I’ve always thought the word ‘charm’ was invented to describe Charleston. There is no other city that compares, with its cobblestone streets, historic mansions, nearby plantations and friendly residents. It is truly a beautiful, relaxing vacation spot, and with nearby beaches, well-known dining and endless activities for kids, it is the ultimate family destination, as well.
GUIDE TO glimpse
Each recommendation lists address, phone number, website (if available), and gives a basic overview for all of you busy parents. There are also a few words listed to sum up each restaurant, including the type of food they serve, and I have also included whether or not a restaurant has high chairs and a kids’ menu. Keep in mind, even if there is no specific menu, the restaurants on the list will work with families to come up with simple dishes.
Here is the guide to those words:
Contemporary – the décor is simple and modern
Classic – the décor is conservative yet elegant
Cont/classic – the décor contains elements of each
Constant – the spot never goes out of style
Hot – this is the place to be at the moment
Stylish – your outfit should be smart and sophisticated
Casual – jeans and flats are appropriate here
Posh – men grab your coat and tie, ladies, your heels and diamonds
1870 Bowens Island Road
This hole-in-the-wall is a Charleston institution, and for good reason. Located right on a creek off the Atlantic Ocean, the fresh seafood is unreal, and locals and travelers both converge to get a taste, with the oysters being the biggest draw. It’s also the perfect stop after a day on nearby Folly Beach.
Seafood • Classic • Constant • Casual
Butcher and Bee
1085 Morrison Drive
Recently opened in a new space with industrial-chic vibes, Butcher and Bee focuses on locally sourced dinner with Middle Eastern influences, and is known for its killer sandwiches. While the food is still as good as at the first location, this new spot is bigger and and has more parking – but don’t forget to BYOB. Lunch and breakfast service will resume in June. Also visit its sister restaurant The Daily on 652b King Street for breakfast, pastries, and grab-and-go food.
American • Contemporary • Hot • Stylish • High chairs • Kids’ menu
18 Pinckney Street
One of the more popular restaurants in Charleston, Cru Café is always recommended by locals, and frequented by most visitors. Kids will love the four cheese macaroni, and if not, the chef is happy to try and accommodate their wishes. While fine for dinner, I recommend those with very small children go for lunch, because the room is quite small and cozy.
Southern • Classic • Constant • Stylish
434 King Street
One of the main appeals of Hall’s Chophouse is the famous Sunday brunch with gospel choir – an amazing experience you won’t want to miss if looking for a true Southern experience. Known for being very kid-friendly, as it is family-owned, but it’s also a great spot for a night on the town while enjoying the delicious steak, seafood and vegetable dishes in an elegant setting.
Steak • Classic • Constant • Stylish • High chairs • Kids’ Menu
207 Rutledge Avenue
For true Lowcountry cuisine (as the Charleston area is called), make sure to visit Hominy Grill, one of the area’s most well-known restaurants. Featured on many TV shows and awarded the James Beard Foundation’s best chef award in 2008, it is the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch with the family. Must orders include the shrimp and grits and the “Big Nasty” – fried chicken on a biscuit with gravy.
Southern • Classic • Constant • Casual • High chairs
76 Queen Street
James Beard loves Chef Sean Brock, and for great reason. He is famous for his Southern cuisine, and won’t allow any ingredients to come through the door of the Victorian-era home with balcony seating if it does not come from the South. Take the kids for lunch and order the burger for them, or call a sitter at night and enjoy a meal alone. A meal at Husk is a must.
Southern • Cont/classic • Hot • Stylish • High chairs
208 King Street
For a truly easy meal, stop at Kitchen 208 on King Street after a day of sightseeing and shopping. Order food inside and then make your way out to the sidewalk patio, which has ample seating and plenty of room for kids and strollers. Enjoy sandwiches, salads, and breakfast in the casual setting with cute twinkle lights strung across the awning.
