16 unmissable things to do in Charleston with kids

Last updated on December 21, 2023

Things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids

Charleston is one of the most pristine cities I’ve ever visited, filled with row after row of colourful, perfectly kept houses. Add to that a hefty dose of Southern charm, horses with carriages roaming the streets, historic homes, and you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 18th Century.

It’s romantic to the extreme, but also doubles as a super welcoming place for families. From the aquarium to the children’s museum to the beach, there are plenty of things to do in Charleston with kids, and the city makes for a beautiful Charleston family vacation.

Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Charleston with kids. Whether it be things to do, places to eat, or where to stay, we have you covered when it comes to planning a Charleston family vacation.

We went there as part of our epic Southern USA road trip. Also see our guide to unmissable things to do in Savannah with kids. And for more inspiration, see our epic guide to bucket list family vacations.

Things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids

21 best things to do in Charleston with kids

Take a horse and carriage ride around the city

Things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids - Horse and Carriage ride

It’s one of the top things to do in Charleston – going on a horse and carriage ride around the city, and it was definitely one of the highlights of our stay. Otis at age 2 loved it!

Depending on their age, some of the history may go over a kid’s head, but children of all ages will be entertained by the novelty of riding in a horse and carriage. It’s one of the city’s most quintessential activities and one of the most fun things to do with kids in Charleston.

We went with Palmetto Carriage Works and our guide was both friendly and knowledgeable, making the history come alive in an entertaining way.

It costs $28 per person and the ride lasts around one hour. Book an advance ticket here.

Wander the waterfront park

One of the things we loved most as adults in Charleston was simply wandering around and taking in all the charming architecture. One way to do this with kids is to centre your walk around the waterfront, which has plenty of space to play as well as fountains to splash in and boats to spot.

End your walk at one of Charleston’s most beautiful streets, Rainbow Row, which also happens to be close to a playground.

This is one of the best free things to do with kids in Charleston, SC.

South Carolina Aquarium

Things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids - SC Aquarium

The South Caroline Aquarium is an easy win for families in Charleston. It has over 5,000 creatures, including sharks, otters, birds, alligators and fish. Plus all the classic aquarium features like touch tanks, feeding times and educational shows.

Don’t miss the huge ocean tank where they do daily dive shows with the sharks. And there’s also a fun Lego recreation of sea creatures from around Charleston. Definitely one of the best things in Charleston, SC, for kids.

Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry

Things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids - Children's Museum of the Lowcountry

If you’ve read any of our other USA family travel guides, you’ll know I majorly envious of the America’s culture of children’s museums (why oh why don’t we have them in England?!).

The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is amazing for entertaining kids, starting from babies up to age 10, especially if they love imaginative play. It has all sorts of different rooms, including a mini supermarket, water play area, soft play, medieval castle, and arts and crafts room.

Otis, at 2-years-old, was enamoured by the whole thing. It was our favourite of the kids activities in Charleston, South Carolina.

Take a boat ride

Things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids - Boat ride

Getting out on the water is one of the best and most enjoyable ways of experiencing the Charleston’s charms. There are lots of tours to choose from, including wildlife cruises that are excellent for kids. You may even get to see bottlenose dolphins that live in the area all year round.

You could also opt for a guided cruise that gives a narrated overview of the city’s history. Or Charleston Speedboat Adventures offer the chance to explore the harbour and Charleston’s best attractions by speedboat!

Hit the beach

Things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids - Go to the beach

When choosing what to do with kids in Charleston, SC, heading to the beach is a safe bet.

The Charleston barrier islands are gorgeous and worth visiting all year round. The relaxed Sullivan’s Island is one of the closest and most popular (just 20 minutes drive from downtown). And Isle of Palms is a good option with plenty of restaurants and useful facilities. Kiawahh Island is the place to go for luxury resorts.

Visit the Angel Oak

Things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids - Visit the angel oak

The Angel Oak is a beautiful sight for all the family. It was top of my Charleston bucket list (you are my people if you’re a fan of extraordinary trees!).

It’s one of the oldest oak trees in the USA (and the oldest in South Carolina). There’s a big park surrounding it, and it’s on the outskirts of Charleston, so makes a good picnic spot if you’re on your way in or out of the city.

Charleston Farmers Market

We’re big fans of farmers markets and find they’re pretty good for kids as there’s always some sort of treat you can draw them in with! The Charleston Farmers Market is held weekly in Marion Square, full of tasty local treats against a backdrop of live music.

This is one that everyone will enjoy, making it a great option for a family activity in Charleston.

Catch a show at the Dock Street Theatre

The historic Dock Street Theater is the oldest running theatre in the USA. It’s a beautiful setting to see a performance and they have plenty of kid-friendly shows throughout the year.

