Vacation can be much more than a trip to the beach. Pull out your cameras as the whole family feeds a sting ray, soars 600 feet over the Atlantic, zips through a forest tree canopy, picnics on an uninhabited island, spots dolphins in Charleston Harbor or reels in a big one. There is so much to do – the hardest part will be choosing which photo to frame first!
Plan your own boat excursion with Beachside Adventures. Want to see why Boneyard Beach on Capers Island is so famous? How about thrilling the family with a ride around Charleston Harbor and under the beautiful Ravenel Bridge? There is a lot of Charleston to see, and the itinerary is in your hands with the experienced captains at Beachside. Tubing, waterskiing and other fantastic water sports adventures are also available. It’s like having your own boat!
A day exploring downtown Charleston is a must for island visitors, but getting there can be just as fun as the carriage ride, aquarium visit and tours you have lined up when you arrive. Take advantage of ample parking at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina and hop on board the Charleston Water Taxi, which runs on a continual loop across Charleston Harbor from Mt. Pleasant to downtown Charleston (one stop is right at the aquarium!). Kids will be thrilled with the boat ride! And the family can see the USS Yorktown, Castle Pinckney, Fort Sumter, dolphins and other wildlife on the way.
When your kids have to write next fall’s “summer vacation” essay, they can honestly claim they rode a giant banana and learned to fly! Tidal Wave Water Sports has a well-stocked menu of the best ways to catch some waves (or some air!). Sign up for a Safari Tour on WaveRunners to tour the barrier islands or take the whole family (up to a group of six) and head out for a few hours of wakeboarding, tubing and waterskiing. Hang on! Because the Tidal Wave Banana Boat lives up to its name – a giant, inflatable banana pulled by a jet ski. For an experience the family will remember forever, join Tidal Wave’s skilled captains on a parasailing excursion and see the stunning Atlantic Ocean from 600-800 feet in the air.
Change your point of view – literally – and create a family adventure with a powerboat rental from the Isle of Palms Marina. Fish, swim, explore barrier islands and bring along a picnic. Take a family vote and create your own schedule for a day your children will never forget!
Kayak and paddleboard rentals are also available from Nature Adventures at their Shem Creek location and at Coastal Expeditions. Paddleboard and surfboard rentals are available through Pipeline Surf Shop.
A STEP BACK IN TIME
Charleston isn’t just beautiful beaches; the Lowcountry will give your children a taste of hands-on history they’ll never forget.
Set among 600 acres of lush, centuries-old gardens and wildlife habitats, Magnolia Plantation is a fantastic choice for families who want to soak in local history while still enjoying the outdoors. The plantation house has 10 rooms open to the public. A From Slavery to Freedom tour focuses on five historic slave dwellings, and even very young children will love the plantation’s zoo and nature center. Kids can see and interact with domestic species representative of plantation life. Take a break from walking with a ride on Magnolia’s Rice Field Boat Tour or Nature Train, an action-packed tram tour of the plantation’s wetlands, lakes, forests and marshes.
Everyone in the family will enjoy a trip to Boone Hall Plantation, featuring acres of scenic grounds, a house tour, a butterfly garden, a Black History in America exhibit and more. Boone Hall has also been producing crops for more than three centuries, making it one of the oldest working plantations in the country. Children love the U-Pick field opportunities offered throughout the year for strawberries, pumpkins and tomatoes, as well as child-centered, seasonal special events such as the Strawberry Festival and the Pumpkin Patch.
What child doesn’t want a horse carriage ride! The best carriage company in town, Charleston Carriage Works, will open your kids’ eyes and allow them to experience Charleston’s history and culture in a fun, exciting way. The whole family will enjoy the fascinating narrative of a licensed guide as you glide through Charleston’s historic streets in a comfortable, custom-made carriage pulled by draft horses. Every tour is a little bit different, but all feature inside knowledge of Charleston’s legends and lore. Toddlers under 2 ride free on a parent’s lap.
Middleton Place Plantation offers an engaging, active way to take your family back in time. A restored 18th-century rice plantation, Middleton Place is home to America’s oldest and most beautiful landscaped gardens. The Plantation Stableyards house a variety of heritage breed animals, as well as re-enactors offering live demonstrations of period crafts, including pottery making and blacksmithing. Board a handmade carriage for a ride across the expansive property or tour the House Museum. Complete your experience with a guided kayak tour of the Ashley River or a cypress swamp.
NATURE THE LOWCOUNTRY WAY
Sandlapper Water Tours offers a Nature Tour that is sure to make an unforgettable childhood memory, as you get up close and personal with some of Charleston Harbor’s coolest wild inhabitants. Board Sandlapper’s 45-foot catamaran, the Palmetto, to see dolphins, great blue herons, cormorants and brown pelicans. Before heading into the mouth of the harbor, a guide pulls up a crab pot and discusses the live animals found inside before they are added to the on-board touch tank. The boat lands on Morris Island, so kids get a chance to explore and discover shells and live animals rarely found on inhabited beaches. Imaginations will run wild when your family shares a meal on an uninhabited island. Sandlapper can make it happen!
Coastal Expeditions offers unique tours that immerse your family in the splendor of Lowcountry nature. Imagine the look on your children’s faces when they see a dolphin breach beside their kayak or find a fossilized shark tooth on the beach. Watch in excitement as pelicans impact-feed on a Shem Creek kayak tour. The naturalist-led Bulls Island Ferry tour promises a day of dolphin spotting, sunbathing alligators and hiking to the famous Boneyard Beach. If you feel comfortable on the water without a guide, rent kayaks and paddleboards for an afternoon of self-guided discovery.
