Imagine an ideal Southern town full of natural beauty that is conveniently located at the crossroads of two interstates. Add a revitalized downtown with a thriving culture and a low cost of living. Finally, factor in mild weather and a relaxed pace of life. Does this sound like a great travel destination? Yes, indeed, it does. This wonderful place does exist, and it is Florence, South Carolina, with its unique people, experiences, and food at fantastic restaurants, all of which are in abundance here.
This charming town has a population of approximately 39,000 and is filled with parks, outdoor art, and a wide array of family-focused activities. In Florence, there are four colleges and universities, along with highly rated medical centers, golf courses, museums, and dozens of restaurants. Florence appeals to all ages and all appetites. The motto of this all-American city is “Full Life, Full Forward”. I think they should add “Full Tummies” to that motto!
The fun never stops in Florence. One can get physical with walking tours, exercise groups, and dance classes. There are lots of farmers markets, antique shops, and thrift stores where great bargains abound. For less strenuous options there are concerts, ceramic classes, lectures, and poetry readings.
All these activities and events are sure to work up a big appetite. Thankfully, Florence has a tremendous assortment of food and beverage options to meet every whim and craving. Here are my top five favorites in alphabetical order.
1. Julia Belle’s Restaurant
The best Blue-Plate Specials in Florence are found at Julia Belle’s. This brightly colored restaurant is so cheerful because of the flowered wallpaper, the excellent food, and the pleasant personality of the staff. Owner Fran Snell makes it her mission to offer hope and joy to each person who enters. She is a woman of strong faith and wishes to be a light to all, especially if they need a lift or a listening ear.
This likable lady has such a kind heart and will gladly share the story of why she named the restaurant for a family member. And, believe me, she will even pray with you if you show any interest in it.
Julia Belle’s has, per Fran, a “good and simple menu that works using much locally sourced meat, seafood, and produce.” I enjoyed a crab cake benedict with poached egg and skillet potatoes. Locals rave about the barbecue and the fried chicken. Travelers enjoy the local flavor of the shrimp and grits.
Two specialty items on the menu are simply too good to resist. The first is the White Russian Pecan Pie which honors the South Carolina Pecan Trail. The second is Sonker, a regional dessert similar to cobbler. Fran Snell proudly tells patrons that “mine is made with blueberries gotten from just down the road at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market.”
- Local Fave: Southern Fried Chicken
- Traveler’s Choice: Shrimp and Grits
- Must-Try Desserts: White Russian Pecan Pie and Sonker
2. Seminar Brewing
Variety is the name of the game when it comes to brews and entertaining things to do. Seminar Brewing claimed fame as the first commercial craft brewery in Florence. Then their reputation soared as they added an outdoor beer garden and indoor ax throwing. Seminar now constantly adds new foods, new brews, and an always surprising calendar of events to keep everyone guessing what on earth might happen next.
The budding brewery brainstorm of five friends has blossomed into a remarkable business that is beloved by beer enthusiasts near and far. Patrons can see how beer is processed, learn about distinct types, and have a heck of a fun time tasting the subtle differences. Folks love to ask about Milk Stout Float, Oatmeal Stout, and Silly Pukeko.
Plentiful food options cover everything from pub grub to basic burgers to vegan and vegetarian specialties. The most popular choices include nachos, chicken parmesan, and pasta salad. Next time I visit, I would love to try either the Chickpea Sloppy Jo or the Fried Cauliflower Sandwich.
The staff at Seminar Brewing says to be sure to come to a trivia night, brunch, or even a musical event.
- On Tap: Silly Pukeko Pale Ale
- Local Faves: Chicken Parm and Vegetarian Nachos
- Vegan Pick: Chickpea Sloppy Jo
3. Top Hat Special-Teas
Who knew tea could be such a tempting and tasty treat? In Florence, the obvious answer is Laurie Crouse. She has owned and operated Top Hat Special-Teas for 22 years and turns a cup of tea into an enjoyable educational experience. Laurie was a caterer for 38 years, and she spent that time visiting tearooms across the country in planning to open her own.
