phone: 843-577-3474
2.Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
© Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
There is nothing children like more than having a new and stimulating environment to explore. The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (CML) provides just that – a huge interactive playground where children of all ages are encouraged to use their imagination and engage with interactive displays in a succession of innovative settings such as the Medieval Creativity Castle, the Fire Truck, Pirates, Hideaways and The Art Room. Even very young children are catered to at the Infant and Toddler Playspace which has many interesting tactile and fine motor toys. If you live in the area and would like to visit regularly you can purchase an annual membership which grants free family access for a year.
Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, 25 Ann St, Charleston, SC 29403, Phone: 843-853-8962
3.The Angel Oak
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A visit to the Angel Oak Park on John’s Island near Charleston is both fascinating and educational. The famous Angel Oak (so called because it grows on a property which belonged to the Angel family) is believed to be at least 400 years old and is easily the largest living organism east of the Mississippi. Your children will be able to get right up close to the mighty tree which reaches a height of 65ft (six storeys) and has an abundance of enormous branches, some of which have grown over 180 feet long. The tree has survived numerous natural disasters, floods and hurricanes and continues to provide an impressive presence which most children find intriguing.
The Angel Oak, 3688 Angel Oak Rd, John’s Island, SC 29455-3300
4.Battery and White Point Gardens
Located in the heart of Charleston’s beautiful historic district, Battery and White Point Gardens is a public park which offers wonderful views and a place for children to run around and play in a safe area. In addition to offering amazing views and a shady place to sit and reflect, the park is home to an impressive collection of cannons and mortars, which date back to the Civil War when the park formed part of the city’s defenses. Surrounded by these relics, Battery and White Point Gardens is the perfect place to teach your children some of the fascinating history of South Carolina.
East Battery & Murray Blvd, Charleston, SC 29401, Phone: 843-724-7327
5.The North Charleston Fire Museum
© The North Charleston Fire Museum
The North Charleston Fire Museum and Education Center is a must-see attraction for all visitors to Charleston, especially if you have an aspiring fire fighter in the family. The museum boasts the largest collection of antique fire engines and fire-fighting equipment in the country, all of which is preserved in perfect working order. Not only is the museum an interesting attraction for the whole family, it could also save lives as families are taught how to react in case of a real fire in their homes. There are coloring activities for the younger visitors while older children can take part in hands-on bucket brigades and other interactive activities with combine education and fun.
The North Charleston Fire Museum, 4975 Centre Pointe Drive, North Charleston, SC 29418, Phone: 843-740-5550
6. Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site
For a great family day out packed with educational fun activities, the Charles Towne Landing Historic Site is hard to beat. The site is located on a marshy point along the Ashley River where a small contingent of English settlers landed in 1670, paving the way for the establishment of South Carolina. There is plenty to see and do – you can start by taking an audio tour of the history trail to find your bearings. Children can experiment with hands-on interactive exhibits at the Visitor’s Center before boarding a 17th century replica sailing ship to get a glimpse of life on the high seas. Canon demonstrations and the Animal Forest Zoo complete the picture. You could also rent bikes and explore over 80 acres of gardens.
Charles Towne Landing, 1500 Old Towne Rd, Charleston, SC 29407, Phone: 843-852-4200
7.Charleston City Market
The Charleston City Market is a good place to spend a few hours shopping for authentic crafts and delicious edible treats. The market has something to interest every member of the family including the children who will particularly enjoy the Turtle Creek puzzle store (where they can spend hours trying out the beautifully crafted wooden puzzle boxes). Another firm favorite is the Wonder Works store which stocks a wide range of toys, gadgets, books and more. The market is very family-friendly and easy to navigate with a stroller. When the little visitors get tired and cranky you will find plenty of food stalls offering tasty and healthy snacks to revive their spirits.
The Charleston City Market, 188 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401
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8.Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
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Established back in 1676 by the Drayton family, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is widely acknowledged to be one of America’s oldest and most beautiful public gardens. Children will enjoy visiting the on-site Zoo and Nature Center where they can meet and pet a variety of animals native to South Carolina. When everyone needs a break from walking you can board the Nature Train for a 40-min guided tour of the 600-acre gardens and wildlife habitats, or hop aboard for a Rice Field Boat Tour (to look for alligators and water birds). There are several other attractions which older children will enjoy including the Audubon Swamp Garden and Sunday morning guided bird walks.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, 3550 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414, Phone: 843-571-1266
Located on an island in Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter is a must-see Charleston attraction for families. Here you can give your children the opportunity to learn about the Civil War as they explore the very spot where the first shots were fired. Even the approach to the fort is exciting, as you enjoy a narrated 30-min boat trip to reach the island. On arrival all children can enroll in the Junior Ranger program and receive activity books to complete as they tour the facility and learn about the history of the fort from the guides – Junior Ranger badges are issued after the tour.
