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What South Carolina Is Known for & Famous For?
The eastern state of South Carolina offers residents and visitors a land steeped in history and culture. Founded in 1776 by colonists, the state continues to hold tight to various parts of its past. There is so much to do, learn, and see in the Palmetto State.
South Carolina is known for sandy beaches and Monkey Island and was the first state to secede from the Union. The Palmetto State offers outdoor activities, including hunting, fishing, and golf. It’s home to many historic districts and national parks. The iconic dishes also continue to draw visitors.
Once home to the great American Indian tribes such as the Cherokee and Catawba, South Carolina has long attracted people to its beauty and abundance. If you are thinking of visiting South Carolina, please read on to discover why it is so famous and its history, beauty, and activities that it has to offer its visitors and residents.
Nicknamed the Palmetto State
The towering palmettos greet visitors to South Carolina with their slender, single trunks and elongated, broad, deep green leaves. They line the coast and boardwalks of the state, swaying peacefully in the ocean breeze.
While they appear as simply a natural part of the South Carolina landscape, these trees played an important role in South Carolina’s history.
In June 1776, British troops attacked Fort Moultrie on Sullivan Island. Colonel Moultrie defended the land by creating a fort using palmetto tree trunks. The thick, textured tree trunks protected against British attack, thus symbolizing freedom and liberty.
By 1777, the palmetto tree was implemented on the state seal. In 1860, it became a symbol on South Carolina’s flag. However, it wasn’t until 1939 that the state adopted the palmetto as the official state tree.
With over 2,500 miles of coastline (4,023 km), South Carolina boasts some of the most stunning beaches along the Atlantic coast.
Some of the most popular beach destinations in South Carolina include:
- Kiawah Island – Often referred to as the number one beach in the state, Kiawah Island offers 10 miles (16 km) of coastline with a variety of scenery. There’s no shortage of extraordinary views, from soft sand dunes and wet marshes to vast forests and deep green turf.
- Hilton Head – This barrier island — a regularly changing deposit of sand — features several different beaches and is a popular destination among South Carolina tourists and residents alike. Visitors take advantage of the many recreational activities, including swimming and golf.
- Myrtle Beach – Beachgoers love Myrtle Beach, making it one of the most popular beach destinations in South Carolina. With over 60 miles (97 km) of sandy beaches and a lively town featuring an amusement park, museums, ballparks, and theaters, visitors can indulge in activities for all ages.
- Folly Beach – The quaint beach town of Folly Beach is the ideal destination for a relaxing day trip. Charleston’s visitors and residents come to soak up the sun and surf or visit one of the many bars and restaurants dotting the beachfront.
These four beaches aren’t the only remarkable coastlines in South Carolina — it’s home to dozens of others for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Fishing and Hunting
White sand beaches and the impressive Atlantic Ocean aren’t all South Carolina offers. The state features breathtaking lakes that dot the landscape, along with forests and state parks, providing ideal opportunities for fishing and hunting.
South Carolina features 12 major lakes that vary in size — and also vary in their marvelous views. Some lakes sit high in the Blue Ridge Mountains or near the Jocassee gorges, whereas others lie flat along the marshes and swampy wetlands.
Some of the best fishing spots in South Carolina include:
- Cherry Grove Pier – Ocean fishers who visit Cherry Grove in North Myrtle Beach find several varieties of marine life, including red drum and sea trout.
- Pee Dee River – This scenic waterway offers an excellent spot for river anglers looking for catfish. However, the raging river moves quickly, so fishers should seek breaks in the current near rocks or logs to avoid losing their lure downstream.
- Lake Murray – Bass fishers love Lake Murray — it’s considered one of the best lakes for bass fishing in the state. Additionally, fishers can find crappie, perch, and catfish.
- Lake Wateree – Lake Wateree is the place to be for crappie fishing. In the colder months, crappies congregate in the shallow waters, but once it warms up, they head out to the depths near 12 and 22 feet (4 to 7 m).
With over 450 golf courses throughout The Palmetto State, South Carolina residents and visitors won’t find a shortage of green turf.
The most striking aspect of South Carolina’s golf courses is how the natural elements of the landscape and the manmade green turf coexist. The golf courses often sit near marshes, wetlands, ocean shores, or soft, rolling hills. It’s not uncommon for golfers to enjoy the view of wildlife as they make their rounds on the course.
