The best places to visit in South Carolina

South Carolina is a Southern charm-infused orchestra of landscapes that plays to perfection year-round.

Creating this harmony are world-class white sand beaches and mega golf destinations along its Atlantic edge, Blue Ridge mountain views inland, large cities that never overwhelm and Lowcountry towns that leave you in the highest of spirits.

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South Carolina is primed for a multi-city road trip with several mega interstates and major US roadways zigzagging throughout the state. At a minimum, you’ll want to plan a long weekend or a week in the Palmetto State to truly dabble in its geographic wonders and warm and undeniably twangy natives.

From the 26,000-acre national park to the museum-clad capital, and a coastal gem of a city that will leave any foodie loosening their belt a notch, these are the best places to visit in South Carolina.

A boardwalk leads the way through dense forest in Congaree National Park
Follow the elevated boardwalk through the vast Congaree National Park © iStockphoto / Getty Images

Congaree National Park is the best place for outdoor adventures

Tucked in the middle of South Carolina and approximately 20 miles southeast of Columbia, Congaree National Park is where people come to quietly unwind. This nearly 27,000-acre park is a biodiverse spectacle, with towering hardwoods, stringy Spanish moss, a two-plus mile elevated boardwalk and the calm Congaree and Wateree Rivers comprising its landscape.

Central and staffed, Congaree National Park appeases off-the-grid multi-day campers and those seeking a guided experience. Each Saturday year-round, rangers and local volunteers lead guided tours of some of the park’s most astonishing experiences, including turtles the size of a coffee table, hand-sized spiders and “Champion Trees” that rank among the largest trees on earth.

A small group of people play beach volleyball in Myrtle Beach South Carolina
Myrtle Beach has plenty to keep all visitors occupied © Getty Images

Myrtle Beach is the place to go for a family day out

As soon as you set foot on Myrtle Beach’s soft sands, you’ll get why it’s considered the vibrant heart of South Carolina’s “Grand Strand” (a 60-mile stretch of beaches along the Atlantic). Within its coastal confines, there’s truly something for every family member, spanning boardwalk strolls (and perhaps a SkyWheel ride?), craft brewery excursions with bocce ball action at Crooked Hammock Brewery and, of course, endless days on the beach.

For a family-friendly outing, Surfside Beach is the perfect destination, so much so that it’s locally known as Family Beach. A small independent community with nearly 2 miles of ocean frontage, it has mini golf (Adventure Falls Golf), the Wild Water & Wheels Water Park and the Surfside Bowling Entertainment Center, ideal for rainy days.

Charleston is a top destination for foodies

“Holy City” is a godsend for those seeking quintessentially Southern or an internationally infused dining experience. Its King Street artery and urban core tantalizes all the senses, from its mix of Georgian, colonial, and federal-style buildings to its boutique shops selling the local essentials like Southern-inspired hats, bowties and suits to its endless array of restaurant options. .

You and yours will want to go to Charleston hungry and if there’s a must-stop restaurant on your itinerary, make a reservation in advance. One not to miss is the central Hotel Bennett and its Gabrielle patio overlooking Marion Square.

Octopus with a side of small portions of potatoes, onions and corn.  There's a smear of green willow on the side of the plate.  There's a glass of wine, a fork and knife on a white tablecloth.
The octopus is a popular dish at Bistronomy by Nico in Charleston © Andrew Cebulka / Bistronomy by Nico

For arguably the best biscuit in town, there’s a Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit just blocks north (order anything but get it with pimento cheese). For a refined sit-down experience off the main drag, head to Bistronomy by Nico in the town’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial District. Be sure to try the mussels (served in a kaffir lime broth) or the curry crab soup that will have you begging for the recipe.

Where you stay is half the Charleston fun. Central options span the Roaring Twenties-inspired boutique The Spectator Hotel, the French Quarter Inn with a daily wine and cheese reception and the aptly named waterfront HarborView Inn.

For a quiet retreat with seamless access to the city, book the Embassy Suites by Charleston Harbor Mt. Pleasant. It has panoramic views of Charleston’s steeple-filled skyline and the nearby former Navy aircraft carrier, the USS yorktown. If you want to work off all those meals, you can walk across the iconic Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge to get to and from downtown.

Interior of the Senate Chamber of South Carolina State House in Columbia, with a large US flag hanging down
Colombia is home to the South Carolina State House © Getty Images

Columbia is the best place for exploring museums and gardens

Stately buildings and open spaces await in South Carolina’s capital city. Where the Saluda and Broad Rivers meet (and, fun fact, where the Congaree River starts), many of the city’s biggest draws are on the shores of the rivers, including the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden and, for disc golf lovers, Granby Park.

On the museum front, major draws include the South Carolina State Museum, Columbia Museum of Art and the nearly 100,000 sq ft EdVenture Children’s Museum.

Columbia is as bustling as a South Carolina town gets with a hybrid of governmental buildings and youthful buzz stemming from the University of South Carolina. Book a South Carolina State House tour to make the best of all worlds.

If you’re visiting South Carolina in the fall or winter months, catch a University of South Carolina football game. Prepare for maximum pandemonium if they happen to be playing in-state rival Clemson.

Visitors to Falls Park linger on Liberty Bridge overlooking the Reedy River waterfalls
Admire the falls before grabbing a coffee in Greenville © Alamy Stock Photo

Greenville serves the best coffee in South Carolina

This upstate city provides a rush in so many ways. Tucked in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, you’ll find Falls Park on the Reedy in its center, where the 345-ft Liberty Bridge guides folks above a multifaceted waterfall.

The surrounding parks are home to small gardens, theater festivals and locals stretching out for picnics or taking their dog for a walk. The vibe makes it among the best romantic and unique places to visit in South Carolina.

From Falls Park, you can keep the rush going just north along Main Street. Amid mom-and-pop restaurants and regional chains, the Peace Center Concert Hall and a smattering of hotel options, prioritize a trip to Methodical Coffee for the best cup of Joe in all of the Palmetto State.

Born and bred in Greenville, Methodical Coffee has quickly become a US specialty heavyweight coffee and has three cafes in town. Snag a pour-over coffee or cold brew – don’t put any sugar or milk in it, because it will be flavorful enough without it.

Florence is a great city with a small-town flair

“Magic City” is home to approximately 40,000 South Carolinians and is the soul of the state’s Pee Dee region. (You’ll see various references to Pee Dee plastered along interstates – it refers to the local river as well as the Pee Dee native tribe).

Downtown Florence’s brick-dotted urban core – nearly 1.1 sq miles – has experienced a revitalization in recent years with modern museums, galleries and public spaces taking center stage.

Primed for a day trip, hit the Florence County Museum with rotating exhibits featuring regional artists. Across the street is the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center, which has an amphitheater, two theaters and regular orchestra productions.

Florence’s SC Pecan Festival held in November is a national draw, attracting 50,000-plus folks wanting to try pecan-infused everything.

Greenwood is the perfect place for a quiet retreat

Greenwood lives up to its name, with lush trees abundant throughout its downtown/Main Street thoroughfare and surrounding areas. Arts and parks are vital to making a day in this quiet town of 25,000, which is approximately 90 minutes west of Columbia.

The town’s arts hub is the Arts Center of Greenwood, housed in the stately Federal Building. Here you can peruse pieces by local artists (sometimes including creations by school kids, adorably). The Center also hosts art classes.

Lake Greenwood State Park is a major draw for largemouth bass fishers (you need a state license to fish) and campers – there are more than 100 campsites along the lake’s shore.

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