Fort Sumter Tours, 360 Concord St, Charleston, SC, Phone: 843-881-7337
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10.Charleston Public Library
© Charleston Public Library
The Charleston County Public Library is the ideal place to take children of all ages for some stimulating and educational fun. The library operates regular Babygarten and Baby Story Time events for very young children (0 to 2yrs), as well as Story Time for toddlers, pre-schoolers and families. Members can also check out a story time Kit to Go, containing puzzles, books and other fun activities to enjoy at home. All children can attend Early Literacy sessions while older children can get acquainted with audio books, E-books and computers. The enthusiastic library staff is always on hand to recommend age-appropriate new book arrivals.
Charleston County Public Library has several branches dotted around the city.
11.Charleston Waterfront Park
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The Charleston Waterfront Park is the ideal place to visit with children of all ages. You can simply relax under the shady trees and read or day-dream while the children run around and enjoy the freedom of the gardens. The park has a very popular picnic area with picnic tables, benches and porch swings and there are many paved paths where you can enjoy a walk with a stroller or go cycling. On a hot day the children can enjoy wading in the huge cooling fountain or sailing their boats while adults enjoy the outstanding views and the cooling waterfront breezes.
Charleston Waterfront Park, 1 Vendue Range, Charleston, SC 29401, Phone: 843-724-7321
Charleston’s beautiful Cypress Gardens are a joy to visit with children of all ages. Younger children will particularly enjoy learning about nature as they explore the huge Butterfly House which is home to many live butterflies, birds, plants and even an observation beehive. Another of the popular garden attractions is the large Swamparium where children can admire large tanks and terrariums containing local fish, amphibians and reptiles. Older children can enjoy a Swamp Boat Adventure as they paddle along marked trails on the lookout for fascinating swamp animals and plants, while the entire family can enjoy exploring over 3.5 miles of nature trails.
Cypress Gardens, 3030 Cypress Gardens Rd, Moncks Corner, SC 29461, Phone: 843-553-0515
13.Folly Beach County Park
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Spending a beautiful day on the beach is a sure-fire way to entertain children and parents alike. Folly Beach Country Park offers families the perfect combination of a long sandy beach combined with over 100 acres of riverside marshes and sand flats where young visitors can have the time of their lives fishing, exploring and crabbing. The ocean-front sandy beach is particularly popular with families as it offers shallow wading and perfect conditions for body-boarding. If you visit in July and August you will find life guards on duty, an umbrella and chair rental and a snack bar. There are also showers, changing rooms and toilets on site.
Folly Beach County Park, 1100 W Ashley Ave, Folly Beach, SC 29439, Phone: 843-762-9960
14.Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests
The Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests are located just 40 miles north of Charleston, offering families an enormous outdoor playground with an abundance of exciting family activities. In addition to a long list of scenic hiking trails you can also find mountain biking and horse-back riding trails to explore. You can pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the waterfalls, find the perfect spot for some fishing or bring along your OHV for an off-road adventure. If you enjoy camping you can bring a tent or RV to one of the campsites and spend a night or two having family fun around the campfire. Various motorized and non-motorized water activities are also available.
Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests, 2967 Steed Creek Rd, Huger, SC 29450, Phone: 843-336-3248
If you are looking for something a little different to do that will get your children outdoors and active you should consider taking a stroll along Charleston’s hidden gem, the Gateway Walk. The peaceful walkway meanders through historic downtown Charleston, gradually making its way through several beautifully maintained gardens and historic cemeteries. As you make your way through a succession of gateways you will pass several of the city’s historic buildings such as the Gibbes Museum (and its’ sculpture courtyard), the Circular Church, the Charleston Library Society and Saint John’s Lutheran Church. The walkway is not entirely paved but is suitable for strollers and easy for younger children to navigate on foot.
