Category: Historic Charleston
Finding artistic inspiration in Charleston isn’t difficult. Surrounded by lush gardens, historic architecture and the natural beauty of the Lowcountry, the Holy City has long been a magnet for talented artists and creative minds.
It was only a matter of time before Charleston received recognition as a global art destination. With a diverse array of galleries, museums, year-round festivals and multicultural events, the city has a variety of art experiences to be enjoyed.
Ready to discover Charleston’s artistic side? As you stroll through the city’s cobblestone streets, be sure to check out these places to experience the city’s vibrant art scene.
Fine Art Galleries
Hoping to take a piece of Southern charm home with you? Step inside one of Charleston’s many art galleries, and you’ll find a diverse collection of stunning pieces by both regionally and internationally acclaimed artists.
Conveniently, most of these art galleries are located in the same general area in Downtown Charleston: one on Broad Street (known as “Gallery Row”) and the other just a block or two away in the charming French Quarter neighborhood.
Gallery Row on Historic Broad Street
Appropriately called “Gallery Row,” this series of fine art galleries on Broad Street is a top destination for art-lovers. You are sure to find a unique treasure to take home from this cultural mecca that features the work of award-winning artists from the Lowcountry and beyond.
The only difficult part will be deciding which work to choose! Sculptures, oil and acrylic paintings, watercolors, stone, pottery, glass, photography — there is something along Broad Street for everyone.
Don’t miss the Mary Martin Gallery for a varied selection of paintings and sculptures. Named one of the 25 Best Art Galleries in America and Best Gallery in South Carolina, this gem is full of high-quality contemporary pieces and creative works.
French Quarter Art Galleries
If beauty is what you’re hoping to find in Charleston, take a pleasant stroll through the French Quarter. You’ll pass by some of Charleston’s most beautiful gardens and historic homes on your way to the string of fine art galleries in this neighborhood.
The French Quarter boasts a large selection of fine art and jewelry in various styles and mediums. From traditional to contemporary pieces, the Holy City’s artistic talent is on full display.
For contemporary art, stop by Robert Lange Studios on Queen Street. Voted Best Gallery by the Charleston City Paper, the gallery offers a unique art experience for those who tire of traditional Charleston landscapes and scenery.
If traditional art is better suited to your tastes, the Lowcountry Artists Gallery will have plenty of artwork for you to enjoy. The oldest artist-owned and -operated gallery in Charleston is home to a stunning collection of artwork by local, regional and national artists.
First Friday Charleston Art Walks
One of the best ways to experience Charleston’s art galleries is by participating in the Charleston Art Walk, which occurs on the first Friday of March, May, October and December. On these days, galleries in downtown Charleston open their doors to visitors from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
This gives visitors an opportunity to chat with the artists and sip on complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres as they take in Charleston’s thriving art scene.
Art Museums and Exhibitions
With nearly 350 years of rich history, Charleston has no shortage of museums and exhibits. Step inside these museums and explore displays of art from centuries past, as well as contemporary offerings.
The Gibbes Museum
Opened in 1905, the Gibbes Museum is one of the oldest museum buildings in the South and the only visual arts museum in Charleston. Featuring a combination of innovative exhibits and permanent collections, Gibbes Museum is a must-visit for art lovers.
Peruse the museum’s paintings, sculptures, miniature portraits and decorative arts, each providing a glimpse of the era in which it was produced. Along with art from the past, you can also explore the artwork of talented regional artists who offer a taste of Lowcountry heritage.
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
If you’re less interested in history and more fascinated by contemporary art, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art should be on your list of must-see places in Charleston. Part of the College of Charleston, the Halsey regularly features emerging and mid-career artists and is known for displaying daring exhibits.
The artistic risks that the Halsey takes with its gallery make it stand apart from other galleries in Charleston. Exhibits change every few months, and the art museum is free to visit, which means that you can stop by regularly for a new experience each time.
The Charleston Museum
Those wishing to explore the history and culture of the Lowcountry through artwork should visit the Charleston Museum. Founded in 1773, the museum is known as America’s First Museum and showcases an extensive collection of historical crafts, jewelry, decorative art and more.
Check out Lowcountry History Hall, a permanent exhibit in the museum that details the early life of those who first inhabited the Lowcountry, including Native Americans as well as early colonists and African-American slaves.
The Historic Textiles exhibit is another permanent fixture at the museum that will delight aspiring designers. The Charleston Museum’s rich historic textiles and clothing collection is one of the best in the southeastern United States.
Packed with artistic talent, Charleston is a mecca for art festivals. From smaller events featuring local artists to major performing arts festivals, there is always a celebration of art and culture happening in the city.
As you plan your Charleston vacation, consider attending these much-loved art festivals:
Spoleto Festival USA
One of the nation’s largest performing arts festivals, the annual Spoleto Festival USA is a must-attend event in Charleston. Theater, dance, opera, performance art, music—no matter what you’re into, it can all be found at Spoleto.
For 17 days and nights, Charleston’s historic venues are filled with performances by world-renowned artists as well as emerging talent. Now in its 42nd season, Spoleto Festival USA is an unforgettable experience that art enthusiasts can’t miss.
Curious about this year’s festival? Fans of Spoleto will be pleased to know that the 2018 lineup was announced in January.
Mount Pleasant ArtFest
Each year, Downtown Mount Pleasant is filled with stunning performances by some of the region’s most talented artists and performers. Dance, music and visual art studios will be on display for both adults and children to enjoy.
In fact, this event is packed with kid-friendly activities and is fun for the entire family. Did we mention that all activities and performances are free?
MOJA Art Festival
One of the longest running festivals in the city, the MOJA Art Festival is an 11-day celebration of African-American and Caribbean arts and culture. Fun for the entire family, this lively festival brings a burst of color to Charleston’s streets each year.
“Moja” means “one” in Swahili, and the festival embodies the celebration of unity and harmony within the community. Events include dance, theater, music, poetry, storytelling and special programs for the kids.
One piece of advice — come hungry! You’ll want seconds of the savory ethnic food from Charleston’s best food and drink vendors.
North Charleston Arts Fest
Venture to the City of North Charleston in the spring for its annual art festival and experience the diverse array of performances by over 100 national, regional and local artists. Hosted by the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Department, the comprehensive art festival encompasses dance, music, theatre, visual arts, media arts and literature.
There will also be a variety of workshops, exhibitions and activities taking place in nearby libraries, businesses and community centers. Last year, there were an eclectic mix of events including a fiber art lecture and exhibition tour, a children’s puppet show, a block party with live music and vendors and much more!
Notable Art Centers and Venues
From concerts to Broadway shows and music halls, Charleston’s performance arts scene is magnetic. Many of these enchanting performances take place in historic venues, giving them added charm that can only be found in Charleston.