Dozens of world-famous golf courses call South Carolina home, including The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. This private golf course and club boasts the most oceanside holes in the United States, with ten nestled alongside the scenic Atlantic Ocean.
The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach is another golf course known for its scenery and immaculate turf. Featured in magazines as one of the top golf courses in the United States, The Dunes has hosted numerous golf tournaments, including the PGA Senior Tour.
Needless to say, South Carolina is a marvelous place to relax and unwind while enjoying a leisurely game of golf.
South Carolina’s many historic districts serve as a testament to the state’s rich history. With over 160 of these locations dotted throughout the state, South Carolina is a prime location for history buffs to view stunning architecture, trek through old cemeteries, or visit former plantations.
The South Carolina historic districts include:
- Chester Historic District – Chester, South Carolina, established in the late 18th century, features well-preserved historic buildings, business areas, residential properties, and churches. Architectural styles include Greek, Gothic, and Victorian, among others.
- Prosperity Cemetery – This three-acre cemetery located in Prosperity, South Carolina, is home to the resting place of over 1,000 people. Grave markers date as far back as 1802, when the cemetery was established.
- Callawassie Sugar Works – Located on Callawassie Island, the former Callawassie Sugar Works site dates back to the early 1800s. The facility once processed sugar cane into sugar. However, the area wasn’t suitable for growing sugar cane, making it the only sugar mill in the Lowland. Historians believe that the mill was part of a settlement that included slave houses.
According to the United States National Park Service, Fort Sumter is located on a manmade island. The only access to Fort Sumter is via a boat.
During the War of 1812, the British invaded the United States from the Atlantic Ocean. Soldiers built Fort Sumter to protect South Carolina from the incoming fleets.
Long after the war, in 1861, the fort remained incomplete, even when the Battle of Fort Sumter began, starting the American Civil War. The Civil War left Fort Sumter in shambles, and it was never rebuilt.
Today, what remains of Fort Sumter is open to the public.
During World War II, the United States built several naval vessels, but only 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers — the famous USS Yorktown is one of those vessels.
Commissioned in 1943, the USS Yorktown took part in several war campaigns before its decommission shortly after the war. Later, she was recommissioned and restored for use in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Before her final decommissioning in 1970, USS Yorktown participated in the recovery mission for Apollo 8 and appeared in two films.
In 1975, USS Yorktown was docked at Patriots Point, South Carolina, where she stands as a museum and designated a National Historic Landmark.
The First State To Secede From the Union, Leading to the Civil War
On December 20, 1860, South Carolina made a bold move that no state had before. The Palmetto State seceded from the Union after clashing over the North’s stance on slavery, among other issues.
Multiple states followed South Carolina’s lead. States held conventions back-to-back, with 11 states seceding thereafter. On February 4, 1861, these states banded together to form the Confederate States of America.
The war officially began in South Carolina, with the first “shots” fired in April 1861. Ultimately, the Confederacy lost, but South Carolina maintained an integral role during the war.
Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade
Myrtle Beach boasted a wooden boardwalk in the 1930s and an upgraded concrete version in the 1940s. In 1954, however, Hurricane Hazel blew through, reducing the boardwalk to rubble.
Residents and tourists spoke out about the need for a new boardwalk, but it wasn’t until 2009 that construction began. A year later, in April 2010, builders completed construction on the first section of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade. The boardwalk officially opened during the Beach Music Festival in May.
The boardwalk features an aesthetically pleasing design, featuring a wooden planked footpath, a concrete sidewalk, and wooden pathways leading to the shore. It’s now a popular tourist destination and is part of various Myrtle Beach festivals.
Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park boasts a staggering amount of biodiversity in plant and animal species. Water jets in from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers, depositing nutrient-rich sediments to nourish the vegetation that feeds the wildlife.
Visitors to the Congaree National Park may indulge in dozens of outdoor recreational activities, from hiking and camping to canoeing and fishing.
One of the fascinating events held at Congaree National Park is the synchronous firefly show. During late spring and early summer, the fireflies light up the park in unison — and it’s only one of six places in the world where visitors can view this spectacular phenomenon.
Situated 3,553 feet (1,083 m) above sea level, Sassafras Mountain is South Carolina’s highest point. The view from the top is astonishing, but today, viewers can take in the view with even more splendor, thanks to the observation tower that opened in 2019.