Gateway Walk, 8 Archdale Street, Charleston, SC 29401-1959
16.Charles Pinckney’s Snee Farm (Charles Pinckney National Historic Site)
© NPS Photo
Your family visit to Charles Pinckney’s Snee Farm in Mount Pleasant is the perfect opportunity to combine outdoor fun with a history lesson. The farm is situated on a 28-acre remnant of what was once a thriving rice and indigo plantation. Today families can enjoy films and exhibits at the 1828 cottage which serves as a Visitor’s Centre and Museum. On arrival children can sign up for the Junior Ranger Program which will earn them a badge at the end of the visit. Activities include exploring the extensive grounds and the nature trail, enjoying a picnic or trying your hand at photography.
Charles Pinckney’s Snee Farm, 1254 Long Point Rd, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464, Phone: 843-881-5516
17.Gibbes Museum of Art
© Gibbes Museum of Art
The Gibbes Museum of Art offers visitors of all ages an enriching and enlightening experience. It is so important to encourage children to enjoy viewing and participating in artistic endeavors at an early age; with this aim in mind the museum hosts a variety of programs and events especially for children. Younger children (2 – 5) are invited to attend Story Time at the Gibbes, while older children will probably enjoy a cell-phone photography workshop, art and sculpture lessons or one of their Summer/Winter Camp art workshops. Children are invited to pick up a museum activity pack which will introduce them to the museum’s collections.
The Gibbes Museum of Art, 135 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401, Phone: 843-722-2706
18.Five Loaves Cafe
© Five Loaves Cafe
Five Loaves Cafe is one of Charleston's favorite regional cafe chains, offering three locations in the city's downtown district and nearby Summerville and Mount Pleasant. The restaurant, which was founded in 2004 by Casey Glowacki and Joe Fischbein, offers sustainability-focused dining service, working with local farmers and purveyors to craft all of its dishes from hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and pasture-raised ingredients. Hearty entree options offered at lunch and dinner include Italian-influenced favorites such as chicken marsala, eggplant parmesan, and tri-colored tortellini, served up alongside globally-inspired fare such as Thai-style coconut hot pots and delicious poke bowls. Shareable plates such as shrimp tacos and steamed mussels are also served up, along with a selection of sandwiches and burgers offered on hearty breads or as health-conscious wraps. At brunch, diners can enjoy crab cake Benedicts, huevos rancheros, and Belgian waffles, served up with refreshments such as coffee and a menu of flavored hot teas.
43 Cannon St, Charleston, SC 29403, Phone: 843-937-4303
19.Middleton Place National Historical Landmark
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Middleton Place is a living history museum which invites families to come and learn all about plantation life in the 1700’s. As you tour the many facets of the beautiful estate you and your children will learn about the Middleton family and the story of all the hundreds of enslaved people who lived on the farm prior to the Civil War. Children will love the Stableyards, where they can see assorted farm animals and watch potters, blacksmiths, weavers and carpenters in action. You will learn about the lives of the slaves on the Beyond the Fields tour, while a tour of the House Museum will reveal the contrasting luxury home of the plantation owners. The beautiful landscaped gardens offer a great place for the children to run around and there are shops and a restaurant on site.
Middleton Place, 4300 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414, Phone: 843-556-6020
20.Old Exchange Building and the Provost Dungeon
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The Old Exchange Building and the Provost Dungeon were built in the 1760’s and have many stories to tell about the early history of Charleston. Most children would probably enjoy hearing a concise version of the city’s history on a docent-led tour of the interesting building which takes just 30 minutes and is conducted by a guide in period costume. Of course, older children love tales of ghosts and ghouls and would enjoy joining one of the Ghosts of Charleston Tours which is offered after dark and features stories about the ghosts of the poor souls left to rot in the Provosts Dungeon, complete with ghostly sound effects.
Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon, 122 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29401, Phone: 843-580-4016
Located at the mouth of the Cooper River in Charleston Harbor, Patriot’s Point is a naval and maritime museum which offers a host of interesting activities for children (and adults). You can start your visit by taking a self-guided tour of the USS Yorktown – the route is well defined and the children will be able to get a good idea of what life was like for the naval officers during WWI. Children can have their photos taken in a submarine and the cockpit of a fighter plane. Other attractions include the Flight Academy simulators which put children from 6 years into the cockpit to experience what it is like to be a fighter pilot.
