I think of excellent food, shag music and dancing, low-country culture, remarkable historic sites, and fabulous trees when South Carolina comes to mind. But, it is also an exceptional state to visit small towns with fewer than 25,000 people. A visit can do wonders for your soul and curiosity and provide much-needed support and dollars to communities that really need them.
The 12 charming small towns to visit in S.C. that I included on my list have a significant historical element, beautiful scenery, or noteworthy attraction in them.
I was fully hosted by Lofts on Main (Walhalla) and the BMW Driving Experience on previous press trips.
Enjoy the beautiful water views and water activities in this charming South Carolina gem, “Queen of the South Carolina Islands.” Beaufort still has a hint of a British vibe to it, and the antebellum architecture has been used in movie sets, including Forrest Gump and The Prince of Tides.
Learn about African-American culture at the Penn Center and add another lighthouse to your “been there, seen that” category at Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse.
Fun Fact: Visit a unique museum during your time in Beaufort: The Kazoo Museum and Factory Tour.
McConnells is probably best known for Historic Brattonsville, a Revolutionary War property with incredible history, scenery, and reenactments. Enter the park at the Visitor Center, and be sure to check out the nice selection of gifts. I loved Historic Brattonsville’s costumed interpreters, available around the property all year long.
Located near Rock Hill, McConnells is part of rural York County.
Pro Tip: On my visit to Historic Brattonsville, it was pouring. Wear appropriate shoes as the mud is thick and messy.
I love exploring weird or odd roadside attractions, and Gaffney has just that. Peachoid is a humongous peach that stands along I-85 at the height of 135 feet. Or, you might recognize the town and name from an episode of House of Cards.
Fun Fact: In case you were wondering what’s inside the giant peach, roughly a million gallons of water.
Book your weekend or overnight getaway at Lofts on Main and stay in a stylishly decorated luxury loft within walking distance of Walhalla’s friendly streets. Grab a clever pizza creation from Carolina Pizza Co. or a tasty coffee drink from Mountain Mocha before setting out to discover two fantastic waterfalls: Yellow Branch and Issaqueena Falls.
Yellow Branch is for a more seasoned hiker, while Issaqueena is steps from the parking lot.
They are both gorgeous. You can also walk through Stumphouse Tunnel, circa 1901, and where Clemson University did farming for its famous Clemson Bleu Cheese for a few years.
Fun Fact: Learn more about this charming area at the Oconee History Museum; no ticket is required, but donations are appreciated.
5. Fort Mill
Fort Mill, South Carolina, is another charming small town to visit. You’ll want to hit Baxter Town Center, loaded with locally-owned shops, eateries, and things to see and do. Satisfy your sweet tooth with one of the deliciously tempting cake pop or cupcake creations from Cupcrazed Cakery, located in the shopping complex.
If it’s a beer you crave, Amor Artis Brewing will quench your thirst, especially needed after sampling the hottest peppers in the world (the Carolina Reaper) at Ed’s PuckerButt Pepper Company. Caution: these are mind-blowing hot peppers so sample lightly.
Get your camera ready for the gorgeous downtown streets and Springmaid Park, complete with a picturesque water fountain.
6. Isle of Palms
Tucked away a dozen miles from Charleston is the stunning Isle of Palms, a barrier island. Isle of Palms is best known for the excellent beach area, but there are other things to see and do, too. Enjoy an arsenal of sports on the island, namely tennis and golf, and treat yourself to a relaxing massage or body treatment.
Wild Dunes Resort offers upscale accommodations with a plethora of vacation rentals and rooms, 36 holes of award-winning golf, an adults-only pool, spa, and onsite restaurant.
Aiken shares the border with neighboring Georgia. It is home to thoroughbred horse racing, fox hunts, and polo events, therefore hosting the wealthy and elite at every turn. You can learn more about the horse culture at the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. If you are traveling with your grandchildren, note that Richardson’s Lake Waterpark is a terrific spot for both the beach and waterslides features.