American • Classic • Constant • Casual • High chairs • Kids’ menu
Leon’s Oyster Shop
698 King Street
For a wide variety of oysters, seafood and fried chicken, head to Leon’s Oyster Shop which has won numerous awards in the short time it has been open. The rustic setting has exposed brick walls, contemporary lighting fixtures and a hip clientele, but don’t let that stop you from bringing the kids. It’s the perfect place to make some noise.
Southern/seafood • Contemporary • Hot • Casual • High chairs
185 East Bay Street
A local favorite and iconic fine dining spot, Magnolias is the place to head for upscale Southern dishes. Featured in tons of publications and the recipient of many awards, enjoy a special occasion here with the whole family. Weekend brunch is also a particularly lovely time to go.
Southern • Classic • Constant • Stylish • High chairs • Kids’ menu
2 Unity Alley
A Charleston institution open since 1982 in a building originally built in 1778 by Edward McCrady as a local tavern, McCrady’s still gives off a charming, historic vibe with its exposed brick walls, wooden beams and intimate setting – although with a modern twist. With James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock at the helm (they all seem to flock to Charleston, don’t they?), what could be better?
Southern • Classic • Constant • Stylish • High chairs
153B East Bay Street
Gourmet Mexican food is the name of the game at this casual eatery in downtown Charleston. A favorite of locals, Minero attracts everyone with its delicious, flavorful dishes – also by Sean Brock – fun atmosphere, and laid-back attitude. Go early with the kids or call a sitter and stay out late drinking tequila.
Mexican • Contemporary • Constant • Stylish • High chairs
192 East Bay Street
SNOB, standing for Slightly North of Broad, is a another Charleston restaurant that has been around forever yet has managed to stay popular with locals despite the appeal to tourists. With it’s charmingly colorful interior, beautiful bar, and classic Southern dishes like shrimp ’n grits, we’re sure it will remain popular for many years to come.
Southern • Cont/classic • Constant • Stylish • High chairs • Kids’ menu
217 Huger Street, Charleston, 843-789-3333
15 Center Street, Folly Beach, 843-588-9761
With two locations, one in downtown Charleston, as well as the original on Folly Beach, Taco Boy attracts a wide variety of locals and tourists with its authentic Mexican food, lively atmosphere and outdoor seating. It’s okay to be loud and rambunctious here – so are the adults.
Mexican • Contemporary • Constant • Casual • High chairs • Kids’ menu
4 Cannon Street
The farm-to-table dishes at The Grocery are hard to beat, and our family loves the spacious dining area with friendly staff – we feel more comfortable to be ourselves. The menu changes seasonally, and the menu for kids was healthy yet appetizing. The creative cocktails are a must, and the contemporary setting just off upper King Street makes for a fun evening stroll from downtown hotels.
American • Contemporary • Constant • Stylish • High chairs • Kids’ menu
Two Boroughs Larder
186 Coming Street
Most agree that Two Boroughs Larder is one of the top restaurants in Charleston, with a constantly changing menu, and cool, casual vibe. Wednesday is burger night so arrive right at 5 pm when doors open – they only make 24 of the famous burgers. Sunday brunch is also a fun time to visit, and don’t forget to pick up pantry items from their store.
Southern • Classic • Constant • Casual
Xiao Bao Biscuit
224 Rutledge Avenue
Hipsters and regular locals converge at this Asian hot spot to enjoy innovative dishes and cold beer in the former gas station setting. The shabby-chic restaurant with outdoor seating takes the pressure off a meal with the children, and while the food is not exactly kid-desirable, ask for the sticky rice at dinner, and order the chicken. Truly a delicious meal – but I would say only for those with kids who are very open-minded.
Asian • Contemporary • Hot • Casual
6 Payne Court
One of my absolute favorite restaurants in Charleston is Chez Nous, and I’m so glad a friend who grew up in the city introduced it to me. Located in a small, rustic-chic house down an alley, crowds gather nightly trying to score a coveted table at the no-reservations spot, which only offers two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts at each meal. Be sure to check their Instagram page for the daily-changing menu before going, but most likely you will love what they have to offer.
