Charleston has been called America’s number one small town and let me tell you, it is quite charming. This beautiful and historic waterfront city is truly oozing with Southern charm. It also makes for a great family vacation destination with a ton of history and exciting things to do.
To help you plan the ultimate Charleston family getaway, I put together an extensive list of fun and historical things to do in Charleston, SC with kids.
Here’s what’s in this article:
Unique area attractions
- Charleston City Market
- South Carolina Aquarium
- Charleston Haunted Jail Tour
- USS Yorktown Ghost Tour
- Old South Haunted Ghost Tours
- Gibbes Museum of Art
- Middleton Place House Museum
- The Historic Hunley Submarine
- The Old Slave Mart Museum
- Children’s Museum of Lowcountry
Historic sites & districts
- McLeod Plantation Historic Site
- Nathaniel Russell House
- Fort Sumter National Monument
- Aiken-Rhett House
- Edmondston-Alston House
- Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
- Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site
- Drayton Hall
- Fort Moultrie
- Heyward-Washington House
- Joseph Manigault House
- Magnolia Cemetery
- Circular Congregational Church
- Morris Island Lighthouse
- Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
- The College of Charleston
- The Historic Dock Street Theatre
- The Powder Magazine
Parks, nature & hiking trails
- Folly Beach
- Charleston Outdoor Adventures
- Kiawah Island Golf Resort Nature Tours
- Bulls Island Ferry
- Cypress Gardens
- Capers Island Heritage Preserve
- Charleston Tea Garden
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Kid-friendly Charleston Attractions
188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
Established in the 1790’s this historic marketplace starts on Main Street with the Greek-Revival Market Hall and stretches four blocks with open-air stalls to East Bay Street. This marketplace was once used for local farmers to sell their produce and meat as well as a social gathering spot. Today, it is still a social gathering spot, but now the vendors sell souvenirs and local artisan crafts like Gullah sweetgrass baskets.
100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC 29401
If your kids love animals, then you might want to add the South Carolina Aquarium to your list of things to do in Charleston. Home to over 5,000 animals, many of which are local to South Carolina. The aquarium aims to inspire conservation through their exhibits. They have the biggest tank in North America that holds 700 animals and interactive touch tanks where kids can have a hands-on experience.
18 Anson Street Charleston, SC 29401
This Old City Jail ran from 1809 to 1939 and housed some interesting characters including pirates and Civil War prisoners. It is also said to be super haunted and has been featured on Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and Travel Channel. Kids of all ages are totally welcomed and if your kids are like mine, then they will love it!
40 Patriots Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
The USS Yorktown, also known as the Fighting Lady, was commissioned during WWII in 1943 and manned over 3,000 American Heroes. You and your family can tour the ship during the day, but if you really want a unique experience taking a night time ghost tour is the ticket! Open to all ages, this ghost tour gives you access to parts of the ship that are closed to the public during the day.
14 Anson St. Charleston, SC 29401
Riding through the historic streets of Charleston on a carriage at twilight is awesome enough, but getting to hear spooky stories and history as you pass the haunted graveyards, churches, hotels and alleyways takes it up a notch. This 40 minute tour is open to all ages so bring the little ones, sit back and enjoy the ride and the tales! However, if spooky haunts aren’t your thing, the Old South Carriage Company offer other daytime and evening tours. To explore haunted places in Charleston as well as across America in some of best towns to visit during Halloween.
135 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
This museum opened in 1905 and has a collection of American art that tells the story of Charleston. The museum celebrates, “the power of art – to inspire our imagination, heal our hurt, revel in our experience, rebuild what’s broken, nourish our souls, and release all that holds us back.” The first floor is free to the public and filled with activities. Besides the galleries, the museum also offers art events for kids, so be sure to check the events calendar.
4300 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414
This is the home of the oldest landscaped gardens in America and visiting Middleton Place is like stepping back in time. On the property there are 65 acres of lush gardens, the house museum, the stables, an Inn, shops and even a restaurant. Plan on spending the day with the family exploring these beautiful grounds and enjoying a meal.
1250 Supply St, North Charleston, SC 29405
The Hunley Submarine, became the first successful combat submarine in 1864! Crazy enough, Hunley vanished after the completion of her mission and remained missing for over a century. It wasn’t until 1995 when the National Underwater and Marine Agency discovered The Hunley Submarine and then finally recovered it in 2000. The submarine is now a time capsule with hundreds of artifacts to show us what life was like during the American Civil War and teaches about the men that died onboard the vessel. The museum offers weekend tours where you can view various exhibits, artifacts and The Hunley Submarine itself. There are also a number of activities, so plan on spending at least an hour exploring.