The Gaillard Center
The historic Gaillard Center began in the 1960s as an auditorium and exhibit hall, serving as Charleston’s primary venue for top performances and events. After undergoing extensive renovations, the new Gaillard Center reopened in 2015 as a world-class performance hall complete with ornate ceilings and grand stairwells.
From big-name performances to small-scale galas and educational outreach programs, events at this multifaceted venue space are something that locals can’t help but brag about. Check out the upcoming shows and grab your tickets for a memorable performance!
Redux Contemporary Art Center
Stop by Redux, a thriving contemporary arts center that is popular with locals. Located on King Street in historic downtown Charleston, the nonprofit organization rents out private studios to working artists and features rotating mural exhibitions.
Redux is geared towards supporting local artists in Charleston and building meaningful relationships within the community. However, visitors can also enjoy the visual art exhibits at the art center, as well as the events, concerts and lecture series that they regularly host.
Redux also offers educational classes year-round for all ages. Whether you want to learn screen printing basics or release tension with watercolor tutorials and a glass of wine, Redux has a class for everyone.
Charleston Music Hall
Like your music with a bit of history? The Charleston Music Hall is a 19th-century Gothic Revival-style building that has survived wars, earthquakes and hurricanes.
Beautifully preserved, the Charleston Music Hall is now an intimate venue for the arts and entertainment. With superb acoustics and not a bad seat in the house, shows at the music hall are regularly sold out, so buy your tickets in advance!
The Vendue isn’t your typical hotel. Filled with rotating art exhibits that feature local and international artists, the warehouse-turned-hotel has earned its title as Charleston’s premiere art hotel.
No two rooms at The Vendue are alike, each adorned with its own unique artwork and amenities. The art hotel is also home to Charleston’s only Artist in Residence Program, and both guests and visitors are invited to explore the studio and meet the resident artist.
Of course, The Vendue’s impressive dedication to the arts isn’t the only lure for visitors. The hotel is conveniently located in downtown Charleston, and their rooftop bar provides exceptional views of the city and the waterfront.
Additional Ways to Experience Charleston Art
Charleston’s many art galleries and performing arts venues are a given for those wanting to experience the city’s vibrant art scene. However, you can also find beauty and art in some rather unexpected places as well.
Charleston City Market and Night Market
From Gullah sweetgrass baskets to jewelry and crafts, you’ll find a large selection of unique wares at the Charleston City Market. Established in the 1790s, the history of the market is reason enough to visit.
A popular tourist destination, the City Market features locally made crafts, so you certainly won’t have trouble finding a unique gift to bring home. Don’t miss the Night Market, which runs from April through December, to discover the best upcoming artists in the Lowcountry.
Home, Garden and Art Tours
Although many of Charleston’s historic homes and beautiful gardens are open to the public year-round, only on special occasions do people get the opportunity to see inside historic homes that are privately owned.
Take one of Charleston’s home and garden tours for a rare glimpse into some of the city’s most magnificent historic properties. Showcasing elegant architecture and lush gardens, these tours offer visitors the chance to see beauty from the past collide with present-day charm.
Home and garden tours generally take place a few times in the spring and fall. The Annual Festival of Houses & Gardens occurs in the spring, while the House and Garden Tour organized by the Preservation Society of Charleston offers self-guided tours in the fall.
Well-known for its culinary offerings and rich history, Charleston also has a thriving art scene that shouldn’t be missed. Home to writers, dancers, musicians and artists, you won’t have trouble finding an art experience to pique your interest.
Need assistance planning your next Charleston vacation? Contact us and we’ll help you find the perfect beach vacation rental to make your trip unforgettable!
If you’re a true history buff, you’re sure to be fascinated by the long and rich military history in Charleston. Nearly 350 years old, Charleston has a long and turbulent past. From the arrival of early English settlers in 1670 to the Civil War and beyond, the Holy City has been defending her shores and showing her military might for centuries.
Charleston has played pivotal roles in the nation’s most significant wars, and the city has no shortage of iconic military sites and artifacts to prove it. To put it simply, it’s a military-history-lover’s paradise.
Ready to explore 350 years of military history in Charleston? Although nothing beats visiting the Holy City in person, we’ll give you the rundown of the city’s exciting military history and prepare you for your next Charleston vacation.
Charles Towne Landing
When it comes to exploring Charleston’s vast military history, start from the beginning at Charles Towne Landing. A group of about 120 English settlers arrived here in 1670, and they made the site their first permanent home in the Carolinas.
Located on the west bank of the Ashley River, Charles Towne Landing became a valuable trading post, as well as a village. Originally named for King Charles II of England, the settlement became known as Charleston in the late 1700s after the Revolutionary War.
Today, Charles Towne Landing is a state historic site with numerous attractions for the entire family to enjoy. The Exhibit Hall is where history lovers can learn about the founding of Charleston and how the city came to be, as well as its early history of fending off pirates and marauders.
Other popular attractions at Charles Towne Landing include The Adventure, a floating exhibit and full-scale replica of a 17th-century ship which both adults and kids will enjoy. Visit on the third Sunday of each month and you’ll see 17th-century cannons being fired for demonstrational purposes.
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
You can’t leave Charleston without stopping by Patriots Point. Located in the charming town of Mount Pleasant, this impressive naval museum offers visitors a glimpse into Charleston’s rich maritime history.
Patriots Point Museum is the fourth largest naval museum in the country and the only maritime museum in the state. The museum is perhaps best known for being home to USS Yorktown, a WWII Essex aircraft carrier which participated in the Pacific Offensive against the Japanese in late 1943.
The USS Yorktown was turned into a museum ship in 1975 after being decommissioned in 1970. Although it is the museum’s centerpiece, Patriots Point is also home to two other monumental battleships: the USS Laffey, and the USS Clamagore.
The USS Laffey is the only surviving Sumner-class destroyer in North America. The ship was given the nickname, “The Ship That Would Not Die” after surviving multiple Kamikaze attacks and D-day bombings.
Currently, visitors can also see the USS Clamagore, a GUPPY III Submarine which served for more than 30 years during the Cold War. However, plans are underway to have the vessel sunk off the coast of Florida and turned into an artificial reef.
In addition to these impressive battleships, visitors will find numerous collections worth exploring at Patriots Point. One that should not be missed is the Vietnam Experience Exhibit. This interactive experience honors Vietnam veterans and tells the stories of those in the Brown Water Navy and the Tet Offensive.
Those interested in the Civil War will enjoy a trip to Fort Sumter, the famous sea fort where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Built in 1829 as a coastal garrison, Fort Sumter was still unfinished when Confederate forces fired more than 4,000 shells upon the island fortification on April 12, 1861.