The Sassafras Mountain Tower provides visitors with an unforgettable view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that stretch across three states — South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. The visibility exceeds 30 to 50 miles (48.28 to 80.47 kilometers) with clear weather.
Founded in 1670, Charleston is among the oldest colonial cities in the United States — and the city still retains some of that old-school charm.
Today, Charleston is home to cobblestone paved streets and antebellum-era architecture. It’s not uncommon to see a horse-drawn carriage clopping by. As an additional testament to its timelessness, Fort Sumter lies just across the water, marking remembrance of South Carolina’s prominent role in the Civil War.
The history of Charleston isn’t all graceful — slavery was a huge part of the city (and South Carolina as a whole), which is why they seceded from the Union in the first place. In fact, you can visit the Old Slave Mart Museum, located on the original site of a slave auction gallery.
The capital of South Carolina, Columbia, was named after none other than Christopher Columbus — and was the first city named after the explorer.
Known as the “Soda City” — not for the carbonated beverage, but for the abbreviation of Columbia to “Cola” in times past — the city features gorgeous mansions and museums.
With that said, visitors shouldn’t expect to see buildings dated prior to 1865. General Sherman’s march during the Civil War went through the town, burning it down.
Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head is one of South Carolina’s most popular beach destinations. It sits in the Lowcountry and boasts immaculate golf courses, white sand beaches, and fascinating museums. Visitors can take in the breathtaking views of towering trees, gardens, and salt marshes.
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is close to the Island for nature-loving tourists. Located just off South Carolina’s coast between the shoreline and Hilton Head, this refuge is home to alligators, deer, and a plethora of wild bird species.
The Charleston Tea Plantation
Established in the 1960s, the Charleston Tea Plantation began as an experimental farm for tea planting. It wasn’t understood how tea would grow in the South Carolina climate — but the owner soon realized that the plants flourished.
Contrary to popular belief, the plantation did not employ the use of slave labor. However, the associations with the term “plantation” and slavery caused the facility to change its name to the Charleston Tea Garden in 2020.
South Carolina shows excellent promise for tea planting, yet this plantation is the only tea farm of its kind in North America. The American Classic Tea brand is grown here, providing the only USA-grown tea leaves in the world.
Morgan Island’s Free Range Monkey Colony
While South Carolina boasts dozens of islands off the Atlantic coast, Morgan Island is one of the most bizarre. More commonly known as “Monkey Island,” Morgan Island holds thousands of monkeys — and they’re not native to the area.
In 1979, primate researchers transported over a thousand monkeys to the United States from Puerto Rico. They brought the monkeys to South Carolina to use them in a now-defunct laboratory project. Despite the project’s failure, the monkeys stayed on the island. The descendants of the original 1,300 monkeys still reside on the island today, and their population has reached over 4,000.
Today, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources owns and maintains the island. The public is not permitted visitation to the island. This isolation protects the monkeys and their habitat and prevents the spread of transmissible illnesses.
Food South Carolina Is Known For
South Carolina cuisine involves seafood, pork, and plenty of corn and other vegetables. The original dishes in the Palmetto State continue to remain staple foods, thanks to their ease of preparation and low cost.
South Carolina-Style Barbecue
Historians believe that the original barbecue-style food originated throughout the easternmost colonies, starting in Virginia and North Carolina. Later, the practice spread further south.
In South Carolina, cooks often cooked whole hog carcasses, brushing vinegar-based sauces on the meat as it cooked. The whole hog barbecue method began during the colonial and pre-Civil War eras. Using hardwood coals involved cooking a hog over an open brick or cinder block pit.
Today, the Pee Dee region continues cooking pork using this method. The hog is cooked for 12 hours or more, turned, and basted with a signature sauce — vinegar, salt, pepper, and crushed or ground red pepper. The result is a delicious, tender, smoky meat that’s tangy with a little kick.
South Carolina barbecue sauces have changed over time, but the originals continue to reign supreme — and we’re not talking about the commonly used tomato-based sauces.
In South Carolina, the two most popular sauces include a mustard-based sauce popularized by French and German immigrants in colonial times and a vinegar-based sauce thought to have been introduced by British colonists.
