Oh, Charleston, what a remarkable destination! Crafting the perfect Charleston itinerary has been a dream of mine for years, and I finally got to check it off my bucket list in 2018, with return visits in 2019 and 2023. From its charming streets to its rich history, the city has so much to offer, and I’m excited to share my Charleston itinerary to help you explore all that this wonderful place has to offer.
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If you’re thinking of heading to Charleston, let me tell you, it’s got everything – charm, tasty Southern cuisine, and plenty of outdoor activities for the whole family. I traveled with my kiddos, so we made sure to find fun things that involved a little bit of walking (got to tire those little ones out, right?). My daughter is quite the picky eater, but she’ll happily chow down on some delicious mussels, and let’s be real, who doesn’t love fries?
So, if you’re in the same boat as us, I’ve got a three-day itinerary that’s perfect for families looking for outdoor fun and delicious food. I’ll even let you in on the best places to stay, so you can relax and recharge after a long day of exploring. Come on, let’s go wandering together!
To make the most of your three-day family-friendly itinerary in Charleston, start by booking your accommodations. There are several options available, including charming bed and breakfasts, luxury hotels, and family-friendly resorts. Some of the most popular areas to stay in Charleston include the historic district, Mount Pleasant, and Sullivan’s Island.
Once you’ve settled into your accommodations, it’s time to start exploring the city. A must-visit destination is the historic district, where you can take a stroll through picturesque streets lined with colorful houses and beautiful gardens. The district is also home to several historic landmarks, including the Charleston City Market and the Nathaniel Russell House.
For outdoor activities, visit the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a stunning plantation that dates back to the 17th century. The gardens are filled with beautiful flowers and exotic plants, and there are plenty of walking trails to explore. Another great outdoor activity is a visit to the beach. Charleston is home to several beautiful beaches, including Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, and Sullivan’s Island.
As for food, Charleston is known for its delicious Southern cuisine. Some must-try dishes include shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and BBQ. For families with picky eaters, there are also plenty of options available. Try out the MUSC Urban Farm, a community garden that grows fresh produce used in local restaurants. You can also visit the Charleston Farmers Market, which offers a variety of fresh produce and artisanal foods.
Crafting Your Charleston Itinerary: Where to Stay
If you’re looking to splurge and treat yourself to a truly luxurious experience during your visit to Charleston, then you’ll definitely want to check out these charming hotels that offer the ultimate pampering experience.
First up, we have the French Quarter Inn, which was named the Travelers’ Choice 2022 Best of the Best. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be treated like royalty with a welcome champagne toast, and you’ll have a seven-pillow menu to choose from for the ultimate sleeping comfort. And if that’s not enough, you’ll also enjoy evening turndown service.
Next on the list is the Charleston Place, a Travelers’ Choice 2022 hotel. This luxurious hotel offers European-style spa treatments, a rooftop pool with stunning views of the city, award-winning restaurants, and a private concierge level “Club” on the top two floors. If you’re traveling with family, no worries, because they also offer suites and family rooms for extra space.
And last but not least, we have the Dewberry Charleston, which also earned the Travelers’ Choice 2022 designation. This hotel offers a modern twist on mid-century elegance, and you’ll want to check out the low-country botanical treatments in the spa. But the real treat is the whimsical rooftop lounge, where you can sip on a delicious cocktail while taking in the stunning views of the city.
Affordable Charleston Hotels
For those of us who want to enjoy the beauty of Charleston for less, there are plenty of great options available. One option that’s popular with travelers is the Hyatt Place Charleston / Historic District. You get a convenient location that’s just a short walk from Charleston’s historic landmarks and attractions.
If you’re an art lover, then you’ll definitely want to check out The Vendue Charleston’s Art Hotel. It is filled with unique artwork and features galleries that showcase local artists. It’s also conveniently located in the heart of Charleston’s historic district, so you’ll be within walking distance of some of the city’s most popular sights.
Another great option for budget-conscious travelers is the Homewood Suites by Hilton Charleston Historic District. It offers spacious suites with separate living areas and kitchenettes, making it a great choice for families or anyone who wants a little extra space to stretch out.
