WHY VISIT SOUTH CAROLINA
Sultry climes, captivating history, and enticing scenery: welcome to South Carolina y’all.
The ‘Palmetto State’ is blessed with stunning landscapes – from the rolling hills of the Upcountry to the glistening lakes of the midlands – but it’s the coastline that lures most visitors.
Plant your parasol on the sun-drenched shores of Myrtle Beach for classic seaside fun, with boardwalk amusements, boogie boarding, and boat tours all up for grabs. The city is also home to the South Carolina Civil War Museum, which tells the story of the conflict through the eyes of the state.
Beaufort on Port Royal Island is easy on the eye thanks to its raft of beautifully restored antebellum homes. But if you’re looking to escape the cities, take a trip to Hilton Head, a narrow barrier island that’s generously clad with beautiful beaches, unspoiled forests, and world-class golf courses.
With its lack of skyscrapers and bevy of 19th-century mansions, the coastal metropolis of Charleston is anything but an identikit US city. It’s the site of the country’s first permanent European settlement and today crackles with a stellar dining scene, characterful boutique hotels, and Southern charm aplenty.
Away from the coast, South Carolina’s back roads offer visitors the chance to pick juicy peaches, explore rambling plantations and encounter Revolutionary and Civil War sites and re-enactments.
Beyond that take in the terrific museums of the state capital, Columbia, waterski across Lake Murray, or paddle through Congaree National Park’s murky creeks and hardwood forests. And don’t leave without visiting the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where you can hike and bike to your heart’s content.
WHAT TO SEE IN SOUTH CAROLINA
- Charleston: this city is an absolute gem, like a sketch from the 18th century brought to life. Antebellum houses, lush courtyards, and countless historic sites make Charleston a destination in its own right. Grab a boat to Fort Sumter, where the US Civil War began, stroll historic King Street for amazing shopping and dining, or take a horse-drawn carriage around the Historic District. Folly Beach is just a hop away, while Charles Towne Landing offers a glimpse of the city’s colonial era. Another highlight is the dining, which is among the finest in the South.
- Hilton Head: upscale but laid back, Hilton Head is the American South’s premier beach resort destination. Its public beaches, stretching for 12 miles, are among the world’s finest, while superb golfing, tennis, and 50 miles of coastal bike paths provide plenty of recreation. The subtropical climate here ensures great weather even in winter, and two of the country’s most charming cities (Charleston and Savannah) are within an hour’s drive. While not cheap, Hilton Head is as relaxing as it comes in South Carolina and is as good for families as it is for romantic getaways.
- Beaufort: to get a taste of the Old South there are few better destinations than Beaufort. This old seaport has 18th-century houses shaded by towering live oaks and is often used as a filming site for Hollywood movies. Just wandering around the town will send you back in time, but the Spirit of Old Beaufort walking tour really lights up the sites. Experience the life of an 18th-century merchant trader at the John Mark Verdier House Museum, a wonderfully restored Federal mansion with all the décor. Historic inns and excellent restaurants make Beaufort an ideal place to linger for a couple of days.
- Myrtle Beach: one of the American east coast’s top beach holiday spots is Myrtle Beach. Families particularly like this stretch of South Carolina’s Grand Strand due to the plethora of amusing activities like mini-golf courses, Ripley’s Aquarium, and the Family Kingdom amusement park. The beaches here are also superb, flanked by a line of hotels and resorts that run next to the slick old-time boardwalk promenade. Mom and pop shops help retain Myrtle Beach’s timeless atmosphere as fancy malls like Barefoot Landing lend a more modern attitude.
- Columbia: South Carolina’s state capital is also one of its oldest cities. There are lots of historic sites in the capital, which also makes an excellent base for outings to nearby historic Piedmont towns such as York and Camden. This central area of the state is the hub of South Carolina’s rich equestrian heritage, with some amazing stables and farms in Aiken and Camden counties. Within the capital, you can find a taste of its amenities in the popular Five Points district and hip Congaree Vista neighborhood, both of which are packed with shops, bars, and restaurants.
- Upcountry: the far northwest region of South Carolina is known as the Upcountry, a land where the Blue Ridge Mountains begin and loads of history, outdoor recreation, and festival fun await. A couple of large cities like Greenville and Spartanburg are home to attractions like the 1765 Walnut Grove Plantation and Cowpens National Battlefield, a major Civil War site. Check out historic Pendleton for its sublime downtown and antique shops. There are 12 state parks in this region which are filled with trails, rivers, and lakes that are ripe for recreation. Around 500 historic sites are also on hand, making the Upcountry an amazing inland travel destination.
- Georgetown: the state’s third-oldest town is an overlooked travel gem for folks with an interest in South Carolina’s colonial era. Though not on the coast, the port town lies on a major inlet just 12 miles from the Atlantic. Its downtown is filled with 18th-century buildings and features a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. The Harbor Walk is ideal for a stroll along the waterfront, while many of the town’s antebellum mansions are open for tours. The shopping in Georgetown is also impressive, as is the dining scene. Best of all, few tourists seem to come here so there’s rarely a crowded feel.
WHEN TO GO TO SOUTH CAROLINA
The best period to visit South Carolina is from May to October.