The attack came after President Abraham Lincoln announced plans to resupply Fort Sumter. Confederate General P.T.G. Beauregard initiated the 34-hour bombardment, which resulted in Union forces surrendering on April 13. While little blood was shed during this battle, it marked the beginnings of the deadliest conflict in American history.
Confederate troops held Fort Sumter for nearly four years, fending off bombardments by Union troops. General Beauregard finally abandoned the fort when General William Tecumseh Sherman marched through South Carolina and captured the city of Charleston.
Fort Sumter is only accessible by ferry, but history lovers likely won’t mind the 30-minute ride. A voice-recorded history of Fort Sumter plays gently in the background for the duration of the ride.
Upon arrival, you can explore the grounds and see damage to the fort caused by the second battle at Fort Sumter in 1863. Tours last just over two hours, giving you plenty of time to explore the fort in all her war-ravaged glory.
Fort Moultrie may not be as grand or well-known as Fort Sumter, but history buffs will love it all the same. One of the first forts on Sullivan’s Island, and one of the oldest on the Eastern Seaboard, Fort Moultrie boasts over 170 years of seacoast defense history.
The fort holds significance not only for its important roles in the Revolutionary and Civil War, but also because it’s where South Carolina’s flag originated. The blue flag with its white palmetto tree symbolizes the state’s long history.
On June 28, 1776, Colonel Moultrie and his force of Patriot soldiers stood ready behind a series of unfinished palmetto logs walls, determined to protect the city from incoming British warships. When British forces attacked the fort, it didn’t matter that the log wall was unfinished—the soft palmetto logs absorbed the cannon attacks, allowing colonial forces to fend off the British army.
Although the fort was badly battered after the attack, it was a decisive victory for the troops and a stunning display of bravery. The fort was named for the brave colonel, and the state officially adopted a blue flag with a white palmetto tree in his honor.
Fort Moultrie isn’t large, but it’s still an important piece of American history that shouldn’t be missed!
As the first combat submarine to sink a warship (the Housatonic) the H.L. Hunley had a short, yet successful career in the Civil War. However, the deaths of the Hunley crew continues to capture our interest more than 150 years later.
The 40-foot long Confederate submarine was raised from the ocean in 2000 and can now be viewed at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston. In addition to the impressive submarine, you can also see salvaged artifacts from the Hunley and learn more about the eight-man crew.
While the deaths of the crew have long remained a mystery, recent breakthroughs have uncovered new insight. According to researchers at Duke, it was the blast wave from the torpedo fired by the ship that caused the immediate deaths of the crew.
Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
One of South Carolina’s most historic buildings, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon has served multiple functions over the years. Perhaps most notably, the cellar of the building was used as a Provost dungeon by British forces during the American Revolution, and it held pirates in the early 18th century.
Now a museum, the building has more history outside of its dungeon. The great hall in the building was the place where the South Carolina Convention ratified the United States Constitution in 1788. George Washington held several meetings here, and the Old Exchange has served various functions in major wars, such as the Civil War and World War II.
For a deeper look inside South Carolina’s colonial military history, walk through The Powder Magazine in Downtown Charleston’s French Quarter neighborhood. Originally used to store gunpowder, The Powder Magazine was built in 1713 and is the state’s oldest surviving building.
When South Carolina was a British colony, it didn’t have the luxury of a standing army or navy. Charles Towne was surrounded by walls guarded by 100 cannons. The gunpowder was stored in The Powder Magazine, arming the city with much-needed protection.
Although the building itself has an incredible amount of history, there are historical treasures to be found inside the museum as well. With interesting military artifacts, interactive exhibits, and models of the original walled city, both adults and kids will enjoy visiting The Powder Magazine.
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall Plantation is steeped in history. Founded in 1681, this working plantation is one of the oldest in America, and it has weathered some of the nation’s most turbulent moments in history.
One of the most popular attractions at Boone Hall is Slave Street, which features nine pre-Revolutionary War slave cottages, built of brick and well-preserved. These brick cottages were home to skilled slaves, including cooks and house slaves.
Boone Hall has various exhibits, including “Black History in America,” which chronicles the struggle of African-Americans over the centuries. Their “Exploring the Gullah Culture” performance tells a powerful story and features the unique culture adopted by African slaves in South Carolina.
The Charleston Museum
Founded in 1773, The Charleston Museum is the oldest museums in the United States.
As one might expect from a long-standing museum, it boasts many eclectic artifacts and cultural objects of interest, including military relics. British and other foreign ships brought countless treasures to Charleston, sparking curiosity from those who view them.
“The Armory” exhibit will surely be of interest to military history buffs. This permanent exhibit features weaponry dating back to 1750 and up to the 20th century. Explore the exhibit, and you’ll discover Revolutionary War and Civil War-era swords, along with weaponry and equipment from WWI and II.
White Point Garden
White Point Garden is not only a great place to take in views of the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter. The 5.7-acre park is also home to striking monuments and interesting military relics.
Located at the tip of the Charleston peninsula, White Point Garden is situated at the end of the Battery, Charleston’s defensive seawall and promenade. Memorials commemorating the city’s most prominent figures are scattered throughout the park, including the infamous pirate, Stede Bonnet, and celebrated general William Moultrie.
Stroll through the park, and you’ll also encounter numerous real Revolutionary and Civil War-era cannons and one replica It has become something of a game for visitors to try to guess which cannon is the imposter.
If you have enough time, consider stopping by The Citadel, Charleston’s historic military college. Graduates from this notable military college have fought in every American war since the Mexican War of 1846.
There is a museum located on its campus, which offers a deeper look inside The Citadel’s long and storied history. Visitors can learn about the founding of the school in the 1800s, in addition to the many notable alumni who have passed through its ranks.
Of course, be sure to visit on a Friday to catch its afternoon dress parade. Watch as cadets march in formation as drums and bagpipes fill the air, continuing one of its long-held military traditions.
Why read about American history when you can witness it for yourself? Charleston has no shortage of local reenactments for spectators to watch, from the early pirate years to the Civil War and beyond.
If you’re visiting Charleston in April, you can’t miss Legare Farm’s annual Battle of Charleston Reenactment. Head down to John’s Island to watch locals recreate Charleston’s most significant moments in military history through the centuries.
Whether you’re a Revolutionary War aficionado or you’re interested in the city’s more recent military operations, there is something for every kind of history lover in Charleston. The Holy City has such a long and rich history that it is impossible to cover it all in a single trip.
If you’re like most visitors, planning another Charleston vacation will be on your to-do-list before you even leave the city. That’s because people can’t help but fall in love with everything Charleston has to offer, from the award-winning cuisine to world-class golf—and, of course, her beautifully preserved architecture and history.
