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.
Some pointers for creating the perfect picnic:
Use a cold pack or two to keep cold foods cold.
Choose reusable picnic-ware to keep things earth-friendly.
Take a garbage bag for refuse. Dispose of it in designated garbage cans or take it back home with you.
Keep it simple when it comes to food. Sandwiches, deli-style salads, cheese and crackers, cookies and fruit are good choices. To keep it even simpler, plan to pick up your provisions from a deli or cafe near your destination.
Don’t forget a large blanket that will accommodate everyone in your party.
If you’re using a picnic table, bring a tablecloth.
Pack the bug spray. No matter the season, bugs are likely to be uninvited guests at any SC picnic.
Here are a dozen contenders for prime picnicking in South Carolina. Some are well known and some are well-kept secrets. But each is guaranteed to provide the perfect setting for the perfect SC picnic. (Note: Call venues or visit websites for updated information on hours of operation, available facilities, any required fees and a full description of amenities.)
Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, Chesterfield County
The Lake Bee Recreation Area 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 Towne 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. As you near the top, 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.
Glencairn Garden, Rock Hill
If scenery is a picnic priority, this park 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.
Hopelands Gardens, Aiken
Peaceful and serene, Hopelands Gardens has a bit of a European feel. Elegant statuary, flower-bordered paths, lacy 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 Picnic Area, 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 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. 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: Rick’s Deli in downtown Greenville has more than everything you need to build the perfect picnic.
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.
Runway Park at GMU, Greenville
Watch planes land and take off when you nosh at this 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 island’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 beauty on the list. The name 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
Also called Vereen Botanical Gardens, this hidden gem has 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.