Over 30 flavors of tea are steeped in-house and all the food is homemade and delicious. Laurie says, “It is a comfortable place with a Southern and English flair where I try to make every guest feel like part of the family. There are lots of beautiful teapots, china pieces, and accessories to view. You are sure to like Top Hat while learning about tea health, history, and culture.”
Lunch during my visit included mint tea, spinach quiche accompanied by a watermelon wedge, and potato chips. The best pecan scones I have ever had were served for dessert with Devonshire cream and lemon curd.
Top Hat Special-Teas can also prepare an exquisite Victorian or afternoon tea for families or groups of all sizes. This stylish tearoom resembles a museum and is a not-to-be-missed unique experience to be savored. The town of Florence has much to treasure in owner Laurie Crouse and her unforgettable and highly photographable special tea shop.
- Special Experience: Victorian or Afternoon Tea
- Must-Try Dessert: Pecan Scone with Devonshire Cream and Lemon Curd
- Teas To Take Home: Loose Leaf Ice Wine Tea or Farmer’s Market Kettle Corn Blend
4. Tubb’s Shrimp & Fish Co.
Seriously, y’all, pay attention: I live in Florida and would gladly drive to Tubb’s to indulge in the she crab soup or the crab rangoons — they are that good.
Getting to share a conversation with owner Kyle Hardee is the second reason to put a visit to Tubb’s on your must-do list. His stories are the best kind of heart-warming encouragement a person can imagine. You will laugh and cry and quickly wish he was your best friend. Kyle is the most perfect example of a bad boy who became a fantastically good man through his winning combination of hard work, faith, and determination. He will even be glad to show you how to shuck oysters or take heads off shrimp correctly and safely.
Nine years ago, he and his business partners converted an old gas station into an award-winning restaurant that all the patrons rave about enthusiastically. Tons of passion and creativity go into large portions of entrees such as fish, scallops, oysters, and shrimp. Unique and mouth-watering sides include Mexican-inspired hushpuppies, fried green tomatoes, and grilled corn. That same Lowcountry and Southern spin is put on one-of-a-kind specialty drinks and desserts, too.
When I asked Kyle why folks are willing to travel long distances to dine at Tubb’s, this was his response: “Come to enjoy the natural beauty of this town that’s only 90 minutes from the coast. Come because we use fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients. Come because we love to serve people through genuine hospitality and great food.”
- Traveler’s Choice: She Crab Soup and Crab Rangoons with Thai Chili Glaze
- Unique Bites: Mexican-inspired Hush Puppies with Melted Pimento Cheese
- Seafood Splurge: Grilled, Blackened, or Broiled Sea Scallop Platter
Fine dining after 5 p.m. is what to love about Victors. The gorgeous restaurant sits in the heart of the wonderfully revitalized and historic downtown. The adjacent courtyard filled with benches and sculpture art is the best area to mingle after work or while waiting for your friends to arrive. The tented outdoor dining section is awesome for anything from a couple of drinks to a sizeable celebration or family reunion. Sectioned seating inside sets the mood for a romantic evening with your honey bunny.
White linen or black tie, this is the place to get as fancy as you please. Rest assured that the staff has turned ambiance into an art in every way. Upscale decor blends just right with the creative cocktails (such as the pecan pie martini) at the upbeat bar. They can also pair the perfect wine with any meal.
Victors has been making magical memories and extraordinary events for over 10 years, much to the delight of Florence residents and visitors. They can help plan your special gathering for a group of 50 or your intimate dream-come-true meal just for two.
There is usually a list of seven or eight starters, such as Crispy Mozzarella Caprese with petite field greens and balsamic reduction and steamed mussels with smoked tomatoes and toasted focaccia. Meats range from highest-grade beef and pork to duck and seafood. The most meticulously made and distinctive sides are truffle mushroom risotto or creamed collards with smoked gouda.
- Must Sip: Pecan Pie Martini
- Best Sides: Truffle Mushroom Risotto and Creamed Collards with Smoked Gouda
- Indulgent Entree: Slow Braised Boneless Duck Legs with House-Made Dumplings and Duck Jus
Planning your vacation? Don’t miss all our South Carolina travel recommendations here.