For your next Charleston vacation, live like a local and rent a vacation house on the beach. That way, you can explore the city’s storied history by day and relax at night listening to the gentle surf of the Lowcountry.
There’s so much about Charleston we can take pride in, like its beauty, charm, and history. And speaking of history, Charleston is credited with many of our nation’s firsts, like the first museum, and first theater. Want to learn more? Here are five firsts that Charleston can take all the credit for, and they’re five more things you can be proud of as a Charlestonian.
America’s First Woman Editor and Publisher, Elizabeth Timothy
You need to know her name: Elizabeth Timothy. One of the world’s first female journalists, she was also the first female newspaper editor and publisher. Of course in addition she also took on the role of being a mom and homemaker — a juggle the modern woman knows all too well. She was also a widow. In other words, she’s like a real life superhero. She immigrated tjo America with her French Huguenot family in 1731, arriving in Philadelphia from London. The family eventually moved to Charleston (then Charles Towne) so her father could take over the South Carolina Gazette. When her father passed away at an early age, none of his sons were old enough to take over but Elizabeth was — she had six kids by the time she became a partner. Although — the paper’s publisher had to be listed as a male, her brother Peter, who was 13, even though she in fact was the publisher. As publisher and editor she certainly had a large role in shaping the city and was inducted into the SC Press Association Hall of Fame in 1973. The South Carolina Gazette lived on Vendue Range, where there is now a plaque there on the bay recognizing her. She was inducted into the SC Business Hall of Fame in 2000.
America’s First Theater, Dock Street Theater
The Dock Street Theater is America’s first theater and where America’s first opera was performed. The theater opened in 1736 with The Recruiting Officer. About 64 years later, the theater turned into Planters Hotel, where Planter’s Punch was invented, and the hotel remained there until almost a 100 years. Dear old Dock Street was reconstructed in 1936. Today it’s a beloved local treasure showing theatre favorites and originals fro traveling companies during special times like our annual Spoleto Festival.
First Municipal College, College of Charleston
Established in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest municipal college in the nation. It’s also the 13th oldest institution of higher education in the country. Chartered in 1785, CofC’s founders include three (at that time) future signers of the Declaration of Independence — Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward — as well as three future signers of the US Constitution: John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Today the college continues to carry out its original mission, which is to “encourage and institute youth in the several branches of liberal education.”
America’s First Submarine, H.L. Hunley
The H.L. Hunley is a hand-cranked Confederate submarine that torpedoed the USS Housatonic in the Charleston Harbor on Feb. 14 1864, during the Civil War, making it the first submarine to sink a warship. With it being the first combat submarine to sink an enemy warship, that move altered naval warfare from that point forward, demonstrating the advantages, and the dangers, of undersea warfare. Invented by Horace Lawson Hunley, the Hunley was nearly 40 feet long and was built in Mobile, Alabama. The beast was discovered in the sea in 1995 and on Aug. 8, 2000 it was raised out of the ocean, just 3.5 nautical miles from Sullivan’s Island outside the entrance to Charleston Harbor, where a crowd of proud Charlestonians and history buffs loudly applauded.
America’s First Museum, Charleston Museum
Located on Meeting Street, the Charleston Museum was founded in 1773. It was inspired by the British Museum and established by the Charleston Library Society the day before the American Revolution. Oddly enough the museum didn’t open to the public until 1824 but closed again due to the Civil War. Although the original collections are widely varied and even include Egyptian artifacts, its main focus is still on the South Carolina Lowcountry. The collections include materials from natural history, historical material culture and both documentary and photographic resources.
There is a a long list of Charleston firsts, and these five only scratch the surface. Check back soon for another post with more information about trailblazers in our historic city.
The holidays in historic Charleston are full of festive parades, Christmas lights, and holiday art performances! If you’re planning to visit Charleston during the holidays, you’ve made the right choice.
Visiting Charleston in the winter is a great way to escape the cold, and there is no shortage of fun holiday activities for the entire family to enjoy. Whether you want to relax in a beach vacation rental and sip hot cider or explore historic Charleston and take part in the seasonal festivities, the city is a great place to usher in the magic of the holiday season.
Ready to kick off the holiday season, Holy City-style? Here are some of the best ways to experience the holidays in Historic Charleston:
Charleston Holiday Parades
Craft brews, delicious food, live music, and family-friendly activities can all be found at one of the many holiday parades in Charleston this year. Here are a few that can’t be missed:
City of Charleston Holiday Parade
When: December 3, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.
Where: Colonial Lake, Broad Street, King Street, and concluding at Marion Square
The Holiday Parade is one of Charleston’s best traditions. Hosted by the City of Charleston and the Charleston Fire Department, the parade will feature bands, performers, floats, and other entertainment to celebrate the season and get your family into the holiday spirit.
Holiday Parade of Boats
When: December 9, 2017, 5-8 p.m.
Where: Charleston Harbor
Another beloved Lowcountry tradition, the 36th Annual Holiday Parade of Boats offers a dazzling display of lights as boats decorated for the season sail past the viewing docks.
Part of the fun is attending the parade’s official viewing party! Located at the Charleston Maritime Center, guests can snack on festive foods and listen as their favorite holiday carols fill the air.
Small Town Beach Parades
Are you staying in a cozy beach vacation rental? You’ll want to experience at least one beach town parade during the holiday season.
One that can’t be missed is the annual Christmas Parade on Folly Beach. On December 9th, Santa will parade through the streets of Folly Beach as candy and other goodies are handed out to the kids.
Staying in the Town of Mount Pleasant? Check out their quaint parade. A tree-lighting and fireworks display will kick things off before more than 100 floats parade down Coleman Boulevard, delighting all who attend.
28th Annual Holiday Festival of Lights
There is no doubt about it—Charleston has some of the best festivals in the country. From Spoleto to the Lowcountry Oyster Festival, there is always something to look forward to, and the Holiday Festival of Lights is no exception.
Now in its 28th year, the Annual Holiday Festival of Lights is back and promises to deliver more excitement than ever before. Held at James Island County Park, the event is known for its three miles of stunning, multicolored light displays, and it has been named one of the “10 Best Holiday Light Shows in America” by USA Today.
The festival is more than just a driving tour; the Holiday Festival of Lights organizers welcome visitors to park their cars and explore the large, decorated walking path, visiting shops and partaking in holiday activities along the way.
The event runs from November 10th to January 1st, giving you ample opportunities to experience a magical evening that will create cherished memories for years to come.
