Uncover the beauty of the Palmetto State's captivating gardens, from the serene South Carolina Botanical Garden in the Upstate to the picturesque Swan Lake Iris Gardens in the Midlands, and the stunning Brookgreen Gardens on the coast. Discover your perfect sanctuary for a leisurely stroll or an unforgettable backdrop for special events. Plan your garden adventure with some help from this itinerary.
A Botanical Garden in the Heart of Tiger Town
Home of Clemson University, city life in this picturesque town revolves around college football. But orange tiger paws aside, Clemson offers visitors a wide selection of dining, shopping and recreational activities. There is also an array of accommodations to suit your needs, including The Abernathy, a boutique hotel walking distance from Memorial Stadium, and The Inn at Patrick Square, a Southern Living Hotel with its own ice cream shop. There are also plenty of budget-friendly options that don’t skimp on comfort or convenience, like the Holiday Inn Express Hotel, which is just around the corner from the Clemson campus, where the South Carolina Botanical Garden (SCBG) is located.
If possible, arrive the day before so that you have an entire day to enjoy and explore the South Carolina Botanical Garden (SCBG). Established in the 1950s, the garden has evolved from a modest camellia preserve to a sprawling 295-acre living museum, offering a diverse and captivating experience for visitors. The grounds are open and free of charge 365 days a year, from sunrise to sunset.
Before you head out for a day of exploration, be sure to fill up on breakfast. Try the pecan praline stuffed French toast at Sunny Side Cafe or one of the signature shrimp and grits at Eggs Up Grill. If you don’t want to have to leave the garden for lunch, bring a picnic lunch with you to enjoy at one of the designated picnic areas.
As the state's designated botanical garden, SCBG serves as an interdisciplinary resource, promoting teaching, research, and outreach to enhance awareness and foster biodiversity. A sanctuary for hundreds of different plants, the garden features cultivated landscapes and natural woodlands with streams, nature trails, and an impressive array of specialty gardens.
Visitors are treated to a one-of-a-kind adventure as they explore the Natural Heritage Garden Trail, which showcases distinct habitats like the Cove Forest and the Maritime Forest in close proximity to each other. Additionally, the property boasts a captivating Desert Garden, where the trails continuously evolve with new flowers and plants blooming daily.
Immersed in history, the garden is home to two fascinating properties: the Hunt Cabin, a structure dating back to 1826, and the Hanover House, a remarkable wood-frame building that has stood for over 300 years, making it the second oldest of its kind in South Carolina.
Education is at the core of SCBG's mission, offering myriad opportunities through public classes and special events, making it an ideal destination for botany enthusiasts. The Fran Hanson Visitor's Center, the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, the Nature Learning Center and an acclaimed nature-based sculpture collection enrich the educational experience.
Once you've explored the garden, head to downtown Clemson for a bite to eat. At BGR The Burger Joint, you'll find the best burger in the state, according to Southern Living magazine. If you're looking for something a little different, head to the Palmetto Smokehouse and Oyster Bar for fresh oysters and other seafood.
A Hidden Gem in the Carolina Backcountry
Established in what was known as “Carolina Backcountry,” Sumter’s abundance of natural beauty, numerous attractions and thriving arts scene have made it one of South Carolina’s most popular destinations.
Sumter offers several accommodations in close proximity to the city’s beautiful downtown. Just steps away from century-old churches and the Sumter Opera House, an architectural landmark and iconic venue, Hyatt Place offers guests all the comforts of home with the bonus of a 24-hour fitness center and seasonal outdoor pool. Or stay at the beautifully restored 1912 Bed and Breakfast and enjoy a blend of old-world charm and modern comfort. Unwind on the front porch, sipping your favorite beverage while admiring the view of a stunning 300-year-old oak tree.
Head over to Baker’s Sweets Bistro & Bakery for breakfast (or lunch) for some of their signature flatbreads (try the Florentine), deli sandwiches and a slice of cake on the go. If you’re looking for something a little different, try Simply Southern Bistro for some Southern classics with a Cajun twist (cheddar jalapeno hushpuppies, anyone?) plus a selection of burgers, soups and salads.
When you’re ready, head to Swan Lake Iris Gardens, an enchanting 150-acre oasis is the only park in the nation to showcase all eight species of swan, creating an unparalleled experience for animal and nature lovers.
