Family Weekend Getaway: 10 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
The winter chill may have finally settled in the northeast, but my mind’s still on memories of warmer climes. Thanks to Wyndham Vacation Rentals, I had the opportunity to visit South Carolina during the summer. (Watch my video at the end of this blog post to see more photos from the trip.)
Over four days, I stayed at a Gone With the Wind-esque rental house on Kiawah Island with a small group of journalists, and we got the chance to explore the historic sites of Charleston. Along the way, we took a photo with actor Bill Murray at the airport, consumed enough biscuits and sweet tea to make Scarlett O’Hara blush, and even spotted a real alligator hanging out in the street.
As a Yankee exploring southern delights for the first time, I was charmed by Charleston: the restored and ornate architecture, the buttery food (deep fried or not), and the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Kiawah Island has plenty of quiet, low-key beaches (and golf courses) while Charleston is teeming with more active family-friendly attractions. To help you plan your next laid-back weekend getaway, here are 10 family-friendly things to do around Charleston:
1- Hang Out at Kiawah Island Beaches – No matter which Kiawah Island beach you end up visiting, you’re guaranteed to find white, hard-packed sand (great for strolls along the shore!) and Jacuzzi-warm waters. Kiawah Island is also surrounded by marshes teeming with wildlife, so you may see ospreys, herons, and alligators on your scenic drive to a beach. We ended up at Royal Beach, with gorgeous views of the ocean on one side and views of castle-like houses on the other.
2- Grab Dinner at the Fat Hen – Get initiated into Lowcountry cuisine at the Fat Hen, a neighborhood fave on Kiawah Island. Start by ordering tried-and-true southern dishes like fried green tomatoes, boiled peanut salad, She-Crab soup (Casey, fellow diner and blogger of Moosh in Indy, gave this rapturous praises). You’ll also be well-stocked with warm biscuits and lemon-laced sweet tea from the gregarious staff.
3- Visit the Sea Turtle Hospital, South Carolina Aquarium – The amazing veterinary staff at the South Carolina Aquarium rescue sick and injured sea turtles and nurse them back to health. Kids will get to meet and touch (small) turtles and learn about the turtles’ ailments and recovery process before they’re released back into the wild. The adjacent aquarium boasts equally impressive sights, including an albino alligator (named Alabaster), an American bald eagle, and a two-story tank filled with fish, coral, and sharks.
4- Eat Lunch at Poogan’s Porch – Poogan’s Porch is a cozy, light-filled eatery transformed from an 1888 Victorian house and named after a neighborhood dog. Once you see pimento fritters and fried alligator on the menu, you know you’re in for a culinary ride; you can’t go wrong with the buttermilk fried chicken and the airy biscuits. Plenty of celebs have visited Poogan’s (there’s a wall of photos), but what really makes it stand out are the spirits that still live there: Poogan the dog and schoolteacher Zoe St. Amand.
5- Stroll Through the Charleston City Market – For families who want an easy, relaxing afternoon, head to the 206-year-old Charleston marketplace, two long, green-roofed buildings that house artisans selling American Classic Tea sourced from the Charleston Tea Plantation, sweetgrass wreaths and baskets (made by the descendants of West African plantation slaves), and other handmade goods. Or stop by the other shops outside the marketplace, such as River Street Sweets for warm, slightly gooey pralines.
6- Ride a Carriage Tour of Historic Charleston – All tours are designated along three separate routes to avoid traffic, and every carriage must stop at a small shack before the tour begins. Kids will love watching a cage-like machine toss out a colored ball that indicates the carriage route. Our Palmetto Carriage tour highlighted sites such as Cabbage Row (which inspired the setting for “Porgy and Bess”), several Civil War-ear mansions, and Rainbow Row (pre-Revolutionary buildings renovated and repainted in pastel colors). You’ll also notice a ton of churches with tall steeples; in fact, no building in Charleston is allowed to be taller than the highest church steeple. Along the way, your guide may even point out spots where The Notebook and The Patriot were filmed.
7- Take a Walking Ghost Tour of Charleston – Charleston is considered one of the most haunted cities in America, so for families who like a good dose of spooky and supernatural stories, a walking ghost tour is a must. Even though we got a toned-down private ghost tour with Lindsay Beard from Bulldog Tours, our Charleston insider and local guide, the stories were still spine-tingling enough to stay with us for a few hours. Just make sure to check with the tour group to see if the outing will be too scary or too extensive for young kids.
8- Go Horseback Riding on Seabrook Island – The riding path on Seabrook Island starts on a residential street and then meanders through a plant-dense path until it opens onto a breathtaking, wide, flat beach. The sand is firm, making it easy for the calm, slow, gentle horses to walk on. Even though the horses are well-trained enough to know where to go and when to stop, horse rides are probably best for kids 8 and up who have some experience riding on their own.
9- Set Sail to Watch Dolphins – Dolphins are abundant along the South Carolina shore – just make sure to go during high tide to spot them. But even if you don’t encounter any dolphins, there is still plenty to see – like shorelines dotted with antebellum homes, islands teaming with pelicans, and boats with fishermen casting nets. Our group set sail on a small charter boat with Captain Robb of Lowcountry Inshore Charters, a South Carolina native who knows the ins-and-outs of the ocean, and kids who ride on his boat are given the chance to haul up a cage full of blue crabs. Depending on the tour, rides may also be best for kids 8 and up who know how to swim and who are comfortable on a fast boat.
10- Stroll Magnolia Plantation and Gardens – Magnolia Plantation has been around for over 330 years, and it’s one of three big plantations that still remain in Charleston. The rice plantation has passed down through 15 generations, and it is now open to the public. There are a variety of walking and vehicle tours. Beautiful garden tours lead through romantic paths with lush trees and flowers while other tours include separate train and boat rides that highlight alligators and turtles, slave cabins, and the plantation house.
For more sites to see, things to do, and places to stay in Charleston, check out the Family Vacation Guide to Charleston, South Carolina from our sister magazine, FamilyFun.
Special thanks to: Phillip Tumminia of Wyndham Vacation Rentals and Gina Anderson of Weber Shandwick for organizing the South Carolina trip; Body and Skin by Rachel for providing soothing massages; and personal chef Mark White for cooking a delicious five-course meal of local Lowcountry favorites.