Family Vacation : Charleston and the Isle of Palms
I see at least one 30A bumper sticker advertising the amazing beaches along Florida’s State Road 30A each day on my way to work. While we have vacationed there before, my favorite beach destination will always be the Isle of Palms, an amazing beach outside Charleston, S.C. A pretty beach isn’t enough for me though. In all of our travels, I look for history, culture, and amazing food when I can get it! Charleston offers up all of these things.
I’ve visited several of the beaches near Charleston, included Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, and my favorite of all is Isle of Palms. An entire end of the island is consumed with a single resort, Wild Dunes, and we’ve had many enjoyable stays here. We have stayed in the condos and rented houses. I prefer to rent a house, and you can get a pretty good deal if you are willing to book one or two rows back from the beach. There is access on every street, and I prefer to book around 51st Ave as the regular visitors thin out and the beach is almost all yours!
Th water during our last trip was absolutely perfect, with fairly calm waves and a nice cool current. We had tons of fun playing, building sand castles and putting our toes in the water.
Located downtown, Liberty Square has two different activities in one location. The South Carolina Aquarium and Fort Sumter Historical Museum offer great options for some family time. This trip, we chose to check out the aquarium and were lucky enough to show up for one of their “Nights at the Aquarium.” Instead of closing at 5pm, the aquarium stays open until 10pm and you can get some extra bang for your buck during your visit.
South Carolina Aquarium
The aquarium is 2 levels along with some outdoor space for feeding stingrays as well. It actually has amazing views of the Arthur Ravenell Jr Bridge and the U.S.S. Yorktown.
Almost all of the exhibits have animals that they have rescued and are unable to live in the wild. Our favorite exhibit was actually the very first one. Going up the escalator, the first thing you see is an amazing bald eagle named Liberty. She has an injured wing and is unable to fly, so the aquarium has taken her in. They feed her rats (my son asked).
There was a special exhibit at the aquarium called Bricks Alive, sharing some great lego structures throughout the aquarium.
There were lots of exhibits to choose from, including a sea turtle recovery center, albino alligator, and tons of Atlantic ocean dwellers.
We also chartered a boat for some fishing one day. We had a great time even though we caught more sting rays than fish. If you need a recommendation, we had a great time with Captain Matt Swan at Coastal Fishing Guides.
While there are so many amazing places to each in Charleston, I have one special favorite in Mt. Pleasant. It’s a super quick drive from Isle of Palms and is soon to be featured on the Travel Channel. Page’s Okra Grill serves up delicious southern food, and the pimento cheese is such a favorite of mine that I ate it even before i remembered to snag a picture! The fried shrimp is a favorite of mine, and you can’t go to Page’s Okra Grill and not try to the Okra. It’s also very well priced, which can be hard to find in the Charleston food scene.
Other favorites of mine in Charleston are:
- Poogan’s Porch – Located downtown in a Victoria Home, the ambiance is as cool as the food is delicious. We love the shrimp and grits here.
- Husk – We have one in Nashville now, so i tend to visit this one less. The original is in Charleston though.
We can’t make a trip to Isle of Palms without some time walking around Charleston as well. For shopping, King Street is the destination. I was a little disappointed with how many chain stores have taken over spaces that used to belong to cute little boutiques. We passed Gap, Forever 21 and others in the beautiful Charleston buildings.
Site-Seeing Locations Downtown:
- Historic Charleston City Market – Home to hundreds of vendors, the City Market spans 4 blocks starting on Meeting Street. It has local sweet water baskets and lots of other tourist items. We bought some soap from Carolina Island Soap Works last time. They do have a “certified authentic” seal if you want to make sure the products you are buying at 100% locally produced.
- The Battery – I enjoy just driving down the battery and gazing at the historic, antebellum houses overlooking the meeting of the Cooper and Ashley rivers. This areas is particular beautiful around Christmas time when the houses all have their lights up.
- Rainbow Row – This famous line of 13 houses on East Bay Street is the largest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States. They get their name from the pastel colors they are painted.
- Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge – It’s worth it to get a few shots of the Ravenel Bridge. I don’t usually remember cities by their bridges, but this one is especially impressive. It’s an amazing 8 lanes wide, and connects downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant. It’s a cable-stayed bridge, and the third longest in the Western Hemisphere. You can get some great shots on your way to Mt. Pleasant for dinner at Page’s Okra Grill!
Isle of Palms is a great beach destination, because of its proximity to Charleston and fairly un-crowded beautiful beaches. To get the most of our your trip, I recommend:
- Renting a house – I love Wild Dunes, but there are lots of other nice locations
- Enter the beach around 49-53rd Ave – This allows you to stay away from the crowds at the Grand Pavillion in Wild Dunes and the locals staying near the island center
- Take advantage of some Charleston activities – SC Aquarium, USS Yorktown, Fishing Charter, Fort Sumter
- Pick at least one nice, local dinner out – I love Page’s Okra Grill and Poogan’s Porch
- Take a stroll around Downtown Charleston – Check out the shopping on King Street, huge houses in the Battery, Rainbow Row, and the City Market