Beyond the Beach: Exploring the Best of the Rest of South Carolina
Sunny South Carolina is one of the most diverse destinations in the Southeast, with three distinct geographical areas to discover and a colorful mix of big cities, small towns and rugged outposts. The southernmost swath of South Carolina explains the ‘Palmetto State’ moniker (Palm plants, basically); the coast stretches for 187 miles. Salt marshes teeming with crabs and shrimp make up a good deal of that coastal mileage, but South Carolina is of course most famous for its picture-perfect sandy Atlantic beaches.
The Blue Ridge Mountains area has mountains to climb, swimming holes to jump into, rivers in which to raft or kayak and miles and miles of forest trails to explore. The Midlands comprise the largest geographical area of the state. From Columbia, the capital city, to the historical settlements that burgeoned into quaint vacation retreats, South Carolina’s interior boasts sweeping hills and a variety of fun daytime activities to absorb adults and children alike.
Quiet as a Mouse: South Carolina’s Secret and Not-So-Secret Art Collections
Hidden throughout quaint Greenville nine tiny bronze mice wait along Main Street, hoping for children or fun-loving adults to spot them. Inspired by the nine mice who creep quietly through the much-beloved pages of Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, Dr. James Ryan collaborated with sculptor Zan Wells to incite curiosity and delight with their scavenger project. The mice each have names (Marvin, Millie, Maggie) and distinct personalities, and kids can hunt for them independently or with the help of an adorable set of clues.
While in Greenville, spend an afternoon at the South’s premier American art museum, a truly hidden gem. The award-winning Greenville County Museum of Art (GCMO) features smartly curated traveling exhibitions and an impressive permanent collection of important works by American artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Josef Albers and Georgia O’Keefe.
Brookgreen Gardens (Mullens Inlet, SC) celebrates spring and early summer in full bloom. The botanical gardens burst with life, representing the best in Southern landscaping and romantic garden design. Oak trees older than the Declaration of Independence whorl and knot above grand walkways, dripping with moss and history. Tropical palm trees in the Palmetto Garden evoke a far-flung paradise, and here and there stone courtyards, bubbling fountains and serene pools emerge and disappear amid the horticultural wonder. The gardens host the largest collection of American figural sculpture, ranging from highly expressionistic bronze dancers, to Hellenistic depictions of mythological figures, to abstractly stylized ‘Muses’ reminiscent of Secessionist artwork from the early 20th century. The wide-ranging collection spans time and style. Don’t miss the Brookgreen Art Festival, in the gardens June 1st and 2nd. Local and regional artists will display, sell, and discuss their works, and some will put on instructional demonstrations.
Outdoor Adventure: Don’t Just ‘Park’ it, Get Moving
Between the foothills of the mountains and the shores of the Atlantic, the state parks and the opportunities for golfing and tennis, South Carolina offers much more than the beach vacations it may be best known for. Pack a bottle of water and some sunscreen, and get moving!
South Carolina’s state parks offer miles of woodland hiking, the opportunity to fish or swim, and gorgeous views all around for the rugged explorer. For the slightly less austere, or one who wants to experience the great outdoors without all the sweat — or with young children in tow — Oconee State Park is a mountain ‘retreat’ in the truest sense of the word. With lodging cabins and easy to manage hiking trails, Oconee is the best mountain town in South Carolina for gentle relaxation.
Oconee serves as home to the southernmost trailhead of the Foothill Trail, an 80-mile long hike along the Blue Ridge Escarpment that traverses several of the South Carolina’s northernmost State Parks. Access the trail through Table Rock State Park. Many of the park’s cabins, shelters and lodges were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression, and families have enjoyed the surroundings ever since. Climb to the top of Table Rock Mountain, and on the way, stop to enjoy the sounds and sights of waterfalls and mountain creeks. Swim or wade in either of the parks two lakes, or rent a canoe, kayak or pedal boat and explore even further. And don’t forget a fishing pole! Catch bass, bream or catfish in either lake, from either a gasless boat or, more simply, from an easily accessed fishing pier.
Caesars Head and Jones Gap State Parks offer similar outdoorsy activities with a slightly different flair each. Connected via looping and longer trails, the two parks have more than 13,000 acres of almost untouched woodland, the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Caesars Head offers breathtaking views of Raven Cliff Falls, a 420-foot waterfall plunging dramatically into the mountains below. Take a four-mile hike to see it from an overlook, or a six-and-a-half-mile adventure to spy down on it – daringly – from a suspension bridge that crosses above the falls. At Jones Gap, enjoy some of the best trout fishing the state (and therefore the South) has to offer in the Middle Saluda River; expect to find rainbow, brown and brook trout.
South Carolina’s midlands feature some of the best opportunities for golfing away from crowded courses that throng the coastline. Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand features more than 100 courses alone, but for something off that well-beaten path, try the middle of the state instead. Just north of Augusta lies small-town Aiken, originally a destination for beleaguered Charlestonians to escape the heat of summer and the threat of malaria. The public Aiken Golf Club was restored thoroughly by second-generation owner Jim McNair Jr. in 1999. Renowned architect Donald Ross and his protégé designed the par-70 course at the turn of the century. The course’s rustic surroundings and rolling greens soothe and challenge; it may be a storied course, but it remains challenging and ego-testing to contemporary players to this day. aikengolfclub.net
Edgewater Golf Club, designed by Bruce Brodsky in the early 2000’s, boasts breathtaking scenery of the lake that it surrounds and swiftly changing elevation levels intended more to intimidate than to truly test the dedicated golfer. This is a course built not to trick or to frustrate, but to enjoy. Get lost in its hills and its sylvan surroundings.
