Things to Do in South Carolina
A top historic attraction in South Carolina, Fort Sumter National Monument is famous for being the site where the Civil War began. Today, the sea fort, accessible only by boat, retains much of its original stone structure—plus a few lodged cannonballs—letting visitors experience a piece of American history firsthand.
The Battery wraps around the edge of Charleston’s peninsula, providing an elegant buffer between the city and the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Stroll and sightsee along the wide pedestrian paths, which pass by antebellum homes and historic sights, or perch beneath the live oaks in White Point Garden and watch the world go by.
Smack in the middle of historic Charleston, the Charleston City Market is a central landmark for Holy City visitors. In addition to being one of the most visited historic attractions in town, the City Market—opened in 1807—is also one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the United States.
This street of brightly colored homes in Charleston is easily the most photographed spot in the city, and it’s easy to see why. The 14 colorful Georgian row houses along East Bay Street date back to 1730, when they were built as merchant stores.
Charleston’s historic Aiken-Rhett House offers a rare glimpse into antebellum plantation life in South Carolina. The only surviving urban plantation, the 1818 townhouse complex remains largely intact, its rooms decorated with original wallpaper, fine art, and antique furnishings purchased by the owners more than 150 years ago.
The Old Exchange is one of the oldest structures in Charleston, a famous city landmark, and one of the most historically significant buildings in the United States. Once the site of important political events, the building is now open to the public for fascinating tours, including a walk-through of its haunted Provost Dungeon.
Waterfront porch swings, a giant pineapple fountain, and grassy areas perfect for lazing the day away make Waterfront Park feel like Charleston’s personal backyard. Watch the boats float by on the river, snap photos, and enjoy the park’s family-friendly amenities—they keep this park a favorite hangout spot for locals and visitors alike.
As the last large-scale Romantic garden left in the United States, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens seek to provide an escape from the struggles and stresses of everyday life. Unlike a formal garden that seeks to “control” nature, a Romantic garden cooperates with nature to create a peaceful landscape where people and nature exist in harmony. Magnolia’s are also the oldest unrestored gardens in the United States, and the historic house is one of the oldest in the South.
This historic Charleston home, now part of the Charleston Museum, is a well-preserved example of Federal architecture. Built in 1803 by architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother Joseph, a Charleston rice baron, the 3-story townhouse is now a National Historic Landmark, showcasing the wealthy family’s 19th-century lifestyle.
At 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) long, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the United States. It connects downtown Charleston to the city of Mount Pleasant and the beaches beyond, plus it provides bike and pedestrian paths that lead to unobstructed views of Charleston Harbor and the city skyline.
More Things to Do in South Carolina
Towering above surrounding Charleston, the nearly 200-foot tall white steeple of St. Michael’s signals the site of the city’s oldest church. Inside, visitors and parishioners are transported back to the colonial era: alcoves shine with Tiffany stained glass windows, the original 1768 organ still pipes tunes and creaky wooden pews have seated centuries of worshipers including notables George Washington and Robert E. Lee. The central chandelier once blazed with candles, but has since been retrofitted with bulbs. Otherwise little altered, the church has survived tornadoes, an earthquake and even civil war bombings. The pulpit still bears battle wounds suffered in the 1865 Siege of Charleston Harbor. A table in the main vestibule along the western wall details the building’s long and storied history.
Choral music still emanates from St Michael’s on Sundays, and, as a still-functioning Episcopal Church, it can be sometimes challenging to tour the inside. Still, the exterior is a highlight of many historic downtown tours. It's still possible to see the old colonial clock— though minute hands weren’t added until the mid-1800s—and tour the adjacent cemetery, the final resting place of, among several other notables, two signers of the US Constitution.
The 65-acre (26-hectare) Middleton Place is a former rice plantation along the Ashley River. Visitors to this National Historic Landmark home—built in 1755 by the father of Arthur Middleton, who signed the Declaration of Independence—can explore the Middleton Place house, landscaped gardens, and the stable yards, where staff dressed in period clothing demonstrate weaving, blacksmithing, carpentry, and more.
Founded in 1681 by an eclectic group of English Congregationalists, Scots Presbyterians, and French Huguenots, the Circular Congregational Church of Charleston is the oldest, continuously-operating house of worship in the United States. The unique meeting hall was designed and built in a circular shape to reflect the spaces’ open and free-flowing exchange of ideas.
