Amid social distancing, closures and restrictions due to coronavirus, 2020 is rounding up to be THE year for a staycation road trip. No need to venture far, as South Carolina and the Upstate offer plenty of opportunities to commune with nature, immerse yourself in history and be a tourist right here in our own backyard. Safe travels.
Situated a few hours southwest of Greenville and bordering the Georgia line, Thoroughbred Country, a state-designated tourism region and area known for its horse culture, is a quintessential road trip destination. Meander the back roads through small towns such as North Augusta, Blackville, Aiken, Allendale and Bramwell.
FUN FACT: The acre of land surrounding the God’s Acre Healing Springs was legally deeded to God by its owner in 1944.
The town of Aiken is best known for its equestrian culture with international polo and steeplechase events in spring and fall. Banksia, a 30-room historic home named after a yellow rose growing on the property, also houses the Aiken County Historical Museum. The museum includes exhibits on county history, and on the property is a one-room schoolhouse and an 1800s-era log cabin. To truly understand the equine history of Aiken, head to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum at Hopeland Gardens. Nearby Hitchcock Woods is one of the country’s largest urban forests, spanning 2,100 acres of forestland with 70 miles of various trails.
For an immersive history lesson, the 7 ½-acre Living History Park in North Augusta offers a chance to experience everyday Colonial-era life. A meeting house, backwoods cabin, educational cabin, smokehouse, blacksmith forge, cabinet shop, mercantile, grist mill, the pottery, guardhouse, post and print shop, Colonial barn and tavern round out the park.
Cathedral Bay Heritage Preserve wetlands are host to the many pond cypress (generally the only tree species to grow in these bays) at this stunning outdoor attraction. Several state parks in the area, including Aiken State Park and Barnwell State Park, offer a wide variety of outdoor activities.
FUN FACT: Bamberg County claims the late artist Jim Harrison and former Gov. Nikki Haley.
Outdoor attractions are plentiful in the northwestern section of our state. For the adventurous, try a zipline canopy tour in Long Creek with Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours or a whitewater rafting trip on the Chattooga River. In Westminster, Chau Ram County Park offers waterfalls, sandy beaches for swimming and four major sets of rapids for kayaking, canoeing and tubing. The 200-acre Chattooga Belle Farm is a working farm and event venue with an on-site restaurant, farm store and distillery.
Fun Fact: Seasonal U-pick at Chattooga Belle Farm fruit includes peaches, blueberries, grapes and apples
Jocassee Lake Tours offers tours of the pristine lake’s many waterfalls in addition to kayak tours and rentals. Located near the town of Walhalla, Stumphouse Tunnel, an abandoned railroad tunnel where Clemson University’s famous blue cheese was perfected, is a cool respite at a near constant 56 degrees. Nearby at Issaqueena Falls, visitors can enjoy the waterfall and have a picnic.
Fun Fact: Stumphouse Tunnel was dug using hand tools prior to the Civil War.
In Pickens County, the viewing platform at Sassafras Mountain allows visitors to get a glimpse of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee from South Carolina’s highest point at 3,553 feet. Take a walk or bike ride on the 7.5-mile multi-use Doodle Trail, connecting near the downtowns of Pickens and Easley.
The city “where there’s always something blooming,” Greenwood is located on the shores of the 11,400-acre Lake Greenwood. Boating, fishing and other recreational activities are a big draw for the lake. While June’s South Carolina Festival of Flowers was postponed due to COVID-19, the event’s Signature Topiary Display is on display at the Uptown Greenwood square until July 12.
Greenwood is also home to the 25 Drive In Movie Theatre, one of the few remaining and operating drive-in theaters in South Carolina. The 25 Drive In shows first-run and classic movies, often double and triple features. Gates open at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays with movies starting at sundown.
Fun Fact: The SC Festival of Flowers includes 44 unique “living” creations set in landscaped areas in Uptown Greenwood.
