Looking for a Charleston travel guide? Does your family love hitting the highway and heading south to this seaside town in South Carolina?
We’ve covered lots of different things to do and see in Charleston and you can find them all here in this Charleston Travel Guide. Everything from an itinerary for a long weekend without kids to a list of things to do that won’t break the bank. We’ve even included some things we plan to cover in the coming months.
Looking for places to stay? See these Charleston, SC Vacation Rentals!
Why The Nickname The Holy City?
Just a few hours on I-26 from the Upstate and you’ll be in Charleston, SC. Some of the earliest settlers to what was then referred to as Charles Towne were a mixture of Protestant denominations, Judaism, and Catholic. The area was known for its tolerance of all religions.
The Holy City is also home to one of the oldest congregations in the south. The Circular Congregational Church is located in the same exact space as it was all those years ago. It’s hard to go anywhere in the historic district without having a church or some part of it in your sight. That made committing what was viewed as a sin difficult, back in the day.
Thus was birthed “Duelers Alley,” now known as Philidelphia Alley. This alleyway gave gentlemen the opportunity to settle their grievances with each other while being obscured from the view of any church.
This city is full of quirky historical stories, beaches, and family-friendly fun. The nice thing about Charleston is there is plenty to see and do, without going broke.
We broke this guide down into the popular areas in and around Charleston, SC. Use the links below to jump to the sections you are interested in visiting.
This article includes:
Charleston, SC Area: Things to Do, Places to Eat and Where to Stay
Mount Pleasant Area: Things to Do, Places to Eat and Where to Stay
The Isle Of Palms
Kidding Around has a lot of content covering this gem of a city, and we’ve barely scratched the surface! I’ve even included some bucket list items at the bottom of each section.
What Is There to Do in Charleston, SC
A Couples Getaway Weekend
Our editor Bethany and her Husband Richard escaped away for a much deserved kid-free weekend to Charleston. She has tips for where to stay, where to eat, and things that would be better suited to do without the kids.
Bethany has provided a detailed itinerary for a 2 to 3 day weekend. There are a lot of great tips included to help you create your itinerary too!
A Visit To The Old Exchange
If the walls of The Old Exchange in Charleston could talk, they’d have stories that would captivate guests for days. These walls have seen just about every good, bad, and ugly part of the city’s history. From Slaves being sold fresh off the ships to pirates locked in the dungeon, and even the state’s constitution drawn up, it all happened here.
It’s all here to learn about, and a local mom offered up her take on a visit to The Old Exchange to share with our readers.
The African History of Charleston
The Port of Charleston was the number one entry port for people who were brought here for free labor when our country was in its infancy. Those people left their marks all over the city, some quite literally.
I spent a weekend in February showing my son the city, and talking to him about the handprints we found in the bricks that built the city.
A Day at The South Carolina Aquarium
Right in the heart of downtown sits the state’s largest aquarium. You can come and go from the aquarium as you please with the price of admission, which allows you to enjoy lunch at one of the many options downtown. You could bring a picnic and enjoy it on the river just to the left of the aquarium at the Irish memorial.
Charles Towne Landing
This South Carolina State Park is unique in its offerings to visitors! You can stroll through 80 acres of beautifully manicured gardens, board a 17th-century ship, and walk through a zoo that houses animals the settlers would’ve encountered when they arrived.
Charles Towne Landing is a must-see while you’re visiting Charleston! Especially if you have a State Park Passport because you’ll get in for free.
The North Charleston Fire Museum
We’ve heard from several readers that this is a must-see for families with children who love first responder careers! With a low admission of cost of $6 for adults (Children 12 and under get in free), it should be on everyone’s bucket list.
I would love to learn more about Gullah culture. Those sweetwater baskets and roses that are so popular with tourists originated from the Gullah people. The Gullah/Geechee Nation even has a Queen, who has spoken before the United Nations.
I’m not sure if it’s even possible, but I would love to kayak out to this abandoned civil war fort to get a closer look (from the water). It was once a National Park but has changed hands so many times the people who currently own it might not even be aware.
Children’s Museum of The Lowcountry
Similar to our Children’s Museum in Greenville, only with a more coastal theme for exhibits. There is an interactive pirate exhibit, a water play area, a children’s garden, and more.
Boneyard Beach on Bulls Island
This is a completely unique and otherworldly experience that should not be missed. You’ll hike the island, and see some gators, over to Boneyard Beach, a driftwood forest right on the water. It is amazing.
Interesting Charleston Experiences
Learn something new! Try these unique Charleston experiences on your next trip.
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Historic Women of Charleston Guided Walking Tour: You’ll learn all about Charleston’s history and the prominent women in it, as you visit local landmarks with a knowledgeable guide.
Private Historic Carriage Tour: This private tour brings your group of up to 4 people on a horse-drawn carriage ride through Charleston, SC, and over 300 years of history.
