Charleston is one of the top vacation destinations in South Carolina for good reason — there are a ton of fun activities and tourist attractions for all ages. The Holy City is known for many things: Its history and unique architecture (including Rainbow Row and the Pineapple Fountain), the elite Southern cuisine, ghost tours and carriage tours, sandy beaches and busy harbors, King Street shopping and the Historic Charleston City Market, The Citadel and other military history, the South Carolina Aquarium … the list goes on and on.
In fact, there’s so much to do in this city that it can be hard to narrow down what to pack into a day trip or even a full week’s vacation. And if you’re not careful, playing tourist in Chucktown can also get pretty pricey.
So for our families on a budget: Here’s your guide to the best family-friendly activities in Charleston that won’t break the bank.
The best places to take kids in Charleston with admission at $15 or less:
The Charleston Museum
The Charleston Museum is a fun and affordable way to learn about the city’s history. There’s the main museum, plus two historic houses you can tour. Tickets are affordable — especially if you only want to check out the main museum — at $12 for adults, $10 for teens (ages 13-17), and only $5 for kids (ages 3-12). Kids 2 and under are free!
There are a ton of cool permanent exhibits in the museum, including one that focuses on Charleston’s role in the American Revolution, a natural history gallery that explores the Lowcountry’s fossils and history of different wildlife, the Lowcountry History Hall, and more. The museum features rotating exhibits as well.
But the coolest part for kids is definitely the Kidstory hands-on exhibit. This exhibit brings Lowcountry history to life for the little ones, allowing them to use microscopes to identify animal tracks and insects, light up a replica of the Morris Island Lighthouse, learn to tie a sailor’s knot, explore a miniature version of the Washington-Heyward House, and more!
Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is THE place to go for imaginative play in Charleston. There are nine hands-on interactive exhibits: the art room, where kids can do some arts & craft projects to take home; the speak loud! Studio, where kids can pretend they’re in a theater performance; a kids’ garden, where they can look for bugs and butterflies and learn the basics of botany; the air air everywhere exhibit, which teaches about all things air — from how planes fly to how sailboats use wind; an infant and toddler playspace; the pirates exhibit, where kids can play on a pirate ship; a fake Publix market, where kids can shop for play food and learn math skills at the checkout; and the boeing brightlab, which introduces math and engineering concepts as kids make and build projects with real tools.
Admission is $13 per person for SC residents and $15 per person for non-SC residents. Charleston County residents can check out a membership card at a local library branch to receive unlimited admission for up to 6 people in the same household for one week! Military and educators also receive a 10% discount.
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry also has a special program for anyone who uses EBT/SNAP or WIC. Simply show your card or voucher and get admission for up to 6 people for just $2. They also have a yearly membership available for EBT/SNAP or WIC users for just $14.
Have a kid who loves fire trucks? Then you have to take them to the North Charleston Fire Museum!
You and your little ones can marvel over how fire engines have changed over the years with the museum’s large collection. According to the museum: The North Charleston Fire Museum and Educational Center is proud to house the largest collection of professionally restored American LaFrance fire apparatus in the country. With over 20 vehicles in our collection, dating as far back as 1780’s, the North Charleston Fire Museum has become renowned as a destination for fire history and the preservation of antique fire apparatus. All the pieces in our collection still run and can fight fire just like the day it was produced.
Beyond housing a ton of fire engines, the museum also has a bunch of hands-on activities, like letting kids attempt to lift firefighting gear.
Admission is only $6 per adult. Children ages 12 and under are free (with an accompanying adult)!
Who doesn’t love a good baseball game? The Charleston Riverdogs are always a good time — there are usually special activities during or after the game, like fireworks or even “bring your dog” days. Sunday games are always “MUSC Family Sundays” — which are all about the kids! There are special contests between innings and even a chance for the kids to run the bases. Friday home games are also military appreciation games.
Ticket prices vary, but can be as low as $8! Since it’s a minor league, concessions are usually affordable as well, and there will be various promotions throughout the season — like $2 beer and hotdogs.