If you want a huge adventure with a tiny carbon footprint, Nature Adventures provides great ways for your family to experience the Lowcountry with a variety of guided eco tours. Journey into the blackwater swamps to see breathtaking scenery and wildlife. The saltwater tours reward lucky paddlers with appearances by dolphins, manatees and sea turtles. Some tours feature stops at untouched barrier island preserves, where the kids can run along pristine beaches, search for shells and eat a packed lunch. If you prefer a more independent approach, Nature Adventures offers kayaks and paddleboards for rent.
Take a short drive north to historic Georgetown and hop on board the Sea Shell and Lighthouse Cruise. The three-hour tour takes passengers to uninhabited North Island. On the way, you might glimpse sea turtles in the water or an alligator resting on the nearby shore! Once on the island, the kids can exit the boat and explore the quiet, pristine beach. If you have been disappointed by shell hunting on the public beaches, you won’t be here. Starfish, horseshoe crabs and whelks abound, and tours are scheduled at the best time to find these treasures.
Cherished family memories begin at Barrier Island Eco Tours. Choose one of their scheduled trips, such as crab catching aboard a large pontoon boat or charter a boat along with a naturalist guide for a “Family Fun Day” excursion that can include just about anything you would like to do on the water. Spend some time fishing in the calm waters of the salt marsh, learn to throw a cast net, swim a little and stop on uninhabited Capers Island for shelling and exploration. You may even choose to end the trip with a Lowcountry boil or hamburgers and hot dogs grilled on the beach.
UNLEASH YOUR INNER CHILD
The entire family will stare wide-eyed, standing in front of the 385,000-gallon, two-story tank at the South Carolina Aquarium. Open your children’s minds and learn new things yourself as you wonder at the 5,000 animals on display and visit two touch tanks for a hands-on experience with horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, sharks and stingrays. The new Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery is a state-of-the-art turtle hospital and guest experience in one, with interactive displays about sea turtles and the effort required to help and rehabilitate them.
No vacation story will top an airplane ride over Charleston or a private boat excursion around creeks and uninhabited islands. Beachside Excursions works with top pilots and captains who know the area’s air and waterways intimately and can make your child’s dream come true. Water sports adventures include tubing, water skiing and WaveRunner eco tours. Your expedition is limited only by your imagination!
It’s not just a place to find the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats and herbs; the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market is one of the most popular destinations for local families! Kid-friendly local musicians encourage dancing and sing-alongs, and there are crafts, balloons and other great activities. Pick up some artisan cheese, specialty coffee or delicious prepared food to bring back to the beach house, as the little ones enjoy popcorn, a funnel cake or a lemonade slush.
Fly through the trees at Charleston Zip Line Adventures. With seven zip lines, three swinging bridges and a grande finale, 750-foot zip, children age 10 and over will have serious bragging rights when they get home! Younger kids, ages 5-10, enjoy their own zip adventure, with two zip circuits they can stay on as long as they want up to 90 minutes. Coming back down to earth is not going to be easy!
I ONCE CAUGHT A FISH
There is still something magical about taking children fishing. Great charter options near Isle of Palms make the happy memories from your own childhood available to your kids today.
If your kids stare wide-eyed at shark week on television, they’ll never forget the time they met the ocean’s most fascinating predator face to face. Sharkin Charleston offers a unique, per-person 2.5-hour shark fishing excursion in Charleston Harbor. A wide range of shark species are prolific in the area, including bonnethead, bull, hammerhead and nurse. Thank goodness Captain Kevin has a “bigger boat”! Also reel in redfish, black sea bass, trout and more.
Whether you are new to fishing or an old salt, Captain Fritz at Adventure Outdoors can have you up and running in no time. A lifelong Lowcountry resident with more than 35 years of experience fishing, Fritz knows how to find the fish! He personalizes each tour to create a lasting memory for your family. Reel in redfish, a variety of sharks, trout and more aboard the 24-foot Pathfinder bay boat that has cushioned seating and a top for welcome sun protection.
At the Isle of Palms Marina, families can charter an inshore boat to catch redfish, flounder, sharks and mackerel, or take up to six family members for a full-day excursion offshore to nab a tuna or a giant blue marlin! Fishing equipment, licenses and an experienced captain are included. All you need to bring are the kids, some sunscreen and a camera. You never know when you might need photographic evidence to back up your “fish story”!
The experienced, friendly guides at Barrier Island Eco Tours take special care that every child on their fishing charters has a great experience, and they love to see first-timers get hooked – on fishing, that is! Take the entire family on a private charter or hop on a regularly scheduled per-person head boat trip. All licensing and equipment are included, so just bring the kids and be prepared to have a blast.
Please see the Guest Guide to find listings that include website addresses, physical addresses and phone numbers for the businesses mentioned in this article. Be sure to let everyone know you heard about them in Island Magazine!
It’s not just for grown-ups! Even younger children will enjoy trying their hand at this great sport, and they’ll learn a skill they can use and build on for the rest of their lives. Who knows, you might be encouraging the next Masters champion!
Dunes West Golf and River Club:
RiverTowne Country Club: