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Charleston family vacation guide

August 10, 2016
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What’s the best way to end your summer?  With a Charleston family vacation, of course!

When we realized that our last family vacation was nearly five years ago, we knew it was high time to plan a getaway with our two daughters, their husbands, and our granddaughters, ages 3 and 1.

And when a good friend offered to let us stay in her beautiful home in Charleston, South Carolina, that sealed the deal–we knew this would be the perfect time and place for a fun family escape.

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

Charleston was recently voted the #1 city in the world and the U.S. in Travel and Leisure’s 2016 World’s Best Awards, and it’s not hard to see why.  There’s something so special and charming about this city, and you see it everywhere.

This is my third trip to Charleston, and I’m already planning our next visit!  I just love the tropical feel of the surroundings. It’s the perfect spot to unwind, take in the local cuisine, architecture and history, and explore the local beaches.

Here’s a glimpse into our Charleston family vacation, with a few of my best tips for a fun and memorable trip.

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

What to Pack

Due to the humid, sub-tropical climate, my #1 tip for packing for a summer trip to Charleston is take clothes made from breathable, lightweight fabrics.  Leave all of your polyester clothing at home, no matter how cute it is!

Cool cotton or rayon dresses in colorful prints are perfect for Charleston (think Lilly Pulitzer), as are dressy shorts and lightweight tops.

Make sure to take along a light sweater for air-conditioned places, as well as comfortable sandals for exploring downtown Charleston and flip-flops for the beach. (By the way, I took a pair of Havaianas I’ve had for 9 years, and they’re still going strong!)

For more tips on what to pack for a trip to Charleston, check out these resources:

The Vacation Essentials guide from Nordstrom

What to pack for your summer vacation

12 Summer wardrobe essentials

Summer travel must-haves for men

Which Beaches to Visit

Since we’re beach lovers, our trip was highlighted by several trips to the local beaches, including Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, and Sullivan’s Island.

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

Folly Beach


While Folly beach was gorgeous, with its long pier and fine sand, Isle of Palms was our favorite beach for daytime visits because it’s family-friendly, easy to get to, and has plenty of parking, restrooms, and places to eat.  Best of all, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. (And the water is amazingly warm!)

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

Isle of Palms

We enjoyed walking along the water’s edge, picking up seashells and discovering the occasional starfish, sand dollar, and crab along the way.  The little ones loved it!

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

Every time we visited the beach during the day we rented chairs and umbrellas, which I highly recommend. Not only does renting chairs save your spot on the beach, it keeps you up off the ground, so you don’t go home with sand in every nook and cranny!  We also took along a portable beach shade for the girls to play under.

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

Sullivan’s Island was our favorite beach for evening strolls as the sun was setting.  With its beautiful lighthouse and amazing vistas, it was the perfect place to end the day.

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

Sullivan’s Island

Whenever I get stressed out, all I need to do is look at this photo and remember how relaxing it was to walk along this gorgeous beach at twilight with the people I love!

Where to Eat

Charleston Family Vacation GuideA trip to Charleston isn’t complete without sampling the local cuisine, and sample we did!  Sometimes it seemed like all we did was eat–but let me tell you, we enjoyed every bite.

South Carolina low-country food is highlighted by fresh seafood such as crab, shrimp, sea bass, and catfish.  Coming from the Rocky Mountains, where fresh seafood is hard to come by, I was one happy crab-cake-loving girl!  We also enjoyed typical southern fare–mac & cheese, grits, chicken fried steak, pulled pork, fried chicken, bbq, and one of my favorites–cornbread!

