The beautiful town of Beaufort, South Carolina.

8 Of The Most Overlooked Towns In South Carolina

South Carolina is a treasure trove of Southern charm. While the obvious gems are cities like Charleston, Greenville, and Columbia, there are many small town jewels undiscovered by tourists and South Carolina city slickers. These communities stay hidden despite containing seminal Civil War sites, beautiful beaches, grandiose gardens, popular art festivals, historic museums, delicious restaurants, and filming locations for a beloved Tom Hanks movie. Look out for the following overlooked haunts on your next trip through South Carolina.


The City Square in Abbeville, South Carolina.
The City Square in Abbeville, South Carolina. Image credit: J. Stephen Conn via

Many small communities in South Carolina are classified as cities. Abbeville, which has 4,874 residents as of the 2020 census, is one of them. Sharing the name of a French commune, Abbeville was settled by French Huguenots in the mid-18th century and incorporated as a municipality around 80 years later. Although Abbeville is not among the top Civil War historic sites, it is considered the birthplace and deathbed of the Confederacy. On November 22, 1860, a group of South Carolinians met in Abbeville to discuss the potential for secession. Less than a month later, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. On May 2, 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis consulted his cabinet in Abbeville and learned that the war was lost and the Confederacy was drawing its last breaths.

The site of the secession meeting is called Secession Hill and is marked by a monument, while the site of the resignation meeting is the nearly unchanged Burt-Stark Mansion. Those are far from the only Civil War-era wonders in this hidden cache of American history, which also contains fantastic shops, restaurants, and the 373-foot Prysmian Copper Wire Tower.

Pawleys Island

Coastline of Pawleys Island, South Carolina.
Coastline of Pawleys Island, South Carolina.

As summer vacationers pack Myrtle Beach and Folly Beach, another coastal SC community called Pawleys Island stays relatively untouched despite its beauty and history. This tiny town is located on a scenic sand-swept barrier island and refreshes tourists with ocean breezes and antebellum memories. The Cedar Grove Plantation Chapel looks mostly like it did in 1850 (although it is in a different location) while the Joseph Blyth Allston House was radically changed after Hurricane Hugo, but its mortise and tenon joints remain. Flanking the beach and historic district are several splendid golf courses and Lowcounty Zoo at Brookgreen Gardens.


Pearl Fryer Topiary Garden in Bishopville, South Carolina
Pearl Fryer Topiary Garden in Bishopville, South Carolina. Editorial credit: H.J. Herrera /

Bishopville is not likely to come to mind as a South Carolina vacation destination - unless you know Pearl Fryar. In the 1980s, Fryar bought an acreage outside Bishopville and, without formal training, began sculpting shrubs and trees into unique shapes. Today, hundreds of arboreal oddities make up the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, which brings tons of tourists to this neglected neck of the South Carolina woods. Beyond Pearl's pearl, Bishopville attracts visitors with Lee State Park, the South Carolina Cotton Museum, and Harry & Harry Too, a restaurant right across the street from the garden.

Lake City

Dr. Ronald E. McNair memorial in his hometown, Lake City, South Carolina
Dr. Ronald E. McNair memorial in his hometown, Lake City, South Carolina. Image credit: Efy96001 via Wikimedia Commons.

If you are looking for some more offbeat art, drive southeast of Bishopville to Lake City. Neither on a lake nor the size of a city, this 6,000ish-person community is home to ArtFields, a nonprofit organization revitalizing rural SC through Southern art. Each spring, ArtFields hosts a competition and festival with hundreds of artists and over a hundred thousand dollars in prizes. Lake City is also the birthplace of Ronald McNair, the second African American person in space and one of the victims of the Challenger explosion. The fallen astronaut is honored with a park, tomb, statue, school, boulevard, and the Ronald E. McNair Life History Center.


Beautiful antebellum house in Beaufort South Carolina
Beautiful antebellum house in Beaufort, South Carolina.

As a "mini Charleston with maximum appeal," being overlooked is part of Beaufort's campaign. "Let’s face it, Charleston gets all the hype when it comes to South Carolina cities," its tourism guide reads before getting into the myriad things that make it special. These include Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park; The Kazoobie Kazoo Factory, Museum, and Gift Shop; and Woods Memorial Bridge, one of many Beaufort locations used in Forrest Gump. Last but not least is Morgan Island, AKA Monkey Island, which is just northeast of town and contains an introduced colony of rhesus monkeys.


More details Salem United Methodist Church in Salem, South CarolinaSalem United Methodist Church in Salem, South Carolina. Image credit: Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons.

Aside from Twice A Town Taproom and a few other businesses, there is not much to see in Salem. But it is not about what is in Salem as what is outside it. The micro-municipality is just several miles from Lake Jocasse, one of the most serene but least visited wonders in South Carolina. Deterring visitors because it is a manmade reservoir that lacks public access points, the 7,500-acre body of water is fed by Appalachian rivers and remains clean, remote, and downright ravishing. Despite its relative obscurity, Jocasse and surrounding Devils Fork State Park offer plenty of activities, such as kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping, scuba diving, and hunting the rare Oconee bell flower.


Georgetown, South Carolina
The beautiful coastal town of Georgetown, South Carolina.

If you want the climate of Pawleys Island with a little more activity, check out Georgetown, a mere 15-minute drive from the aforementioned island. Georgetown has roughly 8,400 residents and, as the third-oldest city in the state, boasts historic attractions like Kaminski House Museum, South Carolina Maritime Museum, the Gullah Museum, and the Rice Museum. Modern Georgetown sites include River Room Restaurant and Big Tuna Raw Bar. However, the community may be best known for its mills, notably a paper mill that produces a unique stench. Perhaps Georgetown is overlooked because it is oversmelled.

Travelers Rest

Aerial view of the town of Travelers Rest, South Carolina.
Aerial view of the town of Travelers Rest, South Carolina, amid the greenery.

Consistently voted one of the coolest small towns in America, Travelers Rest is not as overlooked as it once was. But despite its 70 percent growth in population from 2010 to 2020, the community has fewer than 10,000 residents - although it will likely eclipse that mark by 2030. That means you should cherish Travelers Rest before it becomes Travelers Congestion. You can start with breakfast at Tandem Creperie and Coffeehouse, then walk along Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail, then grab lunch at TruBroth Coffee & Vietnamese Cuisine, then tramp around the Blue Ridge Mountains before winding down at Swamp Rabbit Brewery and then crash at Swamp Rabbit Inn.

Abbeville, Pawleys Island, Bishopville, Lake City, Beaufort, Salem, Georgetown, and Travelers Rest are overlooked South Carolina communities that do not have to stay that way. Each of them has attractions worthy of traffic jams and inflated entry fees. Of course, it may be better if they remain somewhat lowkey to avoid the pitfalls of tourist trapdom - but a few more excited and respectful visitors can do wonders for these unheralded SC wonders.

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