If you're traveling on Interstate 26 through South Carolina, you get to see the best the state has to offer. Starting in the mountains and running to the coast, I-26 lets travelers experience history, food and fun. Here are a few stops not to miss.
Spartanburg, or Hub City as it is known because it was once the center of railroad activity, is a wonderful town with plenty of shopping, but one of the most interesting spots is the Hub City Bookstore, about five miles east of Exit 21. The store spotlights works by authors for Hub City Press, which publishes books with a Southern connection. Located in a former Masonic temple with a coffee and baked goods shop next door, Hub City Bookstore is a wonderful place to stop, pick up some great books about South Carolina and recharge with a coffee and a snack. There are several other locally-owned shops around the town square as well. Just west of downtown is a local institution - the Beacon Drive-In, with the best hamburgers and hot dogs a-plenty you will ever eat. If you stop at the Beacon, bring your appetite and be ready to order when it's your turn, you don't want them to pass you by. Pro tip: Order the tea half sweet, half unsweet unless you drink your tea for dessert.
Stewart Farms, a working farm and nursery, is just about six miles from Exit 41. You can spend 20 minutes or a few hours exploring this beautiful spot, with activities March-December revolving around the seasons. Pick strawberries in spring, stock up on the freshest fruits and vegetables in summer, wander through their awesome maze and pumpkin patch in fall and choose from five different colors of poinsettias in winter.
If you are looking for some shopping of another sort during your drive, stop in the small town of Newberry, just about five miles from Exit 72 or Exit 74. Founded in the 18th century by German, Scots-Irish and English immigrants, Newberry also benefited from the railroad, which helped turn it into a thriving cotton market in the mid-1800s. The town's centerpiece is the Newberry Opera House, which has hosted performances since the turn of the 20th century and was among the stops of New York-based touring companies as they made their way through the South. But, for old world charm, you cannot beat the dozens of shops in Newberry's historic downtown. You have to stop at C.T. Summer Hardware, which was featured on the television show "American Pickers." There you'll find one thing you are not likely to see anywhere else - a Nobel Prize medal won by the shop owner's father, Clifford G. Shull, an MIT physicist who won the physics prize in 1994 for the development of the neutron diffraction technique.
Just about four miles off Exit 103 is an extraordinary park along the Saluda River just downstream from the Lake Murray Dam. Saluda Shoals Park is a wonderful place to stop and stretch your legs and maybe even get wet. The park offers kayak, canoe and tube rentals for a nice leisurely float down the river, then will pick you up at the takeout and shuttle you back to your car. Or you can simply enjoy a stroll along the park's miles of wide paved trails that can handle bikers, joggers and walkers alike. For those too small to get in a boat or float, Saluda Splash is a great way to let the kids cool off. Traveling with your best friend? Check out the Barking Lot Dog Park or keep Fido on the leash and he can walk anywhere.
Just five miles from Exit 149 are two of our favorite barbecue joints in South Carolina (and that's saying something). Dukes Barbecue has been dishing up Orangeburg's special tomato-based pulled pork for more than 60 years. Dukes is more than a filling meal, it is an experience. You can try the "one by the (now-closed) Pepsi plant" (on Whitman Street) or the "one by the fire station" (Chestnut Street): same great food, different locations. In fact, there are probably close to a dozen Dukes barbecue restaurants from Aiken to the Lowcountry that can trace their roots back to the original Dukes family, who started the first one. The thing that makes Dukes special is the sweet and tangy hash served best over rice, but you can also sop it up with a slice of white bread, which you will find on every table. The buffets are open 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, so plan your travel accordingly.
About six miles from Exit 199 in Summerville is a unique shop, People, Places, and Quilts. The store started in 1990, selling folk art and vintage quilts. Today, the store has its own special fabric lines. If you have any interest in crafts or arts, this is a wonderful stop for the whole family. There's a place for quilters to sit, a toy table to keep the kids or the young at heart busy. There also are refreshments. If some in your party are not interested in quilts and fabric, stroll around the corner to Azalea Park, which is home to much of Summerville's collection of public sculpture. Throughout the town you'll be invited to take the Sweet Tea Trail, which guides you through the town's offerings. And for goodness sake, get a glass of sweet iced tea while you're there. Summerville is its birthplace.