From historic forts on the beach, to boat rides and gelato parlors, Charleston is brimming with kid-friendly fun. And no matter what part of the city they’re staying in, Charleston has accommodations that cater to visiting families. At Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms, for example, families with kids can take part in terrific eco-tours—with guided boat trips through saltwater creeks and to neighboring island preserves for dolphin-spotting and crab-fishing. Families staying downtown, meanwhile, will find Charleston’s hotel concierges well versed in helping families arrange activities like horse-and-carriage tours and ghost walk, or finding the best kid-friendly nearby restaurants. Visiting families often say the biggest decision to make when traveling here is whether to stay in town or on the shore; I say, why not mix it up, and spend a few days doing each? Once they’ve settled at one of the hotels on the list below, all they need to do is walk out the door and start exploring.
Wild Dunes Resort
Families who stay at this sprawling Isle of Palms resort can take part in an almost mind-boggling array of activities, from eco-boat trips through salt creeks to the neighboring nature preserve of Capers Island, to joining in shag (dance) lessons at the Grand Pavilion, to kayaking or parasailing, or golfing or tennis. And there’s always just splashing around at the beach.
Kiawah Island Resort
At this exclusive island resort 25 miles from downtown Charleston, families can rent houses, villas, or stay at the onsite Sanctuary Hotel. Nature is a prime attraction here; it’s common to see dolphins, herons, songbirds, sea turtles and alligators. There’s a nature center where kids can meet for guided excursions—and also swimming, golf, tennis, and bicycling, too.
Francis Marion Hotel
Location, location, location is the main draw of this historic hotel, set just across the street from Marion Square, home to the Charleston Farmers Market. The weekly market, where local growers and street-cart vendors sell their wares, also functions as a local arts festival and kids fair, too. The square also hosts holiday displays, and is just a short walk from the South Carolina Aquarium and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry.
Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina
Sand beaches and tiki bars, a huge pool and harbor views are some of the main attraction at this waterfront complex. The marina offers hourly water-taxi services to downtown; kids can spot dolphins and fishing boats along the way. And just next door is another kid-magnet, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown.
Belmond Charleston Place
Though it’s especially magical when it’s lit up at Christmastime, this hotel is pretty dazzling all year round. Among the many “wow” features are the lobby’s massive chandelier and swirling staircases, and its rooftop pools. Parents can sup at the jazz club-like restaurant, Charleston Grill, just downstairs, and stroll along blocks of boutiques selling clothes, antiques, and jewelry.