American • Classic • Constant • Stylish
232 Meeting Street
When your Charleston friends say FIG is their absolute favorite restaurant, you run directly there (after making a reservation weeks in advance, of course). The restaurant, which stands for Food Is Good, is a well-known foodie destination, with a vibrant atmosphere and brilliant farm-to-table dishes.
American • Contemporary • Constant • Stylish
5 Fulton Street
Another Charleston institution is Fulton Five, and a great choice for fine dining and special occasions. The romantic spot may be one of the most charming you’ll visit, and the perfect Italian dishes make it a top choice for date night. While they do claim to be family-friendly, I say call a sitter and enjoy the intimate setting with your significant other.
Italian • Classic • Constant • Posh
Belmond Charleston Place
205 Meeting Street
In a city of small hotels and bed and breakfasts, the Belmond Charleston Place is a large, well-known hotel set in the heart of downtown. Featuring 440 rooms and suites by the famed Belmond group, guests will know they’re getting a true luxury experience while staying here. A large marble lobby with grand staircase lead the way to classically decorated rooms overlooking the city, and many have small French balconies for enjoying the sights and sounds of the busy area. The hotel also features the popular Charleston Grill restaurant, a good choice for fine dining with children, especially for Sunday brunch, and a spa with many renowned services. We also love the Palmetto Cafe – a relaxing garden-style restaurant serving a variety of dishes, and the Thoroughbred Club serving appetizers and desserts with live music. Rounding out the amenities is world-class shopping on the ground floor, including outposts of St. John, Louis Vuitton and Calypso St. Barth.
Market Pavilion Hotel
225 East Bay Street
Another great hotel option in Charleston is the Market Pavilion Hotel which is situated in a gorgeous, French-inspired building just next to the City Market, and a block from the harbor. With its black and white marble lobby and luxurious rooms and suites with mahogany beds, guests will feel pampered and privileged as soon as they step foot inside. The hotel also features a well-known restaurant, Grill 225, serving steak and seafood dishes in a fine dining setting. The real clincher though is the rooftop pool with restaurant and bar. The views are unparalleled and the pool is an oasis in the middle of town. At night it becomes quite the scene, so enjoy it during the day when you can order pizza and wine under an umbrella while the kids go swimming.
75 Wentworth Street
A modern retreat in an historic city, The Restoration hotel is a great choice for those wanting something different from the older inns and B&B’s. From its rooftop pool and restaurant, to its New York-style loft suites complete with kitchens, families will feel quite comfortable with all of the space and amenities. Perched right above King Street, the best shopping area in town, its proximity to stores, restaurants and attractions is appealing to those with strollers, as Charleston is a walking city. Guests will also love the complimentary breakfast brought to the room in a picnic basket, and kids will love thinking they’re having a picnic. My only issue was they could not serve alcohol to the room, so I had to go up to the bar to get it (not such a big deal if there is another adult staying with the kids), so plan accordingly and bring your own if it’s bedtime and you are not able to pop out. However, the washers and dryers in each suite were a huge bonus.
149 Wentworth Street
If you want to feel right at home in Charleston, stay at Wentworth Mansion, a historic house built in 1886 and converted into a 5-star hotel in 1997. The interior is a nod to the gilded age and features period furniture, a gorgeous mahogany staircase, and stained glass windows under double-height ceilings in an intimate, serene setting. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t great for kids. Our were welcomed with open arms, and because the rooms are so large, we never felt like we were bothering anyone. Other great features of the hotel include a fine dining restaurant, Circa 1886, which serves a complimentary breakfast each morning and delivers meals to the room, a full-service spa, evening hors d’oeuvres and wine, and late night port, sherry and brandy. Set in a residential area of Charleston, it is an escape from the busy downtown area and a truly elegant experience, consistently voted one of the top small hotels in America.
SHOPPING FOR KIDS
Southerners know how to shop, but they especially know to to dress, and treat, their children.
