Family Time: Doing the Charleston

South Carolina’s Charleston offers a kid-pleasing combination of history and fun.

Here’s a look at four ways to enjoy some quality family time in this charming Southern city:

This is the cherry on the Charleston sundae of history and architecture, and it’s best experienced early, before the arrival of heat, tourists, and children’s tantrums. While adults check out the imposing antebellum mansions that line the promenade, kids can scan the harbor for dolphins.

Then, make history real: Remind the kids that the Civil War began here. Enter the Edmondston-Alston House on the East Battery to stand in the spot where Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Then, get on the ferry to tour the famous fort. (Tours leave from the maritime center; $18 for adults; $11 for kids.)

Is it Saturday? Then you’ll find the locals here for their weekly supplies of shrimp, grits, and other Low Country bounty from April to December.

Hit Mike’s for a bag of boiled peanuts, and Roti Rolls for sandwiches stuffed with mac and cheese or braised pig’s head. Grown-ups, head to Barbara’s for a basket made out of sweetgrass.

A historical twofer: The Constitution was ratified in this 18th-century building, and the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony. (The tragic irony: Slaves were also sold nearby.)

Enter the actual dungeon where American patriot Isaac Hayne languished during the Revolutionary War. (The British later hanged him.)

Really, you’ll see dead people (or at least their tombstones), including notable Charlestonians such as DuBose Heyward, whose novel inspired the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.

Look for the grave of Sue Howard Hardy, whose ghost was allegedly captured on film in 1987. Walk to neighboring Circular Congregational Church, a hot spot for creepy funerary art.

Bonus: Sullivan’s Island, a lower-key alternative just miles away from downtown Charleston. “Less touristy Sullivan’s Island has little or no waves to scare small kids and packed-down sand for biking,” says Charleston resident Kerry Solomon. “Bring a cooler and stay all day.”

This piece, written by Margaret Loftus, appeared in the November 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.