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South Carolina

Trip Planner USA  /  South Carolina
(4.1/5 based on 80,000+ reviews for top 30 attractions)
Things to do: sightseeing, nightlife, historic sites

Palmetto State

Composed of five distinct geographic regions with boundaries roughly parallel to the Atlantic coastline, South Carolina embraces rich history, scenic beauty, and outstanding cuisine. Originally established as a slave society dependent on the cultivation of rice and indigo, the state now boasts a diverse economy that includes massive production of textile goods, chemical products, machinery, and automobiles. Widely regarded as the beginning of the Deep South, the state remains a deeply conservative part of the country, fervently clinging to its religious and cultural traditions. South Carolinians are kind and open hosts to those who vacation here, eager to share the wealth of their cultural heritage with curious visitors. With many remarkable places to visit like Charleston and Hilton Head, your itinerary here is sure to be diverse and full of scenic attractions. Take a look at our United States tourist route planner to refine the details of your trip to South Carolina.
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Adventure, beaches, spas
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Recently planned trips to South Carolina

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South Carolina Holiday Planning Guide

Composed of five distinct geographic regions with boundaries roughly parallel to the Atlantic coastline, South Carolina embraces rich history, scenic beauty, and outstanding cuisine. Originally established as a slave society dependent on the cultivation of rice and indigo, the state now boasts a diverse economy that includes massive production of textile goods, chemical products, machinery, and automobiles. Widely regarded as the beginning of the Deep South, the state remains a highly conservative part of the country, fervently clinging to its religious and cultural traditions. South Carolinians are kind and open hosts to those who vacation here, eager to share the wealth of their heritage with curious visitors. With many remarkable places to visit like Charleston and Hilton Head, your South Carolina itinerary is sure to be diverse and full of scenic attractions.

Places to Visit in South Carolina

Charleston: The oldest city in the state, bustling and entertaining Charleston has become renowned for its coastline packed with activities and some of the most popular things to do in South Carolina, as well as historical sites and scenic surroundings.

Greenville: With a thriving urban area surrounding its culturally evergreen main street, this flourishing city attracts visitors with natural features built into the tapestry of the town, plus many museums and pleasant gardens.

Columbia: A culturally rich and entertaining state capital, Columbia offers pre-Civil War architecture in historically interesting neighborhoods, a wealth of green spaces, and many performing arts venues.

Myrtle Beach: A popular destination on many South Carolina itineraries, this city enjoys a reputation as a relaxing coastal resort town with an abundance of lengthy sandy beaches, seaside entertainment, and a warm subtropical climate.

Hilton Head: A thriving resort town with a rich cultural heritage, Hilton Head boasts a diverse and engaging arts scene, points of historical interest, and a host of outdoor activities.

Georgetown: With many of its buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Georgetown has also become known for its maritime and antebellum heritage, museums, and coastline.

Things to Do in South Carolina

Popular South Carolina Tourist Attractions

Myrtle Beach SkyWheel Offices: A fun South Carolina attraction providing visitors with a great perspective on the Atlantic Ocean beneath them, this well-placed 57 m (187 ft) Ferris wheel features 42 pods from which to enjoy the view.

Ripley's Aquarium: Displaying a rich abundance of marine life, this aquarium takes you underwater in submerged glass-paneled walkways, where you can view the 350 different species up close.

Magnolia Plantation & Gardens: On the site of one of the country's oldest plantations, these long-established grounds are a highlight of South Carolina sightseeing. At this museum of the antebellum era, you'll get major insight into the lives of the unpaid laborers who cultivated the land here, the plantation owners, and relations during the Civil War.

Broadway at the Beach: A seaside strip channeling the glitz and glamor of the U.S.A.'s celebrity and arts culture from New York and L.A., this collection of museums, live venues, and amusement park rides entertains visitors all year round with performing arts, cultural exhibits, and a good-time vibe.

Charleston Waterfront Park: Set against a backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, this park has a range of plant and animal life, a good number of relaxing spots for picnics, and seaside restaurants serving traditional southern cuisine.

Middleton Place: An antebellum house and grounds previously belonging to one of the wealthiest dynasties in the state, this historical site now offers visitors a wealth of landscaped scenery, tours of the old building, and an educational trip into colonial life in South Carolina.

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge: Stretching 471 m (1,546 ft) across Cooper River, Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge represents one of the landmarks of the city's design and engineering heritage, and includes dedicated cycling and walking lanes so that you can gain a different view on the river at your own pace.

Brookgreen Gardens: Situated on the plots of four former plantations, this innovative and attractive sculpture park offers ample walking trails, a range of animal and plant life, and a wide diversity of scenic landscape.

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum: A center providing a range of information on U.S. military history, techniques, and technologies, this museum attracts visitors with its interactive exhibits, life-size replicas of military buildings, military reenactments, and famous battleships.

