South Carolina has a lot to offer. Mountain spirit, coastal charm, metropolitan excitement, and countryside appeal. We’ve explored five very different (but all equally charming and visit-worthy) small towns that might not be on your radar. Happy travels!
Situated in the center of Beaufort County, Bluffton is known as the “Heart of the Lowcountry” and one of the last true coastal villages in the South. The town was incorporated in 1852 as a second-home spot for plantation owners to escape the heat of rice and cotton fields and enjoy the River May breezes and cooler temps atop the bluff for which it was named. The Calhoun Street Dock was once a lively “rest stop” for boat traffic between Savannah, Beaufort, and Charleston, and the town still attracts visitors near and far. Bluffton is full of artists, galleries, festivals, and parades. This eclectic and rebellious reputation was born with its central role within the separatist movement of the mid-1840s. A fire destroyed most of the town in 1863 during the Union’s Bluffton Expedition, and it took many years for Bluffton to economically recover. Once it did, its place as a pearl of the coastal South was cemented.
While You’re There
Bluffton’s beauty, culture, and joy seep into its shops, eateries, inns, and historical attractions. Stay at the luxurious Montage Palmetto Bluff with its Nicklaus-designed golf course, spa, clay sport shooting, yacht tours, and exceptional culinary program, or stay closer to the action at the quaint Old Town Bluffton Inn. Kayak wildlife-laden lagoons, bike through ancient forests of moss-drenched oaks, and watch the oystermen harvest May River oysters the old-fashioned way. The family-run Bluffton Oyster Company is the last hand-shucking factory in the state, and the area boasts some of the most delicious seafood in the Lowcountry. For breakfast or lunch, try The Cottage or The Corner Perk Cafe. FARM and The Bluffton Room are exceptional options for dinner. Whether you’re looking for a tee time, a cozy coffee shop, or a bushel of fresh oysters, Bluffton’s got it.
Travelers Rest, SC
Situated in the Southern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in SC’s beautiful Upcountry, Travelers Rest has lived up to its name for more than 300 years. The Catawba, Creek, and Cherokee tribes, among others, once lived in the area. A community began to form in the 1800s when weary travelers and livestock drovers would rest there on their way over the mountains down to the coast and vice-versa. Today, TR’s (that’s what the locals call it) creative energy, ample array of outdoor activities, and proximity to nearby destinations make it a list-topping small town. Just 10 miles north of Greenville and very close to Furman University, there’s a lot to see, eat, and do here.
While You’re There
Travelers Rest is home to the luxurious Hotel Domestique, a splurge-worthy, culinary- and outdoor-focused boutique hotel that transports you to a Tuscan estate. Or opt for the more understated Swamp Rabbit Inn, which offers free bike rentals and a central location. Hop on the scenic 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail that connects Travelers Rest with nearby Greenville. Shop the boutiques and antique merchants on Main Street; grab a beer at Swamp Rabbit Brewery, or enjoy every imaginable outdoor activity — fly fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, tubing, rock climbing … you name it! For breakfast or lunch, try Upcountry Provisions Bakery & Bistro. For a lively, casual dinner, Farmhouse Tacos or Chicora Alley are loved by locals. For something a little more upscale, try the trendy new Topsoil Cafe or book a table at Hotel Domestique’s Restaurant 17 — a great way to see the property, even if you’re not staying there.
Situated between Atlanta and Charleston and just east of Augusta, Aiken, SC, is the epicenter of Thoroughbred Country and its rolling countryside, green parks, charming downtown squares, and historic importance. The town was developed in the early 1900s as a “Winter Colony” for the rich and famous, who introduced the traditions of polo and thoroughbred racing. Today, many visit Aiken’s historic sites, award-winning farms, and lovely shop-lined downtown.
While You’re There
Make your home base in Aiken the white-columned Willcox hotel with its elegant, antique-filled suites, cloud-soft beds, luxurious soaking tubs, and sustainability minded restaurant. Or stay in the circa-1898 Rose Hill Estate with its exquisite staircase, cozy fireplaces, and expansive gardens. Rose Hill has fabulous dining options, including a modern gastro-pub, Stables, and the newly opened, slightly more elevated Sheffield’s. Another Aiken staple is Malia’s, whose local ingredients, small-town charm, and excellent service have kept locals and visitors coming back for 30 years.
When you’re not lounging and eating, wander the 14-acre Hopelands Gardens, visit the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, paddle the Edisto River Canoe Trail at Aiken State Park, or book a lesson at Aiken Polo Club.
Located halfway between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, Historic Georgetown is a lively waterfront community easily accessible by car, boat, or plane. Surrounded by live oak-lined streets, colorful fishing boats, and rickety storefronts, Downtown Historic Georgetown is the third oldest city in the state and is filled to the brim with history and personality. It is a South Carolina must-visit small town for shopping, dining, boating, fishing, and soaking up the history of rice cultivation in Georgetown County.
While You’re There
Book the luxurious 1800s-built 620 Prince bed and breakfast, or opt for the funkier Baxter Brewhouse Inn, which calls itself a “bed and brew” and has been brewing craft beer for more than 20 years! Most of this small town is waterfront and walkable, so get out and explore the galleries and cafes. Book a historic tour (or even a ghost tour!) and visit the Kaminski House Museum and the Rice Museum. Stroll along the Harborwalk to catch a stunning sunset over the Winyah Bay, then snag a table at Root or The Big Tuna for dinner with a view.
Camden was home to the Native American Cofitachequi civilization and one of the 11 townships decreed by King George II in 1732, making it the oldest existing inland town in the state. By the Revolution, Camden was the economic and cultural center of the backcountry of both Carolinas. General James Chesnut’s wife, Mary, chronicled the Civil War years in her Pulitzer Prize-winning Diary from Dixie, much of which was written in Camden. “Come spend a few peaceful hours where the British spent a rough year!” say the locals snarkily.
While You’re There
This walkable city has a bustling downtown, historic neighborhoods, and more than 150 acres of parks and green space to explore. Bloomsbury Inn is the epitome of luxurious Southern hospitality. Or get out into the countryside and stay at the charming Old McCaskill’s Farm bed and breakfast on a working farm. Guests enjoy antique-meets-modern décor, a daily farm-to-table breakfast, and the ability to roam the farm and hang with the animals. Explore local vendors, farmers, and artisans at the seasonal Kershaw County Farmers Market, and check out one of the state’s hidden gems, Boykin Mill. Or, dine at Salud Mexican Kitchen for some tequila-fueled fun.
Horse lovers, Camden is for you. Visit in March and November and get gussied up for the rowdy Carolina Cup horse races. There is almost always something going on at the South Carolina Equine Park, and the National Steeplechase Museum is the only museum in the country dedicated solely to steeplechasing. Outdoor lovers can camp, fish, and boat around Lake Wateree, Adams Grist Mill Lake, and the picturesque Goodale State Park.
Go out and explore South Carolina! Did I miss your favorite small town? Email me at [email protected].
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