If you’re looking for a hotel that offers a little more space and privacy, then the Hyatt House Charleston – Historic District might be just what you need. Featuring apartment-style suites with full kitchens, so you can cook your own meals and save money on dining out.
For a more cozy and personal experience, you can also consider staying at The Jasmine House, a charming bed and breakfast located in a restored 1843 mansion. Known for its Southern hospitality and featuring comfortable rooms with delicious breakfasts.Lastly, the Courtyard Charleston Historic District is another great option for those looking for a convenient and affordable stay in downtown Charleston. Enjoy spacious rooms with modern amenities, including a fitness center and outdoor pool, located just a few blocks from popular attractions like the Charleston City Market and Waterfront Park.
Charleston Itinerary: Day 1 – Charleston Historic District
Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (2 hours)
Visiting children’s museums in different cities is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a great opportunity for kids to have a moment to enjoy something just for them, and I’ve found that I have an appreciation for the minor differences from city to city. Each museum manages to have similar displays, but they infuse their own local culture into them. For example, in New Orleans and Savannah, the children’s museums added special attention to the local architecture in their exhibits. The Savannah Children’s Museum is even located in an old train yard!
In Florida, the grocery store version is usually sponsored by Publix, but in other parts of the country, it will usually be sponsored by the local supermarket. In Providence, Rhode Island, you’ll see mentions of the local fishing industry experiences. There are many more of these subtle cultural additions in every museum, including foods, celebrations, and art.
It’s a great idea to stop at the Children’s museum first when exploring a new city. The kids notice these local elements as you’re walking around later and point them out. They never even realize that they were “learning” the whole time they were at the museum, and then they feel a secret knowledge connection to this new city they’re exploring. It’s a wonderful way to introduce children to different cultures and help them appreciate the unique aspects of each city.
One popular way to take in the sights and learn about the city’s history is through a carriage tour with Charleston’s Old South Carriage company. Led by experienced guides, you’ll get a chance to ride through the city’s historic district in a traditional horse-drawn carriage.
After visiting the Children’s Museum, walk over to Callie’s Hot Biscuit, a Southern staple. I highly recommend ordering ahead so you can pick up and go, as there’s limited space to eat inside. Instead, take your biscuits to one of the nearby outdoor green spaces and enjoy them there.
If walking isn’t your thing, rent a rideshare bike for only $8/hour or $20 for the day. Alternatively, take the DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) for free. Three lines will take you from the Aquarium to the Citadel to Broad Street and Waterfront Park. Download the transit app for real-time tracking and schedule information.
After enjoying a delicious biscuit, head over to the South Carolina Aquarium for a fun and educational experience. The aquarium features over 5,000 animals and exhibits, including a touch tank where visitors can interact with sea stars, horseshoe crabs, and other marine creatures. You can also catch a glimpse of the resident sea turtle, Caretta, as she swims around in her 300,000-gallon oceanic tank.
If you’re looking for a unique and offbeat experience, check out the Gibbes Museum of Art. Located in the heart of Charleston’s historic district, the museum houses a collection of over 10,000 works of art, including American, British, and continental paintings, as well as decorative arts, sculptures, and more. Don’t miss the beautiful garden outside, where you can relax and take in the beauty of the surrounding area.
If you’re staying in the area and want to explore more, there are plenty of nearby attractions to check out. The Charleston Visitor Center is a great place to start if you need maps, brochures, or some tips on what to do. Plus, they have clean restrooms, which is always a plus when you’re out and about.
For history buffs, the Charleston Museum is a must-visit. It was founded in 1773 as America’s First Museum and focuses on preserving and interpreting the natural history of Charleston and South Carolina Lowcountry. Another historical gem is the Aiken-Rhett House Museum, a well-preserved townhouse from the 1820s. The slave quarters are particularly interesting as they’ve remained virtually untouched since the 1850s.
But, if you’re in the mood for a leisurely stroll, head over to Joe Riley Waterfront Park. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic or just some time in the sun. If the weather is nice, make sure to splash around in the Pineapple Fountain! From there, you can walk along the waterfront and enjoy the views.
