3-Day Family-Friendly Itinerary in Charleston, South Carolina

Advisor - Alyssa Manning
Curated By

Alyssa Manning

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  • Active Travel

  • Adventure Travel

  • City Travel

  • Family Travel

  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Travel

  • South Carolina

  • Charleston

  • Local Food

  • Bucket List-Worthy

  • Downtown

  • Hidden Gems

  • Kid-friendly

Charleston, South Caroline monument against the sky.
Curator’s statement

Charleston has been voted the best city in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure every year for the past decade. All the hype may have you Charleston-curious, but does it live up to its reputation? Totally. With its centuries-old waterfront mansions that make every street feel like a postcard, Charleston has an otherworldly feel! There’s something for everyone. It’s got equal parts city and nature, history without being stuck in the past, a vibrant art community, and an incredible culinary scene. You could spend plenty of time just walking around downtown or explore its outer reaches for hidden gem experiences.

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Where to stay

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The Pinch Charleston

Stylish brick-facade hotel with artsy rooms.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Welcome treat in room on arrival.

  • Upgrade & guaranteed late check-out.

Hotel Bella Grace

A historic boutique hotel in downtown Charleston with just 50 rooms (many with kitchens) and a popular seafood restaurant.

The Charleston Place

Iconic Charleston landmark with lavish accommodations, legendary service and experiences to elevate your experience in the Southern city.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • $45 daily breakfast credit.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

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Day: Cypress Gardens & Mt. Pleasant

Sunset with palm trees in Charleston.

Downtown Charleston is very walkable and bike-friendly, but those who fly in will probably want a car to explore outside the peninsula. To follow this itinerary, go ahead and rent one, rather than relying on Uber or Lyft.

When you arrive in Charleston, drive out to the beautiful Cypress Gardens, a 170-acre nature preserve located about 30 minutes North of the airport. Cypress Gardens is well-known as the filming location of The Notebook’s romantic boat scene. You can row through the Cyprus trees like Noah and Allie or take a stroll through the gardens. Our teen loved the garden’s exotic reptile exhibit, the freshwater aquarium and the butterfly greenhouse.

Post stroll, get in the car and head to Sullivan’s Island, one of Charleston’s many barrier islands, for lunch at The Obstinate Daughter, an essential Charleston dining experience with a seafood-driven menu. We love it for its relaxed vibes and excellent service. Between our party of five, we had a little bit of everything and every bite was fantastic.

After lunch, take time to explore Sullivan’s Island with a visit to Fort Moultrie, stop by the unique Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse or a walk on the pristine beaches.

The next stop is the quaint Shem Creek Park in Mt. Pleasant. Walk along the park’s picturesque boardwalk along the waterway and through the marshes. You may recognize the scenery from Netflix’s Outer Banks series, filmed in Shem Creek. While in the area, be sure to dine at one of the many Creekside restaurants. Our pick is Shem Creek Crab House. If the weather is nice, ask for a table out on the deck for the best views at sunset.

Day 2: Harbor Sunset Sail

Nature in Charleston, South Carolina.

Start your day off with a buttermilk biscuit and a hot coffee from Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit and browse the stalls of the Historic Charleston City Market. The open-air market, which stretches across four city blocks, is one of the nation’s oldest public markets and is open daily (except for Christmas Day) from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. You’ll find a variety of trinkets, artisanal goods and handmade treats among some touristy souvenirs. The City Market is also the best place to scout out one of Charleston’s most coveted souvenirs: a handwoven sweetgrass basket. Gullah artisans have been weaving baskets in Charleston for over 100 years, a craft carried over from West Africa.

Spend the rest of your morning winding the cobblestone streets of downtown Charleston. Hunt for the hidden Philadelphia Alley, pose for a photo on Rainbow Row or walk along the seawall at The Battery. If you prefer to have a guide, try one of Charleston’s many walking tours or a horse-drawn carriage tour. If you’re lucky, you just might spot Bill Murray, who lives downtown.

For lunch, make your way uptown to Leon’s Oyster Shop. Leon’s casual atmosphere and outdoor patio is a welcome spot to park after a morning spent on your feet. The char-grilled oysters are a must and our sometimes picky-eater teen loved the smoked mahi dip with a side of hush puppies.

Catch a sunset sail along the Charleston Harbor on Sundog Sailing’s 50-foot classic yacht, the Shenanigan. Departing from a marina in Mt. Pleasant, Captains Jen and Janet will take you on a three-hour sail viewing Charleston’s historic sights from the water. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the yacht’s deck as you cruise past the Charleston Battery. Captains Jen and Janet make great company, and they’re happy to regale you with tales of their sailing adventures, but they’re also glad to let you cozy up with your crew on the bow.

Day 3: Morris Island

Colorful colonial homes in Charleston.

Wake up early and fuel up for an active adventure – shark tooth and fossil hunting on Charleston’s uninhabited barrier island, Morris Island. We highly recommend Captain Mike of Folly Boat Tours for this half-day excursion. Departing from a marina in Folly Beach, take a 20-minute skiff ride gliding and zipping through the marshes to Morris Island. Captain Mike will coach your crew on how to spot the shark teeth buried in the sand before hiking across the island’s three miles of shoreline. On our tour, we collected shells, shards of indigenous pottery, sea glass, and shark teeth of all sizes. Read more about our experience and tips on what to bring with you on our blog – Shark Tooth Hunting on Morris Island, South Carolina.

When you make it back to Folly Beach, your crew will no doubt be famished. Head down the road to LoLo’s to fill up on all of your Southern-style seafood favorites. We ordered the pimento cheese dip for starters and shared the low country boil plate. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a casual late lunch, and we enjoyed the views looking over the tidal spring.

The rest of the day depends on how much energy you have left — we were beat, so we headed back downtown for some ice cream at Off Track, took one last stroll on the Battery, and headed back to our accommodations for some much-needed chill time.


If you have some extra time to spend in Charleston or need a rain-day activity as back up, add a visit to Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant to your itinerary. The museum’s World War II aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown, makes for an educational playground a family can explore for hours!

Need to Know

Looking for more Charleston travel inspo? Check out Fora' guide, Local's Guide to Hotels & Restaurants in Charleston.

Advisor - Alyssa Manning

Travel Advisor

Alyssa Manning

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to South Carolina.