Directly across Charleston Harbor from the old city lies the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum complex (40 Patriots Point Rd., 843/884-2727, www.patriotspoint.org , daily 9 a.m.–6:30 p.m., $16 adults, $9 ages 6–11, free for active duty military), one of the first chapters in Charleston ’s tourism renaissance.
The project began in 1975 with what is still its main attraction, the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, named in honor of the carrier lost at the Battle of Midway. Much of “The Fighting Lady” is open to the public, and kids and nautical buffs will thrill to walk the decks and explore the many stations below deck on this massive 900-foot vessel, a veritable floating city.
You can even have a full meal in the C.P.O. Mess Hall just like the crew once did (except you’ll have to pay $8.50 a person). And if you really want to get up close and personal, try the Navy Flight Simulator for a small added fee.
Speaking of planes, aviation buffs will be overjoyed to see that the Yorktown flight deck (the top of the ship) and the hangar deck (right below) are packed with authentic warplanes, not only from World War II but from subsequent conflicts the ship participated in. You’ll see an F6F Hellcat, an FG-1D Corsair, and an SBD Dauntless such as those that fought the Japanese, on up to an F4F Phantom and an F14 Tomcat from the jet era.
Patriots Point’s newest exhibit is also on the Yorktown: the Medal of Honor Memorial Museum, which opened in 2007 by hosting a live broadcast of the NBC Nightly News. Included in the cost of admission, the Medal of Honor museum is an interactive experience documenting the exploits of the medal’s honorees from the Civil War through today.
Other ships moored beside the Yorktown and open for tours are the Coast Guard cutter USCG Ingham, the submarine USS Clamagore, and the destroyer USS Laffey, which survived being hit by three Japanese bombs and five kamikaze attacks—all within an hour. The Vietnam era is represented by a replica of an entire Naval Support Base Camp, featuring a river patrol boat and several helicopters.
A big plus is the free 90-minute guided tour. If you really want to make a family history day out of it, you can also hop on the ferry from Patriots Point to Fort Sumter  and back.