8 Ways to Experience the History of the South in Charleston, South Carolina

Our friends at KidTripster are back on the Tripbound blog to share all you need to know about exploring the culture and history of this picture-perfect destination with your family.

Why go?

Besides being one of the USA’s most beautiful cities, Charleston is an ideal destination for exploring American history dating back to 1670. It’s also played an important part in American military history – both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars – and still plays a role today. Much of the city’s history can be seen for free. And there’s certainly no charge for strolling Charleston’s picturesque and historic downtown.

Here’s my list of the top family-friendly, historic sites in Charleston, South Carolina.

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Photo courtesy: Palmetto Carriage

1. Visit Historic Forts

Fort Moultrie National Monument is situated along the beach on Sullivan’s Island. Here, your family can learn about its role from the Revolutionary War through World War II. You can catch a daily guided tour at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., or simply take a self-guided tour.

Fort Moultrie cost: Youth (15 and under) – Free; Adult – $3; Family (Up to four adults) – $5.

Fort Sumter National Monument is where the first shots of the Civil War rang out. It’s free to visit, but you’ll have to buy tickets from an authorized concession-operated ferry, as the fort is only accessible by boat as part of a 2-1/2-hour tour. Kids can complete the scavenger hunt and discover hidden mysteries as part of the Junior Ranger program.

Boat cost: Youth (under 3) – Free; Youth – $14; Adult – $22. Make sure to book online in advance.

2. Watch Tomorrow’s Soldiers

The Citadel (171 Moultrie St.) is the military college of South Carolina. Free dress parades are held on most Friday afternoons. Kids will love to watch the cadets marching with swords and rifles to the sounds of drums, bagpipes, and a marching band. Cannons are fired at the end. Check the schedule here; keep in mind, there are no parades during school breaks or during the summer.

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Photo courtesy: The Citadel

3. Dive Deep Into Naval History

Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum (40 Patriots Point Rd., Mt Pleasant) offers the mac daddy of military tours in Charleston. The centerpiece of this naval museum complex is the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier. 

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Kids and adults can explore all over the ship from the kitchen to the bunk rooms to the top flight deck where there are lots of planes and helicopters.  See the submarine and destroyer, as well as the Medal of Honor Museum and the Vietnam Experience.

Online ticket cost: Youth (under 6) – Free; Youth (6-11) – $16; Adult – $24.

The H.L. Hunley (1250 Supply St.) is a Civil War submarine that’s currently being restored in a lab. You can visit on Saturdays and Sundays; the rest of the week, scientists continue to preserve the world’s first combat submarine. After taking the guided tour, you’ll appreciate the bravery that it must have taken to work on a sub in the 1800s.

Online ticket cost: Youth (Under 5) – Free; Youth (6-17) – $8; Adult – $16, plus service charge. Walk-up tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

4. Take a Carriage Ride

If you’re only going to do one touristy thing while in Charleston, make it a carriage tour. There are several companies that operate tours; all do an excellent job and employ incredibly knowledgable guides. Most depart near Charleston’s Historic City Market. There are four routes around historic downtown, and they’re chosen at random. Tours typically last about an hour. 

Cost: Youth – starts around $16 ; Adult – starts around $26.

KidTripster Tip: While you’re near Charleston’s Historic City Market, stop in for an ice cream cone at Kilwins (59 S. Market St.). Just follow the scent of waffle cones! And be sure to try some pecan pralines. Just ask for a sample.

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Photo courtesy: Visit Charleston

5. Eat Inside a Historic Home

Hominy Grill (207 Rutledge Ave.) doesn’t have a kids’ menu, but you’ll be sure to find lots of things that you and your kids will love. The restaurant is located in a historic Charleston house and is open for breakfast, lunch, and brunch. 

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Photo courtesy: Hominy Grill

Your kids will love the homemade banana bread and pancakes. And be sure to try James Beard Foundation’s award-winning chef Robert Stehling’s Charleston Nasty Biscuit with fried chicken, cheese, and gravy or the shrimp and grits. Unbuckle your pants. You’re going to need a little extra room! 

KidTripster Tip: This restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so try to come during off-peak hours.

6. Go Back in Time

Across the Ashley River Bridge in an area of Charleston called West Ashley, you’ll find the site of the first permanent European settlement in South Carolina. Dating back to 1670, Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site (1500 Old Towne Rd.) has a museum, self-guided history trail, and a 17th-century replica ship called the Adventure that you can tour. 

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Photo courtesy: Charles Towne Landing

There’s also the Animal Forest, which is home to animals that lived in this area back in 1670, like bison, black bear, puma, elk, and others. On the weekends, there are living history presentations and cannon firings. Charles Towne Landing also has 80 acres of gardens and seven miles of trails. You can rent bikes to explore the park.

Admission cost: Youth (5 and under) – Free; Youth (6-15) – $6.50; Adult – $10. Bike rental: $5/person/hour or $15/person/day.

7. See an Ancient Tree

This is a must-do in Charleston. Drive to John’s Island to see the Angel Oak. This Live Oak tree is thought to be at least 400 years old, but some contend it’s 1,500 years old! 

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Its size and beauty have to be experienced. From tip to tip, its longest branch is around 187 feet in length. It’s a great place for photos – but no climbing!

KidTripster Tip: After visiting the Angel Oak, head to Bohemian Bullon James Island. You have to see its huge courtyard and awesome pallet fence. Sit outside, and the kids can play corn hole or bocce ball. In cooler weather, you can enjoy the fire pit. The burgers here are amazing. 

8. Tour a Plantation

Plantations, and yes slavery, were a way of life in the pre-Civil War South. There are four plantations that you can visit in the Charleston area to learn about the history – both good and bad.

Boone Hall Plantation (1235 Long Point Rd.) in Mt. Pleasant is the oldest operating plantation in the area. Get your cameras ready; its Avenue of Oaks is Instagram-worthy. The house tour can be hard for wiggly kids, but the nine original slave quarters with the self-guided Black History in America exhibit are not to be missed. 

Cost: Youth (5 and under) – Free; Youth (6-12) – $12; Adult – $24. b

The other three plantations in the area are all located along the same road in West Ashley. Magnolia Plantation (3550 Ashley River Rd.) is a great place to walk and explore nature. There’s an on-site zoo, multiple gardens, rice field boat tour, and plantation train tour that leads you through the marsh, lakes, and forests on the property.

Cost: Youth (5 and under) – Free; Youth (6-12) – $10; Adult – $20. 

Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Rd.) is very different from all of the other plantations. It’s the oldest plantation home in America. The main feature here is the empty house and its gorgeous architecture. It’s my favorite, though admittedly, it’s not for everyone.

Cost: Youth (7 and under) – Free; Youth (8-14) – $25; Adult – $32.

Probably the most popular plantation is Middleton Place (4300 Ashley River Rd.). The house here isn’t as old as Drayton Hall, but it’s more authentic than the other two plantations. It has formal landscaped gardens, and the Plantation Stableyards feature costumed interpreters, describing life in the 1800s.

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Photo courtesy: Middleton Place

Cost: Youth (5 and under) – Free; Youth (6-13) – $10; Youth (14+ with ID) – $15; Adult – $29.

Where to Stay?

history of the south in charleston south carolina

Ready to get away to the oldest city in The Palmetto State? But, maybe you’re looking for an affordable, yet spacious place to serve as your home away from home during your vacation.

If so, look no further than Wild Dunes on the pristine Isle of Palms Beach. It’s just a 30-minute drive to and from Charleston, and features spacious one-, two-, and three-bedroom suite options!

That way, you can enjoy a beachy, resort-style vacation and a city-exploring, cultural trip all in one.

Stephanie Hughes Pratt is a former television reporter and mom to two kids, living outside Charleston, South Carolina. For more family travel tips for Charleston and beyond, head over to our friends at KidTripster.

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