If life is just a picnic on a precipice, you might as well enjoy your fair share of them while you can. Casual al fresco dining is a South Carolina tradition enjoyed practically year-round thanks to warm temps. Even in winter, it is not unusual for a spring-like day to pop up and send the picnic crowd to area parks and gardens for a little respite from the cold.
No matter which region of the state you find yourself in, the perfect picnic spot is likely just minutes away. While there are literally hundreds from which to choose, some locales are distinguished by terrain, natural features, artistic additions and other attributes. Decide what kind of experience you want—quiet, adventurous, kid-focused, romantic—and get to packing that picnic basket.
Here are some strong contenders for prime picnicking in South Carolina. Some are well known and some are well-kept secrets. Each is guaranteed to provide the perfect setting for the perfect SC picnic.
Runway Park at GMU, Greenville Watch planes land and take off when you nosh at Runway Park at GMU, an aviation-themed park at Greenville Downtown Airport. Aircraft-themed playground equipment, displays and a picnic “hangar” add to the airy ambiance. Recommended for: Families, aviation aficionados Picnic provisions: Pick up some yummy grub from the Runway Café, conveniently located on-site.
Shelter Cove Community Park, Hilton Head Island Shelter Cove Community Park is one of the Hilton Head's most beloved picnic places. Families love the playground. Music lovers flock to the performance pavilion and spread their blankets across the greenspace. Lovers are inspired by breathtaking water views and sunsets. And picnickers? Well, they love the picnic pavilion and the convenience of the many features that make this park a destination. Bonus: You can walk to Kilwin’s for ice cream whenever the craving strikes. Recommended for: Everyone Picnic provisions: Pop in at The French Bakery in Shelter Cove Towne Centre and order sandwiches made on fresh baguettes.
Swan Lake Iris Gardens, Sumter No roundup of SC picnic sites would be complete without this Sumter beauty on the list. Just the name Swan Lake Iris Gardens sets up expectations and the experience will meet them. Imagine picnicking to the sight of swans gliding on the black waters of the lake. For the ultimate eye candy, go when the Japanese irises are in bloom—mid-May through June. Recommended for: Couples, families, garden aficionados, wildlife watchers Picnic provisions: Hit up the deli at Baker’s Sweets Bistro and Bakery.
Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens, Little River Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens, also called Vereen Botanical Gardens, is a hidden gem with gorgeous marsh views to complement your picnic. There are two picnic shelters, two gazebos and three miles of nature trails. Spend some time hiking and traversing the boardwalks that lead to small islands. Capture water pics from the observation deck that stretches into the Intracoastal Waterway. Recommended for: Families, couples, environmentalists Picnic provisions: Create your dream picnic sammie at Little River Deli.
Glencairn Garden, Rock Hill If scenery is a picnic priority, then Glencairn Garden in Rock Hill is for you. Think 11 acres of ponds, footbridges and tiered fountains amidst blooming foliage. Find some shade and unfurl your blanket in the grass. Recommended for: Couples, families, garden aficionados Picnic provisions: Let Southern Salads and Sandwich Co. prepare the sustenance for your outdoor adventure.
Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, Chesterfield County The Lake Bee Recreation Area in Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge is rich with opportunities for enjoying the great outdoors: hiking, fishing, wildlife watching and picnicking. There are three picnic shelters and plenty of tables for laying out your lunch. The refuge is a favorite with the birdwatching crowd, so bring your binoculars and guidebooks. It is also home to many notable plants (some of them carnivorous) and rare wildlife like the Pine Barrens tree frog. Recommended for: Families, hikers, anglers, birdwatchers, plant and wildlife aficionados, environmentalists Picnic provisions: Make a pitstop at Big’s Meats and More on the grounds of McLeod Farms in McBee. Made-to-order sandwiches and homemade sides like potato salad are picnic pleasers.
Charles Town Landing, Charleston When the English settled in 1670 near the banks of the Ashley River, they not only established the first Carolina colony, they founded a popular picnic spot, too. Charles Town Landing offers two picnic areas with a total of 35 tables and six grills available on a first-come, first-served basis; no fee required. After lunch, delve into the history of colonial Charleston with a self-guided tour. Recommended for: Couples, families, history buffs Picnic provisions: Get a delicious carryout lunch at East Bay Deli in West Ashley.
Glassy Mountain Heritage Preserve, Pickens Hit the trailhead and wend your way up this monadnock—an isolated mountain form rare in the Piedmont region in Pickens. As you near the top of Glassy Mountain Heritage Preserve, you will discover one of the loveliest picnic spots in the state. Drink in the breathtaking mountain views while you chow down. Recommended for: Hikers, couples, older children Picnic provisions: Pick up sandwiches, salads and more from nearby Coyote Coffee Cafe.
Hopeland Gardens, Aiken Peaceful and serene, Hopelands Gardens in Aiken has a bit of a European feel. Elegant statuary, flower-bordered paths, lcy dogwoods, graceful live oaks and lush greenery make this one of the most relaxing picnic points in the state. Spread a blanket by the water and lunch away. Recommended for: Couples, garden aficionados Picnic provisions: Pat’s Subs will make you a hearty “handheld” to enjoy as you linger in the gardens.
Molly's Rock, Sumter National Forest This is a place designed for the ultimate in alfresco dining. Situated near a gigantic granite boulder called Molly’s Rock, the picnic shelter in Sumter National Forest was erected on the site of a former homestead in the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are several picnic tables for your use as well as a pond and nature trails. Recommended for: Everyone Picnic provisions: Load your picnic basket with goodies from Figaro’s Market in Newberry.
Paris Mountain State Park, Greenville Reserve a picnic pavilion near a babbling brook or find a green space on which to spread your blanket at Paris Mountain State Park. Six picnic shelters dot the park, some of which include fire pits, grills and fireplaces. Choose a shelter near Lake Placid for great water views. Round out your visit with hiking, biking, boating or fishing. Recommended for: Outdoor adventurists, sportsmen, families, couples Picnic provisions: Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery in Greenville has more than everything you need to build the perfect picnic, including sammies made on their house-made stecca bread .
Riverside Park, Cheraw Way down upon the Great Pee Dee River, you’ll find Riverside Park in Cheraw. Legends cite this river as the inspiration for Stephen Foster’s famous song, but it also inspired a local movement to establish a pretty park, complete with a boat ramp, nature trails, playground and a popular picnic area. Eat your fill, then peruse the grounds rich with deer, rabbits, foxes, turtles, screech owls, red-tailed hawks and other wildlife. Panoramic river views are a bonus. Recommended for: Boaters, wildlife watchers, couples, families Picnic provisions: The River’s Edge chicken salad, pimento cheese and BLT are among the many picnic-worthy sandwiches you might take along on your picnic.