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Staycation Fun In Charleston, South Carolina!

by Paula on May 23, 2011


Looking to save money this year with your vacation?  Gas prices got you down?  Why not take a “staycation” instead? A twist on the normal travel-half-way-across-the-continent-by-airplane-car-or-bus-while-spending-outrageous-amounts-on-hotel-rooms-and-travel-expenses, a “staycation” allows you to stay in your own hometown, hang out in your own home, and find great activities around town that will be fun and exciting… and you can save loads of money by not spending it on travel and hotel expenses AND still have great fun and make lasting memories!!

Charleston, South Carolina, is my hometown.  There are so many things to do in Charleston–and I know more than a few are pricy.  But, there are also a lot of great free or low-cost adventures to enjoy in Charleston, South Carolina.  I’m listing some of my bargain choices and encourage you to try them out.  And if you have some favorites to add, please list them in the comments so others can try them out too!

I’ll be adding to this list throughout the summer so you might want to bookmark it for easy reference.  Even if you don’t live in Charleston, South Carolina, these ideas may come in handy if you travel there!

Also, I’m teaming up with bloggers across the country to offer other staycation solutions from other cities.  Check here to see if your city is listed.

Waterfront Park

Two fountains!  One for looking at…

Pineapple Fountain, Waterfront Park, Charleston, South Carolina

…and one for playing in!!

Fountain to play in!  Charleston, South Carolina

And there’s so much more to enjoy at Charleston’s Waterfront Park!!  Owned and maintained by the City of Charleston Parks Department, Waterfront Park is a popular destination for both residents and visitors.  An eight-acre linear park along the entry to the Charleston Harbor, the park features two spectacular fountains, sweeping green spaces, walking and jogging paths and a long pier hosting picnic tables and wooden swings.  It is a very popular place to gather!  Waterfront Park is one of Ariel’s favorite places to visit.  She loves to play in the water and thinks the family-sized swings are fun too.  I enjoy the salt breeze blowing in my face and watching the dolphins play.  (yes, I’ve seen dolphins from the pier!)

Admission is free.  According to various websites, the park is located on Concord Street, and I guess it kind of is.  I’ve always “found” it by turning off East Bay onto Vendue Range, which dead-ends right at the “play in the water” fountain.  I can usually find street parking within a couple of blocks.  I highly recommend bringing a change of clothes, a couple of towels, and a blanket.  Nothing worse than having a really hot and sweaty mom needing major AC and a soaking wet and chilled child who wants nothing more than to be warm and dry.  (Yes, I’ve made that mistake and had to slip over to the Mount Pleasant Wal-mart to buy Ariel some inexpensive clothes.  I was way too embarrassed to shop for her on ritzy King Street!)  For more park details, consult the City of Charleston’s website.

Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture

Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture

The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, part of the College of Charleston, tells the story of African Americans from the point of origin in Africa up to the present.  Featuring everyday life as well as those lives of public figures, Avery’s museum and archives have been developed with a regional focus, making it the only collection of its kind in the United States.

Tours of the museum are offered Monday – Saturday.  For specific tour times, please check the Avery Research Center’s website.  Admission is free.  The Avery Research Center is located at 125 Bull Street, near Ashley Avenue.  There are limited visitor parking spaces in their lot.  There is on-street parking.

United States Custom House

US Custom House, Charleston, South Carolina

Looking for a great workout—or a way to wear out some energetic kids?  Check out the stairs on the Custom House!!  I’ve tried counting them…and always wore out before I finished!!  If you want a little background information, read this article from wikipedia about the history of the Custom House.  The Custom House is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located at 200 East Bay Street at the base of the city market in downtown Charleston.  This is an operating business location, so the stairs might be the only part truly accessible.  But, I promise… great exercise!!!  Parking is on-street wherever you can find it!!  This area is a major tourism draw, so you might want to time your visit accordingly.