Boone Hall Plantation: Include this plantation on your tour of South Carolina to see a rebuilt slave house and antebellum mansion, and delve into the history of South Carolina's race relations and agricultural heritage, from the slavery era to the present day.

Planning a South Carolina Vacation with Kids

Places to Visit in South Carolina with Kids

Given the state's wealth of lively urban areas endowed with a rich cultural heritage, its diverse natural landscape, and the seaside economy filled with amusements and attractions, a South Carolina vacation has plenty to win over the kids. Start off in Charleston for an old city rich in historical sites, amusements, and local parks. Head to Myrtle Beach to indulge in coastal attractions--from quirky rides and museums to traditional beach activities--all set in a welcoming subtropical climate. To give children an introduction to South Carolina's cultural heritage, try Mount Pleasant, where a range of sites will engage even the least experienced historians in your group, particularly those pertaining to military history and the colonial era.

Things to Do in South Carolina with Kids

You'll find it relatively easy to plan a balanced, diverse South Carolina itinerary for your family, with interesting towns and cities offering abundant historical points and examples of contemporary culture that engage younger visitors. For nature lovers, try Greenville's Falls Park on the Reedy, a charming and unusual city park built around the waterfalls in the center of town. Long walking trails and interesting information make this a great introduction to both the local history and the geological features that add so much to its character. Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Charleston displays some of the more famous U.S. battleships, and hosts interesting and exciting military reenactments that will engage kids and let their imaginations run wild. On the other end of the spectrum, children will admire the star-studded ambience of the lively, glitzy attractions at Broadway at the Beach, where museums, live shows, and galleries evoke the atmosphere of America's cultural hotspots. Change up the pace of your South Carolina holiday by checking out Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, where you can admire animal residents in recreated natural habitats. The zoo's diverse set of eateries and relaxing parks makes this an easy, entertaining family day trip.

Tips for a Family Vacation in South Carolina

Plan your South Carolina itinerary with a good blend of rural and urban areas to really make use of the state's abundance of family-friendly activities. Teenagers are likely to appreciate the main cities' and towns' wealth of museums, galleries, and historical sites refurbished to include educational, interactive, and enlightening materials. Younger visitors may well enjoy the state's coastline, as plenty of family-friendly businesses use the Atlantic shore as a base for their adventurous attractions and fun shops. To really get the kids into the culture of the place, be sure to introduce them to some archetypal examples of southern and lowcountry cuisine at one of the state's many welcoming, family-run restaurants.

Dining and Shopping on Holiday in South Carolina

Cuisine of South Carolina

Often referred to as southern and lowcountry cuisine, the food you'll find in South Carolina takes influences from elsewhere, but remains deeply related to the land, its agricultural history, and its people. A central focus is, naturally enough, on seafood. Head to Myrtle Beach for Calabash-style fish (breaded and deep-fried) served in a beachside location. Named after a town just north of the border with North Carolina, this dish has become popular in coastal towns throughout the region. To sample more seafood specialities on your South Carolina vacation, stop off at Hilton Head to try Frogmore stew, a one-pot wonder of shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, and smoked sausage. Explore the state's fondness for barbecues by creating your own town-to-town itinerary, or what locals call the "South Carolina Barbecue Trail," taking in the best examples of this great American cuisine and pastime. Consider getting started at Hudson's Smokehouse BBQ, a traditional spot with a loyal local clientele. To sample and admire the state's fresh produce, check out a farmers market like Charleston Farmers Market, where local growers proudly sell their organic, flavorsome fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products.

Shopping in South Carolina

With modern shopping malls and stores in all the cities, your vacation in South Carolina offers ample opportunities to pick up anything you may have forgotten and browse for something you didn't yet know you needed. If you're looking to pick up something unique to the state, you will find plenty of local food, gift, and clothing stores. Take a trip to Hilton Head for a good selection of shops selling all you need for an active holiday filled with outdoor activities and beach sports. To find great souvenir ideas, head to Broadway at the Beach, where shops sell goods in keeping with the showbiz theme of the waterfront area. Visitors keen to find quintessentially American candy shops should head to the downtown area of Charleston, where an abundance of chocolate, taffy, and praline connoisseurs will help you pick out something special to return home with (if you're able to resist that long). Those on a gastronomic tour of South Carolina shouldn't miss out on the traditional markets found in many of the main urban areas, such as Harrelsons Seafood Market.

Know Before You Go on a Trip to South Carolina

History of South Carolina

In 1521, the first European explorer set foot in the land now known as South Carolina, which had been inhabited for millennia by Native American tribes. Various attempts to form successful colonies in the area failed, with French and Spanish colonial empires fighting each other and the Native Americans for the right to the land. It was the British who eventually established a long-lasting colony in the area that, after an influx of wealthy aristocrats and initial difficulties in growing methods and in-fighting, became South Carolina.

