Like many families, we often head to Florida for vacation. The long, monotonous drive can be hard to take, however, especially with small children. During one trip south, we decided to break up the journey with a stop in Charleston, South Carolina, about eight hours south of Tidewater. While it’s only a short drive east of I-95, this historic, picturesque city will take you back centuries to a time when the South was not just a place, but a state of mind.
We took advantage of a package deal, which featured hotel accommodations at Hampton Inn, breakfast, a carriage ride, and a welcome gift. We like the Hampton Inn chain, and this particular one sits conveniently across the street from the visitor’s center in the heart of the historic district. You can save a little money by staying in the suburbs, but we liked being in the city center where everything is within walking distance.
Explore Charleston’s City Market
Plus Boutiques and Galleries on King Street
Strolling along the streets of Charleston is the best way to get to know the city. Start by taking a walk along King Street, the main shopping street. Very European in style and ambience, King Street offers an assortment of shops, from fine clothing boutiques to cozy art galleries.
If your children get tired of walking, Charleston offers excellent public transportation. DASH, a shuttle that services downtown, is free for visitors and residents.
At the intersection of King Street and Market Street, you’ll find the City Market, featuring everything from cool boutiques to jewelry. At each end of the market, you’ll find local women weaving baskets made of grass. As you watch their skillful fingers fly, intricate patterns will appear before your eyes.
More shops, along with restaurants and cafes, surround the market area. We found a sidewalk cafe where we enjoyed people watching, coffee for Peter and me, and ice cream for the kids.
A couple blocks away is The Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon built in 1767. Here you can take a self-guided tour and visit the dungeon where real-live pirates were once imprisoned.
A carriage ride was included in our hotel package. After a short wait, we climbed aboard a carriage pulled by two mules named Molly and Sarah. Our guide passed around warm plaid blankets, since the December air was a bit nippy, and we settled in for an enjoyable and educational tour of the city.
Since carriage rides are so popular in Charleston, each tour is sent to a different part of the historic area. This keeps the streets from getting too congested. Our territory included the College of Charleston, one of the oldest educational institutions in the country. It’s a beautiful campus with tree-shaded avenues, brick sidewalks, and neo-classical architecture.
Charleston’s architecture is what makes this city special. Unique 19th-century houses, many with second story porches, lend a charming, southern flavor. We learned from our guide that residents of the historic district must have the color of their house paint approved by the historic commission before painting. Currently, there are about 74 approved colors, mostly pastel shades.
While Peter and I enjoyed the carriage ride, our boys were a bit restless. They did enjoy hearing some of the earthquake stories our guide shared and seeing cracks in some of the homes caused by earthquakes. Special bolts, which protrude from the exterior of the homes, are used to minimize damage from quakes.
Patriot’s Point is a Must-See
Charles Towne Landing Combines History & Zoology
A government shutdown prevented us from seeing Fort Sumter, a historical site known as the place where the Civil War began. Accessible only by boat, this national monument offers a Civil War museum, a self-guided tour, and lots of guns and cannons. Tour boats operate daily to and from the island.
Another seaside attraction is called Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum. There you can tour four ships, including the aircraft carrier Yorktown and a submarine. Military buffs will also find a Medal of Honor Museum, memorials, and maritime exhibits. One interesting option for youth groups that visit Charleston is to camp overnight on the Yorktown.
A short drive from downtown Charleston is another historic site you should visit: Charles Towne Landing. This park is the site of the first permanent English settlement in South Carolina. A full-scale replica of the 17th-century trading vessel Adventure invites visitors aboard to learn the important role the sea played in the settlers’ lives. My family really enjoyed the Animal Forest, a 20-acre natural habitat zoo, where native North American species roam freely while visitors stay on protected walkways.
Charleston offers more than history to its visitors. I’m told the beaches along the Atlantic are some of the East Coast’s finest. Nearby plantations and gardens also provide family-friendly entertainment. I can’t wait to take my family back to Charleston and enjoy more of what this lovely city has to offer!
For more information, visit www.charlestoncvb.com.