We’ve explored embarrassingly little of the South with the exception of Florida , so with that in mind, we started looking around for our next road trip destination. Eventually Charleston, SC bubbled to the top. With lots of history, delicious food, and several National Parks nearby, we thought it would be perfect.
And ya know what? Charleston didn’t disappoint.
Check out what we loved about this Southern charmer and start adding these things to do in Charleston, SC to your list.
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Things to do in Charleston, SC
Stroll the City
With it’s narrow streets and boutique shops, Charleston was made for walking. We’ve found over the years that a good walking tour with a local company is the best way to get acquainted with a place, and our tour with Bulldog Tours was just the ticket.
They’re a 2020 Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice with solid reviews and we agree, the tours were all excellent and the guides were fun and knowledgeable. Our walking tour of Charleston took us by many of the prominent buildings and landmarks in the historic district, and our guide had plenty of stories and Charleston lore to match the beautiful architecture.
If you’re looking for an easy 2-hour stroll through historic Charleston, give Bulldog Tours a try. Check here for the latest prices.
Take the ferry out to Fort Sumter
The first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, so there’s no better place to understand the beginnings of this bitter conflict. The ferry ride takes about 30 minutes, and once you’ve arrived, you’ll have an hour or so to explore the fort before heading back across Charleston harbor.
Be sure to check out the Visitor Center at Liberty Square either before or after your trip to see several exhibits and artifacts from the fort, including the original garrison flag that flew when the first cannon fire began. Ferries run throughout the day from both sides of the harbor, but you’ll want to book your ticket in advance to secure your seat.
For a combination discount ticket to Fort Sumter and a Charleston walking tour, click here.
Sample the cuisine
Charleston is one of the South’s major foodie destinations and has all manner of tasty things to try. Seafood, of course is popular here, but lowcountry staples like shrimp and grits are getting a boost by local chefs who are elevating these dishes into something more elegant.
While high-end restaurants like Husk are turning out lowcountry dishes with highroller prices, there are plenty of other places around town that families on a budget will enjoy. AW Shucks had simple seafood dishes served in baskets that we enjoyed for lunch out on their patio, while Benny’s, a local pizza joint, serves up slices bigger than the plate that holds them.
For dessert, try some local ice cream from Off Track who’s serving up amazing flavors like Key Lime Pie and Bourbon Derby Pie. For something completely off the hook, drop in to Peninsula Grill and order a slice (or two) of their famous 13-layer coconut cake. You’ll be glad you did.
Visit the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier
Docked at Patriot’s Point on Charleston Harbor, the WWII aircraft carrier USS Yorktown welcomes visitors aboard to tour her decks and learn about her distinguished career in the United States Navy. When we visited San Diego several years back, we toured the USS Midway and enjoyed it so much that we knew this would be a slam dunk.
The USS Yorktown had a remarkable career, and if you’ve ever watched the movie Midway, you’ll know she was part of some of the most riveting battles in the Pacific Theater. We took the Captains Tour with Bulldog Tours, which allows for some unique access aboard this floating city. We think paying the little bit extra was worth it to see some very interesting parts of the ship, including the Captain’s quarters and stepping inside a B-25 Mitchell bomber.
The hangar deck has several WWII aircraft on display, while the flight deck has several aircraft from more recent eras. One of our favorite parts of the tour was seeing the ingredients and recipe for a batch of 10,000 chocolate chip cookies in the crew mess. Can you imagine whipping up 10,000 cookies at a time?!
This was a fun one, so be sure to spend some time on the Yorktown. Captain’s Tour tickets can be purchased here.
Visit the home and farm of one of America’s Founding Fathers
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site welcomes visitors to Snee Farm, where they can explore what remains of Mr. Pinckney’s South Carolina indigo and rice plantation. His most famous accomplishments however, include adding more than 25 clauses to the final draft of the United States Constitution before ultimately adding his signature.
