Charleston - Things to Do

While there is nothing wrong with heading straight to one of the many beaches in the Charleston area, there is a lot to tempt you away from the sand and surf.  Our first stop was Fort Sumter National Monument, located on a small island in the harbor.  The site of the first shots fired in the Civil War, this is a great mix of history and gorgeous scenery.  

Reached after a quick ferry ride, you can listen to a short ranger talk or immediately begin the self-guided tour, which takes about 45 minutes.  There is a museum which tells the story of the construction of the fort, the events leading up to the confrontation between Confederate and Union troops on April 12, 1861, and the fort's continued role in the conflict through the end of the Civil War.

After you've absorbed all the history you can at the fort, head back to shore and be sure to tour the museum at the Visitor Education Center.  It provides a broader look at the issues and disputes that caused the Civil War.   

If you go, remember to bring a light sweater as it can get chilly on the ferry and out in the harbor.  Also, be sure to register for the Junior Ranger program at the visitor center before heading out to the fort.  The kids complete a questionnaire while exploring the fort and return it to the ranger at the visitor center.  In return for their efforts, they are awarded a junior ranger badge.  Many national parks and sites offer this program and it is a great way to keep kids engaged and excited.

A short walk from the Visitors Center is the South Carolina Aquarium.  The aquarium is newly renovated and a great stop for anyone with kids.  There are many exhibits on offer:  Madagascar journey, with a close-up look at ring-tailed lemurs and other animals native to the island, a touch tank with wonderful educators on hand to answer questions, a 6,000-gallon stingray tank where you can purchase shrimp cups to feed the rays, and so much more. 

  Feeding the rays

Feeding the rays

The highlight of our visit was a trip to the aquarium's sea turtle hospital.  This is an add-on to the general admission ticket but well worth the price.  The hospital is home to many different types of sea turtles who are too sick or injured to survive in the wild.  Here they are nursed back to health until they are healthy enough to be released back into the ocean.  Seeing these creatures up close was fascinating and the kids talked about this for weeks after our visit. 

Just over the Ravenel Bridge in Mt. Pleasant, Patriot's Point is home to the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier, the USS Laffey, a destroyer and the USS Clamagore, the only Guppy III submarine preserved in the United States.  We spent the better part of a day here exploring all the ships as well as the aircraft still housed on the deck of the Yorktown.  You can tour each of the boats at your own pace, with or without an audio tour (available for an additional fee) and there are plenty of volunteers to answer any questions you have.  A cafeteria serving meals and snacks is on the Yorktown or you can bring a picnic and have lunch at one of the many tables provided overlooking the docked ships and the Ravenel Bridge.

Idea for Spring Break - Charleston

With a snowstorm bearing down this weekend, I've been dreaming of April and spring break.  One great trips we took as a family was a week in Charleston, South Carolina.  It was everything we work looking for:  warm, not too far from home (we drove), great food, and lots to do and see.  We broke the trip up and spent two nights in Williamsburg on the way down, but we loved Charleston so much we opted to change our return plans and spend an extra night there.

We had some Marriott points to use so we chose to stay at the Residence Inn, which is about a 5 minute drive from downtown Charleston.  The hotel was great and it had everything we needed for a long stay:  our room was a suite so the kids were in a separate room for sleeping, a hot breakfast was served every morning, there were laundry facilities on-site and best of all, a heated saltwater pool. 

Over the next few posts, I'll be highlighting what we did, where we ate, and a few great day trips we took. 

Spring Weekend in Williamsburg

A couple of years ago we stopped off in Williamsburg on our way down to Charleston for spring break.  We had just enough time to see a few of the highlights (and we didn't mention Busch Gardens to the kids).  Downtown Williamsburg is charming and we arrived in time to stroll through the local farmer's market and feed some of the locals before the historical site opened.  

It is free to walk the grounds (but you must pay to enter any of the buildings) and since it was such a beautiful day, that is what we chose to do.  

For lunch I had gotten a recommendation from the 36 Hours column in the NY Times (a great resource when you are planning a trip) for The Cheese Shop.  This spot is popular so be prepared to wait but it is so worth it.  I took the advice of the NY Times and had the Virginia ham on French bread and it was, as the article had predicted, one of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten.

For dinner, we wanted to eat at one of the many themed restaurants in Colonial Williamsburg.  We ate at Christiana Campbell's Tavern, reputedly George Washington's favorite place to dine when he visited.   The tavern is famous for its crab cakes and they did not disappoint.  Our waiter was great with the kids and used Jack as an example to all the diners in our area to explain why our napkins were the size of a small bath towel and the proper way to wear it.  

After dinner, we explored more of the grounds and did a little shopping.  We especially loved Mermaid Books, a used books store with a fantastic selection of kids books and regional cookbooks.  

There is much, much more to do here (in fact, after writing this I'm thinking we need to plan a return trip) and if you are looking for a quick getaway for Spring Break, this would be a great place to consider.  

California Dreaming: Los Angeles

There are so many things to do in Los Angeles that it was almost too overwhelming to choose what to do on our last day.  After spending the previous day at Disneyland, we wanted something a little more relaxing and the Getty Museum was at the top of the list.  Everything about the museum was perfect:  the setting, the kids' activities, the architecture.  In fact, this is the most kid-friendly art museum we have ever visited. There is a huge area of one wing dedicated to five activity coves that allow kids to make masks, lay on a bed that is exactly like that found in a painting in the museum, or draw on the walls to help illustrate a medieval manuscript.  

We had picked up a series of "Art Detective" cards when we arrived and did a scavenger hunt through some of the galleries.  These types of games really help to keep the kids engaged as we walk though and look at the art and sometimes they actually learn something new.

The guards were incredibly nice throughout the museum and were always suggesting something to help the kids enjoy the experience more.  One of them mentioned that we should take them to the sketching gallery, where real works of art are on display for artists to sketch.  The kids were given a clipboard, paper and a charcoal pencil and invited to choose a piece of art to study.  This was one of the highlights of the museum for them and they really took it seriously.  Once they were done, the docent had them sign their work and rolled it up and tied it with a string to take home.

We had a fantastic lunch on the terrace overlooking the museum's beautiful sculpture gardens and then walked through the gardens to see everything up close.  

We made a quick stop at the La Brea Tar Pits to see some of LA's ancient history.  The kids really  enjoyed walking through the museum and then walking down to the tar pits, which still bubble and smell of tar.  

Our trip was unfortunately coming to an end and we headed back to pack up and get ready for our flight home the next morning.  On the way, we stopped for dinner at Rubio's, a local Mexican food chain specializing in fish tacos, that was near our apartment.  As almost every meal we had on this trip was, the food was fantastic.  The fish tacos were delicious and they had an expansive kids menu that included a grilled veggie burrito, chicken tortilla soup and nachos.  An appropriately great ending to a great trip!

California Dreaming: Disneyland

There are so many blogs and books out there to guide you on your trip to Disneyland, I won't try to provide much advice.  I will recommend the book that we have used for both Disney World and Disneyland:  The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland.  It gives a breakdown of everything in each park from character dining to rides to where to stand to get the best view of the parades.  The most useful things for us have been the suggested itineraries in the back of the book.  There are several for each park and each plan is geared to who you are traveling with (kids in strollers, teenagers, two adults only).  The Itineraries provide a plan of attack, letting you know everything from what order to tackle the park to what ride to Fast Pass to when to grab lunch, without pushing everyone to total exhaustion.  My only other advice is to get an early start.  We were there in the middle of the week in February and it was still very crowded.  

We had a good lunch at Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland.  Serving Mexican food, the food was pretty tasty and the portions are huge.  The kids had a choice of a bean and cheese burrito or a chicken taco and fish tacos were on the menu for the non-meat eater in our group.  

  Photo courtesy of Disneyland

Photo courtesy of Disneyland

On our way out of the park, we ate at La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney.  Delicious sandwiches, salads and artisan pizzas are all excellent choices after a long day of walking around.  We watched the fireworks show from the parking lot before heading home.  Ava was asleep before we hit the highway with Jack following quickly after and as any parent knows, that is truly the sign of a great day.