Best Family Activities in Charleston
Planning a family vacation in Charleston? You’ve made the right choice. Named No. 1 city in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine, this jewel of a city has become a top tourist destination in the United States.
With its reputation for incredible food, pristine beaches, historic buildings, and beautiful parks, you probably know that there is an unending number of things to see and do in the Holy City, but which family-friendly activities should you consider for your next vacation?
To make things easier, we’ve rounded up a list of the best family activities in Charleston that will make your trip unforgettable. Whether you want to get a taste of Colonial history or splash around in the famous Pineapple Fountain, the Holy City is guaranteed to be a hit with the entire family.
Before your family explores the beautiful city of Charleston, make sure to stop by the Visitor Center downtown and pick up a free passport for the kids. They will have a blast collecting stamps at the most popular attractions in the area!
Beat the Heat at the South Carolina Aquarium
Charleston summers can get hot, but you can escape the heat by visiting the South Carolina Aquarium. Though it may be small, it is well-curated, and you should expect to spend a couple hours here to see everything it offers visitors.
Along with some great educational exhibits that the entire family will enjoy, the aquarium also has fun hands-on exhibits, including a touch tank for kids and knowledgeable staff members around to answer all of their questions.
Highlights of the South Carolina Aquarium are the albino alligator and the sea turtle rehabilitation center. And, fair warning—the price of admission may seem a little steep to some, but it is completely worth it if your kids love aquatic animals.
Explore the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
With nine interactive exhibits, there are plenty of ways to play and learn at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. Located in downtown Charleston next to the Visitor’s Center, the museum is another opportunity to cool down during the hot summer days.
Whether your kids want to be a knight or princess in the museum’s two-story Medieval Castle or maybe even a pirate looking for treasure aboard a pirate ship, they are guaranteed to have a blast at the Children’s Museum.
Parents will love watching your children interact with the many hands-on exhibits and see their creative sides blossom in each of the museum’s themed rooms. If you have little ones, this is a nice way to take a break from the more adult activities in Charleston.
Swim and Play at Folly Beach County Park
Charleston is known for its beautiful beaches, and your trip isn’t complete unless you’ve been to at least one of them. It can be hard to know which one suits your particular needs.
If you’re going with the entire family, then Folly Beach is a favorite for good reason. Located on the west end of Folly Island, Folly Beach County Park is a wonderful place to take the kiddos for a fun day at the beach. Consider getting a Folly Beach vacation rental to take in the entire island!
At this park, you can rest easy knowing that seasonal lifeguards are present. Restrooms are also available at the park, which can be a rarity at the beach.
Need to wipe off the sand and sea after a day of fun in the sun? There are also outdoor showers on site to clean everybody up before they get into the car!
Wander Around the Farmer’s Market
There is nothing quite like the Charleston Farmer’s Market. Voted No. 5 Best Farmer’s Market by Travel + Leisure magazine, the Charleston Farmer’s Market brings in roughly a thousand people each Saturday.
The Market is over 20 years old and has changed significantly over the years. As the Holy City’s tourism industry began to boom, the Market eventually expanded to accommodate the many tourists that visit Charleston each year.
While some farmer’s markets only serve produce from local farmers, the Charleston Farmer’s Market features local artisans as well. Held at Marion Square, you will find beautiful arts and crafts in addition to mouthwatering food and produce.
Live music and performances are always present at the Farmer’s Market, and there are a few fun activities for the kids to partake in as well. In addition to tasting some delicious samples from local vendors, you can take the kids to nearby Marion Square Park to relax or play on its expansive greenspace.
Travel Back in Time at Fort Sumter
History buffs from all over the world travel to Charleston for its many historical sites and buildings. When you have children, getting them excited to see some of these historical places can be challenging. Fortunately, visiting Fort Sumter can be an absolute blast for parents and kids alike.
Fort Sumter can only be accessed by boat, which means that you will need to purchase a ferry ticket to get there. Tour boats leave from two docks—at Liberty Square in Downtown Charleston and Patriot’s Point on the Mt. Pleasant side. If you leave from Liberty Square, your family can explore the interesting exhibits at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center before you board the ferry.