Sweetgrass baskets

One of my favorite things about Charleston is watching the talented basket-makers at various spots in the Holy City.  Truly, this is a unique Low Country art form.  Take a minute and examine the baskets and learn how they’re made.  Be sure to ask about how the sweetgrass is harvested and the steps that have been taken to ensure its viability and its longevity in the ecosystem.

Sweetgrass Baskets and basketmaker, Charleston, South Carolina

There are so many kinds of baskets.  Maybe you’ll find one you need!

Sweetgrass basket display, Charleston, South Carolina

Watching the basket makers work and looking at the baskets is free; however, don’t blame me if you spend money buying a basket–they’re beautiful!!  And, they’re heirloom quality.  We have a basket that was given to us by a family friend.  It’s still as pretty as the day it was made.

Many of the basketmakers are in the market area, but you can also find them around town in some of the busiest pedestrian walking areas.

Charleston RiverDogs Baseball

Charleston RiverDogs (class A affiliate of the New York Yankees)

Take me out to the ballgame!  The Charleston RiverDogs, the local Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees, is a fun family activity that won’t break the bank.  Special nightly activities provide change-it-up fun so you could take in several games over the season and enjoy a variety of zany promotions.  The admission fees range in price depending on the day’s promotions, but the prices are quite reasonable.

For a schedule of games and events, check out the Charleston River Dogs’ website here.  The RiverDogs play at “The Joe,” a facility shared by the RiverDogs and The Citadel Bulldogs Baseball Team.  Located at 360 Fishburne Street on the banks of the scenic Ashley River, “The Joe” is named for long-time City of Charleston mayor, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., a huge baseball fan and incredible asset to the city.  Make sure you take in the spectacular view of the Charleston Marina over the left-center field wall!

The Citadel Archives and Museum

The Citadel Archives and Museum

Near “The Joe” is The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.  Beautifully manicured grounds and historic buildings provide a backdrop for  2,000 cadets (and over 1,000 graduate students) as they learn.  The 169 year old college is known nationally for its Corps of Cadets, which consists of men and women from about 40 states and 12 different countries.  Leadership and character training are an essential part of the classical military education system at The Citadel.  About 1/3 of the graduating students accept military commissions.

The Citadel Archives and Museum provides displays about the history of the college from its founding in 1842 up to the present.  Chronologically arranged permanent exhibits trace the various aspects of cadet life:  military, academic, athletic, and social.

The Citadel parade, Charleston, South Carolina

Self-guided tours are free.  Museum hours are Monday – Friday 2-5 pm; Saturday 12-5 pm; Sunday 2-5 pm.  The Museum entrance is on the south side of the Daniel Library, opposite the Guard House at the main gates of the campus.  An elevator to the third floor is available.  The Citadel main gate, Lesesne Gate, is at 171 Moultrie Street.

The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site provides an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the “forgotten father,” Charles Pinckney; the birth of the United States; and the cultural factors that shaped it as well as the country’s first several decades of growth.  Exhibits, a short film and a half-mile trail running through the site provide visitors with background on Pinckney and his influence on the United States.  Admission is free.  Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is located at 1254 Long Point Road on Mount Pleasant.  Hours of operation are daily 9 am – 5 pm.  Closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site Junior Ranger Program

A great free program sponsored by the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is the Junior Ranger Program.  Children 12 and under can participate by picking up a program at the visitor center, completing it, and then meeting with a ranger to go over the program.  The kids then receive a Charles Pinckney Junior Ranger badge and certificate!  Being that she totally loves history, I think Ariel would really get a kick out of this!

North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Educational Center

North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum

The North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Educational Center houses 18 fully restored vehicles, some of them dating back to the early 1800s.  Admission is $6 for adults; children under 12 are free.

North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum

Exhibits at the museum include interactive displays and hands-on equipment.  The educational exhibit “Home Fire Hazard Theater” is a crowd favorite.  Museum hours are Monday – Saturday 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm.  The North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Educational Center is located 4975 Centre Pointe Drive in North Charleston.   