Originally a private fishing retreat in 1927, Swan Lake Iris Gardens has evolved into a must-visit destination where visitors can stroll through a botanical wonderland adorned with Japanese irises, camellias, azaleas, daylilies and magnolias.
One of the park's highlights is the Braille Trail, specially designed for sight-impaired visitors to savor the scents and textures of the garden. The northern side, known as the "natural side," has diverse wildlife thriving in their untouched habitats. You can also explore the Chocolate and Butterfly gardens, adding delightful surprises to your visit.
The park hosts informative events all year round, including the renowned Iris Festival, a longstanding tradition in South Carolina, held annually on Memorial Day weekend.
Admission to the gardens is free and can be enjoyed any day of the week from 7:30 a.m. until dusk, with the exception of the Iris Festival weekend.
For dinner, you won’t want to miss an opportunity to dine at Hamptons. Located in one of the most historic buildings in downtown Sumter, Hamptons’ Executive Chef Raffaele Dall’Erta creates locally inspired, seasonally focused dishes with an Italian flair.
Travel Tip: If you’re spending more time in Sumter, be sure to visit the Sumter County Museums, a complex of several small museums that transport you to different eras of South Carolina’s history.
If you’re spending more time in Sumter, be sure to visit the Sumter County Museums, a complex of several small museums that transport you to different eras of South Carolina’s history.
Where Nature, Art and History Unite
Known as the Seafood Capital of South Carolina and home to a host of waterfront restaurants, Murrell’s Inlet is just 13 miles south of Myrtle Beach. Though this idyllic coastal town is one of several in the Grand Strand, it has the added bonus of being home to Huntington Beach State Park, Brookgreen Gardens and the Marshwalk, a half-mile boardwalk along a natural saltwater estuary.
When it comes to accommodations, it all depends on where you want to stay. Myrtle Beach offers everything from budget-friendly hotels and RV campgrounds to luxury resorts and vintage beach cottages. If you want to spend a day or two on the beach, check out Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel and wake up to spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. The Inlet Sports Lodge is a destination in and of itself in Murrells Inlet. Or, for a budget-friendly option, try the Hampton Inn on Courtfield Drive, which is a short drive from Brookgreen Gardens.
For breakfast, try Applewood House of Pancakes in Litchfield Beach. Choose from a large selection of omelets, creative pancakes and specialties like their crab cakes benedict and eggs Florentine.
One of 76 National Historic Landmarks in the state, Brookgreen Gardens is a 9,100-preserve founded by award-winning sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her philanthropist husband, Archer Milton Huntington. This coastal gem features a magnificent sculpture garden, a wildlife sanctuary, back-road tours and exciting seasonal events.
The garden's impressive collection of over 2,000 sculptures, created by more than 450 artists including Anna Huntington, makes it the largest and most comprehensive American figurative sculpture collection in the country.
As you explore the grounds, be sure to stroll along the Live Oak Allée, with its 250-year-old live oak trees, delight in the butterfly garden's horticultural wonders and experience the serenity of the Brenda W. Rosen Carolina Terrace Garden with its stunning array of perennials, roses, shrubs and mature trees.
Brookgreen Gardens is more than just a sculpture garden; it also serves as a cultural center for the community. Indoor galleries feature exhibits of smaller sculptures, paintings, etchings and other artworks by renowned artists, often on loan from prestigious museums and private collections worldwide.
The property's expansive Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve offers a glimpse into the region's native plants, animals, and historical significance.
When you’re ready for lunch, there are three dining options on the grounds to choose from: The Courtyard Café, The Old Kitchen and Harvest Restaurant (reservations are encouraged). When you’re done exploring for the day, head to the Marshwalk for dinner for everything from burgers and wood-fired pizza to fresh seafood and even a full raw bar.
If you’re interested in extending your stay, be sure to head to nearby Huntington Beach State Park. Considered to be the best birding spots in South Carolina, Huntington Beach State Park is home to Atalaya Castle, the striking, Moorish-style winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. A National Historic Landmark, Atalaya remains a unique and vital piece of South Carolina History.
Held annually in September, the three-day Atalaya Arts & Crafts Festival spotlights the park’s natural beauty and treats visitors to live music, local culinary delights and features over 100 artisans in all manner of media: basketry, clay, leather, photography, watercolor, woodwork and beyond.