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Classic Family Vacations: Charleston

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Charleston, SC

This charming Southern town offers antebellum architecture, friendly locals, and one of the country’s best culinary scenes.

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s been to Charleston, S.C., that it consistently ranks among the best U.S. cities to visit. It has just about everything you could want in a vacation: nation-defining historical landmarks, breathtaking architecture, amazing food, natural beauty, and infectious Southern charm.

“It can feel like you’re in a dream sometimes, like you’ve stepped back 200 years,” says city native Brian Simms, the owner of Charleston Sole Walking Tours.

Visitors can access most sites in the historic downtown district on foot. There’s just something so peaceful about ambling along cobblestone streets past centuries-old houses and buildings, discovering hidden gardens along the way.

Charleston also features ample opportunities for kayaking and a five-mile round-trip path that takes joggers or cyclists over Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (try it at sunset!).

These are Simms’s must-sees:

African-American Heritage Tour

“People don’t realize how much African culture is here,” says Simms. He recommends learning about the African-American heritage that shaped the city, region, and country to fully understand Charleston. Gullah Tours offers a two-hour bus tour of important sites for $18. www.gullahtours.com

The Gibbes Museum of Art

An impressive collection of early-American art connects the region’s artistic past to a vibrant contemporary-art scene.

First-floor collection is free; exhibits $6–$15. www.gibbesmuseum.org

Battery and White Point Gardens

A large public park and garden with walking paths and military artifacts — all shaded by picturesque oak trees.

Free admission. www.discoversouthcarolina.com

Simms provides two-hour guided tours of other notable sites for $10–$20. www.charlestonsole.com

Middleton Place

A historic plantation with reenactment exhibits and a working stable, Middleton Place provides “an all-around view of what was going on with the history of slavery and the families that ran the plantations,” says Simms.

Cost: $28/adult; $15/student 14 and older; $10/children 6–13; free/under age 6. www.middletonplace.org 

Fort Sumter National Monument

Marking the site where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, this historic sea fort incorporates several sites around Charleston harbor and includes an education center at Gadsden’s Wharf that brings to life the forces that led to the Union-Confederacy conflict.

Cost: Admission to the fort is free; boat ride is $19.50/adults, $12/children. www.nps.gov/fosu

Where: Charleston, S.C.

Perfect for: Couples or adults looking for a place to spend time with parents or grandparents.

Why go: Remarkable antebellum architecture, friendly locals, and one of the country’s most exciting culinary scenes.

Best time of year: Spring (when the azaleas are in bloom) or fall.

Don’t miss: A tour of historic downtown.

Pack: Walking shoes.

This originally appeared as “Family Classics” in the September 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

is a writer and editor based in Boulder, Colo.

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