Downtown Spartanburg is emerging as a cultural arts hub with indoor and outdoor live performance venues, galleries and museums; and 38 murals and other public art displays. Follow the Spartanburg Music Trail, honoring musicians from Spartanburg who have made a national or international impact in the world of music. The stops highlight artists in such genres as country, gospel, soul and rock ‘n’ roll.
Enjoy the 1.9-mile Mary Black Foundation Rail Trail converted from a former Norfolk Southern Railway corridor or head over to Cleveland Park, just a few minutes from downtown, and walk around the lake. Once a World War II U.S. Army training base, the 7,000-acre Croft State Park offers more than 20 miles of biking and hiking trails, a playground, picnicking and camping, as well as fishing and boating in one of two lakes.
Within Spartanburg County, the small town of Landrum has plenty of antique stores, quaint restaurants and shops. Be sure to stop in Dutch Country Foods, where all products come fresh from Pennsylvania and Ohio Amish country.
In Chesnee, Strawberry Hill U.S.A. has been owned and operated by the Cooley family since 1946. Pick up fresh strawberries, peaches and produce and stop at the café for a home-cooked meal and ice cream.
Fun Fact: Spartanburg is often referred to as the “Hub City.” In 1831, Spartanburg incorporated, and the nickname came from railroad lines that radiated from the city forming the shape of a wheel hub.
Looking for more ideas on things to do in the Upstate?
A to Z attractions in the Upstate (from VisitGreenvilleSC)
Axe throwing at Craft Axe
BMW Performance Center
Doggy Days at the Waterparks (Waggin’ at the Waterpark)
Elevation at Sassafras Mountain
Free mini golf at McPherson Park
Gliding through Greenville on a Segway tour
“Hello Kitty” drummer Cole Dockter
Immersion at Drift Spa
Jazz at Blues Boulevard
Kayaking on Lake Jocassee
Laps at LeMans Karting
Mining for treasure at Greenville Gemstone Mine
Newly remodeled Dueling Piano Bar
Only museum in the mid-Atlantic with an Alzheimer’s program for patients and caregivers
Pinot the Pig from City Scape Winery
Quiet time in Falls Park’s Secret Spots
Refractor telescope (ninth largest in North America and used by Albert Einstein) at Roper Mountain Science Center
Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum
Tuberculosis Hospital ruins at Herdklotz Park
Unlikely place for a Star Wars shrine
Vivify at ReCraft Creative Reuse Center
Wilderness Bridge at Raven Cliff Falls
XLR8 at Piney Mountain Bike Lodge’s pump track
Yappy Hour at NOMA Square
Ziplining the Gorge
A to Z Food in the Upstate (from VisitGreenvilleSC)
Aryana Afghan Cuisine
Barbacoa at Sabor Latin Street Grill
Candy barrels at Mast General Store
Donut dishes from Hendough
El Salvador’s finest fare from Papuseria Mister
Falafel from Pita House
Gelato cocktails from Luna Rosa
Hard cider from Distinct Cider Room
Innovative ice cream from Molly adn Myles
James Beard Award Nominees (Greg McPhee, Anchorage; Jon Buck, Husk; Oak Hill Cafe)
Kettle corn from Poppington’s
Lavender Love Chocolates from La Rue Fine Chocolate
Moonshine tasting at Dark Corner
Needles and donut holes at TopGolf
One-of-a-kind chocolatier Vincent Caradonna
Pimento cheese from Duke’s Sandwich Shop
Queenly harvest at Carolina Honeybee Company
Rare proteins at Saskatoon Steakhouse
Soul food at OJ’s Diner
Traditional Cantonese cooking at Asia Pacific
Underground dining at Unterhausen, Trappe Door and Coffee Underground
Vault & Vator
Waffle cones at Spill The Beans
Xerox of a Bowling Green landmark, Myles Pizza Pub
Yucatan-inspired cuisine from Mercado Cantina at Gather GVL
Zesty Lemon Bavarian Cake from Old Europe Desserts
Ready to hit the road? Visit these websites for more information.
Editor’s Note: Due to COVID-19, please contact the business, venue or destination before going to get the latest information on hours, closures and policies.