Another important attraction is the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum, then wander to the boutique shops on Main Street. Betsy’s Round the Corner offers blue plate meals, a vast salad menu, pimento grilled cheese, and shrimp Po’boys for a palate-pleasing snack or meal. Save room for the hand-dipped ice cream concoctions, or how about a boozy milkshake?
A stay at The Willcox Hotel is the stuff that dreams are made of. It has previously been rated the number one hotel in the south by Southern Living magazine. The hotel is pet-friendly, meaning you can bring your dog…and horse; just don’t expect your horse to be welcome inside the hotel.
Having been to Myrtle Beach well over 100 times, Walterboro used to be a town we drove through en route to the beach. But this South Carolina town has many things to see and do for a day trip visit. Before going there, Walterboro Wildlife Center is a good place to start and learn about the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary, a 600-acre swamp preserve, and ecotourism spot.
Another place you’ve got to see is the South Carolina Artisans Center, an eight-room Victorian house with 250 or so juried artists and the premier destination for low country art. Noteworthy pieces include sweetgrass baskets, raku-fired pottery (Japanese), and oyster shell knives.
Sink your teeth into some of the state’s best barbecue at Duke’s Barbecue, an all-you-can-eat buffet.
On our many visits to Myrtle Beach, we would make a road trip about an hour away to enjoy Georgetown’s beautiful waterfront and historic attractions, the halfway point between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. Be sure to come hungry and enjoy a first-rate meal on the waterfront (Big Tuna Raw Bar, for sure!) and allow some time to do some local shopping and picture taking on the cherished Harborwalk.
I strongly suggest touring the Rice Museum (behind the historic Clock Tower) and learning about South Carolina’s long history with the beloved grain. Ghost tours are another popular thing to do. Ever toured a low country plantation? Hopsewee Plantation, built 40 years before the Revolutionary War, was one of the major rice plantations. Tours run about $20, and you can pay to try a sweetgrass basket weaving class. Swamp Fox Tours has options to see Georgetown’s historic parts if you’d prefer just to sightsee.
You can’t mention Clemson and not quickly turn your thoughts to its championship sports programs, but the university itself is a thing of beauty. Clemson is home to the South Carolina Botanical Garden, a free attraction with a wealth of themed gardens, historic buildings, and programming. My favorite part of the massive garden complex was the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, chock full of gemstones, rock, minerals, and all sorts of cool things to see and learn about.
Dining at the iconic Esso Club, an old gas station from 1933, for Southern favorites is a must! Feast on tiger tidbits such as buffalo chicken dip and steak fingers, or go for gourmet sliders, fresh salads, and tasty wings.
11. Pawleys Island
Pawleys Island is the most well-known of South Carolina’s Hammock Coast. It is also one of the oldest seaside towns in the country. Known for the great golf courses and the birthplace of the cotton rope hammocks manufactured here since 1889, Pawleys Island is a quaint getaway with lots of hidden gems. A visit to the Hammock Shops Village is a must (since 1938), with a gourmet kitchen store, candy shops, and coastal apparel and souvenir shops. Come hungry to BisQit, a local favorite with incredible burgers and thick, decadent milkshakes.
Pick up gourmet eats, specialty items, and grab and go things from Kudzu Bakery. For a luxury stay, the nearby Litchfield Plantation is an excellent choice.
Greer is outside of Greenville and Spartanburg. The town was originally a hunting ground, then a railroad town, and now is a city where you’ll find one of North America’s only two BMW plants. Greer also has the BMW Performance Driving Experience, a program where you can learn to drive defensively, sharpen your skills, and have great fun. I’ve done the courses before, and the off-road course is nerve-wracking but shows you what these amazing vehicles are capable of.
Greer has an upscale feel but still a small-town presence. Stay overnight at the lovely Candleberry Inn Bed and Breakfast, check out the Greer’s Farmers’ Market, and enjoy a meal at the Clock Restaurant, specializing in meat and three. I love that the Clock includes a dessert choice in the (3) vegetable offerings.
Fun Fact: Watch for Our Lady of Vietnam, a Vietnamese Catholic Shrine to Mother Mary on SC-14.
South Carolina destinations can include historic sites, multi-cultural, and family-friendly: