Take These Exits for Hidden Gems off of I-95

By:Page Ivey

Date:4/4/2016

Interstate 95 is the main north-south artery of the East Coast, and several spots in the state lay claim to being halfway between New York and Miami. With more than 200 miles of road in the Palmetto State, I-95 is one of our busiest routes, but there are plenty of places along the way to stop and get a taste or a glimpse of all the fun things South Carolina has to offer. Remember, as Pedro says, 95 is the name of the road, not the speed limit. Take your time and enjoy the journey.

Exit 1- Hamer

South of the Border

If you have ever driven on Interstate 95, you know Pedro and South of the Border. Just one mile from the North Carolina-South Carolina state line, South of the Border has engineered the feel of a border a little more south with signs from Georgia to Virginia, touting the hospitality of “Pedro” – a character based on the nickname for a hotel manager from years gone by. A well-lit, 200-foot sombrero tower beckons travelers from the interstate to grab a bite, do some shopping, ride some rides or maybe even stay the night.

It all started in 1949 with a beer stand strategically located south of two “dry” North Carolina counties. A few successful years later, a grill was added and the business became South of the Border Drive-In. Then came a motel. Today, there is a reptile lagoon, an amusement park and an RV park in addition to six restaurants, a motel and, of course, the tower.

There also are a couple of gas stations, a couple of convenience stores and several different souvenir shops with items for every taste and budget. One of the most popular stores is the fireworks stand.

Exit 170- Florence

Atom bomb crater

Just seven miles off Exit 170 in Florence County is the only place in the US that was accidentally hit by an atomic bomb. The bomb was a more powerful version of the one dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. In 1958, it mistakenly fell out of an Air Force bomber and fell on the house and land belonging to Walter Gregg. Thankfully, the plutonium core didn't explode, but the 6,000 pounds of conventional high explosives detonated, turning the Gregg's garden into a muddy crater and destroying his family’s home. Some of the bomb fragments are in the Florence County Museum. While the crater itself is on private property, there is a nearby kiosk with newspapers of the day retelling the story of the errant bomb. There also is a historical marker near the site, which is on US Highway 301 less than a half-mile west of Francis Marion University. The road to the Crater runs beside the marker.

Exit 164- Florence

Pee Dee State Farmers Market

One and a half miles off Interstate 95 at Exit 164, is the Pee Dee State Farmers Market. The market sits on 55 acres of former farmland and is open year-round, offering some of the freshest produce from state farmers. The annual flower show in April is a great way to welcome spring. Vendors sell herbs for your garden or for tonight’s supper as well as some of the best peaches, watermelon and blueberries you will find anywhere. All kinds of flowers also can be found by several nursery vendors. Hyman Vineyards, a local vintner, also offers several varietals. Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

Exit 141- Olanta

Woods Bay State Park

Take Exit 141 off I-95 to visit this state park that is home to one of the most unique features of the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain – a Carolina Bay. A nature trail circles a mill pond and a 1,150-foot boardwalk offer close up views of the shrub bog, cypress tupelo swamp and the alligators who call it home.

Exit 98- Santee

Lone Star Barbeque & Mercantile

Just off Exit 98 is a unique shopping and dining experience called Lone Star Barbeque & Mercantile. This all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurant is spread across four old buildings that served as country store, post office and supplier to local farmers as late as 1997. The buffet here includes barbecue, fried fish, ribs and shrimp and grits. Also, check out the collections of knickknacks throughout the restaurants. Check for days/hours of operation as they are subject to change.

Exit 68- Walterboro

Colleton County State Park

Just three miles off I-95 at Exit 68 is Colleton County State Park along the Edisto River—one of the longest, free-flowing black-water rivers in the country. This is an ideal place to stretch your legs during your trek through South Carolina and have a picnic lunch on the banks of the Edisto. Try the Cypress Swamp Nature Trail, which is less than half-a-mile long and where you will see live oaks, huckleberry bushes, river birch, loblolly pine, magnolias and, of course, the bald cypress that give the swamp its name. If you have more time, dip in an oar. Colleton County Park is in the heart of the 56-mile Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail.

Exit 57- Walterboro

South Carolina Artisans Center

Just three miles from I-95 at Exit 57, this center celebrates artistic endeavors, whether the medium is clay, glass or film. You will find more than 250 juried artists work from garden sculptures to shawls and the state’s famed sweetgrass baskets. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.

Exit 8- Hardeeville

Sergeant Jasper County Park

This free park is a great green space for picnicking or burning off some energy on the playground. Located just about two miles from Exit 8, the park has fishing ponds, nature trails, an 18-hole disc-golf course and canoe and kayak rentals if you have some time.

Exit 5- Hardeeville

The Pink Pig

About 10 miles from Exit 5 is a barbecue experience not to be missed. The Pink Pig offers four homemade sauces: a sweet mustard, a spicy Gullah, a “Lowcountry Fire” and a sweet Vermont (we have a feeling there’s some maple syrup in that one.) All barbecue plates include a serving of slaw, a cup of Brunswick stew and a dinner roll. Seafood dishes are also served here with fries and hushpuppies. You’ll feel like you’ve gone to Hog Heaven. 3508 S Okatie Hwy, Hardeeville.

If you stop at the Pink Pig, you are likely to run into a few wildlife officers from Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge on their lunch break. The refuge, also off Exit 5, was established in 1927 and protects wildlife species ranging from alligators to whitetail deer. A four mile driving tour takes visitors by the remains of a rice levee and mills, foundations of slave quarters and small graveyards. I-95 runs through the park and it’s the last thing you see leaving (or the first thing you see) coming into the state.

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