Fun and affordable weekend activities with kids in and around Charleston

Here is a 2010 updated list with some of the most interesting things to do with children while visiting Charleston. At least that’s what I found to work best with my 5 years old daughter for the past three years.

Free activities

1. The Waterfront Park is the most popular place for kids to splash around. Here you can enjoy fantastic views of the Charleston Harbor, have a nice picnic, read a book or just relax after touring the city.

Waterfront Park splashing fun

The best free family entertainment downtown Charleston

2. Folly Beach is Charleston’s most romantic getaway located close to James Island State Park.

The main attraction is the breathtaking, 158 feet tall Morris Island Lighthouse. Built in 1872-1876 the lighthouse now stands hundreds of feet into the water and is undergoing erosion control and stabilization efforts.

Isle of Palms Conch Prints
Isle of Palms is a family oriented beach near Mount Pleasant.

Nearby are the Isle of Palms County Park with its awesome zip-line equipped playground, the historic Fort Moultrie and the magnificent World War II USS Yorktown aircraft carrier.

3. Fort Moultrie – heroic Revolutionary War battles, ingenious Palmetto trees defense system, intriguing WWII radio communication and incredible vistas of the Ravenel bridge.

2009 update there is now a $3 admission fee for adults, still free for kids.

4. The South Carolina Artisans Center in Walterboro –
See traditional and indigenous folk art and contemporary crafts from over 240 of the finest South Carolina artists. The center features educational exhibits, craft demonstrations and live performances by artists. This is a great opportunity to introduce children to art and to shop for standout gifts.

5. Self guided tour of Charleston’s most outrageous murder scenes, famous ghost sightings and unsolved mysteries (you may want to this at daylight only!)

$10 and under activities

1. Charles Towne Landing – birthplace of Charleston and South Carolina. Clothing in the late 1600s - Charles Towne LandingHere you can play archeologist for a day, tour the Historic trail featuring The Adventure, a 17th century trading ship, the Legare House and the Horry Plantation ruins. Watch buffalo, puma and black bears at the Animal Forest natural habitat zoo and keep an eye on alligators roaming freely throughout the many ponds in the park.

2009 update – Here are all the fun activities the kids can enjoy inside the park, including a tour of The Adventure and a wild stop by Pillory and Stocks!

2. The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (CML) – Let your imagination run wild at this everyday party land for kids and parents who like to act like kids! The museum is close to the Visitors Center and Charleston Museum.

3. Edisto Island State Park: take the night beach walks to spot Carolina’s most famous reptile the loggerhead turtles nesting and hatching along the shores. Discover the thousands years old Spanish Mound and visit the Interpretive Center for a live show on native marine wildlife.

While in the area stop by the Edisto Island Serpentarium ($12.95 adults, $9.95 children 6-12, free for those 3 and under) to see enormous alligators, giant turtles, venomous snakes and feisty lizards in their natural habitats

4. My 2009 favorite, the American LaFrance Fire Museum in North Charleston.

Fire simulator at LaFrance Fire Museum in North Charleston

Fire rescue simulator at North Charleston Fire Museum


Drive a real fire truck, slide down a fire pole, learn how to prevent fire in your house and check out the country’s largest collection of LaFrance fire trucks.

5. The Cypress Gardens and Swamp – The “No Mesquitoe swamp” home to many famous films like “The Patriot”, “North and South”, “The Notebook”, and “The Yearling”.

Just for kids: Butterfly House, Aquarium, Reptile Center, Crocodile Isle and Aviary, and even a small replica of an inland rice field.

6. The Charleston Museum – Play pirate, dress-up in colonial clothes and see the incredible skeletons of a right whale, an extinct Carolina crocodile, a giant leatherback sea turtle and the 2nd largest bird to ever fly.

Adults will love browsing through an extensive Civil War collection of pictures, artifacts, letters and original documents. It’s not the America’s First Museum for nothing!

7. The Audubon Swamp Garden at the Magnolia Plantation – Enjoy

Spring love at the Audubon Swamp

Spring love at the Audubon Swamp

one of the most diverse ecosystem in America, a mysterious black water cypress and tupelo swamp garden.

There are boardwalks, dikes and bridges that allow you to observe a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles in their natural habitat:

Bald eagles and red-shouldered hawk, blue herons and white egrets, rabbits, otters, turtles, snakes and alligators.

Touring the swamp takes about 1 hour, more for the nature enthusiast. Best time to observe wildlife is late afternoon.

$15 and under activities

1. Fort Sumter – Witness the start of the Civil War. For nearly four years, seven millions pounds of metal were furiously shot at it without success. Watch out for Daniel Hough’s ghost, an unfortunate Union soldier.

