Point of Interest: Swan Lake Iris Gardens
Our next county stop was Sumter. Bryan grew up in Sumter and his parents still live there so we have actually visited Sumter a number of times. We had lots of fun visiting with grandparents and Swan Lake. It is the only public lake in the United States to feature all eight swan species. They also host a number of festivals throughout the year, including the Iris Festival which is over Memorial Day weekend when the Iris are in full bloom. We saw a number of beautiful, but stinky swans on the lake side of the garden. We then crossed the bridge to the other side of the road and walked along the boardwalk through the cypress swamp. We finished up our visit at the Recovery Wing, a 18 foot stainless steel statue by Grainger McCoy. While the visit to Swan Lake was enjoyable, I believe the favorite part of this county visit was grandparents!!
In Lee County we had two stops. Our original plan was to head to the SC Cotton Museum, but we also passed an interesting attraction that caught our attention. The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden is located on a small residential road in Bishopville. All of the plants have been sculpted and there is”junk art” sculptures scattered throughout. Pearl Fryar, a local resident, built the gardens that has been internally recognized.
Next was on to the Cotton Museum. As odd as it sounds, one of the main reasons for visiting the Cotton Museum was to see the statue of the bullwievel. We recently read in a book how the bullwievel destroyed the cotton crop across South Carolina. The girls were fascinated to see what one looked like. It actuality, the bullwievel is rather small, but the statue was able to show the details of this beetle. The museum featured the different steps in the production of fabric starting from growing the cotton. The girls were given a very brief background in cotton and able to feel the cotton seeds in the plant. We also learned that Lee County is home of Doc Blanchard, the only Heisman winner from South Carolina.
Point of Interest: Summerton Diner
As we turned back south to head home to Beaufort, we stopped in Clarendon County for lunch at the Summerton Diner. The diner is known for it’s southern cooking and meat and three options. We arrived around noon and the diner was packed but the service was still fast and very friendly. Leslie and Hunter (and me) filled up on the delicious corn bread muffins and biscuits. Avery especially loved this stop since the kids menu also featured a smaller size meat and three option and she devoured the pot roast! This is an easy stop off the highway and is far better than all the fast food restaurants you typically find.
Next stop is the Grand Strand!
We recently spent the July 4th holiday in the mountains of North Georgia and passed through about dozen South Carolina counties on our way. We only were able to make three quick county stops in the upstate. We were lucky to have our friends and travel buddies with us for these three stops!
Point of Interest: Gentry Farms
Our first stop was at Gentry Farms located not too far off I385 in Laurens County. This family owned farm offers u pick blueberries during June through August. They also grow pecans and scuppernongs during the other times of the year. We pulled up and all the kids picked up a gallon bucket and we headed out to pick blueberries. There were tons of blueberry bushes on the farm, all organic, only water used to grow them. It was rather hot, so we did not spend lots of time picking but filled up a quarter of a bucket which only cost $2. What a deal!!!
Next stop was Clemson University where Bryan and I met and graduated from college. Also home of the 2018 College Football National Champions! I always love going back to Clemson and it is especially fun now to share our love for our college with our girls. We drove by and showed the girls where we first met and off course checked out the football stadium. Looking forward to heading back up to Clemson in the fall for a game.
We also drove through the South Carolina Botanical Gardens that is located on campus. On our drive up, we worked on an activity packet about the SC Botanical Gardens that was created by a local girl scout. We learned fun facts, did word searches, and match birds nests to the correct bird. Once in the gardens we walked through the butterfly garden and visited a pond with many turtles and fish. As with our previous stop in Laurens, it was hot, so we did not do too much walking around.
Oconee County has quite a bit to offer in the way of trails and waterfalls. In fact there are around 80 trails on the SC trails website and over 150 different waterfalls. During our last year in college at Clemson, Bryan and I started to get into hiking and visited many of these waterfalls. The girls may be ready for some of the hiking, but Hunter is not quite there yet, so we visited a very easy to access waterfall, Issaqueena Falls. It is a 100 foot waterfall with a nice lookout area.
Located just up the mountain is Stumphouse Tunnel. This tunnel is an incomplete railroad that you can walk into. It was a little scary for the kids because it does get rather dark and very cool. It was used by Clemson University to grow blue cheese in the 1950’s and 60’s because of the perfect temperature for curing blue cheese.
Next stops will be back towards the Midlands!
