We went last Wednesday and returned on Sunday, and had a blast. It was probably the best family vacation we've ever had, with a perfect combination of beach/pool time and sightseeing/other fun activities. Plus, it was affordable and an excellent destination for those with food allergies: We were able to rent a very affordable condo that had a a fully furnished kitchen and we found a regular grocery store and a Whole Foods that stocked our food essentials, both of which were conveniently located.
There were also a Wendy's and a McDonald's nearby so that we could occasionally treat Ainsley to a meal out (we do not allow her to eat food from "real" restaurants because I don't trust what they tell me in terms of ingredients, but we do allow her to eat certain kids' meal items from Wendy's and McDonald's because the ingredient list is standard throughout all of their locations and is easily accessible on the internet).
Because we had such a great time, I am listing our daily itinerary so that I can show exactly what we did every day.
Wednesday: Arrived in Charleston after a 2-1/2 hour flight from DFW. The Charleston airport was small and had porters available to wheel our luggage out to the rental car, which was right outside the terminal. We headed to our resort, Wild Dunes, which is on the Isle of Palms, one of Charleston's barrier islands. On the Isle of Palms connector road, we spotted a grocery store (Piggly Wiggly! I haven't shopped at one of those since I was a girl and lived in Louisiana) and I ran in to get a few staples, including soy milk, bread, and some snacks. I should mention that I also packed a lot of food in my luggage, including sunbutter and jelly.
We checked in to our resort, which is a huge development of houses, condos (called "villas"), and a hotel, and were very excited to see this view from the balcony of our 2-bedroom condo/villa (which was beautifully decorated - it was room 209 in the Summer House building):
After unpacking, we headed down to the beach. I haven't been to a ton of beaches in my life, and generally have so-so memories of them. I have been a couple of times to the Texas coast, which seems to have lots of things washing on shore (jellyfish, seaweed). A couple of years ago, we went to San Diego and played on a clean beach, but the water was cold and there weren't many seashells. The Wild Dunes beach was better than any other beach I've been to - nothing weird washing on shore and clear, warm water. Plus, the kids loved that there were tons of seashells. Within one minute of walking onto the beach, Ainsley found a sand dollar. Also, because Wild Dunes is a giant, private resort, the beach was very uncrowded. As you can tell from the pictures, the pool was also right outside of our room. We spent almost as much time in there, and it too was warm, clean, and uncrowded. It also had a beach ball and noodles available for guests' use.
Leighton's first steps in the ocean.
Walking from the condo - a short trip!
Thursday: The next day, we had more beach time and then went into Charleston. We did the carriage tour through the historic area - apparently a "must" when you're visiting - and then walked through the Market, which is a series of covered buildings where people set up tables to sell various things. There were lots of women selling "sweetgrass baskets," a Charleston tradition, but we didn't buy any because they were really expensive.
South Carolina Aquarium in downtown Charleston. I frankly wasn't expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised - the aquarium specialized in native South Carolina fish, amphibians, birds, and reptiles, and really tries to educate its visitors on the different parts of the region. It also had one of the most varied "touch-tanks" that I've seen - Ainsley was able to pet sea urchins, sea stars, snails, some sort of fish that lived in shells, horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, and stingrays. She also got to pet a baby alligator (supervised, of course)!
After exploring downtown, we drove to Charles Towne Landing, a state park that had an "animal forest" - a natural habitat zoo featuring various animals that English settlers would have encountered when they first came to what's now South Carolina.
Petting an alligator.
The harbor, right outside the aquarium.
Saturday: We decided to head out to one of the many plantations in the Charleston area. We read about each of them and settled on what is perhaps the most popular - Magnolia Plantation. We wanted to go there because it advertised a guided tram ride through the grounds, a petting zoo, and an unguided walking tour through its gardens. Here are some pics:
Making friends with Bambi inside the petting zoo.
A peacock joining us for lunch.
An alligator sunning himself in the swamp - one of the many we saw on the tram tour.
On the walking tour.
Sunday: We had a late flight that day, so we decided to make the most of it - we spent a lot of time on the beach and at the pool that morning. Then we headed into town and toured the Exchange, a historic building that advertises a scary dungeon in the basement (I have to say, this was the one let-down on the trip - it was pretty boring). We then went to Waterfront Park, which is beautifully shaded and has fountains that the kids can run around in.
(1) As I mentioned above, there was a Piggly Wiggly on the connector road that led from Charleston to the Isle of Palms. It sold all of our staples, including Silk soy milk and Nature's Own bread. There was also a smaller grocery store called the Red & White on the Isle of Dunes. The Whole Foods was also between the Isle of Palms and downtown Charleston, in a town called Mount Pleasant.
(2) If you have a seafood allergy, Charleston might not be the best place for you, because seafood is its specialty. Also, for those with peanut allergies, one of the most famous places to eat is Hyman's - we loved it so much we ate there twice, but note that the waitstaff brings a bowl of roasted peanuts on the table as soon as you sit down. Of course, we asked not to have the peanuts, and carefully wiped Ainsley's hands before she ate the food we had brought for her to make sure she didn't ingest any peanut residue.
(3) Ainsley did have one slight allergic reaction while we were in Charleston. Our carriage tour began and ended in a large barn that housed many different farm animals. Apparently the food the animals were eating had some nuts/peanuts in it, because after we finished the carriage ride and were walking around the barn looking at the animals, Ainsley started breaking out into small hives on her arms. We left the barn and I gave her Benadryl and the hives went away - it was clear she had gotten them from some residue she'd breathed in.
(4) If you are unfamiliar with the Charleston area, be sure to have a GPS! We would have gotten lost constantly without the one in our rental car.
(5) Here are some websites we used in planning our vacation:
If you have any questions on traveling to Charleston with food allergies, please let me know. We had such a good experience that we are definitely planning on going back again!