To get to Rainbow Row, head southeast towards Boyces Wharf and turn right. It’s about an 8-10 minute walk, and definitely worth it to see the iconic colorful houses. If you’re driving, keep in mind that parking may be a bit tricky, so it’s a good idea to arrive early or consider walking from the Children’s Museum, which will take about 30 minutes.
Rainbow Row is a must-see destination in Charleston, South Carolina. It is a cluster of Georgian row houses located at 83-107 E Bay St. These houses are the longest cluster of their kind in the United States and are known for their pastel colors, making it the most colorful and iconic spot in Charleston.
Each of the homes on Rainbow Row is privately owned, but the owners must maintain the pastel colors to preserve the historic section of Charleston. Here’s some information about each of the homes:
83 – The William Stone House, built in 1784 by a Tory merchant.
87 – The James Gordon House, rebuilt in 1792 after being destroyed by fire in 1778.
89 – The Deas-Tunno House, built in 1770.
91 – The Inglis-Arch House, reconstructed in 1782 after fire in 1778.
93 – The James Cook House, built in 1778.
95 – Construction date unknown but in existence as of 1779.
97-101 – Col. Othniel Beale’s House, 97 was built in 1740.
103 – The Joseph Dulles House, built in 1787.
105 – The Dutarque-Guida House, built 1782-84.
107 – The John Blake Building, built in 1791.
One of the myths surrounding Rainbow Row is that the houses were painted in pastel colors in the 1930s or 1940s by the women of the neighborhood to help drunken sailors find their way back home. However, this story is not true and there is no evidence to support it. The houses were actually painted in the 20th century as part of a preservation effort to restore the historical architecture of Charleston’s downtown area.
For more information on each home and the myths of Rainbow Row, visit Debunking the Myths of Rainbow Row.
Hidden Passages of Charleston
One of the top things on my list when visiting Charleston was to explore the hidden passages and alleys that the city is known for. I was excited to discover a short and easy tour that would take me to the Battery while pointing out interesting landmarks along the way.
The tour starts at Hazel Parker Playground, which has a parking lot nearby. From there, you’ll head to Stoll’s Alley, which was named after blacksmith Justinus Stoll, who built a home along this alley in 1745. Next, you’ll visit Price’s Alley before continuing on King Street to Murray Boulevard. Along the way, keep an eye out for different statues, lighting, gates, architectural elements, and gardens.
Once you arrive at the Battery, you’ll be able to see the historic mansions and beautiful waterfront views that Charleston is famous for. After that, you can return down East Bay Street to your parking spot.
If you have time, you should also check out The Battery & White Point Gardens, which is a beautiful park with a rich history. Additionally, the Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park is worth a visit for its cute playground and walking/fishing pier.
Day 2 – Magnolia Plantation Tour or Charleston Tea Garden
If you’re thinking about visiting the Charleston Tea Garden and Magnolia Plantation, I have some tips for you. While they may seem close in proximity, I would not recommend trying to visit both in one day due to the small roads and potential traffic. Instead, I suggest choosing one or the other. If you’re staying in the historic district, you’ll need either a tour or car to get to these locations.
Option 1: Magnolia Plantation
If you choose to visit Magnolia Plantation, keep in mind that it’s a beautiful historic location with unrefined splendor and natural beauty. Some reviewers may claim that there’s “nothing to see,” but that’s because they may have unrealistic expectations. Magnolia Plantation features a swamp garden, which is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s exciting to see if you’re not used to that kind of natural environment.
It’s important to keep in mind that plantations like these were once owned by wealthy individuals who shaped the laws of the town, state, and even the country. The slaves who lived and worked on these plantations played a huge role in crafting and building these opulent homes, yet they often didn’t receive credit or payment for their contribution.
If you’re interested in other historic sites to visit, Middleton Place is a National Historic Landmark that features America’s oldest and most important landscaped gardens. Drayton Hall is also a must-see destination, as it’s the oldest unrestored plantation still open to the public in the U.S.
And if you’re looking for some great food, try out The Taco Spot for a variety of tasty taco options, including vegetarian choices. Ms. Rose’s Fine Food is another great spot for good food and signature cocktails, and they’re vegetarian-friendly as well.
Option 2: The Charleston Tea Garden
The Charleston Tea Garden is a must-visit for any tea lover out there! It’s the only tea garden in North America and spans over 127 acres of Camellia Sinensis tea plants, a working tea factory, and a charming gift shop. You can take a tour to learn more about the tea-making process and even taste some of the delicious tea varieties they offer. Keep in mind that depending on the time of year, navigating to the garden can be tricky, so make sure to plan your trip accordingly.
If you’re looking for some outdoor fun, Angel Oak Park is a great option. It’s home to the oldest living oak tree east of the Mississippi River, estimated to be over 400 years old! The tree is massive and truly a sight to behold. The park also has a picnic area, a small gift shop, and restrooms.
Another fantastic outdoor option is Kiawah Beachwalker Park, located on Kiawah Island. This beach has pristine sand, crystal-clear waters, and plenty of amenities to make your visit comfortable. It has restrooms, a snack bar, and even a small boardwalk to take a stroll.
If you’re interested in history, McLeod Plantation Historic Site is a must-visit. Built in 1851, this 37-acre Gullah/Geechee heritage site has been carefully preserved in recognition of its cultural and historical significance. You can take a guided tour to learn more about the history of the plantation and the Gullah/Geechee people who lived and worked there.
Finally, if you’re looking for some delicious and quick bites, check out Boxcar Betty’s. This eatery is known for its fantastic fried chicken sandwiches and sides.
Looking for a relaxing and picturesque way to end your day in Charleston? Consider taking the Charleston Harbor Sunset Cruise! You’ll board a spacious catamaran and set sail on the harbor, where you’ll enjoy stunning views of the city skyline and the beautiful waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The friendly and knowledgeable crew will provide commentary throughout the trip, highlighting landmarks and sharing historical tidbits about Charleston’s rich maritime history. And of course, the highlight of the cruise is the breathtaking sunset over the water – the perfect way to cap off your day in this beautiful coastal city.
Day 3 – Folly Beach and Surrounding Area
After two days of exploring the city, it’s time to head to the beach! About 25 minutes from downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is the perfect place to spend a relaxing day by the ocean. You’ll find plenty of public parking and access points, a fishing pier, and a boardwalk.
Take a walk along the pier or catch some waves with a surf lesson from Shaka Surf School. There are also plenty of beachside restaurants and bars to grab a bite to eat or a refreshing drink.
If you get hungry, try Jack of Cups for delicious vegetarian-friendly food with vegan options.
Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens
If you’re interested in the history of Charleston, you can’t miss a visit to Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens. This iconic plantation offers a glimpse into the city’s past and its role in shaping the United States.
Founded in 1681, Boone Hall was built when Englishman Major John Boone came to Charleston and established a home on the banks of Wampacheone Creek. When you arrive, your tour begins on the front porch with a 30-minute presentation by a knowledgeable guide in historical dress. During the presentation, you will be introduced to the history of Boone Hall and its evolution through a variety of owners since the 17th century.
But that’s not all Boone Hall has to offer. The gardens are simply breathtaking, with acres of vibrant flowers and trees that make for a perfect stroll on a sunny day. And if you want a more unique experience, a carriage ride through the grounds is available, where you’ll learn even more about the history of the plantation and the city itself.
Additionally, a Gullah presentation is available at Boone Hall, which provides an insight into the rich culture and heritage of African Americans in the Lowcountry. You’ll learn about their history, language, food, and customs, and how they’ve influenced Charleston’s culture over the centuries.
If you’re interested in learning about Charleston’s rich history from a different perspective, the Lost Stories of Black Charleston Walking Tour is an excellent option. This tour takes you through the city’s streets to explore hidden spots that are often overlooked, while highlighting the contributions and experiences of African Americans throughout history. Along the way, knowledgeable guides share stories of influential figures and the impact they had on the city’s development.
Charleston is a beautiful city with plenty of history, culture, and charm to explore. Whether you’re traveling with kids or on your own, this 3-day itinerary will give you a taste of everything the city has to offer. Don’t forget to try some of the delicious food, take a stroll through the historic district, and enjoy the beautiful beaches and nature surrounding the city.