The boat ride includes a 35-minute narration of the Civil War and Fort Sumter. This may not interest the younger kids much, but they will still enjoy the boat ride nonetheless. If they look closely, they will be able to see local wildlife, including dolphins, manatees, and more.
Fort Sumter has a Junior Ranger program, where kids can pick up an activity booklet onsite and begin an educational adventure to earn their Junior Ranger badge. The knowledgeable staff love getting questions from the kids and will tell you all about the history of South Carolina.
Splash in the Fountains at Waterfront Park
Located in the French Quarter of Downtown Charleston, the Waterfront Park is a popular destination for both tourists and locals. This gorgeous park not only offers some breathtaking views of the Charleston Harbor and the Cooper River, but it’s also the perfect place to snap some photos.
There are plenty of fountains along the palm-tree lined path of Waterfront Park, including the famous Pineapple Fountain where the kids can get wet and get a break from the heat. The Grand Fountain is another one that the kids are sure to enjoy.
When everyone is splashed out, you can settle under the shade of a giant oak tree or find a sheltered swing to enjoy the breeze. Grab a bite to eat or some gelato ice cream from Belgian Gelato, then head out onto the pier to see a few bottle-nose dolphins swimming in the harbor.
The Waterfront Park is one of Charleston’s most visited parks for a reason. This family-friendly park is meticulously maintained, and we promise that you won’t regret visiting here, even if it may be difficult to grab a good parking spot!
Walk Through the USS Yorktown
Even if your kids aren’t old enough to appreciate the history of the USS Yorktown, they will love walking through this historic WWII aircraft carrier, which is also the focal point of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
Named after the Battle of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War, the USS Yorktown is one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during WWII and is now a National Historic Landmark. While parents will find the backstory of the USS Yorktown fascinating, the kids will have a great time exploring the flight deck, seeing the numerous planes, and participating in the museum’s cutting-edge flight simulators.
While the star of the show is, no doubt, the USS Yorktown, the Medal of Honor Museum inside the ship is a well-curated collection. This museum recognizes Medal of Honor recipients from the Civil War up to the present day and tells the stories of the men and women who have received the nation’s highest military honor. As it is the only museum in the nation that honors these esteemed recipients, it is a must-see on your Charleston vacation.
Relax on the Beaches of the Isle of Palms
With miles of beautiful beaches and an endless amount of family-friendly activities, the barrier island of the Isle of Palms is a popular destination for those who want a beach vacation getaway.
Located roughly 12 miles from downtown Charleston, the Isle of Palms is a quaint seaside town that has so much to offer active families. Many choose to get a vacation rental on the Isle of Palms to enjoy the stunning oceanfront views and be close to nearby amenities, including golf courses, tennis courts, biking and walking trails, and more.
Whether your family loves getting out and being active or relaxing on the beach, then you will find no better place to vacation than the Isle of Palms. Here, you can paddleboard on the waterway, enjoy a casual meal or let the kids play on beachfront playground at the county park.
Visit Magnolia Plantation
A trip to one of Charleston’s historical plantations is a staple option for many families. If you’re hesitant to tour a plantation, rest assured that there is plenty of fun available at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.
Founded in 1676, the Magnolia Plantation is not only rich with history but also possessed a distinctive beauty. These Romantic-style gardens have flowers that are in bloom year-round so that you are guaranteed to experience the full beauty of Magnolia Plantation.
While you’re there, don’t forget to take the rice field boat tour that glides along Magnolia’s old flooded rice fields. Rice is no longer grown on the premises, but there is plenty of engaging nature to enjoy, including gators, egrets, and frogs.
The children will also love the petting zoo, which has domesticated creatures that are native to the Lowcountry. Their animal adventures don’t have to stop at the petting zoo. The Zoo & Nature Center has numerous exhibits for them to experience, including a reptile house that features snakes, lizards, and even venomous snakes.
Charleston—Fun for the Entire Family!
If you’re looking for a vacation that is jam-packed with family-friendly activities, then Charleston is the place to be. Well-maintained parks, miles of beaches, delicious cuisine, and interactive history exhibits make the Holy City one of the best places to visit any time of the year.