Tree-Lighting Ceremonies in Charleston
Tree-lighting ceremonies mark the beginning of the holiday season for many people, and Charleston kicks things off with multiple tree lightings. From the official Charleston tree lighting to the celebration of Chanukah, the following tree-lighting ceremonies are sure to dazzle and delight the entire family:
Charleston Official Tree Lighting
When: December 3, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
If you thought Charleston’s church steeples were a beautiful sight, imagine a 64-foot lighted tree against Charleston’s skyline. Attend early to experience the festive performances from music and arts organizations in Marion Square, which will culminate the lighting of the 64-foot Holiday Tree of Lights.
Chanukah in the Square
When: December 17, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
This festive party is free and features music, dancing, and, of course, the lighting of the nine-foot Menorah. Charleston’s local Holocaust survivors continue the tradition of lighting the Menorah in this special Jewish celebration.
With special treats, including potato latkes and other traditional Chanukah foods, you will want to bring your appetite to this event!
Kwanzaa Kinara Lighting
When: December 26, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
For more than 40 years, Charleston has kicked off Kwanzaa celebrations with a special lighting of the Kwanzaa Kinara in downtown Charleston at Marion Square. Join the community in the celebrations and enjoy music, dancing, and readings from Lowcountry Kwanzaa leaders.
Light the Lake
When: December 1, 2017 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Colonial Lake Park
Stop by one of Charleston’s most popular parks for the Colonial Lake Christmas Tree Lighting! Enjoy food trucks and hot cocoa and a DJ playing your favorite holiday tunes as the famous Charleston Christmas Tree is lit in the middle of the lake, glimmering for all to see.
Holiday Performing Arts
Charleston has boasted a thriving arts scene for years. From improv comedy to musical performances, the Holy City always has fine performances being held in one of its historic venues.
The holidays are the perfect time to catch a festive show with the family. Whether you want a family-friendly musical performance or wish to celebrate the season with your significant other, these shows are sure to be a delight:
Annie – Dec. 1 – 17
For a family-friendly performance, be sure to catch Annie at the Footlight Players Theatre on Queen Street. This musical will warm everyone’s heart with the tale of a little orphan girl’s quest to find her family.
A Christmas Carol – Nov. 29 – Dec. 20
Presented at the historic Dock Street Theatre, the Charleston Stage brings the critically acclaimed musical adaption of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale to life this year. Prepare to be dazzled by colorful costumes, a live orchestra, and a professional cast that will help you ring in the holidays.
A Christmas Story, The Musical – Dec. 22 – 24
Laugh along with the entire family with the hilarious tale of Ralphie Parker’s desperate quest to get an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle. Directed by Tony Award winner John Rando, this new Broadway musical will be coming to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center just in time for Christmas.
Holiday Strings – Dec. 13
The Charleston Symphony Orchestra (SCO) string quartet is sure to get you into the holiday spirit with Holiday Strings, a performance featuring your favorite holiday tunes. Held at the historic Charleston Library Society on King Street, don’t miss your chance to mingle with the musicians at the reception following the concert.
Nutcracker – Dec. 2 – 3
This holiday classic has become synonymous with Christmas and is now a treasured holiday tradition for fans of ballet. Take in the magical sights and sounds at the Charleston Gaillard Center this December and witness the adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s famous composition.
Holiday Cabaret, Dec 1-22
Stuffed with your favorite holiday songs, Charleston’s best original Christmas show is bound to get you singing along. Hosted by the Charleston Performing Arts Center, this cheery cabaret brings C-PAC’s signature Reindeer for pure, holiday fun. Check out their “Dinner and a Show” tickets for a mouth-watering 3-course dinner at Edison, followed by the show at the theatre!
Holiday Runs for Charity Organizations
The holidays are a time to partake in charitable giving. What better way to give back than by signing up for a holiday race?Get some healthy exercise and give back this holiday season by participating in one of these holiday runs:
4th Annual Cocoa Cup 5K
Presented by Fleet Feet Sports, the 4th Annual Cocoa Cup 5K is charitable fun for the entire family. Whether you’re running with your kids in the one-mile kid’s fun run or tackling the 5K, you’ll get a warm feeling inside at the end of the race. Whether this feeling is from the complimentary hot cocoa you get at the finish line or from supporting the Lowcountry Food Bank, we can’t be certain.
27th Annual Reindeer Run – Dec. 2
Run through the lower peninsula of downtown Charleston in this family-oriented, pet-friendly race! Presented by Half-Moon Outfitters, the 5K run/walk starts near the corner of East Bay and Queen Street, taking participants along the beautiful Charleston Battery. Funds generated from the Reindeer Run will help build the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital that will open in 2019.
2017 Jingle Bell Run – Dec. 9
Support the Arthritis Foundation this holiday season by racing in the Jingle Bell Run. This run will help raise awareness and funds for America’s #1 cause of disability.
Held at Riverfront Park, you can run with a team of friends and family or fly solo, with 100 percent of your registration fee going toward a great cause!
Other Holiday Happenings
It’s impossible to list all the fun events during the holidays in historic Charleston. If you’re looking for a few more festive events to do in the Holy City, these are some of our recommendations:
Holiday Market at Marion Square
Take advantage of Charleston’s mild weather and venture through the Holiday Market at Marion Square. In addition to the regulars, holiday vendors will feature festive foods, art, and produce. Listen to the live band, take part in the Christmas carols, and let the kids get free visits and photos with Santa.
Christmas 1860 at the Edmondston-Alston House
On a regular day, stepping inside the Edmondston-Alston House will have you feeling as though you’ve traveled back in time. On Dec. 1 and 8, the historic house will be decorated like it would have been in 1860, allowing you to experience Christmas in Charleston just before the beginning of the Civil War.
For history buffs, this one is a can’t miss. The theatrical performers are adorned in period costumes and shed light on what life would be like before their lives would forever change.
Family Yuletide in the Stableyards
On Saturday, December 15, historic Middleton Place presents “Family Yuletide in the Stableyards,” a holiday favorite for families in Charleston. Gather around a warm fire for a night of storytelling, caroling, and craft demonstrations. The live nativity scene featuring the plantation’s animals is always a favorite feature, along with the delicious hot cider and seasonal refreshments.
Holiday Market and Craft Show
Whimsical crafts, baked goods, and homemade preserves can all be found at the annual Holiday Market & Craft Show at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market Pavilion. Stop by on December 9 and find a treasured, holiday keepsake ornament to take home with you from one of the many local craftsmen and artists.
Wine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation
Looking for a fun date night activity? Buy your tickets to Wine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall and celebrate the season with delicious food and wine pairings, along with wine and cooking demonstrations by some of the finest chefs in Charleston. The plantation looks stunning with all its holiday decorations, making it a night you’ll always remember.