South Carolina experiences a range of climates, with the eastern coastal region being significantly warmer than the northwestern Upcountry area. Throughout the state, the summers tend to be hot and humid, with highs in the upper 80s (°F) and low 90s (°F). The coastal and mountain regions tend to be slightly cooler and wetter though precipitation falls regularly all over South Carolina and every month.
It rarely snows here though the Upcountry region sees a few snowstorms each winter. Along the coast, the winter temperatures are a pleasant 60°F at the lowest levels between December and February. Upcountry towns like Greenville are the coldest in the state, with winter highs of 50°F and chilly night-time lows of around freezing. Spring and fall are both nice seasons, with comfortable temperatures in the 70s (°F) and plenty of color from the trees and flowers.
The only weather danger comes from the potential of hurricanes to hit the state from June until the end of November. The peak season for hurricanes is between the end of August and October, so travelers should keep an eye on the daily weather reports for any potential storms at these times.
WHAT TO DO IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Rip around a racetrack in a new BMW
While BMW drivers are rarely ones to hold back on testing their car’s limits, nothing compares to the levels you can reach on a performance racetrack. In Greer, owners can bring their BMWs to the Performance Driving School, and push the ultimate driving machine to its edge through obstacle courses, racing lessons, and a full test track. If you don’t have a beamer of your own, you can sign up for the school. They’ll hand you the keys to a $100,000 car and let you see how fast you can go.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of South Carolina.
- Historic Pendleton Spring Jubilee: this small town in the Upcountry region of South Carolina is a real gem, with a huge historic downtown from the 18th century and loads of charming ambiance. Every April, the Village Green is transformed into a giant fair to herald the arrival of spring. Around 300 vendors set up stalls selling crafts, art, food, and other great items. Live music fills the background and dance performances showcase the local folk culture.
- Charlestown Harbor Fest: one of the main events in charming Charleston is its Harbor Fest which celebrates the city’s 300 years of South Carolina’s maritime history. This free festival takes place all along the historic waterfront, with marine exhibits, rides on sailboats, tours of US Navy ships, and loads of other fun nautical activities. Live music, an artists’ market, and lots of kid-friendly stuff create a complete package of fun every May.
- Sun Fun Festival: Myrtle Beach puts on a big show every June, with a complete range of events and activities. The centerpiece is the historic Sun Fun Parade along Ocean Boulevard that brings out just about every resident of this popular beach town. This is backed up by beach volleyball tournaments, live concerts, a fireworks display, and a completely separate festival dedicated entirely to kids’ activities.
- Spoleto Festival: between May and June every summer, the town of Charleston, South Carolina hosts a popular festival that brings amazing music, dance, theater, opera, and circus performances to the city from all over the world. Spoleto is the cultural highlight of the year, with a grand festival finale on the last day at Middleton Place featuring live music and a big fireworks display.
- Seafood, Jazz and Brew: one of Hilton Head’s big events combines three of the finest things in life. For a long weekend each September, this posh island hosts great jazz musicians from around the world to provide the backdrop for superb seafood and hand-crafted beers. Events are scheduled all over the island, so you can pick your preferred atmosphere.
- South Carolina State Fair: it started way back in 1869, and South Carolina’s annual State Fair is still going strong, providing folks from around the region an excuse to visit Columbia in October. The weather is just about perfect for the carnival rides, tasty fair food, and requisite livestock shows. There are also concerts, performers of all kinds, and loads of things for kids and adults alike to enjoy.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH SOUTH CAROLINA
South Carolina is one of those states where a car will prove extremely useful. Even if you plan on spending your entire holiday on Hilton Head or in Charleston, you will find that having your own transport opens up a whole other dimension of outdoor recreation, sightseeing, and interaction with the state. Car rental companies are easy to find in all the major cities as well as at the airports. Rent by the week for added savings on daily rates. South Carolina roads are in excellent shape, with Interstate 95 running north to south for quick movement and miles of scenic country roads spanning the small towns and coastal areas.
If time is not an issue, taking an Amtrak train to South Carolina is a great way to travel here. The state is along the route of several Amtrak lines that run up and down the eastern seaboard, such as the Crescent, the Palmetto, and the Silver Service lines. These trains stop in many towns which are useful to tourists, including Charleston, Greenville, and Columbia. Amtrak trains are slow but scenic and comfortable. Expect train fares to be equivalent to airfares.
Budget travelers can reach South Carolina even cheaper by using the Greyhound bus system. The state is well-connected to the rest of the country via Greyhound, which is also the best way to move between towns within the state. Bus fares are very reasonable, but the comfort level is tolerable at best.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON SOUTH CAROLINA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-5 (-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Typical food in South Carolina
- Frogmore Stew
- Shrimp and Grits
- Oyster Roasts
- Boiled Peanuts
- Pimento Cheese
- Benne Wafers
- Carolina Gold BBQ sauce
- South Carolina-Style Barbecue
- Lady Baltimore Cake
- Chicken Bog
- Collard Greens
- Gullah Red Rice
- She-Crab Soup
- Huguenot Torte
- Hoppin’ John
- Perloo (or purloo or perlau)
- Cooter Soup (Turtle Soup)
- Catfish Stew
- Planter’s Punch
- Hush Puppies
Souvenirs from South Carolina
- Tea from Charleston Tea Plantation
- Sea salt
- Cheese, honey, peanuts Carolina Gold BBQ sauce