Traveling through Time: Exploring South Carolina’s History
Settled by Spanish explorers in 1526, Georgetown sits on the state’s northern coast. Originally called San Miguel de Guadalupe, the settlement predated the establishment of some of America’s oldest cities, including St. Augustine, FL (founded in 1565 by a Spanish admiral) and Roanoke, NC (the Lost Colony, established by English settlers in 1585). The settlement ultimately failed due to hurricanes, attacks from Native Americans, epidemics of disease, or some combination thereof, historians say, so Georgetown – renamed around 1726 for King George – celebrates more recent history. Start with two museums illuminating the port city’s history: the Rice Museum highlights the importance of the crop to the state’s early affluence and the terrible role that slavery played in that period; the Kaminski House, built in the late 18th century, features English and American art and antiquities. From there, head to the seaport to experience a pleasant mix of old and new. Once an important hub for international imports and exports, the town converted its once booming docks to a seaside Harborwalk featuring restaurants and shopping. discoversouthcarolina.com
Northeast of Columbia lies Camden, the oldest inland city, founded in 1732. The city had long been an important hub in the Carolina backcountry, but found fame (or infamy) especially during the Revolutionary War; both British and Patriot forces called Camden home. Following the disastrous Battle of Camden, which the redcoats won resoundingly in 1780, control of the war’s Southern Campaign passed to Major General Nathanael Greene, who helped to secure an eventual British surrender. Tour these battlefields and learn more about the men who made the place famous or relive the glory and defeat of the war by visiting one of the many frequent battle reenactments put on by the Historic Camden Foundation. Historiccamden.org
MORE BEYOND THE BEACH
ADVENTURE AWAITS IN CLEMSON, SC
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the city of Clemson offers visitors the perfect venue to explore the great outdoors in South Carolina. Immerse yourself in the areas cherished Appalachian heritage. Visit a working historic gristmill, Hagood Grist Mill, is one of the most charming sites in the upcountry of the Carolinas. The city of Clemson is also loaded with charming historic homes and plantations that should added to your bucket list.
LIVE THE PLEASANT LIFE
Conway, South Carolina has been the gateway through which millions of people pass each year on their way to Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand, most never realizing the unique experience of Conway. Follow the historic trails map for a self-guided tour of stately old homes, take a leisurely stroll along the beautiful Riverwalk, enjoy shopping at any one of the unique shops, and enjoy a meal that satisfies the most adventurous palates. Discover all the treasures and why “life is pleasant in Conway!”
AIKEN POLO CLUB
Over its 134-year history, Aiken has been home to many famous players, horses and tournaments, including seven of the 21 American born players who have achieved a 10-goal rating. Aiken has an international reputation and the Aiken Polo Club offers the city’s best Sunday afternoon entertainment at Historic Whitney Field. For players, there is no better place to be. Witness or participate in the regular practices and tournaments from the 4 to the 6-goal level as well as Junior Polo.
THE OLD 96 DISTRICT
Nestled in the Upper Western section of South Carolina, the Old 96 District is home to amazing outdoor adventures, a haven for history buffs and the location of the most remarkable attractions and places of interest. Explore the miles and miles of hiking, biking and walking trails or paddleboard across one of the pristine freshwater lakes. Step back in time to relive a time in history that changed our culture and country.
EXPERIENCE THE UPCOUNTRY
You don’t need a formal invitation to have fun in Upcountry South Carolina: kayak in the crystal blue lakes, hike to rushing waterfalls, dig into local cuisine, attend family-oriented events and festivals, and breathe deep for fresh mountain air any time you want to feel refreshed. Broadway shows, bluegrass jam sessions, community theaters, quaint art galleries and hundreds of concerts will keep you entertained and your “To-Do List” full no matter when you visit the Upcountry.
A UNIQUE PART OF SOUTH CAROLINA
The Greater Cayce-West Columbia area is a unique part of South Carolina that provides an array of nature and commerce. The rivers host great recreational opportunities such as fishing, tubing, canoeing, and rafting. Explore natural sites while taking in almost 12,000 years of continuous history. Take in the great flavors of local restaurants and dwell in the time-honored tradition of antiquing. Keep busy visiting an award-winning zoo or relax and let the rivers flow the day away.
FARM FILLED FUN
Chattooga Belle Farm is a 198-acre working farm, distillery and event barn located in beautiful Long Creek, South Carolina. It is the ideal location for weddings, family reunions, and corporate activities or any special occasion that calls for a setting like no other. The distillery makes award winning spirits and is always open for tours and tastings! Plan your visit and make memories in the shadow of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains at Chattooga Belle Farm.
A HIDDEN GEM IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Visit the undiscovered natural beauty of South Carolina in Thoroughbred Country. Feel the thundering hooves of horses; smell the homemade bread baking; sample the fresh peaches or strawberries; view Civil War and living history and enjoy the songs of birds in the natural areas. Thoroughbred Country offers a myriad of dining and entertainment options. The variety of things to see and do will be the perfect complement to Atlanta, Charleston and Myrtle Beach tours.