With its mild weather and lighter crowds, the holidays are the perfect time for you to explore everything that Charleston has to offer. Whether you are a local or simply visiting the Holy City, there are many holiday activities that will bring joy to the entire family.
It’s no coincidence that Charleston has been named America’s Best City by Travel + Leisure for the past five years. With its urban amenities, quaint Southern style, and fascinating history, Charleston is a city that appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Downtown Charleston has a variety of neighborhoods that each present its own unique charm. From the famous and historic South of Broad neighborhood to the lively neighborhood of Harleston Village, you can easily find your own slice of Lowcountry living in the Holy City.
Considered Charleston’s first suburb, Ansonborough is a historic neighborhood filled with elegant architecture and rich history. Although many tourists and commuters pass through the neighborhood as they head to the shopping district, Ansonborough is full of historic buildings and stunning views that beg to be admired.
Ansonborough is said to be named after Captain George Anson, who fiercely defended Charleston’s coastline from pirates. The neighborhood was first laid out in 1745-1746 and prospered until a fire destroyed the area in 1838.
Ansonborough was rebuilt, along with many of its now historic homes, including the William Rhett House—the oldest private residence in Charleston. Many of the buildings were rebuilt in a Greek architectural style, with grand columns and piazzas.
Today, Ansonborough has a reputation for its dedication to the arts. From ballet to opera to comedy, there is always some art form that is on display. This thriving neighborhood is also mere minutes away from shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.
What’s to Love: Ansonborough may be located in a bustling area, but the homes in this neighborhood are hidden under the shade of large oaks and palmetto trees. This diverse area includes both luxury condominiums and townhomes, as well as historic homes which are highly-sought after.
King Street Historic District
The King Street Historic District is a highly-sought after neighborhood — for good reason! You will find it all in this diverse, downtown area including dining, nightlife, shopping, and history.
This neighborhood is divided into three distinct areas: Upper King Street, which runs north of Calhoun Street, Middle King Street, which is known for being Charleston’s Fashion District, and Lower King Street, which is the Antiques District.
Although housing mostly includes condos and lofts above the storefronts in the commercial district, you will find historic homes in the King Street Historic District as well. Parking can be difficult in this area, so many residents don’t bother with cars and enjoy walking where they need to go.
What’s to Love: If you love being in the center of it all, you will enjoy living in the King Street Historic District. Young professionals are attracted to the area due to the modern amenities and upscale dining opportunities. You can’t go wrong with oyster bars, swanky cocktail clubs and local microbrews.
South of Broad
One of Charleston’s most notable neighborhoods, South of Broad is known for its famous historic homes such as Rainbow Row and the mansions overlooking The Battery. Located below Broad Street, this neighborhood offers history buffs the chance to step back in time and live in an area where horse-drawn carriages transported visitors across cobblestone streets.
With its elegant architecture and easy access to the Charleston Harbor, South of Broad is guaranteed to give you stunning views. It’s not surprising that so many people choose this neighborhood as their vacation home.
What’s to Love: It’s difficult to explore Charleston’s rich history in just one visit. By choosing to live South of Broad, you can take your time and uncover the Holy City’s fascinating history at your own pace. Even the locals haven’t experienced Charleston to its fullest, and you will learn something new with every outing.
Once two separate boroughs, the Cannonborough/Elliotborough was named after Daniel Cannon, a carpenter and mechanic who ran several mills in the area, and Colonel Barnard Elliot, a prominent member of the Provincial Congress. Considered a gateway to the Charleston Peninsula, it has transformed over the past decade, now considered as an up-and-coming neighborhood.
Today, Cannonborough/Elliotborough is home to a diverse mix of families and college students. Growth has exploded over the past decade, and commercial revitalization is taking over Spring Street and Cannon Street, leading to many unique and young businesses.
What’s to Love: You will find some great hole-in-the-wall places to eat in Cannonborough/Elliotborogh. Sugar, a bakeshop located on Cannon Street, is mere blocks away from Upper King Street and uses locally-sourced ingredients in their sweet treats. Trattoria Lucca has also made a name for itself as one of the best authentic Italian Restaurants around the region.
Besides the food, you will love how affordable the neighborhood, especially considering that it is located in downtown Charleston. Plus, the area has plenty of notable schools for families, both public and private.
Bordered by the Cooper River to the east, Broad Street to the south, Meeting Street to the west, and Market Street to the north, the French Quarter is “walled” within Charleston and is steeped in rich history. As you may have guessed, this neighborhood was named after the large number of French merchants who settled the area to escape religious persecution.
The French Quarter is distinguished by its Classic Revival style architecture, beautiful cobblestone streets, quaint theatres, and art galleries. Notable historic buildings include Pink House, the oldest stone house in Charleston (built in 1712) as well as one of the oldest buildings in South Carolina. You can explore Charleston’s rich military history at the Powder Magazine, the only remaining government building from the original Lords Proprietors.
This charming neighborhood is also home to Charleston’s Waterfront Park, which features plenty of fountains for the kids to splash around in and offers spectacular views of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor.
What’s to Love: Along with its beautiful scenery and rich history, the French Quarter offers a place to live in relaxed luxury. One minute, you are strolling through the cobblestone streets and courtyard gardens, and the next minute, you are surrounded by modern amenities, including fashionable retail stores and fantastic dining opportunities.
This hidden gem of Charleston doesn’t have many single-family homes available, but there are plenty of condominiums in the French Quarter, some of which offer stunning views of the water.
This thriving and diverse neighborhood has something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you are searching for a historic home with Southern charm or a modern townhouse, you can find a healthy mix of both in this neighborhood.
Developed in the 18th century, Harleston Village is nestled along the Ashley River and bordered by Calhoun Street, Broad Street, and King Street. Residents enjoy being within walking distance to shopping and fine dining opportunities, as well as Colonial Lake, a pedestrian-friendly area where many locals go for morning jogs.
Although this neighborhood boasts its fair share of historic buildings and antebellum homes, it attracts many modern professionals and families due to its proximity to prominent schools. Harleston Village is home to Mason Preparatory and Charleston Day, which are two of Charleston’s most prestigious private schools. It is also near the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.
What’s to Love: Harleston Village offers many rewards for families, young professionals, and students. The neighborhood schools are top-notch and while there are a large number of modern amenities, you will still spot historic homes with elegant Georgian and Italian architecture throughout the neighborhood.
Just north of Harleston Village is Radcliffeborough, a small yet vibrant neighborhood which, like Harleston Village, houses its fair share of doctors, students, and families. This dynamic neighborhood is home to Ashley Hall, the prestigious private school for girls, and is in close proximity to the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston.
Built in 1815, Radcliffeborough was originally farm land purchased by Thomas Radcliffe in 1786. Although Radcliffe was lost at sea in 1806, his wife, Lucretia, continued to develop the land.
