Living in South Carolina can be tough. You’re often overshadowed by a bigger, more northerly neighbor North Carolina, and you’re always the butt of jokes about everything from past battles to beauty pageant faux pas.
However, South Carolinians are tougher still, and they know that their state is on the upswing. After decades of South Carolina being overlooked, it was the sixth-fastest growing state in 2019. More people are catching on to the fact that South Carolina is an underrated gem!
These 10 facts about South Carolina show why things are looking up for “The Palmetto State.”
1. Historic Charleston
There is no denying that Charleston is one of the most historic cities in the South, and indeed, in the nation as a whole. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that it is also home to more than 1,400 different historic homes and sites, each with their own story to tell while weaving into the grander narrative of life in Historic Charleston.
Some of the must-see areas in the Historic Charleston Area include:
- Old Exchange Building: A center of commerce and culture for centuries, this Exchange Building has seen it all, from Southern Belles to roguish traders and, if the local legends are to be believed, ghosts which haunt the nearby Provost Dungeon. Both the dungeon as well as the Old Exchange Building and surrounding area as a whole are among the most notable surviving colonial buildings in the South. One of the best things about South Carolina is how places such as this can take on a life of their own, “haunted” or otherwise.
- Old Slave Mart Museum: The history of slavery in the South is a long and painful one that is still extremely relevant in America today. It is, therefore, all the more important that sites such as the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston receive the funding and attention they need in their quest to educate people about the deep and lasting impact of slavery. It isn’t an easy subject to talk about, to say the least, but it is a highly necessary one. Being able to tackle difficult subjects is a mark of moral courage, and the curators and staff of the Old Slave Mart Museum here are perfect examples of that.
- Charleston City Market: One of if not the most visited areas in the Historic Charleston area, this market is open year round. Built between 1804 and 1830 and renovated most recently in 2011, it is a fantastic blend of old and new. Here you’ll be able to find any number of different shops and demonstrations, including the city’s famous grass basket weavers and horse-drawn carriages. As you might have heard, it can get just a bit hot and humid in the summer in South Carolina, which is why it’s great that the latest renovations also added some more than welcome fans and air conditioning units.
- Dock Street Theater: Located at the corner of Church and French Quarter Queen streets, this theater has been a bastion of Charleston culture since 1937. However, the site was home to a much-older theater built in 1736, which hosted the first opera on American shores with a production of Flora. The original theater burned down in the Great fire of 1740, fell into disrepair after the Civil War, and was finally torn down and replaced with the theater that stands here today. The current theater was renovated in 2010, is owned by the City of Charleston itself, and features a lovely classic brick and iron façade.
All in all, Historic Charleston is a great place to experience so much of South Carolina and America’s past and presence all at once.
2. Myrtle Beach
One of the most famous beaches on the East Coast, Myrtle Beach is highly popular with locals and tourists alike. You can sit yourself down on the white soft sands and soak up the sun and Atlantic beauty, or head on over to the Carolina Opry where you’ll find a whole range of musical shows. These live shows change regularly, so you’ll want to check the schedule to see what’s playing today.
In addition, the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel offers visitors a 10-minute ride, with the view from atop the wheel being truly stunning. Meanwhile, the Broadway at the Beach area nearby is the largest entertainment area in South Carolina, packed to the brim with all manner of different stores, movie theatres, restaurants, and specialty stores.
3. Hilton Head Island
If Myrtle Beach is too overcrowded with tourists for you (and given how popular it is, there’s every chance that might be the case), you might want to know this lesser known underrated gem. Hilton Head Island features still more glorious sun-kissed white sandy beaches along the South Carolinian shoreline, which are perfect for summer getaways.
Instead of all the buzz and bustle of the Myrtle Beach and Broadway at the Beach scene, you’ll be able to enjoy the quiet beauty of the sun, surf, bike trails, and local golf courses. If you’re a nature lover, the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is just a short walk away.
4. Fort Sumter
No tragedy has shaken America as deeply or as lastingly as the Civil War. For four long years Americans killed Americans over slavery, identity, and the meaning of freedom – and it all began right here on April 12th, 1861, when Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston.
South Carolina was deeply influenced by the Civil War, from the countless slaves enslaved on plantations to still-controversial Confederate monuments to figures such as Mary Chesnut, whose diary became one of the most enduring accounts of the war.
The historical conservationists at Fort Sumter work to keep that history alive so as to educate future generations about one of the greatest tragedies in American history. The fort itself remains well-preserved considering the fact that it was, after all, shelled by gunfire. You can tour the fort itself by boat before stepping foot on land and entering the Visitor Education Center in Liberty Square.
Tours are common here, which take you through the Cooper River and the Fort Sumter National Monument, all the while providing visitors with even more information on the war and Charleston’s role in it in particular. These tours also afford views of other historic sites, such as other forts in the area, a Civil War-era prison located at Pinckney Castle, and the USS Yorktown.
5. South Carolina State Museum
Far too often people write South Carolina off as lacking in “culture,” or attaching itself to cultural archetypes that are all too problematic and outdated. That’s why we should all be thankful that South Carolina is home to a true cultural gem in the South Carolina State Museum.
Located in Columbia, this museum is the largest in the state and features four floors of exhibitions on a wide range of different topics, from natural history to science and technology to art and the humanities. The museum is a popular destination for school trips, due in no small part to the fact that many of its exhibitions are hands-on or otherwise interactive. Adding to all of this are the in-house science theatre and planetarium. In addition to this regular roster of exhibits, the museum rotates new exhibitions in and out on a regular basis, so you’ll want to check in early and often to see what’s on display right now.
6. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
Another mainstay of the Columbia social scene, the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to more than 350 species of animals and more than 2,000 animals altogether. From gorillas and elephants to Siberian tigers to grizzly bears and so much more, you’ll be able to discover a world of wildlife here.
7. The Citadel
One of the oldest and most important military academies in the South, The Citadel is also one of the six senior military colleges in the United States. Founded in 1842, its distinctive white tower, checkerboard-style quad, and Summerall Chapel are a memorable blend of Southern architecture and military austerity. Roughly 35% of graduates go on to be officers.
8. Caesars Head State Park
One of the most popular state parks in the state, Caesars Head State Park includes everything from the Blue Ridge Escarpment to The Overlook, which offers a remarkable view of Table Rock. It is also a premiere bird watching site, with many hawks frequenting the area. It is also a popular location for fishing and hunting, all against the backdrop of nearby Raven Cliff Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state.
9. Dupont Planetarium
This dedicated planetarium is a must-see for stargazers. It offers regular shows for the general public as well as special programs for STEM students. In 2009, the previous telescope was struck by lightning and damaged, so in 2010 the planetarium received a new state of the art replacement.
10. Huntington Beach State Park
This is yet another must-see area for bird watchers, with over 300 distinct species calling the Huntington Beach State Park home. You can also spy a whole host of other animal life here, including the occasional alligator. For arts and crafts lovers, the Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival is held every September.
There’s a lot more to South Carolina than meets the eye, making it well worth a look!
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