Designs by Jane – smocked clothing, toys and gifts
- 188 Meeting Street, Suite S13
Kids on King – upscale children’s clothing in a cute space
- 310 King Street
Little Open House – luxury baby and children essentials across the bridge to West Ashley
- 28 Windermere Boulevard
Luna – teenagers will love this hip clothing store
- 334 King Street
Madison Mathews – adorable children’s tunics and bedding in cute patterns
- 89 Church Street
Southern Belles – smocked clothing across the bridge in Mt. Pleasant
- Northcutt Plaza, 280 W. Coleman Blvd, Mt. Pleasant
Sugar Snap Pea – children’s clothing with baby gear and furniture
- 233 King Street
- Shops of Mt. Pleasant – 320 W. Coleman Blvd, Mt. Pleasant
Tom’s Toys – toys and indoor playground with KAPLA blocks
- 125 Market Street
WildFlour Pastry – pastries, cakes, cupcakes, you name it, from a well-known chef
- 73 Spring Street
SHOPPING FOR ADULTS
Clothing stores, antique stores, art galleries, you name it, Charleston has it. Plus some online stores originating in Charleston that just have to be included…
Broad Street – tons of art galleries to wander into
Collier Rose Ink – online store of beautiful textiles and home accessories designed in Charleston
Copper Penny – women’s designer clothing and footwear that teenagers will also love
- 311 King Street
Covey – an online store for women who love field sports, founded in Charleston
Croghans – jewelry, estate jewelry, bridal and gifts
- 308 King Street
Curiosity – great selection of antique and vintage pieces
- 56 1/2 Queen Street
Finicky Filly – luxurious womenswear, plus Brown Box Club that delivers curated outfits right to your front door
- 303 King Street
goat.sheep.cow – adorable gourmet cheese shop in the historic South of Broad neighborhood
- 106 Church Street
Hampden Clothing – hip women’s designer clothing in a modern space
- 314 King Street
King Street – all the clothing, gift and accessory stores you can handle
Madison Mathews – beach-inspired tunics, jackets and bedding for women
- 89 Church Street
Open House – beautiful stationery and gifts in the West Ashley area
- South Windermere Center, 28 Windermere Boulevard
RTW – very high-end women’s designer clothing
- 186 King Street
Shirtini – modern, perfectly tailored menswear inspired shirts for women
- 192 King Street
EXPERIENCES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge – walk with older kids across the Charleston harbor
Boone Hall – hands on activities at a former plantation with historic slave quarter
- 1235 Long Point Road, Mt. Pleasant
Charleston Outdoor Adventures – kayak and paddle board rentals, boat tours and fishing charters
- 1871 Bowens Island Road
Charleston Water Taxi – take a water tour with amazing views of the Charleston skyline
- 10 Wharfside Street
Charlestowne Landing – climb aboard a replica ship, run around under moss-covered live oaks and see the mini zoo with a bear, red wolves and otters
- 1500 Old Towne Road
Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry – so many fun activities like a mini supermarket, a ship to captain
- 25 Ann Street
Fort Sumter – take a 30 minute boat ride to this civil war era fort and let the kids explore
- 340 Concord Street
Gibbes Museum of Art – Charleston’s premier art museum, offering a wide variety of programs for kids, family guides and activity packs
- 135 Meeting Street
Hazel Parker playground – a nice playground in downtown Charleston near the harbor and mansions of East Bay Street
- 70 East Bay Street
Horse-and-carriage tours – head to the market area to reserve a one-hour private tour of downtown Charleston
Isle of Palms County Park – lifeguards on the beach, public restrooms, chair and umbrella rentals, and places to grill out and picnic, just next to Sullivans Island across the bridge from downtown
- 1 14th Avenue, Isle of Palms
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens – our favorite spot for kids features a petting zoo with deer, goats, bunnies, peacocks and ponies, plus train and boat rides
- 3550 Ashley River Road
Middleton Place Plantation – tour this 18th century plantation with house and gardens, and visit the plantation Stableyards with kids
- 4300 Ashley River Road
Patriots Point – tour a huge naval ship and museum on the water
- 40 Patriot’s Point Road, Mt. Pleasant
South Carolina Aquarium – a wide variety of sea creatures, reptiles and a bald eagle, plus an Imax theatre and the chance to spot dolphins swimming in the harbor
- 100 Aquarium Wharf
The beaches – Folly Beach in one direction has lots of tourists and college students but also lots of restaurants and an exciting pier, and Sullivan’s Island in the other direction is quieter with more families
Waterfront Park – located on Charleston Harbor, there are swings for kids, and fountains to splash in
- 1 Vendue
Listed below are three sample itineraries appropriate for all ages. I have kept them light because we all know kids moods can be unpredictable. For more age specific activities, please go through our Experiences for the Whole Family section, which also gives more details on each recommendation listed below.