Mrs. Radcliffe gave a large donation of land to the Third Episcopal Church, which was built in 1811. Now called the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul, the beautiful church was nicknamed “The Planter’s Church” because it was largely used by the many rice planters in the area.
Many newly constructed homes share the same block with massive antebellum mansions, creating a unique neighborhood of history and modern amenities. Homes are generally more affordable in this neighborhood, compared to other downtown areas above Calhoun Street.
What’s to Love: Residents of Radcliffeborough enjoy strolling down to beautiful Marion Square, one of Charleston’s most beloved parks and home to the Charleston Farmer’s Market. Residents are also close to Upper King Street, which boasts some of Charleston’s best dining and nightlife.
Often called the Garden District, the Mazyck-Wraggborough neighborhood has more public green space than any other area on the Charleston Peninsula. This peaceful area is situated between Calhoun, Mary, East Bay, and Meeting Streets, named after John Wragg, who inherited the land in from his father in the 18th century.
Many of the streets are named after the Wragg descendants, such as Elizabeth, Charlotte, and Ann Street. The Wragg family later donated green spaces for public use, including the historic parks, Wragg Square and Wragg Mall.
Mazyck-Wraggborough was once a neighborhood for people who wanted to escape the busy city life, but much has changed since the 1800s. Today, the neighborhood attracts professionals, families, and students who want to live within walking distance of the finest Charleston eateries, the College of Charleston, entertainment, and easy access to Ravenel Bridge.
What’s to Love: Mazyck-Wraggborough residents enjoy the multiple parks and green spaces in the neighborhood. In addition to Wragg Square and Wragg Mall, the neighborhood is located near popular Marion Square, where residents can attend festivals or enjoy the balmy weather.
The neighborhoods in downtown Charleston are so unique and diverse that it can be difficult to choose which one is best suited for you. Whether you are searching for a nice place to raise a family, a lively urban hub, or a place surrounded by natural splendor, the neighborhoods of downtown Charleston offer generous options that will suit even the most discerning palettes.
We recently introduced you to Philip Simmons, the wrought-iron artist who furthered Charleston’s ornamental gate tradition with his signature masterpieces seen throughout the city. If you recall, the craftsman passed away in 2009, but his workshop remains open on Blake Street downtown, where family members continue to keep his name and skills alive by crafting more memorable works. It’s also now a museum and book shop, so folks can still learn about Simmons and his contributions to the city.
That’s why we’ve included the Philip Simmons House as the first stopping point in this guide, although the rest of this list will concentrate below Calhoun Street (don’t worry- we’ll explore more of his works, including some north of Calhoun Street in a later post). Of these stopping points, some are quite grand, while others are easy to pass by if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There are no plaques nearby for these works and there’s not much fanfare. Some have become part of folks’ everyday lives, whether they know it or not – especially South of Broad, where you find ironworks on many if not most houses. His works blend into the scenery beautifully, but if you know where to look, Mr Simmons’s signature stamp can be seen in every neighborhood on the peninsula.
The Philip Simmons House, 30.5 Blake Street
At the Philip Simmons house, apprentices and family members continue their mission to preserve Simmons’s legacy. He created hundreds of hand-wrought iron fences, gates, and more, and he did it all from his little garage at his modest home on Blake Street. Here, you’ll get to have a short, free, informative yet informal tour that will leave you with a better understanding and a deep appreciation of the great importance of a man so beloved by his neighborhood and by all of Charleston.
91 Anson Street
Stroll over to 91 Anson where you’ll find St John’s Reformed Episcopal Church and its decorative gates bearing a wrought-iron heart and cross. There you can also wander beyond the gate and inside the Philip Simmons Garden. The entrance gate was designed by Philip Simmons, and crafted at his shop by Carlton Simmons (nephew) and Joseph Pringle (cousin). The original drawings Simmons made for the gate are kept in the Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston and can be viewed online thanks to the Lowcountry Digital Library. The gate is magnificent, but the gardens behind the gate are equally lovely and worth a stroll.
313 King Street
At 313 King Street is Simmons’s first walkway gate, the Krawcheck residence, which we discussed in an earlier post. You may remember that 313 King is actually the storefront address of the Grady Ervin clothing store, and if you ask the kind folks who work there nicely, they will point you to a door in the back of the store that leads to this beautiful, historic work. This is said to be Mr. Simmons’s very first commission in Charleston.
138 Wentworth Street
At 138 Wentworth Street, the grand driveway gate of the Edwin L. Kerrison House (circa 1838) towers high above the fence and exudes elegance. The house was restored in the 1970s and that is presumably when Simmons created the gate, which includes examples of his signature perfect spirals.
45 Meeting Street
The railings and window grills at 45 Meeting Street are attributed to Simmons. The walkway gate that opens to the front yard also exudes the Simmons aesthetic with a beautiful swirling floral pattern.
2 St. Michael’s Alley
One of Simmons’s most famous and photographed works is the Egret Gate at 2 St Michael’s Alley. The alley is a quiet, short street just south of St Michael’s Church between East Bay and Meeting Streets. The gate separates the back of the driveway from the backyard and when cars are parked in the drive, it’s hard to see the full gate. This design features an egret in the center standing atop the letter R.
78 East Bay Street
78 East Bay is an example of one of Simmons’s works you may easily pass without noticing. Many of the porch railings, window grills, and especially the gates are prominently displayed in front of residences. The subtle archway detail above the door blends nicely with the building’s facade, but it’s a signature Simmons piece.
Stolls Alley, between East Bay and Church Streets, is so narrow on the East Bay end that many people miss it all together. There are five separate gates designed forged by Philip Simmons gates along the alley, so a stroll down this shady, hidden spot is highly recommended.
Philip Simmons is a household name among Charleston architecture enthusiasts. As a Lowcountry blacksmith, the renowned artisan spent his life, or 78 years of it, crafting everyday objects like horseshoes, tools, and fireplace pokers — most from his workshop at 30 1/2 Blake Street in downtown Charleston.
Simmons passed away in 2009 at the age of 97 and left his signature everywhere from the Smithsonian to Paris — but especially in Charleston. When he died, the city honored him by tying white ribbons on all of his known works throughout Charleston.
He lived here all his life, and it was on his walks to school that he became intrigued with ironwork, which would change his life. His first apprenticeship with a blacksmith began when he was only 12 years old. His supervisor was the grandson of slaves, and so the skills he learned had been passed down from several generations of African American artisans.
What Simmons is most remembered for are his stunning wrought iron gates and other ornamental work that can be seen throughout Charleston. His gate work began in the early 1940s when he met a businessman named Jack Krawcheck, who commissioned a wrought iron gate for his King Street store. Simmons had to source his materials from scrap iron since the demand for iron during World War II made iron scarce to come by.
