In the annals of travel tragedies, surely the fact that my family lived in South Carolina for three years before heading to the lovely Charleston area for a long weekend ranks high on that list. That’s 1,095 days of tragedy, if you’re counting, but on the upside it gives us a long time to remedy the errors of our ways.
Although Charleston is accessible, don’t forget it is on a peninsula so roads and traffic are always an issue. To avoid wasting time in city traffic, we counter-intuitively stayed in a hotel in the city of North Charleston, near the Charleston Airport.
Our suspicion was that if we were centrally located just outside of Charleston itself, we would be able to quickly get to key areas north, east, and south without many obstacles. Our strategy paid off immensely – not only to deal with traffic, but also because we could return quickly to the hotel to do the switcheroo before heading out to dinner or another destination.
First Day- Where’s the Best Beach?
By majority vote – the majority being the kids – Day One was driving from our home near Charlotte to Charleston, with a plan to arrive at noon, do a quick change at the hotel, and spend the rest of the day at the beach.
Our beach destination was Isle of Palms (IOP, in local lingo), a 20-minute drive over Daniel Island and the Cooper and Wando Rivers and through Mt. Pleasant. We parked at Isle of Palms County Park for $7 and were able to walk three minutes right to the beach.
IOP is one of the cleanest and most family-friendly beaches I’ve ever been to. Our kids were a bit older than most of the others, but the water was warm, the beach was clean, there was no loud music, and there was plenty of room to play on the sand or in the water with only gentle waves. At that spot, umbrella and chair rentals are ample, there was a food truck (with a consistently long line so I’m glad we brought our own cooler and sandwiches), and hurray – clean restrooms close to the beach!
BONUS: There are showers located between beach and parking. No Sandy Feet.
(If you head that way, beware the County Park closes at 7 pm sharp, and they WILL lock your car in the park if you haven’t exited the lot by then.)
After an early morning departure, a long drive, and hours at the beach, we were delighted to head back to the hotel, shower off, and call it a day.
Second Day– Fort Sumter and Exploring the City of Charleston
Although it is tempting on a Sunday vacation day to sleep in, we found out the night before that last-minute tour tickets for Fort Sumter were available for a 9 am tour, and couldn’t pass up the chance.
Fort Sumter stands at a crossroads of American history, and a visit to the island and what remains of the fort shouldn’t be missed. Yes, the boat tour was a little on the pricey side for a family of five, but the delight of the trip will help you forget the cost ($100 total). For history buffs and parents who want their kids to know about the Civil War, please know that the tour guides from the National Park Service gave a very even-handed and factual narration of the history leading up to the commencement of the Civil War. All of us were impressed, even given our varying degrees of knowledge prior to the visit.
The tour takes about three hours from start to finish, which allows plenty of time to explore the fort and view the exhibits. Younger kids on the first boat out each day, as ours was, are invited to participate in the daily flag-raising ceremony.
Our plan after Fort Sumter was to tour Charleston on foot. We had a short list of items we had researched as must-do’s: (1) find the pineapple fountain; (2) enjoy ice cream at Kilwins; (3) check out the beautiful city campus of the College of Charleston; (4) show the kids some cool Charleston houses; and (5) chase the sunset off Oyster Point.
Mission accomplished! (Except the sunset was elusive and will have to wait for a second trip to check off our list…)
Be aware parking in Charleston is tough, even on a Sunday, and points of interest that seem close enough for walking may not actually be walkable if it’s hot and you have teenagers. But of course if you own teens you already knew that…
Third Day — One More Beach and a Picturesque Bridge
Monday’s goal was two-fold: check out another beach in the morning, and walk over the locally-famous Ravenal Bridge, which connects Mt. Pleasant to Charleston. We headed about an hour south to Edisto Beach – recommended by friends but with the adventure warning that while it’s a great beach, it is in an undeveloped area and we shouldn’t expect lifeguards, restrooms, umbrella or chair rentals, or food options. (We also learned that it is pronounced ED-isto, rather than Ed-IS-to. Y’all are welcome!)
The drive to Edisto Beach from North Charleston is on local roads, giving us the chance to drive through beautiful old-growth areas where the trees drip with Spanish moss and form a tunnel across the road.
I have to admit that we didn’t have a great first experience at Edisto Beach. Despite the warnings, the lack of amenities similar to other beaches was a stark difference. We had no problem finding the beach access points, and parking was free, but the beach was more gravelly and the surf far too rough for body surfing or swimming. On the upside, the beach extends seemingly for miles and there was hardly anyone there. Apparently the way to “do” Edisto is rent an apartment near the beach, take your own stuff, and come and go as you wish when the surf is calm.
After two beaches and plenty of walking, we were ready for a calm and reflective experience. The crowning highlight of our short trip was a visit to Ravenel Bridge about a half hour before sunset –
TIP: Park on the Mt. Pleasant side (not the Charleston side). If it’s trite to take photos of a bridge at sunset, then I’m more than happy to be trite at this bridge: it is truly spectacular!
Charleston is full of charm and history and we knew we would only be scratching the surface of all there is to see and do and learn. The quick three-day weekend was a terrific way to get ourselves oriented to the geography for our next trip. And everyone in the family agrees that we need to go back many more times.