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

A must: cornbread at Poogan’s Smokehouse

A few of our favorite spots to eat (by the way, all of these restaurants are family-friendly, although if you have little ones, I’d recommend Husk for lunchtime only)

  1. Poogan’s Smoke House on East Bay for awesome mac & cheese, grits, and pork belly (can’t believe I ate pork belly, but it was amazing!)–they take reservations.
  2. Husk on Queen Street for farm-to-table homemade fare (I had their amazing fried chicken, but the menu varies daily). They also take reservations.
  3. Rita’s Seaside Grille at Folly Beach for amazing grits (my mouth just started watering as I typed this!), crab cakes, shrimp, pulled pork–all the good stuff!
  4. Page’s Okra Grill in Mt. Pleasant for shrimp and grits, chicken fried steak and fried okra.
  5. Vickery’s on Shem’s Creek for fresh seafood (walk the boardwalk after dinner and you might even see pelicans and dolphins!).  They take reservations.
  6. Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit on King Street for melt-in-your-mouth homemade biscuits (note–Callie’s doesn’t offer much seating, so this works best for a grab-and-go breakfast).
  7. Five Loaves downtown and Mt. Pleasant for great salads, sandwiches, and soups.
  8. Blondie’s Bagels on Daniel Island for delicious morning bagels and coffee.

Despite indulging at every one of our meals, we didn’t forgo dessert!  Due to the warm weather, ice cream was our treat of choice, and we enjoyed it almost every evening.

In addition to the Ben & Jerry’s on Isle of Palms, we loved BeardCat’s on Sullivan’s Island and Jenis on King Street in downtown Charleston, where I sampled their lavender ice cream and lemon & blueberries buttermilk frozen yogurt. Oh, my!

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

We also stopped daily at the Tropical Smoothie Café on Daniel Island.  My favorite? Their Mocha Madness, with chocolate, coffee, cappuccino, and yogurt.  Amazing!

What to See & Do

Known for its rich history and well-preserved architecture, Charleston is a feast for the eyes, with one stunning color after another. A few of my favorites:

Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide

Can you tell I’m in love with all the gorgeous doors and window boxes?  It’s art in itself!

Charleston Family Vacation Guide

Beautiful magnolia blossoms, as big as cantaloupe, could still be seen on some of the trees.

Charleston Family Vacation GuideThe bright pink and red crepe myrtle trees were blooming in full force while we were there.

We had so much fun discovering these colorful homes, called “Rainbow Row,” on East Bay Street:

Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide
Charleston Family Vacation Guide

King Street, in downtown Charleston, boasts wonderful shops, galleries, and restaurants.  We especially enjoyed walking up and down the city streets in the evening when it was a bit cooler outside. (Stopping for ice cream at Jenis, of course!)

What to do in Charleston, SC

King Street

What to do in Charleston, SC

Mitchell Hill Gallery on King

We also loved walking on the boardwalk along Shem’s Creek in the evening. The views were amazing!

What to do in Charleston, SCAbove, you can see the top of the beautiful Arthur Ravenel Bridge in the background.

What to do in Charleston, SC

Early one morning we enjoyed a beautiful walk along the trails on Daniel Island and met a few feathered friends.

What to do in Charleston, SCIf you have any fishing enthusiasts in your group, you might want to consider a private fishing expedition during your time in Charleston.  The guys chartered a boat and spent an entire day out on the ocean and local waterways.  They came home tired but with lots of great fish tales!

• • •

As you can see, we loved experiencing the gracious lifestyle and culture of this beautiful southern city.

I hope this post gave you a little taste of Charleston’s unique charm.  Most of all, I hope you have the chance to enjoy your own Charleston family vacation soon!

xo Jane

P.S.  Even if you aren’t planning a trip to Charleston, you’ll love reading “The Invention of Wings,” by Sue Monk Kidd, which is set in Charleston.  It’s an amazing book that you won’t want to end!

What to do in Charleston, SC

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  • Mary Milstead
    August 12, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    I feel like I’ve taken an armchair vacation to South Carolina! Thank you so much for your blog post about Charleston! Amazing and so informative!

    • Jane
      August 12, 2016 at 7:50 pm

      Thank you so much, dear Mary! I wish you could have come along! xo

  • Lin
    August 14, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Hi Jane, a really lovely post about Charleston, never heard of it before, but definitely on my places to visit wish list now, thank you 🙂

    • Jane
      August 14, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      Lin, thank you so much for your sweet comment–you made my day! I hope you’ll get to visit Charleston one day–it truly is a lovely city! xo

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