When I Wander Travel inspiration so you can wander too.
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The Ultimate 3 days Wandering Charleston – With Kids!

If this is your first time wandering with me, welcome.  And if you’re a frequent wanderer, welcome back! I’m Portia and I love to travel so it’s only fitting that we start thinking about where we’re going in 2021, 2022, 2023…

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Charleston was on my U.S. Bucketlist for a long time, we finally went in 2018 and again in 2019.  Probably would’ve returned in 2020 also because Charleston is just a really fun and beautiful place to visit.

When you think of quintessential Southern Charm and Southern Cooking, Charleston definitely comes to mind.  What’s even better is that Charleston also delivers both exceptionally well.

Should we make it back to Charleston in 2021, here’s my ultimate 3-day family-friendly Charleston Itinerary for places to stay, things to do, and good food to eat.  I travel with my children so we tend to do things a little differently.  My travel plans are usually mostly outdoors and moderate walking. We like to burn off energy and be a little wild and free.  The best way I can explain it is my 6-year-old lives off fries but won’t touch a grilled cheese sandwich and if you put a whole plate of mussels in front of her, she’ll devour it. If that makes sense to you, then you’ll like wandering with us. 

Charleston – Where to Stay

If money is not your deciding factor, these might be just the charming hotels to have it all at:

French Quarter Inn – Travelers’ Choice 2020 Best of the Best

For a pampering experience that starts when you walk in the door with a welcome champagne toast to a seven-pillow menu and evening turndown service.

Belmond Charleston Place – Travelers’ Choice

Luxurious accommodations include a European Spa, a rooftop pool, award-winning restaurants, and a private concierge level “Club” on the top 2 floors. With suites and family rooms available, you’ll be able to get a little extra space too.

The Dewberry Charleston – Travelers’ Choice

From the lowcountry botanical treatments in the Spa to the whimsical rooftop lounge, a modern twist on mid-century elegance awaits you.

Looking for a good value downtown stay that’s more price conscious? Try one of these.

Hyatt Place Charleston / Historic District – Travelers’ Choice

The Vendue Charleston’s Art Hotel – Travelers’ Choice

Homewood Suites by Hilton Charleston Historic District – Travelers’ Choice

Hyatt House Charleston – Historic District – Travelers’ Choice

The Jasmine House – Travelers’ Choice

Courtyard Charleston Historic District

Day 1 – Charleston Historic District

Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (2 hours)

One of my favorite things to do is visit Children’s museums in different cities. It gives them a moment to really enjoy something just for them and I have found an appreciation for the minor differences from city to city.  Each one manages to have similar displays with their own local culture infused into it.  For instance, in New Orleans and Savannah, the children’s museums added special attention to the local architecture in their exhibits.  Savannah’s Children’s museum is in an old train yard! In Florida, the grocery store version is 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.  One more reason why stopping at the Children’s museum first is a good move – the kids notice these local elements as you’re walking around later and point them out.  They never know 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.

Callie’s Hot Biscuit

You could walk over before or after a trip to the museum. I would definitely order ahead so you can just pick up and go. There’s a very small amount of space to wait and eat inside. You’re better off walking to one of the nearby outdoor green spaces and enjoying your biscuits there.

If walking is not your thing, this is the right city to grab a rideshare bike for only $8/hr or $20 for the day with Holy Spokes. You can also hop on DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) for free! 3 lines will take you from the Aquarium to the Citadel to Broad Street and Waterfront Park. Download the transit app to track the buses in real time.

If you want to concentrate your activities in this area, you’ll find these nearby:

Charleston Visitor Center – A good place to start with maps, brochures, tips, and clean restrooms if needed.

The Charleston Museum – Founded in 1773 as America’s First Museum aimed at preserving and interpreting the local natural history of Charleston and South Carolina Lowcountry.

Aiken-Rhett House Museum – (c. 1820) a well-preserved townhouse with its slave quarters virtually untouched since the 1850’s.

But, if you want to spend your afternoon walking through the park and Rainbow Row, head over to Joe Riley Waterfront Park.  You should be able to find parking nearby but if you walk from the Children’s Museum, it is about a 30 minute walk.  Take a moment to splash in the Pineapple Fountain if you’re blessed with a beautiful day.  You can stroll along the waterfronts edge, then head southeast towards Boyces Wharf and turn right to get to Rainbow Row.  It will take about 8 – 10 minutes.

Rainbow Row

  • 83-107 E Bay St

The longest cluster of Georgian Row Houses in the U.S. and most colorful iconic spot in Charleston, S.C.  Each home is privately owned but must maintain the pastel colors in order to preserve this historic section of Charleston.

  • 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 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.

For more information on each home and the myths of Rainbow Row, visit Debunking the Myths of Rainbow Row.

Day 2 – Magnolia Plantation Tour or Charleston Tea Garden

If you follow in my footsteps, you’ll have a crazy day. Because of the navigational issues that can come up depending on the time of year, I would not try to go to both the Charleston Tea Garden and Magnolia Plantation on the same day (again). It seems like it’s just a 35-minute drive but the roads are small and can get very busy. For that reason, I suggest to do one or the other, so, I’ll separate them into 2 options assuming you are staying in the historic district. You will need a tour or car to get to these locations.