The Charleston Museum

The Charleston Museum of art and culture is well set up for kids, especially the natural history area and the Kidstory exhibiiton,,which looks at Charleston’s history through a kid’s perspective.

North Charleston Fire Museum

Firetrucks are a classic toddler obsession and the North Charleston Fire Museum is a museum devoted to them! Explore the collection of vintage trucks, play in the fire station-themed play area, and learn about what to do in the event of a real fire. Plus little kids will love that slide.

Go on a pirate ship

For pirate-loving kids, go on a trip with the Pirates of Charleston. Your little ones will be inducted to the crew of pirates for an adventure on the high seas. Expect costumes, face painting, sea shanties, treasure maps and plenty of pirate arhhhhhhs.

This is one of the most unique things to do with kids in Charleston. Otis was too young for us to try it, but it looks great.

See the Charleston Riverdogs

If you’re American, your kids might already be baseball fans, and if you’re not, then they’ll likely enjoy the spectacle of it all. From April-September, you can see the Charleston Riverdogs play at their home stadium, The Joe. Kida are even allowed to run the bases on Saturdays. It’s a really fun thing for kids do in Charleston.

Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

Charleston is full of historic houses and buildings, which might not be a big draw for kids, but one you could entice them to is the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. Pirates were once held in the dungeon, which is sure to spike many a kid’s interest! Maybe not the best one for little/nervous ones, but entry for children under 6 is free.

Fort Sumter National Monument

It’s more fun than it potentially sounds, and the Fort Sumter National Monument is a popular educational kids attraction in Charleston where you can learn all about the American Civil War.

Part of the excitement for kids is the 30-minute boat ride to get there. But it also has giant cannons and kids’ activity books to fill in as they wander around. Book an advance ticket here.

Visit a plantation

Magnolia plantation

Charleston has a very troubled past. It was the USA’s biggest slave port and thousands of enslaved people lost their lives there. For older children to better understand that past and the context of the city, I recommend visiting the Magnolia Plantation and doing the Slavery to Freedom tour.

The guide doesn’t shy away from the brutality of slavery and takes you on a journey from slavery through the Jim Crow era to today. It includes a tour of four cabins that were used by enslaved people. If you don’t have a car, this tour includes entry and transport from Charleston.

Be aware that many plantation tours gloss over slavery, so it pays to do your research and find one that pays respect to the enslaved people. Entry to the plantation costs $20, plus $8 for the tour.

Another place to visit to learn more slavery is the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston centre.

Patriots Point

At Patriots Point, kids can explore fighter planes and old naval warships, including the aircraft carrier that found the Apollo 8 astronauts.

Piccolo Spoleto festival

If you’re in Charleston in late Spring, go to the Piccolo Spoleto festival where you can see all sorts of family concerts and events.

Where to stay in Charleston with kids

Charleston has plenty of beautiful homes to stay in, be they Airbnbs, hotels or guesthouses.

We chose to stay in Airbnb/rental properties as we wanted a taste of local Charleston life, plus the flexibility of self-catering. We stayed in two different properties and have also written a guide to the best Airbnbs in Charleston.

Family-friendly hotels in Charleston

We’ve written a full guide to the most stylish family hotels in Charleston. Here are a few favourites…

The Restoration Charleston – this luxury hotel has a pool and offers family-friendly package deals. Check availability and book now.

Cottages on Charleston Harbour – These cottages are in Mount Pleasant and are ideal for families with a pool and access to babysitting services. Check availability and book now.

The Pinch – this stylish hotel is 100% where I would have stayed pre-kids (and maybe even now). It doesn’t have anything that makes it particularly family-friendly, but they do welcome kids, so if you want to prioritise a stylish stay then this is the place for you. Check availability and book now.

The Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel  – This pink, historic hotel in Charleston is a gorgeous option in the centre, and has a lovely pool. Check availability and book now.

Where to eat and drink in Charleston with kids

Here are a few recommendations for places to eat with kids in Charleston.

  • Daps for breakfast.
  • Brown Dog Deli for a huge selection of gourmet sandwiches (including lots of veggie options).
  • The biscuits at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit are unmissable and also kid-friendly.
  • Find gourmet Doughnuts at Glazed.
  • Enjoy an impressive selection of cakes and cookies at Sugar Bakeshop.
  • We loved Basic Kitchen for health food in upscale, hip surrounds. It’s not aimed at families, but kids are welcome – that’s where Otis is in the image above 🙂

Getting around Charleston with kids

South US Road Trip - Charleston

There’s a handy free shuttle bus (the DASH) that can take you to most of the major sights, but we drove or walked most places. We never had an issue with finding a parking space (there’s a large parking lot near the City Market). And we had parking spaces included at our accommodation. It was particularly handy having a car to drive out to the Magnolia Plantation. The streets are stroller friendly.

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