Tips + Trends

From Low Country to Piedmont: Your South Carolina Bucket List

At Botany Bay you’ll find Boneyard Beach, where the “skeletons” of dead trees rise from the ground. (Photo: Alamy)

Most tourists think of two things when they imagine a trip to South Carolina: Plantations and the beach.

Both visuals are warranted. There’s a lot of history in this state, and Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island (just outside of Charleston) is consistently ranked as one of the 10 best beaches in the country. But South Carolina has much more has to offer.

To really experience the legendary Southern hospitality here, a few things need to be on your “must do” list.

Namely, you’ll want to eat shrimp and grits (which you can find at restaurants all over the state) or attend an oyster roast (locations vary, but a glance at the local paper will show where to find them each weekend).

Still, you’ll also want to experience some of the lesser known attractions South Carolina has to offer.

Deciding which things to do in South Carolina often depends on the city you’re using as your base of operations.

If you’re staying in Charleston, Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head, you’ll likely want to visit different places than you would if you were staying in Greenville, since it’s a roughly four- to five-hour drive from one part of the state to the other.

But in either case, there’s plenty to hold your interest.

In the Low Country …

Tourists tend to flock to cities along South Carolina’s coast, a region of the state known as the Low Country.

Whether it’s family- and spring break–centric Myrtle Beach, the quieter seaside village of Hilton Head Island or historic Charleston, you’ll find plenty of high quality restaurants and ample nightlife.

And during the days, there are plenty of things to do within driving distance.

Visit Botany Bay

There are plenty of beaches in South Carolina, so what makes this one unique? Botany Bay, located on Edisto Island (about an hour outside of downtown Charleston), is the home of Boneyard Beach, a secluded area where the “skeletons” of dead trees rise from the ground.

The expansion of the high-tide line and the salt water killed off the trees’ root structures, but the trees, branches leafless, remained upright, resulting in a serene, spectacular and quite unique beachfront area.

Wear comfortable shoes (not flip-flops) since you’ll have to walk a half-mile from the parking lot to get to the beach.

The long walk discourages some people, but it means there’s a decent chance you’ll only have to share the beach with a handful of other people.

Sit under the Angel Oak

things to do in South Carolina
Sense the region’s long and storied history from under the regal Angel Oak. (Photo: Alamy)

Old trees are found all over the South, but Charleston’s Angel Oak (on John’s Island) stands out from the pack. Estimated to be between 400 to 500 years old, it’s 28 awe-inspiring feet in circumference and casts more than 17,000 feet of shade.

Admission is free, and it’s a terrific place to have a picnic lunch while the kids run off steam chasing each other under, over and around the branches, some of which rest on the ground.

Enjoy the View from Hunting Island Lighthouse

Lighthouses aren’t generally publicly accessible in South Carolina, but you can climb to the top of this one. It’s about a one-hour drive from Hilton Head, and it’s often closed during inclement weather. But if you drive by on a sunny afternoon, you can get some gorgeous views of the barrier island and seascape.

The structure itself was built in 1859 and then rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed in the Civil War. It underwent an 18-month repair in 2003.

As an added bonus, the Hunting Island beach isn’t nearly as crowded as others in the state, should you decide to make a day of it.

See a Ghost at the Charleston Old City Jail

things to do in South Carolina
Get spooked on a tour of Charleston’s Old Jail. (Photo: Alamy)

Dubbed the “most haunted building in Charleston,” this jail housed the worst of the worst (including murderers, pirates and countless Civil War prisoners) from 1802 to 1939.

Located in the heart of downtown, its original structures are still intact.

It’s open to the public sporadically (usually during one of the many arts events in the city), but Bulldog Tours offers nightly walks through the facility. It’s a spooky good time, but maybe not an especially good choice if you’ve got kids with you.

In the Piedmont …

It can be hard to believe the western part of South Carolina, where Clemson University and Greenville are located, is in the same state as the Low Country.

Instead of beaches, there’s a stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the plantations are harder to find (and less impressive). But the area’s hardly lacking in bucket list items.

Explore Lake Jocassee

If beach life isn’t for you, maybe lake life is! This spring-fed, 7,500-acre body of water, located in Salem, South Carolina (about 42 miles west of Greenville), has hidden waterfalls, great trout fishing, beautiful scuba diving and plenty of hiking options.

It’s also a boaters paradise, and most of the 75 miles of shoreline hasn’t been developed. It’s no wonder that in 2013, National Geographic named it as one “50 of the world’s last great places.”

Get Cultural at the Greenville Museum of Art

Dubbed the premier American art museum of the South, this Greenville institution is home to the largest public collection of watercolors by famed artist Andrew Wyeth (who was a native of the city).

Located in the heart of downtown, admission is free and the museum offers a number of programs on Sunday afternoons that will help keep fidgety kids happy.

Climb Pinnacle Mountain at Table Rock

It’s no Pike’s Peak, but the tallest mountain in South Carolina is hardly child’s play. You’ll have to make your way up one of two trails (the shortest of which is 4.2 miles long) to summit the mountain.

Expect to encounter some steep forest terrain along the way.

If you’d rather not climb, there are plenty of other things to do in the 3,000-acre park, which includes an old-fashioned swimming hole and less strenuous hiking paths.

Located 20 miles outside of Greenville, it’s also home to a number of cabins and structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

Have a Moment of Zen at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens

Most people know Clemson for its university’s football team, but nature lovers prefer to focus on this 295-acre facility located on the school’s campus.

Among the attractions are a 70-acre arboretum, a butterfly garden and a wildflower meadow. But it’s the serene nature trails that will help you de-stress and appreciate the beauty of the world around you.