Monday, April 17, 2017

Charleston, South Carolina

There's so much good eating in Charleston. And the best restaurants are casual and kid-friendly, which makes this a great place to bring your kids for a little getaway. We spent just a couple of days here before driving on to Savannah, and I would return for the food alone  but there are also plenty of other things to do with the kids in this lovely, historic city.

What to Do

You can spend an entire day at Magnolia Plantation, a gorgeous, sprawling plantation on the outskirts of Charleston that looks like a scene out of a movie  all charming Spanish moss and ancient live oaks. Included with admission are access to the gardens, the petting zoo and the horticulture maze, all of which my kids loved. We ate lunch on the premises at the Peacock Cafe; the food was tasty, and the view from the picnic tables really can't be beat.

After lunch, we paid extra for the nature train, which was a 45-minute guided tour of the grounds in a tram (the sightings of alligators and blue herons are practically guaranteed), as well as the self-guided swamp hike, which is just so different from our hikes up north.

My kids' second favorite part of Charleston was a park we stumbled on by accident, Waterfront Park, overlooking Charleston Harbor. There are two enormous fountains there, and kids are actually encouraged to splash in them. I've never seen anything like it  dozens of local children in swimsuits, practically doing laps in the fountain bowls. Of course, my kids rolled up their shorts, kicked off their shoes, and joined in immediately. Afterwards, we dried off on one of the benches looking over the water while enjoying some Italian ice.

My favorite activity in Charleston was the horse-drawn carriage tour, although it didn't hold much interest for the kids. Still, it was a good opportunity for them to rest  and for the younger one to take a nap, lulled to sleep by the clip-clopping of the draft horse. There are several companies that run these popular tours, and we went with the Old South Carriage Company based on the excellent reviews. Our guide was charming and informative, and we really learned a lot about Charleston's rich history, architecture and flora during the hour-long ride.

Last but not least, I have to mention Fort Sumter, which is on everyone's must-do list for Charleston  although I also have to add that it's not very interesting for small children unless they're particularly well-versed in the Revolutionary or Civil Wars. That said, the half-hour ferry ride to and from the fort was a nice way to enjoy the ocean breeze, and the old cannons on the fort are definitely a sight to behold. We asked a park ranger for the Junior Ranger packet I'd read about online (a sort of scavenger hunt for kids, where they can earn a badge in the end), but only my son was interested in completing the different sections of the booklet; his older sister couldn't care less.

Where to Eat

We didn't have a single bad meal during our stay in Charleston. For breakfast, there was Callie's Hot Little Biscuit. There was a line out the door when we got there on a Tuesday morning, but fortunately I'd placed my order in advance through their app, so all we had to do was pick up the food. There are barely any seats in the tiny eatery, so take your biscuits across the street to a bench at Wragg Square.

For a dining spot with a breathtaking view, head over to Fleet Landing by the harbor. Definitely ask for a table outside, but if you do end up stuck inside, it's not the end of the world  the nautical decor of the spacious interior is also quite atmospheric.

And then, of course, there's the barbecue. We got tons of recommendations from both friends and locals, so we figured we were probably going to end up with some pretty tasty brisket no matter where we went. Lewis Barbecue did not disappoint, despite my ridiculously high expectations, in food or ambiance. Never have I seen a pile of meat disappear so fast. The brisket, the pulled pork, the sausage  I honestly can't decide which was my favorite. Get some of everything.

What's Nearby

We went to Charleston during spring break, and I knew that my kids would care more about being by a beach than in the historic downtown area, so we stayed in Folly Beach, about 20 minutes outside of the city. We would spend the first half of our days in Charleston, then end with a visit to the beach right outside our hotel. It's a wide, clean and family-friendly beach, with plenty of local dining and souvenir shopping.

For dinner after a day of sun and sand, head over to Loggerhead's Beach Grill, about five blocks from the beach, where the snow crab legs are perfectly steamed, the burgers are cooked just right, and the service is friendly, casual and oh so Southern. There's even great live music (country, of course) on most nights.

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