Charleston, South Carolina, manages to achieve the best of both worlds: It’s a cultural epicenter and a laid-back beach town, a historic treasure and a cutting-edge destination, a major city with a small town vibe. Happily for parents, that ability to straddle worlds also applies to Charleston’s youngest inhabitants. Though Charleston makes a magical romantic getaway or a fun-filled girlfriends weekend, it’s also a city rich in options for kid-friendly fun.
Charleston’s quiet, sandy beaches are perfect for swimming, splashing and building sand castles. Isle of Palms County Park (ccprc.com) is excellent for shell seekers, so bring a bucket to stash your child’s best finds. If the kids get tired of splashing in the water, a beach-side playground awaits where they can dry off. At Wannamaker County Park (ccprc.com), kids can bounce and bob in the Big Kahuna wave pool in Whirlin’ Water Adventure Waterpark, pedal a boat around a 5-acre lagoon and play on two large playgrounds.
Explore the Past
Climb aboard the ship Adventure, a replica of a 17th century sailing ship, at Charles Towne Landing (southcarolinaparks.com/ctl). The park is also the scene of a few ongoing archaeological digs so kids can get in touch with their inner Indiana Jones. At the Old Slave Mart (charleston-sc.gov/dept/content.aspx?nid=1469), kids can learn more about the dark side of American slavery. Southern life before the Civil War comes alive at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (magnoliaplantation.com). Young kids might not like the no-touching tour of the plantation house, but the sprawling gardens have plenty of room for running around. Kids who have studied the Civil War will be interested to see the place where it all started: Fort Sumter National Monument (nps.gov/fosu). Ask one of the park rangers for the Junior Ranger program guide at the park, and if your child completes the booklet, she can earn a badge when she’s done.
Learn Something New
Even more fun than a fire station tour, the North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Educational Center (legacyofheroes.org) gives kids an up-close look at what fire fighters do. Kids can test your driving skills on the fire engine driving simulator, learn how to protect themselves in case of a fire in the Home Fire Hazard Theater and check out vintage fire engines. One Saturday each month, the Charleston Museum (charlestonmuseum.org) has a special activity for families, and on the first Wednesday of every month, the museum has special kid-focused tours of its collection. Kids can learn more about everything from pirates to gardening -- and burn off plenty of energy with the interactive exhibits -- at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (explorecml.org).
Visit the Animals
Kids can watch vultures, falcons, hawks, eagles and kites fly through the air at the Center for Birds of Prey (thecenterforbirdsofprey.org). Young Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss the Owl Woods, where they can explore two acres of owls in their nature habitat. Download a grade-specific scavenger hunt from the South Carolina Aquarium (scaquarium.org) and use it to keep kids focused as you explore habitats like the mountain forest, where river otter frolic under a waterfall and brook trout swim in the stream, and the saltmarsh aviary, where you’ll spot terrapin, pufferfish and stingrays. While kids race through the six miles of trails at Caw Caw Nature and Interpretive Center (ccprc.com), they can spot animals in their natural habitat, including alligators, kites, deer, otter, bald eagles and more.