If you’ve never tried boiled peanuts, the thought alone probably conjures up images of tossing hard, brown shells into a pot of boiling water. Interestingly, it’s not the hard, brown nuts that people boil in the Palmetto State — it’s freshly harvested green nuts.
The entire shell is boiled in saltwater (sometimes even seawater) until the shells soften. The result is a briny, bean-type flavor, similar to chickpeas. Boiled peanuts have been a southern staple for generations.
Interestingly, the origin of boiled peanuts doesn’t start in South Carolina. In fact, it’s believed that peanuts came over from Africa after being introduced there by South Americans in the 1500s. The nuts then circled back to the United States, brought over by men and women aboard slave ships.
During the Civil War, the introduction of peanuts allowed them to become a common snack. Food was in short supply, so Southerners used the nut for everything. Peanut oil was used to lubricate machinery, and ground peanuts were even used as a coffee substitute.
Many historians attribute the boiling of peanuts to Confederate soldiers, but African Americans and their African ancestors boiled nuts long before the peanut arrived in America.
Despite the name, there are no frogs involved in making Frogmore Stew.
The dish receives its name from the lowland region in St. Helana Bay, named Frogmore.
Also referred to as “Lowcountry Boil,” Frogmore Stew is easy to prepare and feeds a large number of people. It involves only four ingredients, including:
- Corn on the cob
- Smoked sausage
Some cooks implement additional ingredients, including stone crab claws or onion. Seasonings typically involve smoked paprika, garlic powder, thyme, celery seed, and cumin. Some recipes call for allspice, beer, or hot sauce. It’s traditionally served with lemon and cocktail sauce.
Yet another seafood dish common in South Carolina is the oyster roast. Cooks cover oysters in burlap and roast them over hot coals.
Once completed, the oyster is pried open and enjoyed with side dishes such as crackers, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, and horseradish. It’s common to complement the dish with cold beer or cocktails.
Like Frogmore Stew, an oyster roast is considered a messy dish to eat. As such, it’s often served outdoors over tables lined with newspaper to make for easy cleanup.
Shrimp and Grits
In the Lowcountry of South Carolina, residents often captured creek shrimp and combined it with ground corn, also known as grits. This easy, inexpensive meal was often referred to as “breakfast shrimp.”
As with many cuisines from the American South, shrimp and grits can be traced back to Africa. It’s believed that enslaved people brought the idea to the states. Eventually, they introduced the idea of shellfish and corn into plantation kitchens.
Ground corn was reduced to a thick, cereal-like consistency using seawater. Heated shrimp was placed on top. These two ingredients were easy to come by, and even with slave food rationing, they could make food last a week or more with this recipe.
From incredible natural sights to a rich and sometimes painful history, South Carolina offers plenty of learning and recreational opportunities for its visitors and residents.
Whether you’re looking to visit the state for its white sandy beaches or unique iconic cuisine, take some time to learn a little more about the state’s history during your visit.
- South Carolina State House: South Carolina State Symbols
- South Carolina State Library: The Palmetto State
- South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: SC Beach Guide
- South Carolina Department of Natural Resources: South Carolina Lakes and Waterways
- Golf Digest: The Best Golf Courses in South Carolina
- South Carolina Department of Archives and History: National Register
- United States National Park Service: Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie
- Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum: USS Yorktown
- South Carolina State Library: South Carolina History – Civil War
- SoCoastal: Myrtle Beach Boardwalk – Shops, History, & How It Was Built
- United States National Park Service: Synchronous Fireflies at Congaree
- South Carolina Department of Natural Resources: Sassafras Mountain Tower opens on South Carolina’s highest point
- Explore Charleston: Charleston, South Carolina
- City of Columbia, South Carolina: Home
- Official Hilton Head Island, South Carolina: Home
- Charleston Tea Garden: Our Garden
- Academia: Assessment of environmental impacts of a colony of free-ranging rhesus monkeys (Macca mulatta) on Morgan Island, South Carolina
- Smithsonian Magazine: The Evolution of American Barbecue
- National Peanut Board: Boiled Peanuts – From Necessity to Southern Delicacy
- Charleston Magazine: Why Lowcountry Boil is a Quintessential Charleston Experience
- Charleston Magazine: The Lowcountry Oyster Roast’s Northeastern Origins
- The Old Mill: The History of Shrimp and Grits