But the result was impressive enough for the Krawcheck family to commission more than 30 more iron pieces throughout Simmons’ career. And over the course of the following seven decades, Simmons made a living with his newfound calling, creating over 500 decorative home pieces including iron balconies, window grilles, fences, and gates.
So where can you learn more about Simmons today? His craft continues to be honored in his shop on Blake Street thanks to apprentices and his family — Carlton Simmons (Nephew) and Joseph Pringle (cousin). His home is a museum house with a book shop that opened the year after his passing.
His family and colleagues want to merely fulfill Simmons’ last wish, and that is to make sure his trade is carried on, which is why engineer John Paul Huguley founded the American College of the Building Arts. Simmons was the “inspirational founder,” Huguley told the Post & Courier two years ago. The school restored one of Simmons’ most significant gates, the coiled rattlesnakes at 329 East Bay Street.
The Philip Simmons Foundation also ensures that his legacy lives on via everything from sterling silver jewelry fashioned in shapes inspired Simmons’ memorable works.
But you don’t have to stop in the Blake Street shop or shop for jewelry online to see his handiwork. Take your very own walking tour around the peninsula to behold his works everywhere from the Philip Simmons Garden at 91 Anson Street to the driveway gate of the mansion at 138 Wentworth Street to Simmons’ very first walkway gate at the Krawcheck residence at 313 King Street. Today 313 King houses the gentlemens’ shop Grady Ervin & Co. where the folks are nice enough to direct you to gate behind the store. They also sell a belt that includes this gate design, so shop around while you’re in there! It’s a lovely store.
We’ll talk more about his works you can find around Charleston over the next few months in upcoming posts dedicated to #wroughtironwednesday and the late, great Philip Simmons.
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.
You’ve seen them — African-American women, men, and children sitting on corners of the City Market, or at Saint Michael’s Church on Broad and Meeting streets, or along Highway 17. No matter the season, 100-degree sun be damned, these folks remain steadfastly focused on their craft: sweetgrass baskets.
An intricate work of art, the sweetgrass basket is a sought-after piece of memorabilia. Tourists visiting the Lowcountry see the baskets woven before their own eyes and are given a glimpse of the history behind them. It’s impossible to come away thinking these sweet-smelling masterpieces (think fresh hay) are anything less than special.
The sweetgrass basket wasn’t always a piece of art – they were made out of necessity. Today, the folks you see crafting them are Gullah, descendants of slaves taken from West Africa and brought to the coast of South Carolina and Georgia in the 1700s to work on plantations. In addition to free labor, plantation owners gained a wealth of knowledge and skills, such as basketry.
So what are the baskets made from? Nowadays, sweetgrass. But the skill was honed in the early days using marsh grass, or also known as bulrush. Using the needly marsh grass, slaves were able to coil extremely sturdy work baskets that came to be known as fanners. Fanners were used in the rice fields for winnowing, the process of tossing hulls about so that the chaff could separate from the rice. Work baskets also held veggies, shellfish, and cotton.
It was in the early 1900s that sweetgrass was employed to weave with, in addition to pine needles and palmetto fronds, which added flexibility and bend to the creations and allowed for more intricate designs, such as loops.
The Evolution of a Basket
You can find sweetgrass grown wild in moist, sandy soils near the sea, hence the aplenty supply in the Lowcountry. In the fall, the grass is a beautiful purple before fading to white.
When it’s time to collect the grass, you simply grab the green grass by the handful, with one foot on the root, and pull it from the ground. Then it’s time to lay the grass out in the sun to dry for three to five days, which is when it shrinks and becomes a more beige color.
On average, a good-sized basket takes 10 hours to weave, not including the time it takes to source and dry the materials. The price on a larger piece? About $350, which isn’t a lot considering the labor that went into creating it. You can also find simpler designs for $40, or elaborate ones for thousands. However if you’re really on a budget, you can always also find a sweetgrass rose, which are not only below $5 but also simply gorgeous little works of art — just like the baskets.
To learn more about this incredible tradition passed down through so many generations and to have a chance to weave a basket yourself, follow basket maker Sarah Edwards-Hammond on Facebook. She frequently conducts basket classes for both adults and children.
Where have you spotted sweetgrass weavers in the Lowcountry?
Charleston’s cobblestone streets are just one of her many charms. Though there are only eight left now, these historic streets were once much more common. It’s believed that the peninsula once contained over ten miles of cobblestone ways. Thankfully our streets now afford us a more smooth ride for the most part, but we’re still proud of the history the endearing cobblestones hold.
Here are a few facts you may not have known about the Holy City’s cobblestone streets:
So how did cobblestones get here in the first place? When the city was first settled, ships would use the stones as weights, weighing the boats down when they didn’t have enough cargo. Once the ships were emptied, off came the stones to make room for exported goods. Naturally, the smooth stones collected onto the wharves, or wharfs.
Anyone who has ever driven down a cobblestone street knows the bumpiness of the ride all too well. But the stones were a more sensible option than Charleston’s once dirt-based, muddy streets. The smoothness of the cobblestones made streets easier to navigate for the transportation mode of the colonial days: horse-and-carriages, and the addition of stones as streets were preferable to what you can imagine — based on the state of the peninsula now when it rains — were streets filled with mud and water when it rained.
Chalmers Street, nestled in the French Quarter, is definitely the most well-known, and photographed, cobblestone street in the city. It’s also long been called Labor Lane, as rumor has it that way-back-when, a ride on the rockiest of roads caused nine-month-pregnant women to go into labor.
Another well-known cobblestone street in the city is called Adger’s Wharf, which is located South of Broad. Running from East Bay Street straight to the water, the bumpy road was a busy dock, originally called Magwood’s Wharf. But its current name came from a 19th-century Irish merchant named James Adger II who came to Charleston via New York in 1802 as a cotton buyer. He later opened a hardware store and established the Adger Line and became one of the country’s wealthiest men. Today Adger’s Wharf makes for a perfectly lovely shortcut to the harbor — and, if you like, to Waterfront Park — from East Bay.
At the bottom of Broad Street, near the Exchange Building, lies Gillon Street, another example of early cobblestone street paving in Charleston. It’s named after Alexander Gillon, who was a famous commodore of the navy of SC during the Revolutionary War. Later on, he founded the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, which today is the oldest Chamber of Commerce in America.
A slightly more secret cobblestone-filled street is Longitude Lane, though it’s actually more of an alley. It’s a beautiful path that leads to a narrow street with a handful of old single-family houses you’ll instantly picture yourself living in — because who is lucky enough to live on sweet little streets such as these?