Charleston Tea Plantation

Charleston Tea Plantation

The Charleston Tea Plantation is the home of the ONLY tea grown in America… American Classic Tea.  Offering free factory tours–and taste-testing of all the iced tea you want!  The complimentary tours of the factory teach about the history of tea, how it’s harvested and produced, and the story of the Charleston Tea Plantation.  Bring a picnic lunch and spend the day on the 167 acres of the plantation.

Charleston Tea Plantation

The Charleston Tea Plantation is located at 6617 Maybank Highway on Wadmalaw Island.  Hours of operation are Monday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm and Sunday 12 pm – 4 pm.

Waterparks of Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission

Splash Zone at James Island County Park, Charleston, South Carolina

The Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission operates multiple parks that would provide hours of family fun.  Waterparks such as Splash Island Waterpark in Mount Pleasant’s Palmetto Islands County Park, Whirlin’ Waters Adventure Waterpark in North Charleston Wannamaker County Park, and Splash Zone Waterpark in James Island County Park are just a tip of the iceberg when looking into summer fun at the facilities of the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.

Whirlin' Waters Adventure Waterpark, North Charleston Wannamaker County Park, Charleston, South Carolina

It is worth noting that the waterparks operate on a reduced schedule when school is in session and that you should check for times and dates before planning a trip.  Also, there are separate fees associated with each water park that are not included in regular park admission.  A season pass might be a great option if you live nearby and plan to utilize the park often.

Splash Island Waterpark at Mount Pleasant Palmetto Islands County Park, Charleston, South Carolina

Caw Caw Nature & History Interpretive Center

old rice field at Caw Caw Nature and History Interpretive Center, Charleston, South Carolina

Located in Ravenel, just a short drive from Charleston, is the Caw Caw Nature & History Interpretive Center, part of the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.

Enjoy over 6 miles of trail complete with trailside exhibits; elevated boardwalks through wetlands (don’t forget your bug spray!); former 18th and 19th century rice fields; thousands of naturalized tea plants from a former 20th century tea farm; areas managed specifically for the benefit of wildlife, such as deer, otters, songbirds, and waterfowl; and favored habitats for some rare wildlife, such as Bald Eagles, Swallow-tailed Kites, and American Alligators.

American Alligator at Caw Caw Nature and History Interpretive Center, Charleston, South Carolina

Caw Caw is widely regarded as a birding hotspot of the South Carolina coast.  Spring and summer provide opportunities to view Prothonotary Warblers and Swallow-tailed Kites.  Summer is also a good time to see the Painted Bunting or the Indigo Bunting.  Year-round, you might see egrets, herons, and ibises.  Additionally, a variety of waterfowl winter at Caw Caw.

bird at Caw Caw Nature and History Interpretive Center, Charleston, South Carolina

The address for Caw Caw Nature & History Interpretive Center is 5200 Savannah Highway (Highway 17 South).  Hours of operation are Wednesday – Sunday 9 am – 5 pm.  The site is closed on Monday and Tuesday.  Admission is $1 per person; children 2 and under are free.

boardwalk through wetlands area at Caw Caw Nature and History Interpretive Center, Charleston, South Carolina

The Charleston Explorers Club

Charleston Explorers Club, Charleston CVB, Charleston, South Carolina

What a great idea!!  The Charleston CVB has created a free, interactive program, the Charleston Explorers Club, just for pint-sized tourists, encouraging them to visit new places to collect stamps in a provided passport.  To obtain a passport, simply stop at any Official Charleston Area Visitor Center.  Sounds like a lot of fun to me… we’ll definitely try this on our next visit!

(Photo credits:  Charleston pineapple fountain; Charleston “play” fountain; US Custom House; sweetgrass basketmaker; sweetgrass basket display)

Disclosure: This post was written by The Tween and Me as part of The Year of the Staycation blogger project.  I chose Charleston, South Carolina, because it is one of my favorite cities.  I was not influenced in any way, shape, or form in what I wrote or which places I featured.  (And truthfully, I would have loved to have written more but completely ran out of time!)  All of the pictures, are unabashedly borrowed either from the site they’re promoting or the CVB’s main website.  I’ve linked every picture back to its source or the site it’s promoting, so if you click on any of those pictures, you should be able to find out more about Charleston and its tourism attractions.  As I hadn’t planned this post last time I was in Charleston and don’t take great pictures anyway, I had no other choice!  I hope that the nice folks at these sites will appreciate that this article was written with only good intentions and not come after me with pitchforks and lawyers!

