Located in North Charleston, South Carolina, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is America’s last large-scale romantic style garden. Named one of “America’s Most Beautiful Gardens” by Travel & Leisure Magazine, the gardens have astonishingly been open to the public since 1870. On my trip to Magnolia, my 1 year old and 2 year old were along for the ride! There is so much to do in the gardens and we had the best day exploring the old architecture, admiring the blooming flowers and walking under Spanish moss covered trees. Oh, and seeing alligators… Like over 30 gators!
Read along to find out what to expect on your trip to Magnolia +advice for if you are traveling with kids. My goal is to always give you an in depth and transparent article every time I write. I’ve also included a cost breakdown to help you get an idea of how much you will be spending at Magnolia.
“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” – William Wordsworth
The admission is a little expensive for the type of traveling we normally do. However, this is just too beautiful of a place to skip! The general admission to the gardens is $20 and children under 6 are free. The general ticket will give you access to the gardens, cafe, petting zoo and the gift shop. All the additional tours and other areas of Magnolia come at $8 each. If you want to do everything there is to do at Magnolia you can buy a pass for all of them and that will save you 8 bucks!
On this trip I opted for just the general admission and a ticket for The Audubon Swamp Garden. The plantation wasn’t hard to locate and luckily we got there as soon as they opened at 8am so we had an easy time finding parking. The woman at the ticket booth was so friendly and was sweet enough to help me understand the directions to the swamp garden. (The garden is super easy to find by the way. I’m just way terrible at directions!)
When we first got there, we stopped by the cafe for a Gatorade and a water which will cost you around six bucks. If you are budget travelers like we are, don’t forget to pack drinks and snacks with you.
Then, we stopped by the petting zoo. The peacocks were gorgeous!
After the petting zoo we meandered down to the gardens, but immediately had to leave because we were swarmed by mosquitos. Y’all…. mosquitos are of a different breed in the south. They’re big and they’re resilient. My #1 piece of advice for visiting Magnolia is BRING BUG SPRAY!
We went back up to the gift shop and they had two options of bug spray. We bought a homemade organic spray, which I chose because my daughters have such sensitive skin. It. did. nothing. So, we went back and got the Cutter with Deet which will cost you 9 bucks. So after spending $14 on bug sprays– we were bug free for all of 15 minutes before needing to spray ourselves down again.
The south is one of my favorite places on Earth, but the mosquitoes can make it hard to enjoy sometimes. My kids left looking like they have the chicken pox from all the bug bites they got while we were there.
The path ways were breathtaking. Make sure you keep your map on you because it can be quite easy to get lost in the gardens. By the gift shop, just past the entrance to the gardens is two gorgeous bridges. They offer wonderful views and the walk over them put me in such a positive mood. The spring flowers were blooming, Spanish moss hung above our heads, alligators were peaking their heads out of the algae covered waters as little turtles sunbathed on logs peaking out of the water.
Another thing I regret not bringing with me is our double stroller. I only brought the single stroller because I really prefer my oldest daughter who is just a month shy of being 3 years old to walk as much as she can. It’s good for her and I love watching her explore all the new places we travel to. BUT, in this case I really wish I had the double stroller because, with alligators nonchalantly just chilling on the edges of the walking trails I felt a lot better with her in the stroller instead of running amuck.
Be prepared for a lot of opportunities to see gators. A couple of women stopped and asked me if I had saw any gators yet. I was like.. Of course! They had to be so very unlucky to not have seen any their whole time in the gardens, because they were EVERYWHERE. We saw one actually lying IN the middle of one of the paths before we scared it and it jumped back into the water. Most of them however were close to the waters edge or actually in the water.
Take advantage of the beauty of Magnolia and have a photoshoot while you’re there! There are so many great places to take selfies and get the perfect Instagram shot. The plantation is a popular place for engagement pictures and weddings. And rightfully so! After we explored the gardens and made another stop by the petting zoo we stopped at the cafe for lunch around noon.
I bought a ham and cheese sandwich, two bags of chips, and a hotdog for the three of us to share. Our lunch cost us just shy of $18. If I were to go back and do it again, I would’ve packed our own snacks and drinks. (and bug spray… eye roll) I am all about being frugal on my travels. The more you save, the further you can go. However, the food was good and we had a great time in the gardens portion of Magnolia.
Next, we made the short one minute drive to the swamp garden parking lot. The swamp garden walk is where we saw most of the alligators. And honestly, the place that scared me the most. It wasn’t the fact that the gators were there, it was the fact that I was alone with my two girls. I didn’t even see another person the whole time we were on the trails until we were leaving. It just made me feel a little uneasy being so far from other people amongst alligators in their natural habitat. Nothing happened, the gators mind their business and we mind ours. All is good, just a little anxiety-inducing.
For parents: There IS a bathroom across the parking lot from the Audubon Swamp Garden sign. I know for those of you traveling with toddlers, knowing where all the bathrooms are is important. Moving on, when you buy your general admission ticket they will give you a code that you need to use to get into the swamp garden. You will walk on a small gravel path for a while before you come to a gate with a key pad to type your code in. Make sure you keep up with this because you will also need it to get OUT .
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The Audubon Swamp Garden
Now for my favorite part of our day at the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The swamp walk was absolutely stunning. If you’ve never been to the American south before, your day at the plantation may seem like you’ve entered a whole different word. Our trip to Magnolia was in the very end of May. Although it wasn’t yet summer, the heat said otherwise. I spent an hour walking through the swamp garden and it really wore me out in that heat! Make sure you take plenty of water and sunscreen. You’re going to need it.
I had a blast videoing the gators move slowly through the algae covered waters. My two year old was more fascinated with the birds. White Ibis were on display in the trees above the swamp and their chirps constantly filled the air. Tupelo trees draped in Spanish moss ran along the waters edge by the trails bringing such a wild feel to the already uncontrollable habitat. Elsie kept yelling “Look mommy dinosaur!” She’s right… these creatures are ancient. Although I’ve seen gators plenty of times before, nothing compares to seeing them totally in control in their own habitat.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens offers other fun activities and tours as well. They have the nature tram, the rice fields boat tour, and other tours as well. We wanted to go on the 45 minute boat tour, but they said the dock area was under major construction and wouldn’t be completed for some time. I was really looking forward to the boat, but it’s okay, the rest of Magnolia did not disappoint. You can read more about what they have to offer, here.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens General Admission: $20
Audubon Swamp Garden: $8
Bug Spray: $14
Petting zoo feed from machine: $1
Where To Eat Around Magnolia Plantation
I’ve had a lot of questions about where to eat around Magnolia Plantation, so I’m going to share a couple great options with you!
Middleton Place Restaurant: a white table cloth American restaurant on beautiful grounds, nearby water, peacocks roam the grounds
The Crab Shack: offers seafood with a southern twist, large variety of appetizers, crab cakes, and shrimp
Restaurants in North Charleston: wide variety of different styles of restaurants, 20-25 minute drive from Magnolia Plantation
We enjoyed our trip to South Carolina and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was definitely the highlight of our trip. If you are going to make a trip to Magnolia soon and have any questions, just drop a comment below. Happy traveling!
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