Point of Interest: Sergeant Jasper County Park
Jasper County is located right next to Beaufort County off of interstate 95, so we did not have far to travel. This 321 acre park has many different ponds that you can fish. It happened to be Father’s Day on the day of our visit, so it was enjoyable for Bryan to be able to fish with his two older girls. We first checked out the playground and then headed down a path to one ponds. There are definitely alligators in the ponds as evidenced by the many signs, so we kept a good lookout as we walked. We found a pond that did not look quite so swampy and cast the lines. Luckily, Avery caught a brim so I consider the fishing trip a success. Another attraction of this park, is the 18 hole disc golf course which we did not try but seemed to attract a number of people.
Point of Interest: Hampton County Watermelon Festival
Hampton County is also located pretty close to Beaufort. During a week in June every year they have a Watermelon Festival that is actually the longest standing festival in the state of South Carolina with the first one being held in 1939. They have an entire week of events that include a fishing contest, pet contest, parade, kids day, carnival, movie night, tractor contest, 5K, melon judging, pageants, lots of live entertainment, and an arts and crafts contest. The whole town really gets into the watermelon spirit and residents decorate their yards and businesses decorate the windows of their stores with watermelons.
The girls entered the craft contest and made watermelon pieces of art–Avery made a clothes pin wreath and Leslie made a papermache bowl. They came in 1st and 2nd place!! They were very excited and received a ribbon as their prize and we then enjoyed some pieces of watermelon in the park.
On our way home from Hampton we made stop in Beaufort County, at Old Sheldon Church. The church as been burned down twice, but the ruins still stand today. It was interesting to walk through the grounds and admire the beautiful church and read the dates on the old graves that go back to the 1700’s. Unfortunately there is now a fence around the church due to vandalism.
We just wrapped up visiting part of the midlands of South Carolina with Kershaw, York,and Richland Counties.
In Kershaw County, we were able to visit Goat Daddy’s Farm located in a remote part of Kershaw on 25 acres of land. This family owned business was participating in the AG + ART festival that was going on Kershaw this past weekend. The AG + ART festival takes place throughout the month of June throughout 10 different South Carolina Counties (Chester, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lancaster, Newberry, Union, Richland, Spartanburg, and York).
This is a self guided tour of locals farms and farmers markets. At Goat Daddy’s Farm we were able to walk through the woods and see goats, mini horses, chickens, peacocks, and pigs. Since this is was a family owned business with the family living on the farm with the animals, we were at their house which made it feel like an intimate and unique experience. Many animals such as the peacocks roamed freely. Avery especially loved feeding the emus and Hunter enjoyed pointing at all the wildlife. We picked up some goat cheese as we left and it did not disappoint! The girls also left a blessing bracelet at the entrance for someone to find. Another popular activity that happens in Kershaw is the Carolina Cup that takes place in the town of Camden. This is a horse race and social event at the end of March/beginning of April. Bryan and I have previously enjoyed attending with friends but have yet to take the kids.
Next stop was York County where we have family, so we stayed a couple nights to visit and checked out the area. We first visited a park in Fort Mill and played with our cousins. Then, we had ice cream at Springs Farm Peach Stand and picked up some local peaches grown in York county and grits because we love making shrimp and grits. After enjoying our ice cream and leaving a blessing bracelet, we headed to Anne Springs Close Greenway, a nature preserve in York County. We toured the small nature center and then walked down to the pond. On the way back the girls took a path with their cousins and saw a deer and snake which was Leslie’s highlight and has inspired her to want to walk on more nature trails. On the way home, we stopped at Puckerbutt Pepper Company, home of the World’s Hottest Peppers, the Carolina Reaper. Bryan did a quick taste testing some of their hot sauces, and we brought home some Carolina Reaper salsa. It was so nice to spend this time touring York with our family. Another interesting stop in York that we want check out on our next visit, is the Tatanka Bison Range, a 215 acre working ranch, that uses holistic management tools to produce 100% grass fed and grass-finished Bison.
And finally, we wrapped up with Richland County. The capital of South Carolina, Columbia, is located in Richland, so we drove through the capital city and by the State House. We also checked out my office, which happens to be the tallest building in South Carolina. Then, Bryan and the girls headed off to the Riverbanks Zoo while I did some work in Columbia. On Tuesdays throughout the summer, the zoo is having a BOGO special on tickets if you donate canned foods. So, we were able to get one free ticket! All the girls loved seeing the animals and they even ran into their friend Riley, who was visiting the zoo with her summer camp. A blessing bracelet was left in the Columbia at the feet of a colorful rooster. Whenever we come back to Richland County, we want to take the girls to Congaree National Park, the only National Park in South Carolina.
