Patriots Point: A Hands-On Learning Experience on Military History

Charleston Harbor from Patriots Point

When my aunt suggested in our Fourth of July patriotic haze that we should visit Patriots Point and tour some of the old U.S. Navy ships there, I wasn’t particularly excited. I love history but we’re in Charleston, South Carolina… Couldn’t we go see something a little *older* than a 60+ year old ship?

Yeah, I had no idea what I was getting in to. Do you like to explore all sorts of nooks and crannies, climb into tight spaces, and get a very hands-on education? Then you will LOVE Patriots Point. There are three vessels to explore – the USS Yorktown (a large aircraft carrier from WWII), the USS Clamagore (submarine) and the USS Laffey (destroyer.)

Patriots Point

As we boarded the Yorktown and passed the customer service desk, one of the very first things we see is an airplane that you can actually climb into and take pictures. I was totally not expecting that (and can proudly say I was the first to take them up on it that morning. What can I say – I’m a little kid at heart!) You can’t climb into *all* of the planes, but at least they gave me one to play in!

Climbing In

Sitting in the cockpit

They also have an interactive exhibit with Apollo 8, where you can crawl into the capsule, sit where astronauts have sat before, push the launch button and experience what it’s like to shoot into space. It was pretty amazing (though nerve-wracking at first! The whole thing was loud and shaking; I was a little afraid the thing was going to break apart on me!)

Apollo 8 Interactive Exhibit

Push the Red Button

Overall, this was definitely worth the trip. Be prepare ahead of time though – to see everything, this is an all-day experience that includes a lot of walking and climbing. There are places to purchase food on the ship and on land. You can also bring food and leave it in your car.

Here are some tips you should know before going:

– Wear sturdy shoes. You will be climbing up and down ladders all day. Dress shoes and flip flops are NOT recommended. The steps are mostly small bars.

– Go first thing in the morning. There is no air conditioning or windows in the majority of the ship! Charleston stays fairly warm for most of the year. With no air flow, it can get very stuffy and uncomfortable in large portions of the ship. Sometimes it can be awhile before you emerge from your current path or reach an outdoor portion of the ship.

Trying to Crawl Through the Submarine– Some of the spaces are VERY tight. If you are claustrophobic, you may have issues doing a few of the self-guided tours, particularly the ones that go down into the ship. People of a certain size may find this difficult as well. (I am a big woman. I made it through just fine, but there were parts where either I was hitting my head or had a wall pressed up against my back as I tried to climb. I think if I were another four inches taller and/or another 50lbs heavier, this would have been very difficult for me.) This is particularly true if you decide to go into the USS Clamagore while you are on site.
USS Clamagore

– They have ghost tours! I am a sucker for a good ghost tour. I might actually go back the next time I’m in the area so we can do that. I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, but ghost tours always have the best stories. The USS Yorktown actually sank at one point, so I’m sure they will have some interesting stories to tell.

– You can take a boat from here over to Fort Sumter for an extra fee. (For those of you that are unfamiliar with American history, Fort Sumter is where the first shots were fired that started the American Civil War.)

For more information on Patriots Point or to purchase tickets, visit

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