Downtown Charleston Walking Food Tour: Discover Charleston’s history through food.
Charleston Dining Guide
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee
I love coffee. I love it, even more, when it comes from a place that is locally owned and works towards inclusivity the way Bitty & Beau’s does. They go out of their way to hire extraordinary people, and one day, I hope we are lucky enough to have a location here.
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit – several area locations
Freshly made biscuit sandwiches piled high are the perfect thing to eat while you stroll the city market in the historic district of Charleston. Don’t sleep on their lemonade, either. It’s delicious and the perfect thing to sip while you shop.
Caviar & Bananas
This specialty market and cafe is one of my favorite places to grab a quick brunch in Charleston.
Reader Dining Recommendations
Where To Stay In Charleston
It’s usually easy to get a reasonable rate, due to the number of hotels in the area. After a bad night at a hotel in North Charleston that was within smelling distance of a paper mill, I usually avoid staying in that area of town.
Kidding Around earns when you book through these links through an affiliate relationship with STAY22.
Use this map to find great places to stay in Charleston, SC.
On Regular trips to The Medical University of South Carolina with my son, we like to explore new things in Charleston and the Surrounding areas. Mount Pleasant is just over the Ravenel Bridge from downtown Charleston and has a wonderful array of things to do.
Charleston Water Taxi
The Water Taxi is a great way to see the waterfront from a different perspective. The pontoon-style boat picks passengers up at several different locations. Have your camera ready, the taxi ride will provide you with some great photo opportunities of the Ravenel Bridge and The USS Yorktown. You can read more about The Charleston Water Taxi in the Having Fun On A Budget piece below.
One of the places we stop at nearly every time we are in the area, Shem Creek has something for everyone. You can fish, paddle, people watch, dine, and more. You can read more about Shem Creek in the Having Fun On A Budget piece below.
Having Fun On A Budget
I’ve detailed some of our favorite, low-cost things to do in the Mount Pleasant area for readers. Below you’ll find the second point of view on some of the locations from a local mom.
Shem Creek Historical Tour
My love for Shem Creek, fishing, and the history of the area makes this one of the top items on my bucket list. The tour has great reviews on every tourism platform, and starting at just $25 per person; it’s affordable.
Mount Pleasant Dining Guide
Swig & Swine – several area locations
I recently joked that they call Charleston the “Holy City” because eating Pitmaster Anthony DiBernardo’s BBQ is a religious experience. It’s really that good. He even has a fan base all the way up here in the Upstate! If you go, my favorite is any of the meats paired with the potato salad.
The Wreck Of The Richard and Charlene
This cash-only seafood lovers paradise should be at the top of your list if your whole family loves seafood. Except for the side dishes, there’s not a single non-seafood option. I dare say, the only way to eat fresher seafood is to sit on the boat and eat it as it comes out of the ocean.
This is just one of the locations used on the Netflix show “Outer Banks”. If you want to see more, you can go around town visiting spots from the show.
Vickery’s Bar & Grill
This is one of the excellent dining options located on Shem Creek. This is a great place to enjoy lunch on the outdoor deck and watch the shrimp boats come and go.
Reader Dining Recommendations
Where To Stay In Mount Pleasant
There is no shortage of accommodations in the Charleston area, but when we stay overnight I usually prefer to stay in Mount Pleasant.
Through an affiliate relationship with STAY22, Kidding Around earns when you book through these links.
Tru by Hilton
This brand has quickly become one of my favorites. The common areas are spacious and welcoming, the rooms are modern, and the breakfast buffet is impressive. The staff is incredible, and they make you feel like family. On our most recent stay, the front desk clerk took out the colossal Jenga game and played with my children. It’s one of the most family-friendly hotel brands I’ve stayed with, outside of the Disney resort.
I’ve not stayed there post-COVID, so I’m not sure a current stay would be the same.
Home2 Suites by Hilton
The Home2 Suites brand is an extended-stay style hotel. That doesn’t mean you have to stay longer than a single night, but it does equate to some nice extras when you’re traveling with children. The rooms have real fridge/freezer combos, a microwave, stove, dishwasher, and all the cookware you’d need to prepare a meal. Even when you’re just staying a single night, they get utilized. Our particular room had two queen size beds and a sleeper sofa that was separated by a room divider curtain. Breakfast buffets post-COVID here consisted of a simple grab-and-go meal to be heated up in-room. This hotel is super dog friendly, with plenty of green spaces to go for walks surrounding the hotel.
What Is There to Do on Sullivan’s Island
Originally built in 1776 from sand and logs, this fort has seen a fair share of things. Visitors to the national park that encompasses Fort Moultrie can see what it looked like through all the major points in history.
Sullivan’s Island Beach
My personal favorite, the beach here always seems empty and the parking is readily available and free.