Patriot’s Point, 40 Patriots Point Rd, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464, Phone: 843-884-2727
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If your children enjoy watching baseball you should not miss the opportunity to take them to watch the Charleston RiverDogs in action at the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park. Most Friday night games (check the online schedule) are followed by firework displays – an extra reason to take the kids to see their heroes at “the Joe”. Plan to get there early to enjoy great burgers or pizzas before you settle in to watch the game. If you live in the area your under-12 children can become members of the MUSC Children’s Health Kids Club (free membership) which will give them free access to all Sunday family games and year-round kids events. RiverDogs merchandise is available online.
Charleston RiverDogs, 360 Fishburne St, Charleston, SC 29403, Phone: 843-723-7241
23.Charleston Water Taxi
© Charleston Water Taxi
The Charleston Water Taxi is not merely a means of finding your way from one tourist attraction to the next, it also doubles as a fun outing for the children. You can buy an inexpensive Day Pass (children under three travel free) and enjoy traveling by water to several popular Charleston children’s attractions including the Aquarium Wharf, Patriot’s Point and the Waterfront Park. The Charleston Water Taxi also offers exciting dolphin watching and general sightseeing tours of the beautiful Charleston Harbor. The tours take around an hour – perfect for restless younger passengers and you are welcome to bring a stroller on board. There are four stops where you can hop aboard.
Charleston Water Taxi, 10 Wharfside Street, Charleston, SC 29403, Phone: 843-330-2989
24.Carolina Ice Palace
The Carolina Ice Palace is a very popular attraction for children of (just about) all ages. The state-of-the-art facility offers a wide range of lessons for children from the age of four years. Most start by taking basic ice-skating lessons to gain confidence, before moving on to try figure-skating classes and junior ice-hockey lessons. Your children can attend Hockey Camps during the summer where they will learn great team-building skills and make lots of new friends. The Ice Palace is also an ideal venue for a birthday party with a difference – all you need to bring is a cake and the birthday party – birthday packages include skate hire, admission, refreshments and “Walkers” to assist the children to have fun on the ice.
Carolina Ice Palace, 7665 Northwoods Blvd, North Charleston, SC 29406, Phone: 843-572-2717
Hampton Park is the ideal place to take the children for some outdoor fun. The sprawling green area invites children to enjoy running around and letting off some steam. Besides the popular children’s playground, your children can enjoy walking, biking or rollerblading along the trails. If you visit on Saturday mornings or after 6pm Tues to Thursday you will find that the park is closed to all traffic to allow everyone the chance to exercise, run, walk or roll with complete peace of mind. You can bring along a picnic, a ball and a Frisbee and let the kids spend a few hours having healthy outdoor fun.
Hampton Park, 30 Mary Murray Drive, Charleston, SC 29403
24 Best Things to Do in Charleston, SC with Kids of All Ages
- South Carolina Aquarium, Photo: Victoria Liu/stock.adobe.com
- Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, Photo: Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
- The Angel Oak, Photo: Brandon Schultz/stock.adobe.com
- Battery and White Point Gardens, Photo: susanne2688/stock.adobe.com
- The North Charleston Fire Museum, Photo: The North Charleston Fire Museum
- Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, Photo: Ewan/stock.adobe.com
- Charleston City Market, Photo: Luis/stock.adobe.com
- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Photo: Dave Allen/stock.adobe.com
- Fort Sumter, Photo: Daniel/stock.adobe.com
- Charleston Public Library, Photo: Charleston Public Library
- Charleston Waterfront Park, Photo: Fotoluminate LLC/stock.adobe.com
- Cypress Gardens, Photo: skiserge1/stock.adobe.com
- Folly Beach County Park, Photo: Jaimie Tuchman/stock.adobe.com
- Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests, Photo: digidreamgrafix/stock.adobe.com
- Gateway Walk, Photo: lazyllama/stock.adobe.com
- Charles Pinckney’s Snee Farm (Charles Pinckney National Historic Site), Photo: NPS Photo
- Gibbes Museum of Art, Photo: Gibbes Museum of Art
- Five Loaves Cafe, Photo: Five Loaves Cafe
- Middleton Place National Historical Landmark, Photo: Daniel Meunier/stock.adobe.com
- Old Exchange Building and the Provost Dungeon, Photo: Daniel Meunier/stock.adobe.com
- Patriot’s Point, Photo: lumachina_99/stock.adobe.com
- Charleston RiverDogs, Photo: Danny Hooks/stock.adobe.com
- Charleston Water Taxi, Photo: Charleston Water Taxi
- Carolina Ice Palace, Photo: Gary/stock.adobe.com
- Hampton Park, Photo: heshixin/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com