Slavery in the production of cotton and other farmed goods was a dominant factor in the economic growth of the area during the colonial era and the years following the Revolutionary War (1775-83). Unfranchised workers, primarily from West Africa and the Caribbean, toiled on the land for no pay and endured extremely poor treatment from those who were deemed by law to be their owners. For a powerful overview of this dark period of history visit The Old Slave Mart Museum, a small yet informative set of engaging exhibits dedicated to revealing the appalling truths of what was then a socially accepted and legal practice. For further insight into pre-Civil War life, visit to one of the state's fascinating plantations during your South Carolina vacation. Rose Hill Plantation House, an impressively restored antebellum house surrounded by well-maintained grounds, offers tours detailing the work that was done here and other facets of plantation life for both owners and slaves.

The first state to declare secession from the Union, South Carolina offers those interested in Civil War history a wealth of sites to visit. In 1861, Charleston Harbor saw the first military action of the bloody war that, by the time it ended, had claimed the lives of 18,666 Confederate soldiers in South Carolina alone--a third of the male population who were of age to fight. Take a tour of Civil War points of interest on Civil War Walk, where expert guides take you through Charleston and discuss the battles fought there, the lives that were lost, and the ways in which the state sought to recover in the post-war era.

After the Civil War, South Carolina progressively reintegrated into mainstream American life, culture, and politics. America's increasing global reach helped secure a greater sense of union between the northern states and those of the south that had fought to break away. Testament to this fact, Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum remains a heritage site of national significance and ranks among the top places to visit in South Carolina. Its informative exhibits and landmark examples of U.S. military technologies provide an interesting introduction to the subject for visitors of all ages. Similarly, attractions such as Charleston Tea Plantation show visitors the growth of South Carolinian business and infrastructure after the slavery era. As the only tea plantation in the whole of the country, it speaks volumes about the individualistic nature of the state in the reformed nation.

Landscape of South Carolina

During your holiday in South Carolina you'll see that the relatively small state (in terms of the other 49) still packs in a number of interesting geographical places, particularly on the coastline. Head to Litchfield Beach for a secluded spot, complete with sand dunes and the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, perfect for paddling and swimming. Explore the relationship between the urban and the natural with a trip to Falls Park on the Reedy, where waterfalls and rivers cut paths through the scenery. The old trees of Brookgreen Gardens evoke the wild, untamed character of ages past, while the more cultivated areas provide seasonal displays of the state's plant life. The foothills and pine forests of upstate South Carolina also deserve exploration, so try visiting Harbison State Forest for a protected area of mountain biking and hiking trails.

Holidays & Festivals in South Carolina

South Carolina observes the same yearly public holidays as the rest of the U.S., and also commemorates the lives lost in the state during the Civil War on Confederate Memorial Day (May 11). Keep these dates in mind when planning your South Carolina holiday so as not to be caught out by any closures of shops, attractions, and services.

A range of festivals throughout the year celebrating food, the arts, and wider aspects of the state's cultural heritage take place in and around South Carolina's tourist attractions. Try Charleston early in the year for renowned seafood festivals, packed with a range of activities, fresh produce, and sense of community. Myrtle Beach, with its compelling showbiz and arts buzz, hosts a whole range of cultural festivities throughout the year, ranging from quirky, good-humored events to more mainstream and nationally renowned arts festivals. For a range of festivities celebrating cultural diversity and shared history, head to Columbia, where popular local events are gaining a positive reputation nationally.

South Carolina Travel Tips

Climate of South Carolina

South Carolina's humid subtropical climate features warm summers and cold winters. Thunderstorms are common during summer months, leading to an increase in precipitation levels and other adverse weather conditions, such as strong winds. Tornadoes can occur, falling primarily in the spring, but they have been known to happen in summer months as well. Average snowfall levels are low across the state, particularly in the coastal areas. Pack for the season you are traveling in, but be sure to bring multipurpose clothing in case of rapid changes in the weather. Pay attention to meteorological warnings before traveling, and keep abreast of any developments during your South Carolina trip.

Transportation in South Carolina

South Carolina is easy to explore thanks to a modern, efficient transport system that links up urban and rural areas. A variety of different transport options allow you to take your South Carolina holiday at your own pace. For maximum freedom and flexibility, rent a vehicle to take advantage of the interstate and intrastate highways. Alternatively, you can get from place to place by bus or train. Regular and efficient bus services provide quick and easy routes across the major cities and towns, with larger terminals servicing routes between major urban areas. Amtrak railroad runs four passenger routes in the state, connecting upstate, midland, and low country cities. Seven major airports provide convenient entry points to the state as well as domestic travel, with the most frequented airport in the city of Charleston.

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