16 Things to Do in South Carolina

Arthur Ravenel Bridge at twilight hour
Robert Loe / Getty Images

From the dramatic mountain vistas of the Upstate to the sandy beaches of Grand Strand and intoxicating cobblestone streets of Charleston's historic district, South Carolina is filled with natural beauty and can't miss attractions. For an active getaway, hike to tumbling waterfalls and mountain vistas at Caesars Head State Park in the Upstate or pedal the paved pathways of idyllic Hilton Head Island. Opting inside? The South Carolina State Museum offers four interactive floors dedicated to science and history, while the Greenville Museum of Art houses the world's largest public collection of Andrew Wyeth watercolors. From unique attractions like the sculptures garden meets wildlife preserve Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach and the breathtaking Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, these are the can't-miss attractions in the Palmetto State.

01 of 16

Stroll Through Charleston's Historic District

Charleston Street Scene
S. Greg Panosian / Getty Images

Frequently ranked as one of America's best places to visit, Charleston is known for its candy-colored historic homes, friendly vibe, and a skyline dotted with grand church spires. Take a guided tour or head out on your own to view architectural landmarks like Rainbow Row, the Gibbes Museum of Art, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, the city's oldest church. Then grab provisions from a nearby market like Butcher & the Bee and head to the Battery to enjoy a picnic under majestic oak trees with waterfront views.

02 of 16

Shop Along King Street in Charleston

King Street in Charleston, SC

 SeanXu/Getty Images

Once Charleston's main thoroughfare, historic King Street bisects the peninsula from north to south. Its colorful buildings house restaurants, bars, and shops like Saks Fifth Avenue, Apple, and Anthropologie along with local gems like estate furniture shop George C. Birlant and Co., men's clothier M. Dumas & Sons, women's ready-to-wear designer collective Hampden Clothing, family-owned fine jewelry store Croghan's Jewel Box, and rare and used purveyors Blue Bicycle Books.

Pro tip: on the second Sunday of every month, the city shuts down traffic on the street so shoppers can enjoy patio dining, live music, and browsing through shops without dodging cars.

03 of 16

Dine Out in Charleston

The Ordinary

Photo credit: Andrew Cebulka 

Charleston is a food lover's paradise with restaurants serving everything from traditional Gullah Geechee cuisine and fresh seafood to classic French fare and whole hog barbecue. The city has its share of international fare as well. Can't miss restaurants include the award-winning Bertha's Kitchen—a no-frills soul food spot serving fried chicken, smothered pork chops, mac and cheese, and lima beans—and FIG, a white tablecloth spot with a rotating menu of seasonal favorites, housemade pasta, and stellar wine list. Other standout restaurants include Chez Nous, Rodney Scott's Barbecue, The Ordinary, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Chubby Fish, and Hannibal's Kitchen.

04 of 16

Play On Hilton Head Island

Marina and lighthouse on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Joel Carillet / Getty Images

At 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, Hilton Head is the largest barrier island between Long Island and the Bahamas. An ideal day trip from Charleston (100 miles away) or destination in its own right, the resort town is an outdoor lover's dream: 100 miles of shared-use pathways, 6 miles of dedicated bike lanes, 13 miles of sandy Atlantic coast beaches, or play one of 24 golf courses. Coligny Beach serves as the island's hub, with free access to the pristine beachfront, umbrella, chair, and paddleboard rentals, plus plentiful amenities like clean restrooms, showers, and changing rooms. Climb to the top of the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse for the island's best views, and then head to nearby Harbour Town, a shopping and entertainment district with waterfront dining, art galleries, and local boutiques.

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05 of 16

Visit Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
John Coletti / Getty Images

With 60 miles of shoreline, Myrtle Beach is by far the state's most popular beach, drawing 14 million visitors annually for its celebrity-designed golf courses, sandy beaches, and wealth of family-friendly activities. Along the iconic boardwalk, you'll find arcade games, seafood joints, the Family Kingdom amusement park, and the SkyWheel, one of the largest ferris wheels in the country. Other popular spots include Ripley's Aquarium; the Carolina Opry; Myrtle Waves water park; and the Pelicans Ballpark, home of a Chicago Cubs minor league baseball team.