6 Chalmers St, Charleston, SC 29401
A dark part of history, but a necessary part to understand. The Old Slave Mart Museum was built in 1859 and is the site where the slaves were put on auction until the Civil War. It was the last remaining slave auction gallery in South Carolina. Now it is the first African-American slave museum staffed by individuals that can trace their ancestry to Charleston slaves. There is a lot of reading materials, but not too many artifacts, so this museum may be better suited for older children, especially considering the heavy nature of the material.
25 Ann St, Charleston, SC 29403
If your kids love interactive learning and adventures, then you may want to pop into the Children’s Museum of Lowcountry. This non-profit organization is for children 10 and under to encourage exploration and creativity. There are a number of interactive exhibits, infant and toddler playrooms, a kids’ garden and an art studio. It makes for a fun family day out that is not only fun, but educational too.
Historic Districts in Charleston
325 Country Club Dr, Charleston, SC 29412
The Mcleod Plantation was established in 1851, built on the money from sea island cotton and the enslaved who worked the land. Now, it is a 37-acre Gullah/Geechee heritage site and living tribute to freedom, equality and justice where visitors can learn about the lives and spirituality of all who lived on the plantation. You can tour the McLeod family home as well as the homes built for the slaves, learn about the plantation’s strategic importance during the Civil War and learn more about the influence of the Freedmen’s Bureau at McLeod Plantation.
51 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
This National historical landmark was once the home of Nathaniel Russell, a merchant and slave trader, built in 1808. Restored to its original glory, visitors get a chance to peek into the lives of the mercantile elite as well as artisans, craftsmen and enslaved laborers who made this opulent lifestyle possible. This home is regarded as one of the finest of its era and definitely worth a tour inside!
South Carolina 29412
Built on a man-made island in 1829, this sea fort was to protect South Carolina from naval invasion. It was never truly completed and during the Civil War at the Battle of Fort Sumter, the fort was left in ruins. Work was done to restore the fort and it again saw military action during the Spanish-American War. Now, you can visit this National Historic Site with a 30-minute ferry ride from the visitor center and experience unique military history with your family.
48 Elizabeth St, Charleston, SC 29403
Visit the antebellum home of former Governor William Aiken, built in 1820. It is considered one of the best preserved historic townhouses in the country. Greatly expanded over the years, the home remained in the Aiken family for over 140 years until it was sold to the Charleston Museum in the 1970’s. Now, you can come tour the home along with many original furnishings and see what life was like for the family as well as the enslaved that lived in there. What is really interesting is that the home and its contents were left as found. Even the slave’s quarters remained untouched since the 1850’s.
21 E Battery, Charleston, SC 29401
Built in 1825, this beautiful historic Charleston home, sits right on the Charleston Harbor overlooking Fort Sumter. The home was originally built by Scottish shipping merchant, Charles Edmondston in a Federal-style. In 1837 the home was sold to the Alston family when Greek Rival enhancements were made. It has been a part of the Alston family for over 150 years with many of the original furnishings and personal belongings remaining in the home. It is now a time capsule for visitors to come explore.
1254 Long Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
Charles Pinckney was one of America’s founding fathers, signers of the Constitution and was Governor of South Carolina. These 28-acres is what remains of Charles Pinckney’s once 715-acre plantation, known as Snee Farm. The home was purchased by his father in 1754 and Charles inherited the indigo and rice farm in 1782. It was sold in 1828 and those owners built the cute coastal-country cottage that sits on the property now. Today, you can take a self-guided tour of the property and exhibits or participate in the Ranger Program.
300 State Park Rd, Summerville, SC 29485
This 1697 settlement was abandoned at the start of the Revolutionary War, but still has some architectural remains to explore. For instance, the giant bell tower of St. George Church still stands amongst the trees as well as the perish cemetery, log wharf and fort made of oysters and concrete. Although the settlement was left for the surrounding forest to claim, what remains is a beautiful look into early Colonial life. Today, you can come with your family for a self guided tour of this amazing historical settlement.
3380 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414
Known as “nothing less than a palace and gardens,” by the South Carolina Gazette, Drayton Hall has always been an impressive 1750’s estate that we all can enjoy and learn from today. The property was mostly run and maintained by the enslaved and by the time phosphate mining became the main industry in the Lowcountry, the freedmen who worked the mines continued to live, raise families and maintain the estate. So this plantation was never abandoned. With the all-inclusive admission, you can tour the house, the Gates Gallery, the caretaker’s house, the gardens and landscapes and the 18-century African American cemetery. Kids can play the I Spy Game, provided at the shop, during the tour to keep them entertained.
1214 Middle St, Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482
This was the first fort on Sullivan’s Island, made of just logs and sand. Although not completed before the Revolution started, it was able to hold off the British from invading in 1776 and was named after Colonel William Moultrie. However it was captured in 1780 and then neglected for years after the Revolution. A second Fort Moultrie was completed in 1798 to protect the American coast during the war between Britain and France, but was destroyed by a hurricane in 1804. A third Fort Moultrie was built in 1809, but this time with bricks and it is still standing today. It is said that when visitors come to Fort Moultrie, you get to walk backwards in time, from WWII to the site of the 1776 log fort.
87 Church St, Charleston, SC 29403
This historic house museum was built in 1772 and was home to the fourth Declaration signer, Thomas Heyward Jr. It is the only spot where the public can visit a real 1740’s kitchen building! When Heyward was captured by the British in 1780 and exiled to St. Augustine, Florida, the city rented his home to George Washington during his week stay in Charleston during 1791. It is a great way for you to see a peek into 18th-century life in Charleston.
350 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403
This is the historic home of Joseph Manigault, built in 1803. The Manigaults were French Huguents and fled France in the 1600’s and became successful rice planters and merchants in America. This home was designed by Joseph’s brother, Gabriel, who studied architecture in London and is the first home in Charleston to be built in the Adam-style architecture. The home was almost torn down to put in a gas station, but was luckily saved and now a national landmark.
70 Cunnington Ave, Charleston, SC 29405
This historic cemetery was established in 1850 and is the oldest public cemetery in Charleston. It was designed after the new rural style, which gave cemeteries a more natural feeling with walking paths, lakes, green space and trees. This style allowed the cemetery to function almost like a park, where locals could picnic and play in addition to visiting the graves of loved ones. Many notable Charlestonians are buried in Magnolia Cemetery, including soldiers, politicians and more. The cemetery continues to be a working cemetery today and is open to the public for visits.
150 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
This church was founded in 1681 as a free church for all those who wished to come and worship. They were known as Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Independents and included English, Welsh, Scottish and French. The church was taken over by the British during the Revolution as was used as a British hospital and warehouse. In 1804 the church was expanded and a circular design was implemented and stood out as an extraordinary building. The congregation started as progress church in 1681 and continues to be very progressive and inclusive. They stood up for integration in the church during the 1960’s, they have fully embraced the LBGTQ+ community and are committed to environmental sustainability. It is a wonderful place to visit with a beautiful historical cemetery to explore.
1750 E Ashley Ave, Folly Beach, SC 29439
This historical lighthouse is actually the third lighthouse on this site, built in 1876. The first lighthouse was built in 1767, but was replaced with a taller structure in 1838. The second lighthouse was destroyed in the Civil War and the current lighthouse standing is the one built 1876. The lighthouse had a house for the lightkeeper and outbuildings, but by 1938 the housing complexes were removed as the water continued to rise and encroach toward the lighthouse. The lighthouse originally sat 1,200 feet offshore and now the water comes right up to the lighthouse. Save The Light Inc. purchased the lighthouse in efforts to preserve the lighthouse for future generations. So make you sure you visit!
122 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401
This was the site of important Charleston business since 1771. It acted as a commercial exchange, post office, city hall, military headquarters, custom house and now a museum. During the Revolution, the British used the bottom floor as a military dungeon, known as the Provost Dungeon. This is also the building of the four where the Constitution was ratified. Sadly, this is also the site where slave auctions were held. Now you can come, visit and see all this history yourself.
66 George St, Charleston, SC 29424
This is the 13th oldest university in the United States and the oldest municipal college, established in 1770. Among the founders of the college were three signers of the Declaration of Independence and three signers of the United States Constitution. The main campus is located in downtown Charleston and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Not only is it a historic place to visit, it is a beautiful place too. In fact, it has been voted by several media outlets at one of the most beautiful campuses and as having the most beautiful landscapes. It has also been used as the backdrop to many films and television shows.
135 Church St, Charleston, SC 29401
Located in the French Quarter of downtown Charleston, the current structure of the Historic Dock Street Theatre was built in 1809, but the original structure was built in 1736 and was the first building in the thirteen colonies to be solely for theatrical purposes. After the Civil War, the theatre deteriorated and was going to be demolished, but thankfully in 1935 the building was saved and reopened as a theatre once again. Today it continues to serve as home to the arts with festivals and performances still gracing the stage.
79 Cumberland St #3112, Charleston, SC 29401
The Powder Magazine was gunpowder magazine from 1713 through the Revolutionary War and now functions as a museum. The Powder Magazine was actually commissioned in 1703 during Queen Anne’s War, but wasn’t finished in time, so it was used for the American Revolution as well as serving other purposes, like a wine cellar (naturally!). It has functioned as a museum since the early 1900’s and houses a number of historical artifacts from colonial America.
