A Family Vacation Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

For the author's family, a visit to Charleston, South Carolina, brings history -- and appetites -- to life.
South Carolina

First thing you should know about Charleston: there are cannons everywhere. In the parks, downtown, on the waterfront ? and they're going to slow you down. You see a Civil War monument, your kids see a jungle gym. When you're traveling with 4-year-old twins, as we were, detours to climb cannons are unavoidable. But getting sidetracked is part of the charm of a visit to Charleston.

A harbor town best known for its history and its foodie culture, Charleston, especially its lively downtown, is packed with stunning architecture, monuments, and pocket parks. Some of the South's best chefs also call the city home. I can't think of anything my kids care less about than food and history, but the city somehow turns these nonstarters into exclamation points for Cooper and Addie. "Daddy, try this mac-and-cheese!" "Mom, can we get inside that jet?!"

The aircraft in question is a TF-9J Cougar sitting inside the hangar bay of the USS Yorktown, a World War II-era carrier anchored across the harbor from the city (see "What to Do," page 76). Helicopters and airplanes dot the ship's flight deck, and you can descend belowdecks until you find yourself sitting in the captain's chair. And yes, on a recent trip, our kids got to crawl into the cockpit of the jet fighter (hello, Facebook photo).

After the Yorktown, we visited the South Carolina Aquarium, where we saw a rare albino alligator and discovered (when my daughter dared me to touch one of the baby reptiles) that gators aren't as slimy as they look. Stingrays, on the other hand, "feel like bubblegum" according to my son.

You won't find a roller coaster within 75 miles of the city, but beaches? Take your pick from those that edge the barrier islands separating downtown from the Atlantic. We like Folly Beach for its gentle surf and the laid-back atmosphere.

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