Links enthusiasts will want to check out some of the area's stellar courses (like the Bobby Jones-designed The Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Arnold Palmer's King's North at Myrtle Beach National). At the same time, beachfront activities range from jet skiing and deep-sea fishing to kiteboarding and kayaking. For a natural retreat, head to Myrtle Beach State Park for hiking trails, a Nature Center, birdwatching, horseback riding, geocaching, and fishing from the pier.

06 of 16

Tour Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens

Kruck20/Getty Images 

Address
1931 Brookgreen Garden Dr, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576, USA
Phone +1 843-235-6000

Located just south of famous beach town Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens is part pristine sculpture garden and part wildlife preserve. The 1,600-acre park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Highlights include a butterfly garden, 250-year-old oak trees, and the largest collection of figurative sculptures in the United States: 2,000 works by 425 artists interspersed throughout the gardens and indoor gallery space. The Gardens also have an onsite zoo featuring native species like grey foxes, bald eagles, river otters, and white-tailed deer and are adjacent to Huntington Beach State Park. This 2,500-acre recreation area boasts 3 miles of pristine coastline, along with a 2-mile hiking trail, a fishing pier, 300 species of birds, and the historic Atalaya Castle.

07 of 16

Hike at Ceasars Head State Park

Caesars Head
JillLang / Getty Images
Address
8155 Geer Hwy, Cleveland, SC 29635-9428, USA
Phone +1 864-836-6115

With over 60 miles of hiking trails, the 13,000-acre Caesars Head State Park is one of the state's most beautiful outdoor areas, offering up-close encounters with tumbling waterfalls, bird watching, and scenic vistas. Try the 4-mile, out-and-back Raven Cliff Falls Trail, a moderately paced path that leads to an overlook to view the dramatic, 420-foot namesake waterfall. For a more challenging trek, opt for the 6.6-mile Dismal Trail Loop, which crosses a suspension bridge at the top of the Falls. In the autumn, come not only for the vibrant foliage but also to watch the migration of hawks, bald eagles, falcons, and other species as they head south for the winter from the rocky peak of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

08 of 16

Visit Congaree National Park

cypress forest and swamp of Congaree National Park
digidreamgrafix / Getty Images
Address
100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC 29061, USA
Phone +1 803-776-4396

One of the smallest and newest national parks, the dog-friendly 26,276-acre Congaree National Park in central South Carolina is a hidden gem. Just 18 miles southeast of the state's capital, Columbia, the park contains the country's largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest and one of the world's largest concentrations of champion trees, including a 167-foot point loblolly pine and 500-year-old cypress trees. The terrain is mostly easy and level, making it ideal for exploring with furry friends, which are allowed on all trails and campgrounds. Park highlights include the 2.6-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail, which departs from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and traverses through old-growth hardwood forest featuring bald cypress, tupelo, oak, and maple trees.

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09 of 16

Tour the South Carolina State Museum

South Carolina State Museum

Courtesy of South Carolina State Museum 

Address
301 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29201, USA
Phone +1 803-898-4921

The largest museum in the Southeast, the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, has four stories of exhibit space dedicated to art, history, natural science, and technology. Highlights of the 70,000-piece permanent collection include a giant replica of a prehistoric megalodon shark, dinosaur fossils, indigenous pottery, a 19th-century schoolhouse, and Civil War displays. The museum campus also consists of an observatory, a 4-D theater, and a 55-foot digital dome planetarium showing laser light events and programs like the National Parks Adventure narrated by Academy Award winner Robert Redford.

10 of 16

Pedal Down the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail

Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail

Courtesy of VisitGreenvilleSC

Address
Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail, Travelers Rest, SC, USA

This 22-mile mixed-use greenway follows an old railroad bed and connects downtown Greenville to Travelers Rest. Rent a bike from Reedy Rides—rates start at $20 for a half-day—or take a guided tour to pedal to points of interest along the trail, including public art installations, quirky coffee shops, and local breweries. Head 1 mile east from downtown to explore Cleveland Park and the Greenville Zoo. Or venture 6 miles north to picturesque Furman University and its iconic lake and bell tower, ideal for lounging with a book or enjoying a picnic. Just further to the north at the trail's end is the Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom, where you can enjoy snacks and local brews before your return trip.