***If traveling during the pandemic, pay close attention to local requirements and individual business guidelines to understand changes in normal procedures, temporary/permanent closings ,sanitization efforts, and public behavior safety requirements. ***

Option 1:

Magnolia Plantation

The funniest reviews to me say there was nothing to see or that a historic place looked old.  All I can say to that is this: If you are having trouble seeing natural beauty, you might be expecting too much from it.  I loved the historic character and unrefined splendor in the natural look of most of the gardens.  A swamp garden is exactly what it sounds like and it is exciting for me (a Chicago city girl) to see such things.  I could look at it and say it wasn’t very impressive, but I’d have to ask myself what I was expecting.  I expected historic structures, southern details from a bygone era, a glimpse of what the world might have looked like to someone like Scarlet O’Hara (Gone With the Wind), and a chill to go through me as I imagined how hard the life of the slaves must’ve been and the despair they might’ve felt. 

So, why do I go to plantations whenever I am near one? My reasons might be different than most people’s.  I recently read a blog post by someone that described a plantation I have been to several times.  She imagined the slave children playing under the oak tree and it made me cringe as I wondered what slave narratives had she read that gave her the impression the children had normal fun lives? The truth about most plantations is that there is usually a beautiful home that was once owned by someone important.  Typically, that person shaped the laws of that town, sometimes even the laws of the state and our country.  Those homes represent the wealth made while the country grew and how that wealth was accumulated.  Those pillars and stones were often made right on site by the slaves. Even the imported natural resources had to be cut, polished, and fabricated by someone, most likely a slave.

While you might be admiring the opulence in the detailed scrollwork, I’m thinking about the crafters and artisans that will never receive credit for their handiwork and their daily struggle to give what they could not have.  I’m walking through doors they could not, even though they crafted them.  Can you even imagine toiling over something that someone thinks is so precious it will impress everyone else while they also tell you that you are not good enough, smart enough, and worthy enough to ever have such things?  That’s what not paying someone for their contribution to your wealth is, especially when you make the laws that keep them from attaining it themselves.

When you walk through a plantation or antebellum homes, you are walking through living history.  The people who lived there are forever a part of its core, no matter which side of wealth they were on.  They left an imprint on all our lives today and it continues to stand for us to view it, understand it, and learn from it.  Can we ever really appreciate it if we have never truly witnessed it and thought of them? 

Middleton Place – “Middleton Place National Historic Landmark is home to America’s oldest and most important landscaped gardens. Began in 1741, the historic site today encompasses 110 acres including the Gardens, House Museum, Stableyards, and Eliza’s House. Together they tell the inclusive history of all who lived, worked, and died here. The stories of the Middleton family including two Founding Fathers and generations of enslaved people are interwoven throughout the property. Visitors have opportunities to experience those stories with both guided or self-guided tours.” ~ Overview courtesy of TripAdvisor.

Drayton Hall – Built in 1738, it is the oldest unrestored plantation still open to the public in the U.S.

The Taco Spot – This is taco heaven with so many good ones to choose from like Memphis Hot Chicken, Greek, Southern Picnic (crispy fried chicken, Texas potato salad relish, and fried onion strips), and even a vegetarian one.

Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site – Historic village worth spending a few hours walking or biking through.

Ms. Rose’s Fine Food – vegetarian friendly good food with signature cocktails.

Option 2:

Charleston Tea Garden – 127 acres of Camellia Sinensis tea plants, a working Tea Factory and a charming Gift Shoppe.

Angel Oak Park.

Kiawah Beachwalker Park – Beach with restrooms, small boardwalk, and snack bar.

McLeod Plantation Historic Site – built in 1851, a 37-acre Gullah/Geechee heritage site that has been carefully preserved in recognition of its cultural and historical significance

Boxcar Betty’s – really tasty, quick bites.

tea garden factory

Day 3 – Historic Charleston Walking Tour & Folly Beach

Typically, it is my preference not to do a beach day on the last day if I want to swim and get sandy all day.  I prefer to be able to go back to the hotel and rinse off after a full beach day.  But I will plan a “Beach drop-in” sometimes, if I just really want to see it.  Also, the hidden passages and alleys of Charleston was the most important thing that I needed to see before I left.
Short and Easy Hidden Passages and Alleys Tour on the way to the Battery.  Along the way look out for different statues, lighting, gates, architectural elements, and gardens.

1. Starting at Hazel Parker Playground (there’s a parking lot nearby).
2. Stoll’s Alley, named after blacksmith Justinus Stoll, who built a home along this alley in 1745.
3. Head to Price’s Alley.
4. Take King St. to Murray Blvd.
5. Continue on Murray to the Battery.
(Return down E. bay St to parking.)

***If traveling during the pandemic, pay close attention to local requirements and individual business guidelines to understand changes in normal procedures, temporary/permanent closings ,sanitization efforts, and public behavior safety requirements. ***

The Battery & White Point Gardens

Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park – right under the entry to Mt. Pleasant, they’ve stowed away the cutest little playground and walking/fishing pier. 

Folly Beach – Plenty of public beach parking and beach access points.  Fishing pier and boardwalk. And if you get hungry, try Jack of Cups for vegetarian friendly food with vegan options.

Happy Wandering in Charleston, South Carolina!

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