The Heartland -- The attraction of these backwater stops is the interaction with the people who live here. A Southern drawl as long as Rhett Butler's coattails prevails here, as do "Yes, ma'am," "No, ma'am," and afternoon naps. You're likely to come upon an old gas station complete with working Pure pumps and ice-cold Coca-Cola in bottles, and you're even more likely to pass a flock of camouflage-clad deer hunters lining a country road with trucks and guns.
A rail-and-highway hub, Florence is simply a convenience off the interstate, with fast-food joints; clean, inexpensive motels; and a midsize mall with a cafeteria and restrooms.
A more charming town for a half-day visit is Darlington, home of the famed raceway. The small, old-time downtown area features attractive Victorian-style homes and several good restaurants serving home-cooked meals. The Mountain Dew Southern 500, held each Labor Day, and the Stock Car Hall of Fame are ideal for a taste of NASCAR-style racing.
With that small-town feel, South Carolina is a film producer's dream location and a delight for Northerners seeking a taste of the traditional South. There are courthouses that rival the national Capitol building (on a smaller scale) sitting smack in the middle of Main Street. There are white-picket-fenced homes sporting Victorian woodwork lining two-lane, moss-hung streets. There's a general hardware store that doubles as a Greyhound bus station. There are a couple of churches where the membership has stayed pretty much the same (with the annual number of births equaling the number of deaths) for who knows how long. There are places such as Camden (the former home of the late William F. Buckley, Jr.), which hosts two nationally known horse races: the Camden Classic and the Carolina Classic. Kingstree is the home of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Dr. Joseph Goldstein.
Columbia -- The state capital, located in the heart of South Carolina, is the home of "The Worst Boiled Peanuts in the World," at Cromer's, a state institution for munchies.
Columbia also happens to be the state's largest city, hosting more than 300 factories. In addition, the city is the marketing and distribution center for a large farming area, and it's crawling with college students who attend the University of South Carolina.
A day's worth of exploring will take you to Ainsley Hall Mansion, President Woodrow Wilson's boyhood home; the State House and Governor's Mansion; the Columbia Museum of Art; and the Town Theatre (1919), one of the oldest theaters in the country. The Riverbanks Park Zoo is an outstanding modern zoo that celebrates Christmas by draping thousands of twinkling lights throughout the park.
The Upstate -- The northwestern region of South Carolina lies in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Originally, it was the place where residents of Charleston fled to escape the summer heat and the mosquitoes. What they discovered was a land of scenic wonders, with mountain peaks, unspoiled forests, waterfalls, and country hamlets. The chief city is Greenville.
But cities are not the major reason to visit the Upstate. Escape instead to Pendleton, an entire town listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here you can visit Ashtabula Plantation, dating from the 1820s and once the most beautiful farm in the Upstate. Parks and battlefields abound, including Cowpens National Battlefield at Chesnee, famous for Daniel Morgan's 1781 defeat of the British. Finally, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway curves for 130 miles through the heart of South Carolina's Blue Ridge foothills.
Myrtle Beach & the Grand Strand -- Like Las Vegas in the desert, Myrtle Beach rises above the Southern coastline in a blaze of neon so bright that you might want to keep your shades handy, even after sunset. This city, a far cry from the historic South, has been transformed into a megawatt entertainment mecca. A golfer's paradise, the area now boasts more than 120 championship golf courses. There are water slides, arcades, giant shopping malls, and a host of kids' attractions. Numerous country-music shows are available and, as in Branson, Missouri, renowned musicians appear here year-round.
If you're hungry for seafood, dining is best at nearby Murrells Inlet, a strip along the marsh that's packed with seafood places. The late mystery novelist Mickey Spillane made his home here.
Charleston -- What can we possibly say about a city so charming that nearly every celebrity who visits ends up driving around town with a real-estate agent? Located on the peninsula between the Cooper and Ashley rivers in southeastern South Carolina, Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the state, full of antebellum homes and carefully preserved buildings. Each spring, Charleston hosts Spoleto Festival USA, one of the most prestigious performing-arts events in the South.
One of the finest examples of colonial architecture in the country is Drayton Hall, a mansion set amid huge oaks draped with Spanish moss. This National Historic Landmark is the only Ashley River plantation house to survive the Civil War intact.
Every day of the week, Charleston's City Market bustles with craftspeople jammed under the covered breezeways. Sweet-grass basket-weavers hum old spirituals, horse-drawn carriages clop down the street, and thousands of tourists eat, drink, and shop their way along.
A minimum 3-day stay is required if you are to discover Charleston by day and night. Try to include a trip over the Cooper River Bridge to the string of islands that have rebounded from the massive destruction of Hurricane Hugo. Take time to stop in Beaufort, the inspiration for Pat Conroy's novel The Prince of Tides (among other bestsellers). The town is full of old-fashioned inns, rustic pubs, and tiny stores along a tailored waterfront park.
Hilton Head -- Much more commercial than Charleston is Hilton Head Island, home of wealthy Northerners (mostly retired) and vacationers from all parts of the country. With myriad contemporary beachfront restaurants and rows of hotels, timeshare villas, and cottages, the island has recently sprouted boutiques and upscale shopping areas. Although the traffic is horrendous (there is only one main thoroughfare both on and off the island), development hasn't obliterated nature on Hilton Head, and you can find solitude at the north end of the beach.
On the positive side, the island has become socially and culturally oriented, playing host to presidents and world leaders, and also supporting its own symphony orchestra and ballet company. Sea Pines on Hilton Head is one of the country's premier golf resorts, located on a 605-acre Wildlife Foundation Preserve that's home to birds, squirrels, dolphins, and alligators. Hilton Head has 15 miles of bike paths and 5 miles of pristine beaches.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.