The Top 20 Must-See Places in South Carolina
They say that South Carolina has "smiling faces and beautiful places." Indeed, South Carolina is a beautiful state, and the Southern hospitality makes you want to come back again and again. From the mountainous foothills of the Upstate to the sandy beaches of the coastal zone and everything in between, South Carolina is well worth the visit.
Where to Start?
When planning a trip, is it always nice to have a starting point. Ask yourself, "Where should we go and what should we see?" Whether you are planning to vacation in South Carolina or you are a resident looking to visit some new places, this list will get you started.
The list features historic sites, educational museums, theme parks, state and national parks, zoos, and more, but they all have one thing in common: They are all family friendly. The prices range, but for the most part, they are fairly affordable, even for a large family.
20 Affordable and Family-Friendly Destinations in South Carolina
As a Carolina native, I have visited nearly all of these attractions and can say without a doubt that they are worth seeing. The list isn't exhaustive—there are far more than 20 cool places in the state!—but it will whet your appetite.
- Spartanburg Art Museum
- Greenville Zoo
- Myrtle Waves Water Park
- Dupont Planetarium
- South Carolina State Farmer's Market
- The Plantations of South Carolina
- The South Carolina State Capital Building
- Lake Hartwell State Recreation Area
- Carowinds Theme Park
- Caesars Head State Park
- Myrtle Beach
- King's Mountain National Military Park and State Parks
- Historic Charleston
- South Carolina Aquarium
- Congaree National Park
- Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
- USS Yorktown and Patriots Point
- Fort Sumter
- Hilton Head
Please enjoy, and be sure to let me know about your favorite place in South Carolina.
1. The Plantations of South Carolina
South Carolina is home to more than 2,000 Southern plantations that were once operated using slave labor. Today they serve as historical and cultural landmarks. Many of the plantations are located near the coast, not far from cities like Charleston and Myrtle Beach. For a list of plantations with links that provide more information about each specific site, visit South Carolina Plantations.
2. Greenville Zoo
Enjoy a 14-acre zoo with many wildlife species including giant tortoises, elephants, and giraffes. The admission is reasonably priced and groups get a special discount. The Greenville Zoo also has a lot of education programs for school-age children. Programs targeting homeschoolers are also advertised on their website.
3. Myrtle Waves Water Park
What's better than a day splashing around at the beach? Enjoy the thrills and family fun of the slides, raft rides, and large pools. Visit their website here.
4. Dupont Planetarium
The Dupont Planetarium, which opened in 1995, makes for a great learning experience. It is part of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center and is located at the University of South Carolina, Aiken. The Planetarium boasts a 30-foot dome that displays projected images for the viewing pleasure of the audience. In addition to offering public showings, the planetarium offers K–12 school programs. More information about programs and schedules can be found on their website.
5. South Carolina State Farmer's Market
Find produce from local farms at the SC State Farmer's Market. The fresh food is well worth the trip. You can find more information at Experience Columbia.
6. Spartanburg Art Museum
The Spartanburg Art Museum is a great place to experience art and culture with no cost of admission. Hours are Tuesday–Saturday, 10 am–5 pm. In addition to the gallery of exhibits, the Spartanburg offers art camps and art school. Visit their website for more information. You might also be interested to know that the Spartanburg has an outreach program designed for at-risk youth in the area.
7. The South Carolina State Capital Building
Visit the State House of South Carolina. This resilient building survived Sherman's march in the Civil War, however, bronze stars now cover six different spots where artillery shells blew holes in the structure. Construction began in 1851 but was not completed until 1907. The Capital houses the SC General Assembly (legislature) and the office of the Governor.
Enjoy the quaint, small-town feel of Georgetown, located along the beautiful Pee-Dee River. Known for great shopping, scenic river walks, and beautiful historic neighborhoods, Georgetown is the third oldest city in the state. This sweet town is a must-see.
9. Lake Hartwell State Recreation Area
Lake Hartwell features 962 miles of shoreline. It is located just two hours from both Charlotte and Atlanta and less than three hours from Columbia. There are lots of activities and things to do, and lodging is available at the state park. This is one of the most peaceful, tranquil, and majestic locations in the state. More information can be found here.
10. Carowinds Theme Park
Have a blast at one of the area's largest and most attractive theme parks. As with any amusement park, look for coupons to avoid paying the listed website or door price. Check out one of their newest rides, the Intimidator, a 232-foot-tall roller coaster that runs a speed of 75 MPH. Visit the website for more info.
11. Caesars Head State Park
Perhaps some of South Carolina's most majestic views can be found here at Caesars Head State Park. The park features hiking, camping, fishing (with a license), bird-watching, picnicking, and more. The park's website has more detailed information about the state park including location, directions, and amenities.
12. Myrtle Beach
A classic tourist spot for vacationers headed to the beach, this area has an incredible number of hotels, dining, shopping, activities, and attractions. There's something for everyone, there!
13. King’s Mountain National Military Park and State Parks
There are three parks located on the border of North and South Carolina. They feature a combination of amenities, military history, and natural beauty.
14. Historic Charleston
There is a lot to do in Charleston, but the historic areas of the city are the most incredible. Charleston is one of the oldest major cities in the United States, now ranking 75th in the nation for population (in 1690, it was the 5th largest city). The Battery, known for the location of some of Charleston's most beautiful homes, is named after the wall that once served as a city defense. Visit the Historic Charleston Foundation website for pictures and more information on this historic city.
15. South Carolina Aquarium
A visit to the SC Aquarium is a great way to round out a vacation to this beautiful state. Located in Charleston (where as you know, there are many other things to see!), the aquarium is a classic family destination. Visit the Aquarium website to learn more and buy your tickets or membership.
16. Congaree National Park
Visit one of the United State's newest national parks (the 57th) and the only National Park in the State of South Carolina. The park is surrounded by the Congaree Swamp. Among the park's features are daily ranger-guided walks. If you have kids, be sure to check out the Junior Ranger Program! Visit the website for more information!
17. Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
Riverbanks is one of the Southeast's most remarkable zoos. But it isn't just a fantastic zoo. It's also home to a fascinating botanical garden with bog, shade, walled, old rose, and dry gardens. The zoo is fun for everyone in the family. Their website has all the information you need to plan your visit.
18. U.S.S. Yorktown and Patriots Point
What could be a more awesome family adventure than touring a WWII Essex-class aircraft carrier? In addition to the U.S.S. Yorktown, Patriots Point in Charleston is home to the Cold War Sub Memorial, Vietnam Support Base, The U.S.S. Clamagor (submarine), The U.S.S. Laffey (destroyer), and the Medal of Honor Museum.
19. Fort Sumter
Visit the site where the Civil War started. Trust me, this classic island fort is a site that you don't want to miss. Get more information from the Fort Sumter National Monument website.
20. Hilton Head
Unlike Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head is not a tourist trap. There are few high-rise hotels, and trees cover most of the island, hiding the commercialism found at most well-frequented beaches or islands. There are plenty of fun family attractions, however, and the island is perfect for bike riding because there are lots of bike paths and lanes all over the town. For more information, visit the Town of Hilton Head website.
The Regions of South Carolina
What is Your Favorite?
What is your favorite region of South Carolina
Thanks for reading! I hope this has been helpful. Please feel free to comment and mention your favorite place in SC.
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© 2011 Jason Matthews