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South Carolina’s Secrets

You don’t have to look far to find travel treasures in South Carolina. But if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, you can uncover distinctive experiences that will take your South Carolina tour from ordinary to extraordinary.

From historic Charleston to beautiful Hilton Head and vibrant Myrtle Beach, the South Carolina coast has fascinating stories to tell. And groups that venture inland to Columbia and Greenville will find pristine natural areas, as well as arts and history attractions.

If your group travels frequently to South Carolina, consider including stops at some of these hidden travel gems on your next itinerary..


One of the most visited cities on the southern Atlantic coast, Charleston has a wealth of attractions that highlight local history, architecture, cuisine and culture. While your group is busy hitting the highlights, allow some time to stop by some other sites that will give a deeper understanding of the area.

Many visitors enjoy White Point Garden, which is located at the tip of the peninsula and offers views of Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter. In the 1700s, the garden served as a public square, and pirates were hung there. Local legend says that pirates haunt the garden. The area also housed fortifications for the city during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and the edges of the garden are decorated with historic cannons and shells.

About a mile away from the garden is the South Carolina Aquarium.

“The aquarium is a really good group destination,” said Doug Warner, director of media relations for the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a great stepping-off point for a Fort Sumter tour. You can catch a boat there to go out to Fort Sumter.”

Charleston’s long history has left a substantial spiritual legacy, and interested groups can learn more about the area’s religious heritage by visiting historic houses of worship throughout the city. Circular Congregational Church still has weekly meetings, and its cemetery has graves that date to 1695.  Kahal Kdosh Beth Elohim is a historic synagogue, and visitors can tour the sanctuary as well as an on-site museum six days a week. The synagogue’s cemetery is the South’s oldest Jewish burial ground.

Art lovers should also make time to visit the Gibbes Museum of Art.

“The Gibbes Museum was one of the first art museums in the country,” Warner said. “It just went through a multimillion-dollar restoration that put the building back in its original configuration, with studio space for local artists. They have works by Charleston Renaissance artists and a great collection of pre-Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary American art.”

Hilton Head

People travel to Hilton Head, an island destination in southern South Carolina, for its pristine beaches and unspoiled natural environment. The island was one of the first eco-planned destinations in the country, and all its resorts and amenities are designed to blend seamlessly with the area’s lush surroundings. But the island and nearby towns on the mainland also hold fascinating history and culture attractions.

“The Coastal Discovery Museum is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that really paints a picture of who we are as a destination,” said Charlie Clark, vice president of communications for the Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce. “It pays homage to the Gullah history. Since we’re an island, the Gullah culture remains really strong here. They have a sweetgrass gallery that helps people understand the significance of the sweetgrass baskets.”

In addition to seeing the baskets on display, groups can arrange sweet-grass-weaving demonstrations and classes that are led by seventh-generation basket weavers, who share some of the heritage of the art form, brought to the Carolina low country by enslaved Africans.

For another take on local culture, plan a stop at the Bluffton Oyster Company, the last hand-shucking oyster house in the state. During oyster season, visitors can see the day’s catch being unloaded at the dock and watch women shuck oysters. The company also sells fresh shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops and other seafood brought in by local fishermen.

“Adjacent to the Bluffton Oyster Company is the Garvin House,” Clark said. “That’s a restored home that was one of the first freed-slave homes along the May River. It’s been beautifully restored and gives an interesting glimpse into that history.”

Mitchellville, a town on the mainland near Hilton Head, also offers African-American heritage tours.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.