11 of 16

Stroll through Falls Park on the Reedy

Falls Park on the Reedy

Courtesy of VisitGreenvilleSC

Address
601 S Main St, Greenville, SC 29601-2504, USA
Phone +1 864-467-4350

This stunning, 32-acre green space in Greenville's historic West End is the ultimate urban oasis. Stroll along the walking trails to view landscaped gardens, public art installations, dramatic stonework, and a wall from the site's original 18th-century grist mill. For the city's best views and the park's namesake picturesque waterfalls, cross the 355-foot suspension Liberty Bridge, the longest single-sided bridge in the Western Hemisphere. After visiting the park, head to Passerelle Bistro to dine on French-inspired cuisine like escargot and crab cakes with a view.

12 of 16

Get Up Close with Nature at Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens

Riverbanks Zoo

David Lofink from Orange, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Address
500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, SC 29210, USA
Phone +1 803-779-8717

From cuddly koalas and majestic giraffes to playful sea lions and colorful Komodo dragons, the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden is home to more than 350 species of animals from around the globe. Pet farm animals at the zoo barnyard, feed giraffes or lorikeets, scale the adventure rock wall, or climb aboard the train to tour habitats like the Africa savannah and Sea Lion Landing, a replica of San Francisco’s Pier 39.

Don't miss the 70-acre botanical garden, with over 4,000 species of plants, zip line tours, and themed gardens, including Waterfall Junction, a 3-acre children’s garden with splash pads and a giant treehouse.

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13 of 16

Explore the Stars at DuPont Planetarium

Dupont Planetarium

Courtesy of Visit Augusta

Address
427 Scholar Loop, Aiken, SC 29801, USA
Phone +1 803-641-3654

Located on the University of South Carolina Aiken campus, the intimate, 30-foot diameter 57-seat planetarium hosts public viewings every Saturday evening. Make reservations in advance for screenings, which focus on astronomy, weather, biology, and other science-centric topics. The planetarium also has an observatory, a walk-in kaleidoscope, two sundials, and a camera obscura.

14 of 16

Experience History at Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter National Monument

Photo Italia LLC/Getty Images

 

Address
South Carolina 29412, USA
Phone +1 843-883-3123

Originally built as one of a series of fortifications on the Southern coast after the War of 1812, Fort Sumter is where Confederate forces first fired shots at the Union Army, thus starting the Civil War. Catch a ferry from either Liberty Square Visitors Center or Patriots Point to the small island in Charleston Harbor, now part of the National Park Service. The site includes a small museum and a self-guided tour for visitors to explore the historic structure.

15 of 16

Visit the BMW Zentrum Museum

BMW Zentrum Museum

Courtesy of VisitGreenville

Address
1400 SC-101, Greer, SC 29651-6799, USA
Phone +1 888-868-7269

Car enthusiasts will want to visit the only BMW museum in North America, located on the automobile company's Greer plant campus. Open Monday through Friday for self-guided tours, the interactive museum has exhibits dedicated to the company's history and technology, as well as a large display of current and historic cars, including the Isetta Bubblecar, plus a gift shop and a small cafe.

16 of 16

View Modern Masterpieces at the Greenville County Museum of Art

Greenville County Museum of Art

Mira Photographs/Michelle Mogavero

Address
420 College St, Greenville, SC 29601-2017, USA
Phone +1 864-271-7570

Located on the Heritage Green cultural campus downtown, this free museum is home to the world's most extensive public collection of Andrew Wyeth watercolors. The museum's permanent collection also includes many paintings and prints by South Carolina contemporary artist Jasper Johns, a substantial pottery collection by David Drake, and one of the largest collections of works by South Carolina-born artist William H. Johnson. Additional highlights include a sizeable Southern collection ranging from early colonial-era pastel portraits to American impressionism and abstract expressionism.

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16 Things to Do in South Carolina