Edgar Allen Poe
On my first trip to the island, I noticed something peculiar. Not only was there a tavern named for the famed writer, but there were also streets and a library named for him and his books. I was surprised to learn that he spent time stationed at Fort Moultrie. I would love to do more research on his time there and do a self-led tour!
Gather up 11 of your friends and rent this castle for a month to enjoy all the island has to offer! This history-rich rental comes with bicycles and kayaks to use while on the island.
Sullivan’s Island Nature Trail
Just a little over a mile roundtrip, this trail will lead you to a secluded beach.
Sullivan’s Island Dining Guide
Mex 1 Coastal Cantina
I love grabbing a meal here while on the island because the menu is kid-friendly, and it’s reasonably priced. You can dine out on the patio and breath in the fresh ocean air while you dine.
Republic Ice Cream – several area locations
Homestyle ice cream served up in waffle cones made on-site as well.
Sullivan’s Island Co-Op
This little cafe and market is the perfect place to grab snacks and lunch for an afternoon on the beach. If you are a fan of Frose, a stop here is mandatory. You can even get that Frose to-go.
Reader Dining Recommendations
What Is There to Do on Folly Island
Here’s our full Guide to Visiting Folly Beach with beach access points and dining recommendations.
Folly Beach is one of the more popular beaches in the area. It has everything a family looks for in a beach, including lifeguards during the summer months.
Learn To Surf
Isla Surf School offers surfing lessons that are reasonably priced. I would love to do this one day just to say I did. I know I won’t be hanging 10 down a Hawaiian pipeline anytime soon, it would just be fun to try.
Hunting For Fossils
Charleston Fossil Adventures provides paleontologist led tours. Shark teeth have always eluded us on the beach, and I feel like this would definitely help us in our quest to locate them.
Folly Island Dining Guide
Located on the Folly Beach pier, you don’t have to walk far to enjoy a meal. The outdoor dining area gives you a magnificent view of the ocean.
Reader Dining Recommendations
What Is There to Do on Johns Island
The Charleston Aqua Park at Trophy Lake
Just a short drive from downtown Charleston on John’s Island sits Trophy Lakes. There are several water sports activities that your family can enjoy while visiting the lake, including disc golf.
Charleston Aqua Park, the newest addition to the lake activities, is what drew us to the lake that day.
The Angel Oak
Until you’ve seen this incredible up-close and in-person, you can’t appreciate the majesty of this tree. I’d seen photos countless times and was still let in awe when I stood in front of it. If the tree were growing up from the middle of most houses, it would extend past the walls. You just need to see it yourself, and luckily it’s free to visit.
While it is free to visit, there are restrictions and times when it is accessible. For the most up to date information, visit the Angel Oak section on the Charleston Government webpage.
Eden Wind Farm
The entire family can go horseback riding at this local farm.
Johns Island Dining Guide
We haven’t gotten a chance to explore Johns Island as much as we’d like. Here’s a listing of all the dining options on James Island.
What Is There to Do on Kiawah Island
This popular South Carolina beach was recently named to the “Top Ten Beaches” list for the US, by Dr. Beach. One trip to the beach here and you will see why.
The beach has showers, changing rooms, lifeguards, dog washing stations, and more.
Kayaking The Kiawah River
I’m excited and anxious to try my hand at kayaking in the presence of Lowcountry wildlife. I have a respectful fear and interest in the animals that lurk in brackish water.
Alligators. I mean alligators!
Mingo Point Oyster Roast & BBQ
Every Monday during the summer months, the Kiawah Island Golf Resort hosts this family-friendly event. It includes live music and you get to enjoy seafood, BBQ, and other southern food while enjoying live music, next to the Kiawah River.
Kiawah Island Dining Guide
We haven’t gotten a chance to explore the island as much as we’d like. Here’s a listing of all the dining options on Kiawah Island.
What Is There to Do on The Isle Of Palms
Spending the day on The Isle of Palms
A local mom’s account of making a day trip to the Isle of Palms.
The hope of kayaking with dolphins on this tour is enough for me to hand over whatever amount of money they ask! Luckily the cost starts at $48 per person, so you can hold onto the kid’s college fund.
Isle Of Palms Dining Guide
We haven’t gotten a chance to explore the island as much as we’d like. Here’s a listing of all the dining options on the Isle of Palms.
What Is There to Do on James Island
We haven’t gotten a chance to explore James Island as much as we’d like. Here’s a listing of activities on James Island.
Camping On James Island
This was the most mentioned by readers when we asked them on social media about James Island! I’m actually going to look into booking a campsite there as soon as possible!
Splash Island Waterpark at James Island County Park
A manageable-sized water park that is maintained by the parks department.
James Island Dining Guide
Low Tide Brewing
A great place to grab a craft beer and relax.
I’m sure there’s more that we missed! After you check out all we have covered if we missed something be sure to tell us in the comments!