Four counties down, 42 to to go!! We continue to welcome suggestions you may have of places to go or places to eat throughout South Carolina.
For the last 14 years, we have experienced most of what Beaufort has to offer, which is a lot! Time and time again Beaufort, SC is ranked in different publications as the “Best” of some kind….small town, place to visit, most romantic, southern town, etc. I would not argue with any of these “titles.” After traveling up and down the east coast as far as Annapolis and as south as the Keys, visiting just about every coastal town in between, I feel Beaufort really has earned its top-ranked spot. Beaufort includes a number of popular towns, such as Hilton Head, a popular destination with all the activities associated with a coastal resort community. However, there are many interesting experiences that Beaufort can offer locals and tourists alike that are free or low-cost that are not as well known. Below are some ideas that we have done in the past that I would recommend.
Merrick Daffodil Farm is located in Bluffton. The kids can pick daffodils when in season for 25 cents. I would suggest arriving early in the day so you can have a field full of flowers to chose from. We recently had a great experience with our girl scout troop on a mini horse farm on St. Helena Island. Mobile Mini’s opened up their farm and mini horses for an afternoon of grooming (with bows), reading to the horses, and feeding them. It was a very unique and fun time! Hunting Island State Park has been a favorite for our family for a number of years and we recently had a first camping experience at the park’s campground. The park offers a very natural beach experience with lots of drift wood and if you get there early in the morning you can find some large shells. The Port Royal Sound Foundation is located between the town of Beaufort and Bluffton. They have a variety of eco-themed children’s programs throughout the year. We recently went to the Pollination Festival where we learned about native plants, sampled honey, and the girls had their faces painted. Morgan Island, also known as Monkey Island, for moneys that live there can be a fun visit if the monkey’s feel like being active. You can only view the monkeys by taking a boat close to the shoreline, and if you are lucky, you can get a glimpse of them swinging from the trees. And speaking of boating, there are a number of barrier islands that can be visited by boat such as Daufuski or Bull Point. One of the last remaining drive-in theaters, the Hwy 21 Drive In , is also located in Beaufort County and features two movies a night on the weekends. Beaufort is also known for its many festivals. During certain times of the year their are multiple festivals across the county going on during the same weekend. Some of our favorites are Beaufort Water Festival, Night on the Town, and Shrimp and Grits Festival. Eat, Sleep, Play Beaufort is a great website resource that could help you find all the local events and attractions.
When I tried to think of the experiences that we had not yet done with the girls, I came up with a few options and let the girls pick. Surprisingly, what they picked is a rather normal and ordinary attraction. They decided on the food truck at the local library. While a library is certainly not a unique attraction, some of the different experiences that libraries offer can be. While living on the boat, libraries in the towns we visited were a frequent stop and we participated in a number of activities from yoga to story walks. Currently, the Beaufort library, like other libraries across the country, is having a Summer Reading Program with lots of great giveaways. Also, through various partnerships, a food truck will be serving free lunch every weekday this summer at the library to kids. Yes, a FREE lunch. So, we headed to the local library to check out the free lunch and some books to help us with our research about South Carolina and where we want to visit.
The girls were interested in the food truck, so they immediately got in line and received a hot ham and cheese sandwich, tater tots, and pears with a side of milk. Avery enjoyed the meal, while Leslie was less than thrilled. After they cleaned up, we headed in the library to grab some books. We found a selection of books about our state and have been reading them and finding out some interesting facts. We learned South Carolina was the first state to have a free public library in the country, located in Charleston, making our “library trip” more relevant to South Carolina. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn of all the other offerings the library had this summer such as reading to dogs, STEAM night, lego club, mini golf and more. So, I’m sure we will be heading back soon.
The two choices that the girls did not choose were visiting Old Sheldon Church and visiting Parris Island, the Marine Corp recruit depot. Our house is literally across the water from Parris Island and we hear shooting practice in the morning. We were also married on Parris Island, so I foresee a trip out there in the near future. As for Old Sheldon Church, it is very beautiful and historic, but probably not as interesting for kids. Since it is located on the way out of town in order to get to the highway, I see this as a stop on the way to somewhere else.
The girls also left a Blessing Bracelet selectively placed next to a family cruising book in the library while on a follow up visit to return our books!