Charles Towne Landing
Charles Towne Landing is a huge state historic site packed with adventures for the little ones. Admission is $12 per adult, $7.50 for S.C. seniors, and $7 for kids ages 6-15. Kids 5 and under are free!
There’s a ton to see and do at Charles Towne Landing — also known as “the birthplace of South Carolina.” The site is set on a marshy point, where English settlers landed in 1670 and started the Carolina colony. Kids can board The Adventure — a 17th-century replica sailing ship, check out animals at the Animal Forest natural habitat zoo, or explore more than 80 acres of gardens. It’s a great place to take kids to connect with nature: You can try birdwatching in the gardens, or walk one of the trails to learn about different plants, wildlife and the history of the site.
Charleston Water Taxi
For a different way to sightsee — and a chance to spot dolphins and other sea creatures — take a ride on the Charleston Water Taxi! You can book one way tickets for $8 a person, or book a full day pass to ride as you please for just $12 per person. Children 3 and under are free!
The Water Taxi departs hourly from four different locations: the Aquarium Wharf/Maritime Center, Patriots Point, Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, and Waterfront Park.
Stay on for all stops for a full sightseeing tour if you purchase the All Day Pass! You’ll see the Cooper River Bridge, the U.S.S. Yorktown, and more.
The best free things to do in Charleston with kids:
The Gateway Walk
Kids will feel like they’re on a secret adventure with The Gateway Walk. This path was created by the Garden Club of Charleston in 1930. Though it’s completely legal and open to the public, you’ll feel like you’re on a secret passage through the city.
The path begins at St. John’s Lutheran Church, and winds through its churchyard and the neighboring Unitarian churchyard. From there, go through the gate and take the path right onto King Street! Cross the street and go to the right side of the Charleston Library Society. The path continues through the city, allowing you to see beautiful gardens of local societies, businesses and churches — all the way across Meeting and Church streets to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Find a map on the garden club’s site.
Start Your Own Walking or Bike Tour at Waterfront Park
Park near Waterfront Park to start your own walking tour! Enjoy beautiful views of the Charleston harbor and get your family photos with the iconic pineapple fountain! Kids will also love playing in the giant splash fountain located at the park, and there’s also a huge pier at the park that’s complete with oversized porch swings!
After you finish exploring Waterfront Park, take Concord Street, which borders the park, down to Exchange St. At the end of this street you’ll see the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (about a 5-minute walk from the Pineapple Fountain). From there, turn left onto East Bay St. and you’re only about a 2-minute walk from Rainbow Row!
Then continue down East Bay St. until it turns into East Battery. Here’s where you can walk along the waterfront walkway known as The Battery. The Battery is a defensive seawall which fortifies the Charleston Peninsula. On The Battery, you’ll see expansive views on the Cooper and Ashley rivers, as well as beautiful antebellum homes. Keep an eye out for dolphins here!
Take The Battery all the way to White Point Garden, where your family can relax in the shade of old oak trees and maybe have a picnic lunch before heading back! White Point Garden also has a ton of cool war monuments, including cannons.
Angel Oak Tree Park
View the majestic Angel Oak Tree, have a picnic lunch at the picnic tables or let the kids run around the green space at Angel Oak Tree Park. Just no climbing on the tree! There’s no admission fee for the park.
The Angel Oak Tree is said to be the largest live oak tree east of the Mississippi. It’s estimated to be between 300-400 years old, and is 65 ft. high with a circumference of about 25.5 ft.
This historic city market complex is set in the heart of downtown Charleston. Explore tons of local Lowcountry vendors, selling jewelry, clothing, unique artworks, food, cookbooks and more. You could spend hours strolling through the market, and the kids are sure to find all sorts of trinkets that interest them as well.
Visit Folly Beach
Finally, if you’re traveling from anywhere inland, you can’t visit Charleston without checking out Folly Beach! The beach itself is gorgeous, but there’s also a fishing pier, the Morris Island lighthouse, and tons of adorable local shops and restaurants.