Downtown Parks: White Point Gardens, a waterfront park with harbor views on Charleston's southern point, is lined with gorgeous live oaks. Several blocks north, the Waterfront Park has a pineapple-shaped splash fountain for younger kids to explore and family-size swings overlooking the water.
Historic Pirate Tour: Dressed like a character from Pirates of the Caribbean, Eric Lavender and his parrot, Captain Bob, lead you through Charleston's French Quarter recounting the shenanigans of Anne Bonny and the infamous Blackbeard. My kids loved the parrot; older kids will love the sordid tales, such as how Blackbeard held the harbor hostage in 1718. $19.50 adults; $13 kids 4 to 12; charlestonpiratetour.com
Splash Zone Waterpark: Speaking of pirates, kids can lay siege to the Caribbean-themed playhouse in this small but well-planned water park. Tube slides, waterfalls, a lazy river, and a kiddie pool keep landlubbers of all ages entertained. Open weekends in May, daily in summer until mid-August, then weekends until Labor Day; $11.99 adults, $8.99 kids under 48 inches; splashparks.com
Water Taxi: The ferry that runs across the harbor between downtown and Patriots Point is more than just convenient transportation. On our 20- minute ride, the kids spotted a dozen dolphins. All day pass, $10; charlestonwatertaxi.com
Getting Around: The free trolley makes downtown supremely walkable, even with younger children. Also consider splurging for a pedicab ride. $4.50 per person for 10 minutes; iketaxi.net
Where to stay
Charleston hotels are pricey, but the newly renovated Town & Country Inn and Suites, just 10 minutes from downtown, has large suites with boutique amenities for half the cost. The kids thought our massive bathtub was their private swimming pool. (From $109 a night; thetownandcountryinn.com; 843-571-1000) The Embassy Suites Historic District, located downtown in the historic Citadel building, is a worthy splurge. (From $149 a night; historiccharleston.embassysuites.com; 843-723-6900) The beachfront Tides Folly Beach Hotel has a swimming pool and walk-out beach access. (From $149 a night; tidesfollybeach.com; 843-588-6464)