This The Group Travel Leader article by Paula Aven-Gladych was originally published on April 1st, 2022. (Greenville and the Upstate Shakespeare Festival are featured.)
From beaches to mountains, beautiful mansions and wildlife encounters, South Carolina knows how to thrill group travelers.
South Carolina’s history dates back to before the American Revolution, and several of its cities played major roles in the Civil War. But history isn’t the only thing for which the state is known. It also has lush vegetation, beautiful waterways, white sand beaches and abundant wildlife.
Here are some of the state’s most popular attractions for group travelers.
Spread out over more than 9,000 acres in South Carolina’s low country, Brookgreen Gardens has a little something for everyone, from beautiful natural and cultivated gardens to a low-country zoo and more than 2,000 sculptures displayed in a garden setting. There are also three galleries and a storage and research facility.
Group visitors can take a private guided tour of the facility to learn about the many plants native to the area, the history of Brookgreen Gardens and details about Anna Hyatt Huntington, the sculptor whose works are featured throughout the gardens. Groups of up to 48 people can board a pontoon boat for a creek excursion that takes them past historic rice fields where they learn about the tidal creeks, surrounding land and the role enslaved Africans played in the cultivation of rice in the area. On their trip they might spot alligators, ospreys and many types of waterfowl.
Groups also can arrange special programs and tours based upon their personal interests, such as horticulture, sculpture or history. The Lowcountry Center and Trail offers programs, exhibits and gardens that teach visitors about the distinctive nature and culture within South Carolina’s low country.
Charleston Historic District
Founded in 1670, Charleston is steeped in more than 300 years of history, dating back to before the American Revolution. The city’s extensive historic district remained largely untouched until the modern era, with its beautiful antebellum homes, secret gardens and cobblestone streets still largely intact.
There are 3,800 Charleston buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and groups can tour a number of house museums there that are open to the public, including Calhoun Mansion and the Nathaniel Russell House. The French Quarter is home to Charleston City Market, which was established in 1804 and houses scores of artists and craftspeople selling authentic handicrafts such as paintings and sweetgrass baskets.
The historic district is still a center of commerce, with restaurants, unique shops and civic buildings. Groups that want to learn more about Charleston’s history can take guided horse-drawn carriage or walking tours of the city. The city is also known for its Southern cooking, a blend inspired by the Native Americans, Europeans and enslaved Africans that lived in the state.
Several harbor tours delve into Charleston’s rich Colonial and Civil War past, as well as trips out to visit Fort Sumter, which guards Charleston Harbor and was the site of the first shots fired of the Civil War.
Dolphin and History Boat Cruise
Coastal Expeditions offers Dolphin and History Boat Cruises and Hunting Island Dolphin Cruises out of Beaufort. Groups can learn about the history of Beaufort, from its Native American past and Spanish exploration to French settlement and English colonization. The boat takes groups along the waterfront, departing from the downtown Beaufort marina at Waterfront Park. Private charters are available year-round and can be tailored to each group. The cruise is also a great way to see the bottlenose dolphins, nesting bald eagles and ospreys that call the area home.
The Hunting Island Dolphin Cruise takes groups to explore the salt marsh estuary and to look for native bottlenose dolphins by Hunting Island State Park. An onboard naturalist will share interesting facts about Beaufort’s history and how it relates to the natural history of the water. The cruise company guarantees its guests will see dolphins, but those aren’t the only wildlife guests should be on the lookout for. Birds of prey and brown pelicans ply the water for fish, and roseate spoonbills, wood storks, herons, egrets and other shorebirds are fascinating to watch.
Back on shore, Penn Center, the site of the former Penn School, is a must-see attraction. It is one of the country’s first schools for formerly enslaved people, and it is part of the Reconstruction Era National Monument. Groups also can tour the Kazoobie Kazoo factory to learn how these small musical instruments are made. The attached museum has one of the largest collections of kazoos in the country.
Textile Industry Tour
Once known as the Textile Capital of the World, Greenville owes its very existence to the textile trade. At one time, one out of every three people in the city was employed by a textile mill.
Groups that want to learn more about this robust history can take the Textile Mills and Villages Tour, a driving tour that brings them to eight mills built between 1874 and 1902 and then on to see the second wave of textile mills built from 1910 to 1930. Groups can learn about the workers, the buildings, what the mills produced, why they closed down, what is happening there now and what village life was like during the heyday of textile production. The tour also takes groups to see the E.W. Montgomery Cotton Warehouses and Parker High School.
If history isn’t your group’s passion, Greenville has become a top craft-beer town in the South. The Brewery Experience takes groups to some of the city’s most unusual breweries, including the Swamp Rabbit Brewery, Birds Fly South, Eighth State Brewing and the Quest Brewing Company.
The area is also known for its outdoor recreation opportunities. Falls Park on the Reedy is the crown jewel of downtown Greenville, with a beautiful waterfall and the 345-foot sculptured concrete Liberty Bridge that was built to emphasize the falls and has lovely views of the park. The park is also home to The Warehouse Theatre’s Upstate Shakespeare Festival and the Moonlight Movie series.
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is so much more than just animals and plants. The facility encompasses the remains of a covered bridge that was burned by Confederate troops in 1865 to stop Gen. William T. Sherman’s army from entering the city of Columbia. Visitors to the zoo can see the remains of the bridge just east of the Saluda River footbridge that connects the zoo and garden properties. A wooded trail takes visitors from the footbridge to the ruins of the old Saluda River Factory, one of the oldest textile mills in the state, dating back to the 1800s. The Saluda Factory Interpretive Center was built adjacent to the mill site and houses artifacts and graphics that reveal the site’s connection to the Civil War.
Riverbanks Back Stage offers groups a chance to meet some of their favorite animals housed at the zoo, including penguins, grizzly bears, koalas and giraffes. They learn about the zoo’s efforts to protect endangered species, such as the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, which is native to Papua New Guinea. The zoo houses many of the usual animals you expect to find at a zoo, but also has a birdhouse and the Riverbanks Conservation Outpost, which features unusual small mammals such as the black-footed cat, the golden-lion tamarin and two types of lemur. An aquarium and reptile conservation center is scheduled to open this year and will feature the Galapagos tortoise and the elusive Komodo dragon.