This historical church is home to the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina. The first St. Philips Church was a small wooden structure built in 1681, where St. Michael's Episcopal Church stands today. The church withstood hurricane damage in 1710, was reconstructed, burned to the ground in 1835, and finally rebuilt to the present day church in 1836. Before it burned completely, it was saved from one fire by a slave who was granted his freedom for the act. Notable South Carolinians such as John C. Calhoun are buried in the old cemetery on the grounds.
Architect Joseph Hyde incorporated some design elements from the previous structures as well as adding in new features to the stuccoed brick exterior, such as the three Tuscan porticoes and Corinthian columns. The church’s impressive steeple that towers over Church Street was added over a decade later. Today it is recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
The two-story brick Heyward-Washington House takes its name from its original owner, Thomas Heyward Jr., whose signature appears on the Declaration of Independence, and George Washington, who stayed at the home in 1791. The Georgian-style double house offers a veritable portal into 1700s Charleston.
Towering 200 feet above the sea in the sunny vacationland of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the SkyWheel is a modern take on your typical Ferris wheel. Riders are whisked above the oceanfront promenade on bench seats in enclosed air conditioned gondolas for views of the piers, ocean and downtown. After twilight, the SkyWheel puts on a mesmerizing display with its one million tiny computer-coordinated LED lights that pinwheel a rainbow of colors through the night sky.
One of the tallest Ferris wheels on the eastern seaboard – and certainly the largest amusement structure on this stretch of the Great Strand – views from the top on clear days reportedly sweep 40 miles in either direction. Some guests have seen dolphins and even whales splashing in the offshore waters from the SkyWheel’s heights. While sea breezes can sometimes rock cages, an intercom button in each enclosure allows communication with controllers in case you need to get off the ride early.
Each of the 42 gondolas were constructed with slanted glass so riders can snap reflection-free photos of the surrounding scenery. A general admission ticket affords a ride lasting three slow revolutions – around 10 minutes. And one VIP gondola allows riders to skip the queue and enjoy enhanced features – double the ride time, cushioned leather seats and a glass floor affording 360-degree views.
Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach borders the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its vaulted underwater walkways, large tanks filled with colorful sea creatures, and live shark-feeding shows. Set in the Broadway-at-the-Beach shopping, dining, and entertainment complex, the aquarium features exhibits for visitors of all ages.
This historic museum is known for being one of the best examples of Southern antebellum architecture in Charleston. It was originally built as a private home—owned in 1820 by local merchant John Robinson and later bought in 1858 by Gov. William Aiken, whose family is responsible for the lavish interior decoration. With antique furnishings and original wallpaper, much of the period style remains intact. Many of the family’s objects and fine art, acquired for the home while touring Europe, can still be found in the rooms they were purchased for.
Walk through the grounds’ historic double side porch, stables, a carriage house, a kitchen and slave quarters. You’ll learn about the house staff, which included footmen, cooks, gardeners and seamstresses, as well as life in the pre-Civil War era. Then step inside and view the collection of sculptures, paintings and chandeliers as you tour the home and learn about the history of the home and the family.
Located in the beautiful Charleston Harbor, Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is one of Charleston’s most popular museums for hands-on learning. Climb aboard the USS Yorktown (an aircraft carrier), the USS Laffey (a destroyer), and the USS Clamagore (a submarine) as you learn about American naval and maritime history first-hand.
Explore the cultural heritage and natural history of the Lowcountry ecosystem and Hilton Head Island at the Coastal Discovery Museum. Located on the historic Honey Horn Plantation, the museum features indoor and outdoor exhibits, as well as guided walks and tours, offering a fun and educational day for visitors of all ages.
American History enthusiasts shouldn't miss Charleston's Edmondston-Alston House, an 1825 home and museum steeped in Civil War stories. The home is perhaps best known for hosting confederate generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee and today showcases a sizable collection of art, decorative objects, and family relics.
Situated on a 300-acre (121-hectare) expanse within a larger South Carolina coastal preserve, Brookgreen Gardens was the nation’s first public sculpture garden when it opened in 1931. Today the National Historic Landmark is an oasis of native flora and fauna, including 250-year-old live oaks, and more than 2,000 sculptures.
Family Kingdom Amusement Park is South Carolina’s only beachfront amusement park, featuring more than 35 attractions—from kiddie rides to thrill rides—for the whole family to enjoy. Just minutes from the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade, the park is mere steps from the beach, so you can roll in the sand and then rollick on a roller coaster.
The Hollywood Wax Museum is a staple attraction near the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. Spend a few hours out of the sun and snap photos with realistic wax depictions of your favorite celebs—everyone from Princess Di to Jackie Chan is represented. Kids particularly love the Hollywood Wax Museum, a long-standing family favorite at Myrtle Beach.
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