Charles Pinckney NHS is not far from Charleston, SC, and visitors can enjoy walking the grounds and nature trails of the 28-acre park, picnicking, and exploring various exhibits and displays. Ranger led walks and programs are also available. The park is free to visit, and in early spring you can enjoy the spectacular camellia bloom happening all over the property.
Explore Charleston’s dungeons in search of ghosts
At the request of our 13 year old daughter, we booked a ghost tour. Every old city seems to have them, and Charleston is no different. We booked with Bulldog Tours again and went on their Ghosts and Dungeons Tour.
The tour takes you around to some of the old ‘haunted’ buildings and graveyards around Charleston, as well as the old dungeons at the historic Old Exchange & Provost building – one of the oldest in the city. Here you’ll learn about some old stories, tales, and maybe catch a little something supernatural with your camera if you’re lucky. Our family had a lot of fun on this one, and it’s not scary, so would be appropriate and just spooky enough for younger kids to enjoy without any trouble.
Learn about the Gullah Geechee culture at one of Charleston’s historic plantations
The Gullah Geechee – Cultural Heritage Corridor stretches along the eastern seaboard from Wilmington, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, and many of Charleston’s historic sites and plantations are included. The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of Africans brought from West Africa amid the slave trade to work the fields along the Atlantic Coast. Make no mistake, Charleston and much of South Carolina was built on the backs of these slaves, and while it’s difficult to accept the reality, a visit to these plantations is worth your time.
We visited the McLeod Plantation where you can see intact slave houses, tour the mansion, and stroll around the Spanish moss-covered trees for a glimpse into life here prior to the Civil War. Learn about South Carolina’s agricultural economy where rice, indigo, and cotton once reigned.
As we walked around the grounds, the stark contrast between slaves and their owners is on full display and really prompted us to think, have some discussions with the kids, and at times, shake our heads in disbelief that this is how life once was. Even so, the grounds and mansion are beautiful, and we would recommend visiting this or any other plantation in the area to get an idea of Charleston’s history.
The McLeod Plantation is run by Charleston County Parks and is a Gullah Geechee Heritage Site.
Other nearby things to do in Charleston, SC
Spend the day at Myrtle Beach
This was our first visit to South Carolina, and we couldn’t leave without spending just a little time in Myrtle Beach.
What a place!
For our friends in the Midwest, it reminded us of Branson, MO except next to the ocean. We’ve never seen so many hotels!
For our visit, the weather was cold and rainy unfortunately, but after cruising through town a few times to take it all in, we made our way to Myrtle Beach State Park where we walked out on the pier to get some fresh ocean air. If you can get here for sunrise or sunset, this is the perfect place! It wasn’t in the cards for us, but we still enjoyed our visit.
During the warm summers, Myrtle Beach is bustling and packed with tourists I’m sure, but on a cool, rainy day in March, it was eerily quiet. We managed to pick up a few souvenirs at Ron Jon Surf Shop and enjoy some fresh seafood for dinner, but there wasn’t much else to do honestly.
If crowded beach towns are your thing, by all means, your family would have a blast here. Just be sure to visit in summer, because March will disappoint you. On the other hand, hotel rooms are cheap!
Canoe through the giant cypress trees at Congaree National Park
If we’re being totally honest, the entire reason for our trip to Charleston was to visit Congaree National Park and check it off our list, and we’re so glad we did. We drove over in the morning and met up with our guides from Palmetto Outdoors for a canoe trip through the park, and we loved it. It’s definitely one of the best things to do here to really explore the place and get a feel for the park.
This park is all about the trees and swamp, and protects one of the last forests of old growth bottomland hardwood trees remaining in the southeastern United States. It’s a unique park in its own special way, and we loved spending a few hours paddling through it.
In the summer, you can enjoy tubing on the Congaree River in addition to paddling. Wildlife abounds, and fishing, camping, and hiking are also options.
Charleston, SC is great for families!
We found Charleston to be charming, welcoming, and a lot of fun to explore. It surprised us with its history, delicious food, and fun things for families – all great reasons you should visit!
What are your favorite things to do in Charleston, SC?
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