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Summerville Has Small-Town Charm, Big-City Amenities

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 360-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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downtown summerville
Historic downtown Summerville is the city’s tourism hub

As with other communities in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Summerville would be outgunned if it tried to transcend international vacation destination Charleston, located less than half an hour to the southeast. So it really doesn’t try to do that.

Instead, the city, known as “Flowertown” for its beautiful gardens and woodlands, has built a reputation among savvy travelers as a charming spot with small-town coziness—but also a wide array of attractions, including recreational and culinary amenities.

And it has something even its larger neighbor doesn’t—an achievement unique in Southern culture. Summerville lays claim to being the birthplace of that most Southern of delicacies—sweet tea.

In 1884, following failed attempts to successfully grow tea in Greenville and Georgetown, philanthropist Dr. Charles Shepard established the Pinehurst Tea Plantation on 600 acres in Summerville’s Newington Plantation and, after 20 years of experiments growing and packaging his tea, Shepard’s product became the hit of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Half a century later, the tea giant, Lipton Company, bought the property and salvaged surviving plants for the future.

The impressive tea honors continued into the 20th century. In 1987, tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation on nearby Wadmalaw Island was named the official White House tea. Then in 2016, Summerville earned a page in the Guinness Book of World Records with the World’s Largest Sweet Ice Tea. The container, dubbed “Mason,” stands 15 feet tall and can hold 2,524 gallons of the thirst-quenching mixture of 210 pounds of tea and 1,700 pounds of sugar.

Today, the city prides itself on being home to the Sweet Tea Trail, hosting an annual sweet tea festival and displaying a giant sweet tea mural on its Visitors Center. The trail runs through all of Summerville’s districts—and yes, Mason is still on display outside City Hall.

azalea park summerville
Azalea Park is home to bronze statues, walking trails and more.

But there’s more—much more—to Summerville than liquid refreshment. Its walkable downtown historic district is home to boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops, bars and other attractions. Among them is Azalea Park, featuring 12 acres of bronze sculptures, ponds and walking trails.

The Summerville Dorchester Museum and Timrod Library offer archives cataloging the city’s past. Lovers of the theater will enjoy the Flowertown Players as well as a full slate of musical and cultural events.

For history buffs, dozens of homes, many built after the Earthquake of 1886, are one-of-a-kind structures listed on the National Historic Register. Also not to be missed are the Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site and Plantation Row, home to Middleton Place and neighboring Drayton Hall, along with Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

brewery in summerville
Homegrown Brewhouse in Summerville offers a wide variety of beers from SC breweries.

Like its cousin Charleston but on a smaller scale, Summerville has experienced a revolution in both food and craft beverages. Coffee lovers will want to visit Coastal Coffee Roasters, while craft beer fans should hit Oak Road Brewery. For a wider variety of beers, Homegrown Brewhouse pours IPAs, pilsners, lagers and more from across South Carolina. There's also the upstairs bar in The Icehouse Restaurant, serving up flavored vodkas and cocktails in addition to great food.

Outdoors fans will want to ride over to the nearby Edisto River, one of the longest free-flowing blackwater rivers in North America. A handy access point is Givhans Ferry State Park, featuring a public beach, camping and hiking options; or for more structured water activities, visit Edisto River Adventures, offering stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and tubing.

Perhaps the best way to experience Summerville is the annual Flowertown Festival, a three-day celebration held each spring in the downtown area. It’s a great way to sample all of Summerville’s attractions in a fun-filled 72 hours.

Whether it’s a low-key adventure or a break from the Holy City crowds, Summerville has enough going on to satisfy any traveler.

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 360-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.