Travel

Charleston with Children: my top tips for what to do in the River City

Charleston, a city known for history, top-notch food, beer, beaches, and… kid friendly spots? Not really, but like just about anywhere, Charleston can be perfect for parents and kids alike with enough preparation. There’s a ton to do in this world-class city for the whole family and a ton to explore. With great outdoor spaces and things to do on rainy days too, it’s a perfect place to let loose and have a great time with young children too.

Whether it’s rambling through the old town or along the water, there’s plenty to do outside in Charleston. The fresh air and excitement is great for tiring out children and there is no shortage of public space for roaming. Downtown also has plenty of restaurants, cafes, and even bars with plenty of space for getting out of a stroller and expending some energy. For kids old enough to understand it, there’s even a ton of history around the whole town to explore.
Charleston is a city connected to the sea. The best spots are those near the water. In town this is along the waterfront, though most of the entire downtown is a short walk from the water. Further from town, the beaches are best. While a full day at the beach isn’t always the best idea with kids, a morning on the sand before the sun gets too intense is great before heading into town. The beach-side shops and restaurants make for excellent stops along the way and often have great seafood.

With family in Charleston, I recently took my twin boys down south for food, sun, and the sea, as well as to spend more time with family. After a long two day drive down, we spent a long weekend in town exploring the best it has to offer. We used to travel down as a family when I was a kid and while the city has changed considerably, it’s still just as great for families.Here’s what our time reminded us exists for family fun in Charleston and the best things I’ve found to do around town with my own boys.
The best place to grab brunch is at The Park Cafe. There will be plenty of other families and strollers there, especially around the picnic benches out front on a nice day, which this city has a lot. The food is absolutely incredible with great takes on classic brunch food with a modern twist and a little southern comfort food thrown in. The cocktails are spectacular too and great with breakfast like a delicious nutella coffee drink. There’s even a truck selling plants out front, so it has that going on too.
After fueling up, head into town to explore the historic district around the market and down to the water. The Charleston City Market covers multiple blocks of stalls, and a recent remodel introduced air conditioning in some sections, so unlike when I was a kid, visitors no longer swelter inside. The stores sell a variety of touristy necessities, the most unique being the grass baskets made by hand, a Low Country tradition.
From the market, a nice walk continues down the waterfront along Waterfront Park. The giant pineapple fountain is a nice place to stop and enjoy a little fresh air and run around on the lengthy grass parks. Watching the ships pass along the water is also good entertainment. A soccer ball is a great diversion here too as the grassy terraces right along the water are perfect for it.

From here, it’s not far to the South Carolina Aquarium, one of the best in the country. With fish, sharks, aquatic birds, and reptiles of all sizes, there’s plenty here to stay occupied for the bulk of the day, especially on rainy days. There’s even an albino alligator which you certainly don’t see every day. Our boys particularly loved the birds up in the top aviary and pointed to every single one. There are great feeding shows and the staff are great at explaining and educating kids on the amazing creatures and why nature is important.

Further down the water is The Battery, the ending of the peninsula on which the city lies and the old fortifications for the town. Also here is White Point Garden, a large public space with tons of shaded room to run around, play, and burn off some of the sugar rush. The massive cannons and cannon balls stacked around the area are also great for climbing and pictures and offer something unique.
While touring town, the other great sites are Rainbow Row, a block of historic houses decked out in bright pastel colors, forming a rainbow, and the Mansions along the old town. The Calhoun Mansion is the largest and most impressive, built by the Vice President of the Confederacy and quite decadent. The old wealth and power of the city is on full display throughout the area and makes for a great walking tour.
If in need of a break and some energy, Kudu Coffee isn’t far and offers a great selection of pastries, coffee, tea, and of course craft beer. The backyard patio is great for kids as there is a bunch of space, it’s closed in, and there isn’t much to break. There will probably be several dogs there to take their attention too. The beer selection features of a bunch of brews local to SC and covers a wide range of styles.

For another great watering hole, there’s also the Blind Tiger nearby too. This historic pub has a large indoor space and an even more massive outdoor patio with ancient feeling stone walls and corridors. The weathered wood bar has a ton of character too. It’s perfect for a quick beer or two while enjoying the weather without being too exposed. Kids will feel like Indiana Jones in the labyrinth of the patio too.

A bit further out of town, Black Tap Coffee is another good spot for grabbing a pick me up. The inside is tiny, so not great to spend a bunch of time with kids, but it’s close enough to grab an iced coffee to go and hit the town. The coffee is some of the best in the city.

Near the bridge out of town is Brittlebank Park. It’s always a great place to roam and explore with kids thanks to endless grass slopes, great views over the water, and a ton of people out enjoying the town. While we visited, a nature show was underway and we got in to watch dogs jumping and performing tricks off of docks. The boys loved it and would probably have watched for hours, shouting “dog!” at every single one.

A bit removed from town, but only a hot drive over the bridge is Ellis Creek Fish Camp. Nestled along the marshy shoals of the bay, it feels like a down south fishing shack just like it’s designed to. The food is awesome though, and the open space in the back off the deck is perfect for kids. There’s space to run around while waiting for the food and though our boys didn’t exactly get the rules, they loved throwing the Cornhole bean bags around. There are even heaters over the seats for the odd chilly evening. The food really showcases the great seafood the town has to offer.

For another taste of down south Low Country cooking, there’s Melvin’s BBQ. For some reason, there aren’t a ton of delivery options in town. When parents need to get back early for bedtime because a nap got skipped, it makes it hard to find food. Melvin’s rescued us one night. The bbq is actually really solid. For the best BBQ in the region, there’s Sweatman’s, but that’s way out of town. Melvin’s makes a great sandwich and wings, and solves a big problem for desperate parents.

Charleston may be getting more press as a cool, young place for foodies and craft beer snobs, but there is plenty of overlap and enough to occupy families with young kids too. The city is largely without pretension, making just about everywhere family friendly. Between fascinating history that comes alive throughout town and plenty to see and do, Charleston is the perfect destination for parents.