What do YOU enjoy in Charleston?

Are you from Charleston, South Carolina?  Have you ever been to Charleston?  Have you experienced some of the places I highlighted?  Did I miss anything?  What else should our readers know about a staycation or vacation in Charleston, South Carolina?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Courtney May 24, 2011 at 6:32 am

Hi there! I’m another Charleston, SC blogger and I’m so glad that I just found you through Life as Mom. I don’t have any tweens (I’ve got boys, ages 2 and 4) but you’ve recommended so many great things to do here that my boys would love. We’ve done a lot of it, but not all – so thanks for the great ideas! The only thing I would add is going to the beach. We live closer to Sullivan’s Island or Isle of Palms, but Folly Beach is also a wonderful option here. The beach is either free or just a few dollars for parking, and you can’t beat that!


2 Paula May 24, 2011 at 7:40 am

Hi, Courtney!! So glad you found some ideas to use! I didn’t mention the beach because it seemed so obvious, but I am going to do a follow-up post with a few more ideas…things like the beach! and other readers’ suggestions….and a few slightly out of town ideas too. And maybe even one on food! Got any ideas? Or, hey, if you want to write one, I can link back to you!!


3 Shakeeta W May 24, 2011 at 11:21 am

I’m from Columbia but have visited Charleston several times in my life. I love the fountain that you can play in (went for the 1st time in 5th grade! I haven’t been back for a few years but would love to go and expose my daughter to all the wonderful coastal adventures and traditions that Charleston has to offer!


4 Paula May 24, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Yay for Columbia! Thanks for checking in! And there’s so much to do in Columbia…. we did a spend the night event at the State Museum in April–LOVED IT!!

Do take your daughter to Charleston… so much to see and do!! I bet she’ll enjoy the fountain too! :)


5 Lindsey Whitney May 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Great list — love all the pictures. Looks like you guys really love water!
Lindsey Whitney would love for you to read Staycations Around AmericaMy Profile


6 Paula May 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm

We do! My dd is always the first to hit the water… and the last one to admit her toes are shriveled up!!


7 Kimberly May 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm

We’ve lived in Charleston for a year now, and some of our favorites are Charles Towne Landing state historic site, and Second Sunday on King Street. They’re both family-friendly, inexpensive, and lots of fun.


8 Paula May 24, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Oh, those are great additions to add to the second part! Thanks for those suggestions!!


9 Christina May 27, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Hi! I’m a fellow blogger from Charleston, SC! So happy I ran across your site! One more thing I would probably add is to visit the Charleston Children’s Museum if you have little ones…not only does it provide a welcomed break from Charleston’s heat or unexpected rainstorms, but it’s also a wonderful (and frugal) way to spend a summer day! It costs $7 to get in (children 1 & under are free) or you can purchase an annual membership if you live in Charleston & plan on going often. PLUS, I often find coupons for Free admission on CCM brochures at Tanger Outlets or in the Entertainment Savings books!!


10 Paula May 30, 2011 at 10:03 am

Great idea! I had looked into the CCM, but was really trying to keep most of the tips free or low cost. I’ll definitely add it on the update I’m planning on writing soon!!


11 Caroline @ chocolate & carrots March 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I’m from Charleston too! We love walking on the beaches and the bridge…and now playing on the playground at the Mount Pleasant Pier with our little one. What a great list! So many fun things to do in Charleston!


12 Latisha June 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hi you have a lot of good suggestions! I am also from the area, and suggest going to the local bee farms or Charlestown Landing. Both are inexpensive and full of teachable moments.


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