2. USS Yorktown – World’s most imposing military aircraft carrier during WWII. USS Yorktown
With the admission ticket you can also visit the Clamagore submarine, the award-winning Congressional Medal of Honor Museum and the Laffey destroyer.

Most popular Yorktown attraction is the Fighter Jet Simulator.

3. Hunley Submarine – the Confederate submarine built to help break the Civil War blockade and the world’s first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship.

4. Magnolia Plantation – Enjoy thousands of beautiful blooming flowers and plants

Walk and bike path under old oak trees

Walk and bike path under old oak trees

in the oldest and most famous public gardens in America!

Kids love digging for dinosaurs bones, petting donkeys and horses, winding through the maze and spotting alligators, turtles, egrets and snakes.

Here is a customized Google Map with great family attractions in and around the Holy City that are either free or cost less than $10.

Things to see on St. Helena island near Beaufort: Penn Center and Chapel of Ease (possible the Land’s End ghost!)

Penn Center, an African-American cultural center and a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1862 as the first school in the South for the education of freed slaves. Along with the Bailey museum it is a testimony of the Gullah People’s rich culture and history. The permanent exhibit showcases some of the oldest photographs of African-Americans, the original 1863 school bell and many artifacts related to the life on Sea Island. Martin Luther King Jr. use to retreat here during the 1960s.

Free historic sites to visit on St Helena Island Beaufort SC

Penn Center School main building

The Penn Center is located on St. Helena island, only 15 minutes drive from Beaufort, historic Port Royal and beautiful Hunting Island State Park. The Bailey museum is open Monday to Saturday from 11 AM to 4 PM and the admission fee is $4 for adults and $2 for children and seniors. For more information on current educational programs and a calendar of events visit the Penn Center website.

Site of the annual Gullah festival

Penn Center historic site in the heart of Gullah country

If you want to experience first hand the mystical Gullah art and food come to the Gullah Festival that will be held at the Waterfront Park in Beaufort May 23-25. Admission for the entire weekend is $20. For more info visit www.gullahfestival.org.

Nearby Penn Center on Land’s End road is the Chapel of Ease. This tiny church, a perfect examply of tabby construction, was built in 1748 for the convenience of plantation owners too far away to attend service in Beaufort.

Fine example of prerevolutionary church made of primarily of tabby.

Take a close look at the graveyard and the mysterious mausoleum creeping in the back. This is the sight of the inexplicable Land’s End Light. “…The light rises up in the air like a bouncing ball of fire. It lingers long enough to squelch any idea it was just your imagination or a hallucination.”

Chapel of Ease Mausoleum on St. Helena Island

Some say a mysterious light appears here


Over the years many local residents and prominent business people claim to have seen the light. Even researchers from Duke University came to study the phenomenon in the 70s.

Most people believe the light has to do with the spirit of a soldier stationed at Fort Fremont, which was built to defend Port Royal from Spanish attacks.

Funny thing is not one shot was ever fired from the fort! Now the fort ruins are on a private property and inaccessible to the public.

Read more about the Land’s End mystery from Terrence Zepke’s book “Best Ghost Tales of South Carolina. Check out some famous Lowcountry Ghosts on my previous post.

If you like seeing old South Carolina churches then you must visit the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, a truly inspirational historical site around Beaufort.

Isle of Palms Beach Photos: Happy Family Vacation, Peace, Fun and Romance (Charleston free things to do)

“Serenity Now!” Leave your worries behind and come free your mind, body and spirit at peaceful Isle of Palms beach.

Female Runner

You can walk barefoot, walk your dog, lose yourself gazing at the blue ocean waters, swim, run, bicycle, collect shells, surf, run a kite, play volleyball, or just take a well-deserved nap…the possibilities for fun are endless and best of all it’s FREE! Now that’s something worth shouting about!

Tips to know before you go

1. Love at the beach Park for free at the Isle of Palms County Park and walk the half mile to the beach. There is a super-cool playground for kids to have fun and burn a lot of energy (the mini zip line is a winner); also there are restrooms, showers and changing rooms.

2. If you don’t want to walk, there is metered parking available downtown between 10 and 14th streets. You need to pay during beach season from mid-March to early October. However after 6:00 PM parking is free! You can also park on the streets or a special designated parking lot. See more info about beach access and parking here.

3. Once you’re done with the beach, if you want to rinse the sand off skip the showers by the restrooms; they are always crowded and it gets mushy on the ground pretty quickly. I always used the shower by the volleyball court one block down.

4. Best places to hunt for shells is as far away as possible from downtown.

Isle of Palms Conch Prints

If you parked at the Isle of Palms County Park go to your left once you get to the beach and pass all the residential buildings. Now you’re in for a treat: intact conks, crab, clams and horse-shoe shells…well formed sand-dollars…maybe a baby shark or even coins. Bird watchers enthusiasts go to the southern end of the island (shorter walk).

5. Boys and girls get a great kick with the little body surf boards. They don’t need to go far into the water so you can keep a close eye on them as they have fun. There are several shops on the island to rent beach equipment. Of course you can use the regular surf boards as well.
Surfers getting ready

6. There are several places to eat on the island, including 2 restaurants featuring incredible ocean views (that’s reflected in the price). My favorite thing to do is get ice-cream from the little shop close to the restroom area. It’s cheap, cool and is a good enough bribe to keep my 3 years old in check.

7. If you plan to bicycle or come with the stroller be mindful of the tide calendar (published daily in the newspaper or given at the hotel). The water can get very high eating into most of the beach.

8. Walking the dog Dogs are welcome year-round but must be on leash except early morning from 5 to 8 AM. This is not that much enforced I’ve seen plenty cutie pooches running around freely.

9. For more educational activities take the short drive to nearby Fort Moultrie (free admission), the historic park where the state’s Palmetto Tree symbol was born and legend has it we coined the phrase “We beat the pants off them

10. Check this post for a detailed list of activities (grouped by price) you can do with the kids in and around Charleston.

Where
Directions to Isle of Palms Beach:

Bicycling at the beach

From Hwy 17 N in Mt. Pleasant take the IOP connector (turn right at Bank of America) all the way till the end. Here is the Google Map.
Once you’re in town you can turn left to get to the Isle of Palms County Park, Marina and the road leading towards Wild Dunes golf resort. You can turn right to reach “downtown”, metered parking and most of the shops and restaurants. There are about 50 public beach access points on Isle of Palms.

Folly Beach is another great beach to visit, on the other side of Charleston. Very romantic and less commercial it’s a popular gateway for singles, weddings and people with dogs.

However if you’re planning to spend the week then camp out at Edisto Island State Park, the South Carolina kid friendly jungle! Take the night beach walks to spot Carolina’s most famous reptile the loggerhead turtles nesting and hatching along the shores. Discover the thousands years old Spanish Mound and visit the Interpretive Center for an awesome live show on native marine wildlife.

Have fun at the Isle of Palms beach!

Virtual Historic Trail Tour at Charles Towne Landing

Take a virtual tour of the South Carolina historic trail at the Charles Towne Landing park near downtown Charleston.

Step back in time at and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Charles Towne Landing Historic Site!

Outdoor and Wildlife Wonders at Charles Towne Landing

Charles Towne Landing: Quiet and relaxing family time. Learn about South Carolina and Charleston history. Bike or walk under serene live oak trees away from the city’s hustle and bustle yet just minutes from all the “civilization” amenities. Do nothing but smell the beautiful flowers and listen to the birds.

Funny otter at Charles Towne Landing

Get excited spotting alligators around the ponds spread throughout the park or watching the bison, black bears and puma napping all day at the Animal Forest zoo. Maybe we can learn from them and give ourselves a well deserved break in the Charles Towne Landing incredible outdoors. And is only $5… That’s a venti double latte…C’mon what else can you ask for?!

Read more about this hidden Charleston attraction here.

Happy outdoor relaxation in Charleston South Carolina!

Daniel Island a Wonderful Place to Visit and Live (photos)

I was lucky to call Daniel Island (or “Pleasantville” as I nicknamed it:-)) home for almost a year. Famous for the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament and the Blackbaud soccer stadium the city is nested between Charleston and Mt. Pleasant on the 526 highway overpass and just minutes from beautiful Isle Palms beach.

It has much to offer; like one of the best public schools in the state. The scenery is amazing: bordered by the Wando river you start and end your day watching the sunlight reflect in the serene waters making the bridge burst with colors. The city is so safe the police tries to keep active giving speeding tickets left and right (so slow down as you come into town).

There are 5 or 6 playground parks filled with all kinds of themes rides and fun things to do that kids just love. I lived right by the Children Water Park where’s the entrance to river walk (this goes around most of the island) where you can walk, jog, bike, fish by the pier or just enjoy watching the abundant wildlife. Near the tennis center there is a historic graveyard dating back to the Revolutionary War.

I let the photos do the talking now.

Come visit Daniel Island and always vacation in South Carolina!