Pretty pastel-painted houses, oak trees veiled in Spanish moss, bright red rocking chairs, gators and grits. Memories from a recent visit to South Carolina swirl in my mind. Where to start? I could take you to Charleston, Beaufort or Bluffton, three historic towns, brimming with new world charm. Would you prefer something a little more adventurous? How about zip lining above the trees on Hilton Head Island. Or something more active? Try cycling along the beach at low tide or alligator dodging during a round of golf. You could even learn the shag. It’s a dance in case you’re wondering. There’s no end of fabulous places to visit and things to do in South Carolina. And, with the launch of British Airways’ direct flight route between Heathrow and Charleston, it’s just an 8-hour flight away. Now is the time to visit before the rest of the UK catches on.
The Low Country, as this part of South Carolina is known, is a cultural and geographical region running along the coast for around 100 miles from Charleston, SC to Savannah in neighbouring Georgia. It’s here that I spent a week enjoying my first taste of the USA. I’ve so much I want to share with you but to start here are just a few of the highlights.
Places to visit in South Carolina
This beautiful pocket-sized city is easy to explore on foot. Picturesque antebellum homes line cobblestoned streets where horse-drawn carriages clip-clop along.
2. Middleton Place Plantation
A former rice plantation, this National Historic Landmark, Middleton Place, is around a 40-minute drive from Charleston. It’s well worth a visit, not least for its beautifully landscaped gardens, the oldest in America.
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On Port Royal Island, the streets of the historic district of Beaufort are lined with beautiful examples of antebellum mansions and impressive old oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss, a common Low Country feature. Like Charleston, it’s a fabulous place to explore on foot or by horse-drawn carriage.
4. Hilton Head Island
Nearby, still in Beaufort County, Hilton Head Island feels a million miles away. The majority of this 12-mile long 8-mile wide island lies within a gated community. With beautiful sandy beaches and pristine golf courses, it’s a popular holiday resort. A strict, long-standing eco-friendly building policy ensures that all the buildings are uniformly painted to blend in with the environment, trees are not cut down to make way for new builds and over one hundred miles of shared use pathways makes cycling a get around.
The third historic town we visited was Bluffton. It’s just a short drive from Hilton Head Island but feels completely off the beaten path. No carriages laden with tourists here! It’s perfect if you are seeking an authentic experience with plenty of beautiful moss covered trees, quaint museums and a calendar packed with local events. Don’t miss the Garvin Garevy House, a former freedman’s cottage, now a mini museum.
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Things to do in South Carolina
1. Play golf
With hundreds of golf courses, South Carolina is a fabulous destination for players of every level. We visited the beautiful Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, home to RBC Heritage PGA Tour Golf Championship, South Carolina’s annual tour event − the course is famed as the pinnacle accomplishment of designers Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus. Just watch out for the occasional alligator larking by the water hazards.
above: Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, below: Portraits of all the past RBC Heritage Champions at Sea Pines Resort
above: Harbour Town’s lighthouse has a tartan makeover for the RBC Heritage tournament, below: Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Island
above: Skull Creek Dockside, Hilton Head Island
2. Go ziplining
Flying through and, in some cases, over the treetops is an exhilarating way to spend a morning and with a series of eight zip lines in the Hilton Head course, it takes a couple of hours to complete. I don’t have a good head for heights, but I still can’t resist the thrill of flying through the air suspended on a wire and the sense of achievement when it’s over.
below: Helen ziplining on Hilton Head Island
Top Tip: Unlike in Europe, few restaurants offer WiFi to their customers in the USA making it difficult to keep up to date with emails, social media or plan your next stop via the interent when out and about. Luckily my friend Amy had a mobile hot spot she was trying out and it worked a treat, and not just for the two of us. Up to 10 people can use it, although it can slow down a little as more people join. You can read Amy’s MiFi review in full here.
3. Cycle along the beach
Low tide on Hilton Head Island is the perfect time to hop on your bike and cycle along the shore. The firm sand is an ideal surface, and a gentle sea breeze will help stop you overheating. Don’t forget your suncream!
4. Eat seafood
Low Country cuisine is not dissimilar to New Orleans and Cajun. A rich abundance of seafood including shrimp, fish, crabs, and oysters comes from the intricate network of estuaries, while rice is grown in the marshlands. Add to this influences from West Africa and you’re in for a treat!
above: Shrimp and grits, South Carolina, below: Low Country oysters and soft-shelled crab, a seasonal Low Country delicacy.
5. Learn The Shag
The Carolina shag is a swing dance that originated in South Carolina in the1940s and is the state dance to this day. The preferred dance track is a forerunner of Soul Music known as Beach Music, which became popular in the 50s and 60s, primarily in Myrtle Beach, a South Carolina coastal resort.
When is the best time to visit South Carolina?
The climate in South Carolina is subtropical with mild winters and hot, humid summers. July is the hottest and wettest month of the year. August to October is hurricane season and tornados abound in early spring. January is the coldest month when temperatures inland can dip to around freezing. However, the coastal plain of the Low Country tends to remain warmer, making winter a very pleasant time to visit.
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