Are We There Yet? Charleston and Beyond for Families
By Linda Holloway
Photography by Larry Holloway
I first had the idea of mixing history with family vacations from our seven-year-old grandson, Landon. He was extremely excited about studying American presidents and history in school. Landon’s Northport Elementary School teacher, Kaycie Baker, explained, “In the second-grade, students will learn principles of American democracy including founding of the nation and identifying national historical figures and celebrations that exemplify fundamental democratic values.” It is exciting to know kids are learning history early. Make your vacation a game. Before leaving for the Charleston area, watch Back to the Future with the kids and explain your vehicle will transport the family to the pre-American Revolutionary War period and beyond.
Middleton Place – Circa 1741
Imagine a fall vacation that is relaxing for parents and fun for kids. A place where lodging is overlooking salt marshes of the Ashley River and the expansive green space is perfect for play. Bring a ball for the kids while you sit in Adirondack chairs to recharge before the holidays. Then, follow a path where the 21st century recedes and time begins in the year, 1741, where you will find a herd of sheep grazing along the Greensward. You have arrived at Middleton Place Inn and historic Middleton Place—a National Historic Landmark.
First settled in the 18th century, with the family residence dating from 1705, the Middleton family acquired this land through marriage in 1741. It was previously owned by Mary Williams’ family before she married Henry Middleton. It miraculously remained under the same family stewardship for over 300 years. Henry Middleton, was the second President of the First Continental Congress, and Arthur Middleton was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Explore America’s oldest landscaped gardens where the famous ornamental lakes shaped like butterfly wings are located. The gardens were in the Britisher’s Ball scene in the film, The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger.
The Middleton House Museum (1775) is where you can point out a hand-written letter from Abraham Lincoln. Here, observe rare Middleton family furniture, books, and historic documents. The working Stableyards is a favorite where its heritage-breed livestock is a living history museum. Historians demonstrate blacksmithing, coopering, textile work and other skills. Visit the “Beyond the Fields,” exhibit which interprets the lives of enslaved people who lived and worked here in the plantation era.
Middleton Equestrian Center: Be sure to reserve a trail ride on horseback. No experience is necessary for the popular Middleton Equestrian Center’s approximately one hour guided and narrated horseback riding tour. Travel back to the future on these historic grounds. This is a great activity for parents and kids to do together.
The Inn at Middleton Place
Secluded among sweeping live oaks and towering pines, The Inn at Middleton Place is unique with its floor to ceiling windows, hardwood floors and wood-burning fireplaces. The Grand King Suite with a pull-out sofa, is perfect for small families. With almost a cabin-like feel, the kids can enjoy the air mattresses provided by the Inn (small fee); and Pack and Plays are also available. For larger families, downtown Charleston has a bounty of hotels, but there is something exciting about lodging where you can roam the grounds where British and American Revolutionary soldiers walked.
Guests at The Inn are granted complimentary access to Middleton Place grounds, home of America’s oldest landscaped gardens, in addition to the House Museum and Stableyards. Children under 12 are no additional charge. Dine at Middleton Place Restaurant that dates to 1928. The Low Country dishes are amazing. Be sure to request a picnic lunch under the stunning oaks. The natural habitat beckons guests to explore by hiking, kayaking, or bicycling—the staff can plan your itinerary.
Visit nearby Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and explore the famous 19th century gardens. Enjoy the Nature Boat Tour where you will see alligators, herons, egrets, and other marsh-dwelling creatures. The Audubon Swamp Garden is where trees grow from water, islands float, and wild creatures live. Thousands of plant and animal species coexist, surrounded by blackwater. Tour the house and “From Slavery to Freedom” exhibit. Kids love the Nature Train where history and wildlife are witnessed and explained. Be sure to visit majestic Drayton Hall—named Conde’ Traveler’s Best Place to see in South Carolina.
In nearby John’s Island, visit the Angel Oak which is considered the largest Southern live oak tree east of the Mississippi River. Over 400,000 people a year journey to see the tree that is 25.5 feet in circumference. It produces shade that covers 17,200 square feet of shade. Sorry kids—no climbing on this famed tree.
Charleston on Land and Water: Charleston has received the title of 2023 T+L World’s favorite cities in the U.S. category for the 11th year in a row. Walk along cobblestone streets surrounded by mansions and Revolutionary War structures—still intact. Charleston is a port city and you will want to explore history on land and water. First, visit the Heyward-Washington House Museum, built in 1772, for Thomas Heyward, Jr., signer of the Declaration of Independence. Yes, George Washington really did sleep here, in 1791, when he visited Charleston. The local ladies had tea with him upstairs in the home.
Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum is where you will tour the USS Yorktown; built during World War II, the aircraft carrier draws young military buffs with interactive displays and vintage warplanes. This is a TripAdvisor top 10% of attractions worldwide. Operation Overnight: Sleep in traditional Navy berthing compartments and eat meals in one of the ship’s many galleys. While aboard, you will hear stories of heroism and experience the WWII aircraft carrier as you go behind the scenes to the “Live Like a Sailor” program.
Take a private Harbor Sail on Everything Zen, a 40-foot catamaran, around Charleston Harbor. From May to October, kids will enjoy jumping off the bow of the catamaran and floating by the hull of the Yorktown aircraft carrier like a lazy river. Floats are tied to Everything Zen so guests can also relax. Kids enjoy hanging out on the mesh trampoline spotting dolphins, and experiencing the helm station to see how the sails work. The captain points out historic sites such as Fort Sumter—making learning fun. Reserve prior to visiting: EZSAILINGCHARTERS.COM.
Try these Charleston favorites: Visit the South Carolina Aquarium where you can touch the sharks and rays as they pass. Open on weekends, visit the Hunley. In 1864, The Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine. It was lost for over a century and raised in 2000. See the Hunley in her 75,000-gallon tank and view the gold coin that saved the captain’s life. Visit White Point Gardens where kids enjoy wading in the iconic pineapple fountain. For family selfies, visit Rainbow Row on East Bay Street. Charleston Market is where you can purchase a Sweet Grass basket, one of the nation’s oldest handicrafts. Explore the International African American Museum that has more than 700 artifacts from the 17th century to today. Take a day trip to Folly Beach and look for shark teeth.
Restaurants: Miller’s All Day offers a hearty and delicious breakfast. Leon’s Oyster Shop is where the locals eat. This casual restaurant is known for delicious seafood and chicken. Bodega, is where you can order a lunch box meal and enjoy a picnic in the area parks. For fine dining, High Cotton has amazing Low Country cuisine. Ask for the table that was in a scene from the film, The Notebook.
For Middleton Inn Reservations, visit https://www.middletonplace.org/accommodations/
For Tourist Information, visit www.ExploreCharleston.com
For additional photos of Charleston, go to www.KidsLifeMagazine.com