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When it comes to Southern hospitality and good times, the Palmetto State is one of a kind. Home to major historical sites and landmarks, eye-catching architecture, breathtaking gardens and pristine beaches, South Carolina packs plenty to do and see for all ages. Whether you’re just passing through on a road trip or planning to spend a few days or more, here are 16 of the best places to visit while in South Carolina.
Despite growing up just two states north in Virginia, I never knew much about South Carolina other than the fact that it is home to Myrtle Beach, where I’d visited once or twice as a child. Little did I know that the Palmetto State is actually packed with so much more, including incredible architecture, beautiful waterfalls and gardens and several major iconic historic sites.
Home to one of the country’s tallest ferris wheels, the site of the first shots of the American Civil War, one of America’s oldest and most historically important gardens and unmatched hospitality and charm, South Carolina is a must-visit state for all ages.
So whether you’re just passing through during a quick getaway or staying in one of its many family resorts for a few days, here are some of the must-see places to visit while in South Carolina.
Best Cities to Visit in South Carolina:
Charleston is known as a beautiful walking city with cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, pastel antebellum houses and amazing restaurants. It is a quintessential Southern town, the state’s largest city and one of the best places to visit in South Carolina to enjoy sweet tea, magnolia blossoms and Civil War history.
Book lodging downtown on “the Peninsula” if you are into historical tours, galleries, fine dining and shopping. There are many hotels and B&Bs from which to choose. You’ll still find plenty of waterside breezes as you stroll the Battery and White Point Gardens.
Also, you’ll want to spend time visiting the Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place, home to America’s oldest and most historically important gardens. Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant and West Ashley offer many fabulous entertainment, historical, outdoors, educational and dining experiences. Jones Island is home to the Angel Oak tree, one of the oldest southern live oak trees east of the Mississippi River. Charleston is also home to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was the site of a horrific 2015 shooting that brought racism issues to the front burner.
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Myrtle Beach is a popular tourist destination on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast and one of the best places to visit in South Carolina for families and beach goers. It is home to the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of beaches. It is also known for its celebrity-designed golf courses and action-packed boardwalk with arcades, family-friendly shows and entertainment and an amusement park with one of the country’s tallest Ferris wheels.
After spending a day soaking up the sun on one of its many beaches, check out some of the many tourist attractions Myrtle Beach has to offer including Broadway at the Beach, Barefoot Landing and all the outrageous slingshot and thrill rides that teenagers love. More tame options would be to stroll through Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, explore the Shops at Pawley’s Island or browse downtown Georgetown, about halfway between Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
Greenville is nestled on the other side of the state (called the Upstate Region) halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte. And while it may be located in the South, it is hardly Southern. At least not in that laid back, sleepy sort of Southern way that is accentuated by a sweet southern drawl. Rather, it is one of the best places to visit in South Carolina for visitors looking for a vibrant metropolis filled with surprises and topped with a generous helping of southern charm.
Some of its popular sites include the Greenville County Museum of Art, the Upcountry History Museum, Paris Mountain State Park and Falls Park on the Reedy. Among the fun things to do in Greenville with kids include marveling at the waterfall in the center of town and walking across the Liberty Bridge, riding bikes along the Swamp Rabbit Trail and looking for the mice sculptures along Main Street. Local cuisine and breweries have also flourished in Greenville and it has become a foodie destination in its own right.
Columbia is the capital of South Carolina and one of the best places to visit in South Carolina for tourists who really want a taste of Southern charm, cuisine and hospitality. With its compact and easily navigable streets, Columbia offers plenty of indoor and outdoor activities including beautiful parks and opportunities to go sightseeing, swim, play tennis and play golf.
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Hilton Head Island
Located in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina,
A fun way to spend the day with the family is with a guided dolphin tour, which teaches you all about the local ecosystem while getting up close and personal with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. When you want a break from the sand and water, check out the Coastal Discovery Museum or the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum on the southwest tip of the island. The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge salt marsh is a good place to spot deer, alligators and birds.
Founded in 1711, Beaufort is a historical city on Port Royal Island, one of South Carolina’s coastal Sea Islands. A small town with classic architecture, it is the site where many famous movies have been filmed, including “Forrest Gump,” “The Prince of Tides” and “The Big Chill.”
Beaufort packs plenty of fun things to do and see for all ages, including festivals, events, museums, art galleries, historical sites, shopping and plenty of restaurants. There are also a number of recreational and sports activities to take advantage of including boating, fishing, kayaking, camping and hiking its many trails. The downtown historic district is known for its beautiful antebellum mansions. The Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park is a great place to have a picnic while overlooking the Beaufort River and Woods Memorial Bridge.
Located in the lowcountry, Mount Pleasant is a large suburban town known for its historic houses and live oaks. It is especially known for being home to national historic landmarks such as Patriot’s Point and the USS Yorktown. If you’re looking for one of the best places to visit in South Carolina for history buffs, Mount Pleasant is that place.
There’s always something fun awaiting you in Mount Pleasant. There are free cultural events, haunted historical walking tours, festivals, farmer’s markets and parades. There are historic homes, revolutionary war sites and military vessels. There’s boutique shopping, southern-style dining and local craft breweries. And when you want something more laid back and relaxing to do, head to the creek for kayaking and paddleboarding. One thing is for sure…you’ll need more than one visit to take in all that Mount Pleasant has to offer.
Best Attractions to Visit in South Carolina:
Congaree National Park
Located 18 miles outside of Columbia, the Congaree National Park spans 26,276 acres of giant hardwood and pine trees. It is one of the best places to visit in South Carolina if you’re looking for a tranquil and beautiful place to get in touch with nature. The park is the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest that remains in the southeastern USA.
