On her first Lowcountry trip, Kara Rittenhouse had a specific assignment - to find a house for her family.

"We are military," she says. "I came down for a weekend; the Realtor took me all over Charleston."

The personal trainer and nutritionist made up her mind when she saw Carolina Bay, a lush master-planned community from Pulte-Centex west of the Ashley complete with swimming pool, playground and sidewalks.

"We liked all the amenities," she says. "It was beautiful."

The Rittenhouses now reside in Carolina Bay. The family also consists of husband Mark, an ROTC officer trainee and assistant professor at The Citadel; and children Keaolani, 9; Kai, 5; and Keanu, 2.

Going on the Carolina Bay property owners association Facebook page, Kara Rittenhouse recently was able to get out word of her Rit-Fit business's fitness "boot camps" for health and exercise enthusiasts.

Carolina Bay, located off Savannah Highway a mile east of Bees Ferry Road, is expected to reach 1,500 or so residents when built out.

The children, she says, relish the neighborhood. "They love going down to the pool (in warm weather months)," she says, noting that the family held at least one birthday party at the amenities center. The Rittenhouses also are pleased with the schools, which are close by.

The globetrotting troop has lived a number of places and moved to the Charleston area from Hawaii, but Kara Rittenhouse says they enjoy the South Carolina coast most and may find a place to return to in later years if they're uprooted again.

"We like living here," she says. "It definitely feels like home."

The Rittenhouses' home-buying experience is hardly unusual. They are among many hundreds of families in greater Charleston enamored with residential communities designed to appeal to parents and children.

Most family-friendly neighborhoods and villages are fairly sizable to afford attractions such as a clubhouse, pool, parks, walking trails and ponds. Some communities sport golf courses, tennis courts, soccer fields and volleyball pits. Typically, community developers install amenities upfront or more likely once the neighborhoods reach a certain population. In succeeding years, the recreational perks can revert to homeowners associations.

Family-centric communities are found throughout the Charleston area, from Johns Island to Goose Creek, the upper tip of the Ashley River in Summerville to outer Mount Pleasant near the Francis Marion Forest.

They can be new-home villages with more moderate prices from the mid $100,000s to the $300,000s or more. A few are gated communities; some share at least loose ties with municipalities, such as Wescott Plantation and the city of North Charleston. Others, such as Park West in Mount Pleasant, include public schools and town recreational centers within their boundaries.

And while the neighborhoods may cater to families, they aren't exclusively filled with parents and children. Grandparents, empty nesters, downsizers and young working couples with no kids are also part of the mix.

"I'm thinking at these days and times, it's a sense of community," says Nick Collins, Realtor with Carolina One Real Estate in Mount Pleasant.

Some seniors like to live in neighborhoods with plenty of families. When you're around young people, they "keep you young," he says.

Collins recently listed a house on Wild Horse Lane in Long Point subdivision for $329,000. In the listing, he described the East Cooper neighborhood as "family friendly with children of all ages."

It just so happens Collins lives three doors down from the house. He moved into the neighborhood 27 years ago. Collins says one nearby home has an infant, another touts a passel of youngsters age 6 to 17.

Many older neighborhoods are family conducive, he says, citing the Old Village in Mount Pleasant as an example. At the same time, new-home communities are set up with sidewalks and in some cases, amenities, before the first house sells.

"I think developers are realizing what people are looking for," Collins says.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.