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Exploring Charleston, South Carolina

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Charleston, South Carolina ©Getty Images

If you’re looking for a laid back, relaxing vacation without the crowds and noise of a big city, then Charleston, South Carolina might just be the place for you. I’ve traveled to this charming city a couple of times and while it’s known for its rich history, beautiful architecture, and southern hospitality, it’s also a city that is accessible in many places.

Historic Charleston

Keep in mind, this is an historic city, founded in 1670, so there are cobblestone streets in some areas, buildings that are not accessible, and sidewalks which may be narrow or in disrepair.  You should also know that it is difficult to find accessible taxis in Charleston.  I was able to find one company, Absolute Charleston Taxi and Limousine Service, which had an accessible/adapted van for airport transfers and local transportation.  Other than this company, you’re left with public transportation.  You will find accessible hotels, such as the Hyatt House Charleston in the Historic District.  This is a great location close to restaurants and other attractions.  I look forward to returning to Charleston for a relaxing and quiet vacation. 

Here are some of my recommendations for an easy and accessible trip to this beautiful city.

Historic Charleston City Market

Established in the 1790s, this historic landmark is one of the oldest public markets in the U.S. There’s everything from handmade crafts, trinkets, and jewelry to the nation’s most prized souvenir—the woven sweetgrass basket. Here you can enjoy live entertainment, experience Charleston’s southern charm, and more! It’s a great way to support the local artisans, too. The Charleston City Market is a very busy and sometimes crowded marketplace that has accessible entrances, elevators, and wheelchair-friendly paths throughout. 

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, one of the oldest plantations in the South, is a must-visit attraction in Charleston. The self-guided Garden Tour, Gift Shop, Wildlife Center, Peacock Café, Nature Boat Tour, and Nature Train guided tours are accessible.

However, walkers, wheelchairs, and motorized scooters may have difficulty maneuvering on unpaved paths around the property. The guided house tour requires walking up the steps into the house and due to the historic nature of the house, it is unfortunately not accessible for wheelchairs or scooters. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to the Visitor Center at info@magnoliaplantation.com before your visit. 

The Charleston Museum

The Charleston Museum, known as “America’s First Museum,” was founded in 1773. Its mission is to preserve and interpret the cultural and natural history of Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry.  Here you can explore the rich, varied history at the Museum and its two National Historic Landmark houses, The Joseph Manigault and Heyward Washington Historic Houses.

All are located downtown, in America’s Most Historic City. Featuring: Lowcountry History, Historic Armory, Charleston in the Revolutionary War, “City Under Siege” (civil war), The Bunting Natural History Gallery, Kidstory, and Historic Textiles Gallery.  The Museum is wheelchair accessible, for the most part.  The Museum’s historic houses require the ability to climb stairs for touring, however photographic tours of the houses are available for visitors unable to climb stairs. Service dogs, when identified, are permitted throughout the Museum and its historic houses, but ironically, therapy dogs and animal companions are not permitted in the Museum or historic houses. Videos are closed-captioned for  hearing impaired visitors. The staff is well-trained in accessibility requirements and provides assistance upon request.

Beaches and parks

Waterfront Park is an accessible, eight-acre park along approximately one-half mile of the Cooper River in Charleston.  It’s a popular park with residents and tourists, and is one of the most visited parks in the city. The park is located a few blocks from the Charleston City Market and offers fantastic views of the Cooper River Bridge and Charleston Harbor. The park has a pier, where visitors can sit on family-sized swings and watch large container ships enter and exit the harbor. The park also has two fountains, a splash fountain and the famous Pineapple Fountain.

These fountains are a great place to cool off on a hot summer day, and are beautiful to watch when lit up at night. This park is a great place to visit in the evening after dinner.  Visitors can stroll along the pier, relax in the shade of the iconic pineapple fountain, or enjoy a picnic in one of the wheelchair-accessible gazebos. The park also provides accessible restrooms and designated parking spaces. 

  • IOP County Park offers accessible ramps and complimentary beach wheelchairs (To confirm availability, visitors are asked to call 843-762-9957.)
  • Kiawah Beachwalker County Park also offers accessible ramps and complimentary beach  wheelchairs (To confirm availability, visitors are asked to call 843-762-9964.)
  • Folly Beach County Park offers accessible bathrooms, showers and changing areas, as well as an accessible beach path and complimentary beach wheelchairs (To confirm availability, visitors are asked to call 843-762-9960.)

The South Carolina Aquarium

If you’re looking for a break from the sun and love beautiful sea creatures and sea life, you must check out the South Carolina Aquarium!  The Aquarium overlooks Charleston Harbor and has nearly 5,000 amazing beautiful fish, animals, and more.  You can also learn how to protect them at the Aquarium.  Here you’ll come face-to-face with sick and injured sea turtles in rehabilitation in the Sea Turtle Care Center and you’ll be able to follow their journeys from rescue to rehab to release.

The Aquarium also has two touch tanks for a hands-on experience with stingrays, sharks, horseshoe crabs, sea stars and urchins. The Aquarium gives you the opportunity to learn fascinating details about the natural world at daily dive shows and animal encounters.  The Aquarium wants everyone to experience this amazing facility.  It is wheelchair accessible, provides accessible restrooms, changing rooms, and they have accessible parking.  The Aquarium has sensory bags, modified maps, weighted lap pads and a series of Aquarium Stories available to guests. Sensory bags are equipped with noise-reducing headphones, fidget tools and verbal cue cards. It also includes a modified map of the Aquarium that indicates “headphone zone” areas, as well as areas with a more calm and secure atmosphere.

Restaurants

Whether you want to start your day with a hearty breakfast, or maybe you want to end your day with a delicious dinner, nothing beats good ‘ole Southern cuisine and Southern hospitality.  You’ll find a number of restaurants in Charleston that are accessible.  A few of my favorites include The Establishment, Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.), Halls Chophouse, and Anson.  Be sure to call ahead for reservations!

Historic Carriage Tour

Charleston’s historic carriage tours offer an informative and accessible way to explore the city’s historic district.  Knowledgeable tour guides share captivating stories of Charleston’s past as the carriage traverses the grand avenues and cobblestone streets.  Palmetto Carriage Tours even has a way for people who use wheelchairs or who have mobility impairments to enjoy a carriage ride!  Their public carriages pull up to a boarding platform in their Big Red Barn which is almost level with the carriages. There is a bit of a gap to step over, but you will not need to climb any steps as they have a ramp up to the platform, and they can assist as needed. Their smaller private carriages do have a few steps to get in, but they have a stool and can assist if needed. Wheelchairs cannot fit on their carriages, but they have an area to park your wheelchair or walker during the tour.

Charleston is a charming, historic, beautiful, and quiet city that offers a variety of accessible attractions and activities. From a day on the beach, to a horse-drawn carriage ride, to a step back into history, you’ll find something fun and accessible on your trip to Charleston.  Now, all you need to do is to contact a reputable and knowledgeable travel agent, such as Travel for All, build a great itinerary, and then pack your bags for a trip to remember!

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