A day at the Congaree National Park can be spent hiking through the beautiful green forest and its wooden boardwalk trails. Guided canoeing tours are also available, taking you through the Congaree and Wateree Rivers. If camping is up your alley, you can make a reservation for one at one of the front country campgrounds complete with fire pits, picnic tables and restrooms. Or, you can get a permit to set up your own camping spot in the wilderness. However, only tents and hammocks are permitted. No RV hookups are available.
Caesars Head State Park
Located in Greenville, Caesars Head State Park is where you can catch stunning views of North Carolina and Georgia from atop the Blue Ridge Escarpment, making it one of the best places to visit in South Carolina for sight-seers, hikers and those looking for outdoor adventures.
One of the most popular things to do at the park is hike the four-mile, round trip Ravens Cliff Falls hiking trail, which leads to the scenic overlook of the 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls. For a better view of the falls, you can take a 6.6-mile round trip hike to a suspension bridge that crosses the creek above the Falls. Caesars Head also connects to the Jones Gap State Park via the Mountain Bridge Wilderness area, giving hikers and campers an additional 13,000 acres of beautiful mountains and forest to explore!
Charleston’s Historic District
Also known as the Charleston Old and Historic District, the Charleston Historic District is one of the most beautiful places in South Carolina. Visitors to this historic town will find a remarkable collection of 18th and 19th-century architecture, including cobblestone streets and the distinctive Charleston “single house.”
A day in historic Charleston can be spent exploring architectural and historical landmarks such as the Pineapple Fountain, Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, Old Slave Mart Museum or National Russel House Museum. You can also take a ferry to Fort Sumter to stand exactly where the Civil War began, tour one of its many plantations and mansions or take a horse-drawn carriage guided tour of the area.
Located off the Atlantic Ocean in Charleston, South Carolina, the Charleston Harbor forms part of the Intracoastal Waterway and is home to Fort Sumter National Monument, the site of the first shots of the American Civil War. But that’s not all that the harbor is known for. It is also the site of the first successful submarine attack when the H.L. Hunley attacked the USS Housatonic during the Civil War. For history buffs, the Charleston Harbor is a must-visit while in this area of South Carolina.
Another interesting fact about the Harbor – the 12-foot natural depth of the harbor is part of the reason why Charleston has grown to where it is today. Following the war, the government dredged the channels of the harbor to a depth of 17 feet. To experience all that Charleston Harbor has to offer while learning about its fascinating history, a 1.5-hour narrated boat tour is the best way to go.
Huntington Beach State Park
One of South Carolina’s most recognizable landmarks, Huntington Beach State Park is one of the Grand Strand’s pristine beaches and one of the best places to visit in South Carolina for beach goers, nature lovers and those who like to stay active outdoors.
With three miles of sandy beach, 173 campsites and more than 300 species of birds, Huntington Beach State Park is a must-visit for campers, hikers and those just looking to have a relaxing day while taking in all of South Carolina’s natural beauty. The park is also known to be one of the best places for bird-watching on the east coast as well as home to some of the best surf-fishing in the state.
Huntington Beach State Park is also home to the National Historic Landmark, Atalaya, the breathtaking, Moorish-style winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. The home is where the prestigious Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival takes place each year in September.
Falls Park on the Reedy
Considered to be the “birthplace of Greenville,” Falls Park on the Reedy is a beautiful, 32-acre park that was previously home to textile mills. Now it is known to be a nature lover’s paradise and one of the best places to visit in South Carolina.
Located in the historic West End district of Greenville, Falls Park on the Reedy is like an oasis in the city. As a multi-use facility with waterfalls, gardens, beautiful public art, stunning architecture and eye-catching stonework, it is a popular place for people of all ages to spend the day.
SheBuysTravel Editor-in-Chief Cindy Richards visited the Falls Park with her family and enjoyed spending the afternoon watching the cascading waterfalls while people-watching. In her words, “It was a lovely spot to while away an afternoon.”
South Carolina State Museum
Located along the Congaree River in downtown Columbia, the South Carolina State Museum has four floors of both permanent and changing exhibits. It is one of the best places to visit in South Carolina for fascinating exhibits on natural history, South Carolina history, art, science and technology.
The museum also houses a digital dome planetarium, 4D interactive theater and an observatory. It is the largest and most comprehensive museum in South Carolina.
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
Home to more than 2,000 animals and one of the nation’s most beautiful botanical gardens, the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden has a reputation as one of the USA’s best zoos and best places to visit in South Carolina for families, animals lovers and nature lovers. Riverbanks is also the site of structural remains and historic ruins that can be seen from various locations along the River Trail and the footbridge that links the Zoo to the Garden.
The botanical gardens section houses more than 4,300 specifics of native and exotic plants, including a Walled Garden for a great photo op. The three-acre Waterfall Junction waterpark is a fun way for the little ones to cool off from the heat, featuring a 25-foot cascading waterfall, splash zones, giant tree houses and a dinosaur bone dig with a life-size replica of a T-Rex.
Housed in the University of South Carolina Aiken, the DuPont Planetarium is one of the best places to visit in South Carolina for both adults and children with an interest in astronomy. With a 30-foot diameter dome and seating for 45, it’s a great way to take a short break from the outdoors for a fun and educational experience.
The public programs usually last about an hour and include a live presentation about the stars, planets and constellations. There’s also an automated program on a variety of topics, mostly related to astronomy. If the weather is right, you’ll be able to head to the observatory after the presentation for telescope viewings.