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Florence Hidden Gems Are Worth Discovering

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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At a glance, it’s easy to see that Florence is a special kind of town. But not every point of interest is readily visible to visitors’ eyes. From the poignant to the quirky to the historical, there are some sweet surprises to discover when you explore this Pee Dee city.

florence trail south carolina
Hit the Florence Rail Trail for a shady hike or bike ride under a canopy of trees.

Florence Rail Trail
Tucked away along a stretch where trains once shouldered through the woods, the Florence Rail Trail beckons hikers, runners and cyclists to hit the road. The five-mile flat trail begins near Ebenezer Park and features a network of asphalt, natural and boardwalk pathways. Walk a section or explore the full trail as it meanders through a canopy of woods and crosses Jeffries Creek.

Jeffries Creek Park
Jeffries Creek also sets the mood for its namesake park, a 55-acre slice of peaceful trails along the creek. Stroll the shady pathways and soak in the beauty of the protected wetlands located in a residential section of Florence. At the Jeffries Creek Park entrance, you can let the kids loose on the playground and have lunch in the picnic area.

sculpture florence south carolina
This poignant sculpture by Alex Palkovich deepens the reflective atmosphere of the Wall of Tears at Florence Veterans Park.

Florence Veterans Park
Hidden behind Florence Center stands Florence Veterans Park, a six-acre tribute to those who served our country through military service. The beautiful landscaping sets off the poignant memorials, including the Wall of Honor, Wall of Tears and monuments to all branches of the military. The most stunning aspect, however, is the artwork of world-renowned sculptor Alex Palkovich, who created the sculptures while living in Florence.

Grave of Female Soldier
Time spent at Florence’s National Cemetery is always interesting and moving, but you’ll be touched to see the grave of the first female soldier to be buried in a national cemetery. Florena Budwin fought for the Union during the Civil War, disguising herself as a man and signing up in hopes of finding her husband. Even when she was captured in Charleston, no one was the wiser to her ruse and she was sent to the Florence Stockade. Eventually, she fell ill and a physician made the stunning discovery. The women of Florence stepped up to the plate to supply her with food and clothing. Budwin, who learned her husband had been killed, recovered and tended the sick and wounded, but succumbed to an illness in 1865. Not only was she buried at Florence National Cemetery, but she received full military honors. You’ll find her marker in Section D of the old cemetery.

moonshine florence south carolina
Take a drive out to Straw Hat Distillery for a Florence souvenir you can sip. (Photo courtesy of Straw Hat Distillery.)

Straw Hat Distillery
Straw Hat Distillery  might be off the beaten path, but its reputation as a distiller of corn whiskey and flavored moonshine is increasing traffic to its door. Located 3 miles from where U.S. Highway 52 and I-95 cross, this small operation has a large following and primarily uses locally sourced grain. Call for hours of operation, then head on over and snag a Florence souvenir to enjoy with friends and family.

D'z Pit BBQ
When tooling down Old Marion Highway in the Mars Bluff community, you’ll reach a point where the smell of smoked meat permeates the air. Go ahead and slow down, keeping your eyes open for a smoker and permanently placed food truck on the side of the road. Congratulations! You’ve arrived at D’z Pit BBQ, a hidden food gem serving up some of the smokiest, juiciest, tastiest pulled pork and ribs in the Pee Dee. Place your order, then enjoy it right there at one of the picnic tables or inside the dining area/pool hall next door. This is a favorite stop for locals who take this rural road to Myrtle Beach and back.

Atomic Crater Marker
File this under "strange but true." Driving down U.S. Route 301 near Francis Marion University, you’ll see a roadside marker describing one of the most bizarre events in Florence history: the accidental dropping of an unarmed, 7,600-pound atomic bomb. The “bombing” happened on March 11, 1958, when the crew of a U.S. Air Force B-47 unintentionally released its cargo. It made quite a mark, creating a massive crater and waking this sleepy rural community. Some folks sustained injuries and several structures were destroyed. The crater is still a point of intense interest, drawing determined history buffs to the obscure, hard-to-find site, which sits on private land but is marked by an information kiosk and a cut-out of a bomb said to be “actual size.” Artifacts are also on display at the Florence County Museum, which is much easier to find.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.