A Child's Guide to Charleston
Published: June 2009
By Matt Lee, Ted Lee
Here in South Carolina, the food is divine, and the water's oh so fine. Just follow in the footsteps of our local guide
Fourteen-year-old Lucy recently moved from a carriage house hidden down a brick alley in the heart of historic Charleston to a house on stilts over the sand dunes of Sullivan's Island, a laid-back strip of beach a short bus ride from downtown. She collects Pringles cans, plays on a volleyball team, and goes boating with her 27-year-old brother, Conley. Not everything in Charleston moves as slowly as the city's horse-drawn buggies, says Lucy. Allow her to demonstrate.
First stop is the beach —it's mandatory. Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms , and Folly Beach are the best, and they're all less than 20 minutes from downtown by car or bus. I swim from May to early November. One time I was in the ocean on Sullivan's with my mom when dolphins came up into the shallow water. I'm not kidding; I could have reached out and touched them. But I didn't—I was too scared to move!
The South Carolina Aquarium [100 Aquarium Wharf; 843/720-1990] is the most fun place in Charleston, especially for kids. It's built over the harbor, so you can watch gigantic container ships move in and out. The neatest part is that you can press your face against a two-story tank, with a loggerhead turtle the size of a car, and sharks bigger than me. There's also a "touch tank" where you can reach in and hold slimy little creatures. My favorite is this shell with a jelly-like foot coming out that moves when you touch it. Yuck.
A few blocks down from the aquarium is Waterfront Park [corner of Queen and Concord Sts.]. It's got two fountains—one's a giant pineapple—that kids play in, and four swinging benches on a dock that stretches into the harbor. You can dry off just by swinging!
On Saturdays, my friends and I go shopping on King Street . We like Worthwhile [268 King St.; 843/723-4418] for clothes and shoes. Magar Hat Works [5571/2 King St.; 843/577-7740] makes the funkiest hats.
On weekends we also kayak a lot, especially on Shem Creek , where the shrimp boats tie up (it's on the side of Charleston Harbor closest to the ocean). We're always passing tours led by Coastal Expeditions [514B Mill St., Mount Pleasant; 843/884-7684], which is who I learned to kayak from. You can paddle around Castle Pinckney , an abandoned fort on a tiny island in the harbor. Only possums live there, and ghosts.
Late spring here is all about the Spoleto Festival [May 23-June 8, 2003; www.spoletousa.org ], when there are art shows and performances all over the city. Spoleto is okay, but it's mostly operas and classical music concerts that go on forever. Piccolo Spoleto [www.piccolospoleto.com ], its sister festival, is more fun. Last year I saw an African dance performance and a ballet, and the crafts fair on Wragg Square is the best. You can watch people making pottery, wire jewelry, and puzzles right in front of you.
When your parents want to go to a plantation, the fun one is Middleton Place [4300 Ashley River Rd.; 843/556-6020], which has only a wing of its original mansion left—the rest burned down in the Civil War—but amazing gardens, two matching ponds (look for four huge swans), and stables, plus pottery and weaving demonstrations.
If you decide to rent a beach house, my mother says to check out www.dunesproperties.com . For a downtown hotel, try Charleston Place [205 Meeting St.; 800/611-5595 or 843/722-4900; www.charlestonplace.com ; ask about the May-September $199 special for families]. It's close to great shops, and the bathtubs are marble! I also recommend the Vendue Inn [19 Vendue Range; 800/845-7900 or 843/577-7970; www.vendueinn.com ; doubles from $174], about a block from Waterfront Park. There's a restaurant on the top floor with a deck, and if it's a clear day you can see almost all the way out to where I live!
The best breakfast, lunch, and dinner spots, according to Lucy
Hominy Grill (207 Rutledge Ave.; 843/937-0930) has amazing cheese grits— they sound gross but are sooooo good. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (1491 Savannah Hwy.; 843/763-4439)—they're in most grocery stores, but I get them from the actual bakery, a few miles outside of town, when the HOT DOUGHNUTS NOW sign is lit.
Blossom Café (171 E. Bay St.; 843/722-9200) is just up the street from Waterfront Park. I love the pastas. Sharky's Pizza (306 King St.; 843/722-7200) is where my friends and I take shopping breaks on King Street. Over the years, customers have doodled and carved their names—and bad words—on the tables, benches, and walls. (Moms don't like this so much.) We always get the same thing: the four-cheese pizza. Vickery's Bar & Grill (15 Beaufain St.; 843/577-5300), just a block from King, has spicy Cuban dishes and really good burgers. Dunleavy's (2213 Middle St., Sullivan's Island; 843/883-9646), an Irish pub, is my favorite hangout on Sullivan's. I love their Buffalo wings. After school they give free sodas to kids. When I go in, they say, "Hi, Lucy, you want a Sprite, right?"
Hank's (10 Hayne St.; 843/723-3474; family of four $160), downtown, is your spot for seafood, because it's nice but not fancy, with a pretty mural of fish and crabs. The room is loud and crazy, but the waiters wear white jackets (even if they're girls). Juanita Greenburg's Nacho Royale (439 King St.; 843/723-6224; family of four $30) has great chicken quesadillas. There are colored lights everywhere, and if it's warm you can eat outside in the garden. The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene (106 Haddrell St., Mount Pleasant; 843/884-0052; family of four $85) on Shem Creek, five miles from downtown, has the best fried shrimp, and you get bowls of hot boiled peanuts (mushy raw peanuts cooked in salty water) while you look at the menu. I love boiled peanuts—and I do not like regular peanuts.