Of all the regions of South Carolina, the Pee Dee might just be the most misunderstood. Perhaps it’s the many cotton fields, rivers and swamps that define its geography. Perhaps it’s the region’s reputation as just a place you drive through to get to Myrtle Beach. Or perhaps it’s the unusual name—a nod to the Pee Dee tribe that once inhabited the area.
If you align with any or all of these, it’s high time you paid a visit to this mix of scenic rural stretches, rambling dark rivers, mossy swamps, charming small towns and, at its heart, the bustling mid-size city of Florence. And there’s no better time to do so than fall. That’s when the temperatures grow milder and the good folks of the Pee Dee break out the festivities and whoop it up, autumn-style.
Here are five fun celebrations where you can soak up some local flavor and immerse yourself in the season.
South Carolina Pecan, Music and Food Festival, Downtown Florence
The first Saturday in November, downtown Florence goes completely nuts for this one-day festival. Once a major producer of pecans, the city is home to the SC Pecan Trail and the festival is another way residents pay homage to that important part of their agricultural history. Aside from the inspiration, this is a thoroughly modern event that draws more than 50,000 attendees from across the state and beyond. Vendors are in abundance to make sure everyone gets their fill of pecan treats and just about anything else you are hungry or thirsty for. A Kids Fun Zone, art and culinary contests, amusements and a 5K, 10K or USATF-certified half marathon that winds through the town are just a sampling of all that goes down that day. The musical component gets top billing, with eight stages of live entertainment representing multiple genres. A well-known headline act traditionally closes out the festival, ensuring everybody goes home on a high note.
U-Pick Pumpkin Patch & Corn Maze, McLeod Farms, McBee
Everybody’s favorite Pee Dee farm gets decked out for fall each October with a massive corn maze and U-pick pumpkin patch that seems to go on for miles. Hit the back roads and head toward the town of McBee (emphasis on the first syllable, please) and see the amazing things that happen when a prolific peach farm eases into the off-season. It’s truly all things autumn with wagon rides, apple cider, pumpkin rolls, a corn pit and much more. Make a day of it and herald the season in this most fitting of ways.
Taste of Darlington, Darlington Raceway, Darlington
The legendary “Track Too Tough to Tame” is the perfect venue for showing off local flavor with the annual Taste of Darlington. This October event is one no foodie will want to miss. (If you’re a foodie and a NASCAR fan, then you’re in for a double treat.) The infield garage is transformed into a 40+ table smorgasbord of representative dishes like catfish stew, frog legs, fried chicken, barbecue and a host of other savory things. Your eyes will pop at the mega spread of desserts, too. While not as fast-paced as the Southern 500, it finishes a close second when it comes to thrills—of the culinary kind, of course.
Pee Dee Fall Plant and Flower Festival, Pee Dee State Farmers Market, Florence
This sweeping open-air market brims with vegetables and plants year-round but gets quite the autumn makeover at the beginning of October for this three-day fest. It’s quite a sight: a vast kaleidoscope of mums and other fall flowers and plants along with a legion of pumpkins, gourds and other seasonal icons. Green thumbs will enjoy the yard and garden decor and master gardeners will be on hand to answer your most pressing questions about fall planting. Food vendors will be serving up their wares and the on-site restaurant, Market Barn & Grill, will be churning out made-to-order eats. There will also be local crafts and, as always, plenty of certified SC-grown produce to take home for supper.
South Carolina Jazz Festival, Cheraw
Each October, there’s music in the air—literally—as the quaint town of Cheraw pulls out all the stops to honor its favorite native son, the late, great Dizzy Gillespie. The jazz legend is at the heart of this much-anticipated annual event during which an impressive lineup of musicians appears around town to offer up sweet sounds and tributes to John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, American jazz trumpeter, composer and bandleader, who was born in Cheraw in 1917. There is also a sidewalk chalk competition in the tradition of 16th century Italian street painting and the trees of this picturesque town get dressed up, too, for what is always a memorable and inspiring celebration.