- After breakfast at your hotel, which I find much easier to manage when traveling with kids who have woken up hungry, head to the market area and hop on a horse-and-carriage tour before the crowds and heat get to be too much.
- Afterwards, enjoy a splash in the fountains at Waterfront Park, then walk down to the South Carolina Aquarium for a fun time looking at the fish and animals
- Head back towards the center of downtown to Husk, which features innovative Southern dishes and a burger the kids will love
- Take a walk down King Street, stopping in the wide variety of boutiques as you make your way uptown towards the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
- Grab an early dinner at nearby The Grocery
- Hop in a car and head over the bridge towards Mt. Pleasant, stopping at Patriot’s Point to tour the naval ship
- Enjoy a picnic lunch on a Sullivan’s Island beach that you grabbed at The Daily on your way out of downtown Charleston
- Swim with the kids on the family-friendly beach
- Head over to Boone Hall for a tour of the plantation
- Head back downtown, change at your hotel, and head back out to dinner at Cru Cafe
- Hop in a car and head to the other side of town towards West Ashley. Stop at Charlestowne Landing and Magnolia Plantation for the endless children’s activities
- Head towards Folly Beach and eat lunch at Taco Boy
- Spend the day on this beach or head to Bowen’s Island to Charleston Outdoor Adventures for kayak rentals or boat tours
- Dinner at Bowens Island is a must
If bringing a nanny or hiring a sitter, we suggest the following:
- Breakfast at Hominy Grill is a great way to start the day
- Spend the day popping into the art galleries downtown, and touring some of the mansions that are open to the public
- Head to Chez Nous
- Hop on a boat tour of Charleston harbor and take in the sights
- Enjoy sunset cocktails at the rooftop bar of the Market Pavilion Hotel
- FIG will be an unforgettable meal, but reserve in advance
- Enjoy an after-dinner drink at McCrady’s or listen to live music at the Music Farm
CITY TIPS AND HELPFUL INFORMATION
Baby food, diapers, etc
- Pharmacies are the best places for baby related items
- For a grocery store, head to the Harris Teeter at 290 East Bay Street
- Each hotel we have listed is able to find reputable babysitters, but most require at least 24 hours notice
- Starbucks is always your best bet, or find a small cafe and purchase water and snacks
- There are restrooms in the Shops at Charleston Place, right in the center of downtown
- You can also find public restrooms at the City Market, as well as the Visitor’s Center
- If staying at any of the hotels on our list, you can walk anywhere in downtown Charleston
- Modes of transportation include taxis and rickshaws
- If planning to go to the beaches, I would suggest renting a car at the airport upon arrival
- MUSC Children’s Hospital is one of the best in the area
-171 Ashley Avenue
- Head here
Police and Emergencies
- For all emergencies dial 911
- Charleston Police Department – 180 Lockwood Boulevard
- Many museums and sights have stroller parking areas, although they cannot be held responsible in the event of theft.
- While there are a handful of cobblestone streets in downtown Charleston, strollers are great for walking around in the city.
- It is customary to leave a 20% tip at nice restaurants
- Leave $5 a day per room for housekeeping at nice hotels. If staying in a suite, I like to leave more
- Give $1-2 per bag to bellboys
- When using a taxi, round up to the nearest dollar and then add a dollar or two for tip
- If taking a horse-and-carriage tour, it is nice to give an extra $10-20 at the conclusion of the ride, but not necessary
- Always give valet a $2-5 tip
- When in doubt, tip! In America, it is always appreciated