Parks and hiking near Charleston
Folly Beach is actually a town located in Folly Island and is known for expansive beaches and wildlife. There are a number of nature-based activities to participate in, including kayaking, paddle-boarding, surfing, boating and fishing. Picnicking is a popular pastime on Folly Beach and you can even camp if you really want to bask in the island life.
1871 Bowens Island Rd, Charleston, SC 29412
If you are looking to explore the waters of Charleston, then you will love what Charleston Outdoor Adventures has to offer. You have options of taking kayaking or paddle-boarding marsh tours, boat tours that take you dolphin watching, fossil hunting or touring Morris Lighthouse and even fishing tours. Charleston Outdoor Adventures is dedicated to environmental education and stewardship. They are open year round and all tours are offered daily.
1 Sanctuary Beach Dr, Kiawah Island, SC 29455
At the Kiawah Island Golf Resort Nature Tours, you get a land based wildlife experience. There are several tours available by van, by foot or by bikes. The Alligator Adventure, Back Island Birding and the Wildlife Photography Tour are all taken by van. The walking tours include a Gator Walk, Kiawah Creatures, Night Beach Walk, Pollination Exploration, Ocean Seining and Birding for Beginners. For bike riders, you can take a Historical Sunset Cycle or a Wildlife in the Wetlands ride. So whatever your speed, there is a tour right for you!
498 Bulls Island Rd, Awendaw, SC 29429
The Island Ferry takes you to the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge where you can indulge in nature and wildlife. There are 16 miles of trails and 7 miles of undeveloped shoreline to explore. You can take a naturalist guided tour, you can go bird-watching, beach combing or just enjoy a peaceful hike. The refuge is home to saltwater estuaries, barrier islands, freshwater impoundments and maritime forests. If you want to see wildlife, then this is the place for you, because this is where Bottlenose dolphins raise their calves and loggerhead sea turtles nest. Plus, 300 species of birds migrate through or live on the island year round.
3030 Cypress Gardens Rd, Moncks Corner, SC 29461
What was once a part of 1750 Dean Hall Plantation, became a beautiful garden preserve in the 1930’s. This 170-acre preserve features a blackwater swamp surrounded with walking and boat trails. It is such a scenic location that it has been used in several major films, including The Notebook and The Patriot.
Awendaw, SC 29429
This is a small undeveloped barrier island that contains several wildlife habitats, such as maritime uplands, beach, salt marsh and brackish water impoundments. This island is home to a number of diverse wildlife and the McCaskill trail winds through the island allowing visitors to have the opportunity to view many of these amazing animals.
6617 Maybank Hwy, Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
This unspoiled island is connected to Charleston by a single bridge. The sandy soil made it the prime location for growing tea since the 1700’s. Currently, the tea gardens produce nine flavors of tea, including their American Classic. Visiting the tea gardens makes for a great family day trip where you can enjoy lunch outdoors, take a factory tour and a trolley ride through the fields.
Kid-friendly Restaurants in Charleston
41 Center St, Folly Beach, SC 29439
This is a fun and casual popular beach restaurant serving up southern seafood. This dock house style restaurant features a huge patio with live music. It is a great option for families as it has a very laid back atmosphere and nightly events.
Francis Marion Hotel, 387 King St, Charleston, SC 29403
Serving up award-winning shrimp and grits, Swamp Fox Restaurant is located in the Francis Marion Hotel overlooking Marion Square Park. The restaurant is more upscale, focusing on local Southern dishes sourced from local farms and fisheries. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can pop in at any time for a delicious meal in this historic 1920’s hotel restaurant named after the Revolutionary war hero Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion.
155 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
Known for awesome breakfast, this spot is great for a meal anytime of day with the family. New York Times Magazine even claimed Toast is a must eat! In addition to decadent southern dishes, Toast has a great cocktail list including an extensive Bloody Mary list! Toast to Charleston and toast to great food!
1090 Sam Rittenberg Blvd, Charleston, SC 29407
This is a local favorite, serving Southern comfort food in a funky and cool atmosphere. In fact, Mrs. Rose’s Fine Food and Cocktails was the winner of the Southern Fried Chicken in 2018. What is cool about this restaurant is that they offer family style meals, making you feel like you are dining at a family home.
That’s a Wrap!
Charleston is an amazing city and I hope this list helps to make your trip extra special. If while you’re in town you need a place to stay, check out our article on the best family hotels in Charleston. Have fun and happy travels!
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