Snuggle up in a horse-drawn carriage for a leisurely tour of Charleston's downtown attractions. Contributed by Discover South Carolina
Photo: HANDOUT
Photo: HANDOUT

Go South Carolina: A romantic weekend is just a short drive away

Mix moonlight, magnolias, white beaches and soaring mountains with classic cuisine, historic sites and places to find new adventures, and you’re just skimming the surface of what South Carolina has to offer those looking for romance.

The state boasts a range of travel options, from quick weekend getaways in quaint little towns to leisurely summer stretches at one of its many resorts.

If there’s one thing that makes a trip to South Carolina ideal for Atlantans, it’s the proximity: The waterfront destinations are about five hours; inland attractions are as close as two.

And let’s not forget the food: The heart of Lowcountry cooking is here, along with an array of dining destinations that capitalize on the fresh seafood and local flavors. Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights not to be missed:

Charleston

One of the South’s leading romantic destinations is the port city of Charleston. With a rich history dating back to Colonial times, the community boasts charming inns, boutique hotels and activities to inspire warm, fuzzy feelings. Cuddle up on a horse-drawn carriage ride or snuggle during a harbor cruise on an 18th century tall ship. Stroll hand-in-hand under the towering palmettos in Battery Park, the waterfront area famous for its historic mansions and sweeping vistas. Meander through the market stalls and the art galleries of the French Quarter, where cobblestone streets and remnants of the original city walls can be found. Soak up the local history with a visit to several of the city’s many museums: The Charleston Museum tells the story of the town and the surrounding Lowcountry; the Friends of the Hunley recounts the ill-fated voyage of the Civil War submarine; the Old Slave Mart reminds visitors of the city’s pivotal role in the slave trade. End a romantic sojourn with a seductive meal at one of the many exquisite restaurants, such as the intimate 16-seat Chez Nous, the classic Charleston Grill and the James Beard Award-winning Husk.

Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 423 King St., Charleston, S.C. 1-800-774-0006, charlestoncvb.com, @ExploreCHS.

Beaufort

The town where Sherman stopped on his way home from that famous sojourn to the sea lies in the heart of the Lowcountry’s plantation culture. The white-columned Oaks mansion, built in 1855, is a reminder of that once prosperous era, but like many of the surviving mansions, it now plays host to tours, guests and events. The flat terrain is ideal for biking to the local landmarks, such as the Waterfront Park, a favorite spot for watching sunsets and the site of May’s Taste of Beaufort and October’s Shrimp Festival. On nearby St. Helena Island is the 50-acre Penn Center, a school for freed slaves that became one of the first African-American landmark districts in the country. The center’s museum and annual Heritage Days in November celebrate its rich history. The island also is home to many Gullah residents, descendants of west Africans who have maintained their culture, language and cuisine. Parris Island on the southern edge of the city is famous for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and the Marine museum is free to visitors. A wealth of culinary history takes the spotlight at chef-driven kitchens and casual gastropubs specializing in the local flavors of shrimp and grits, she-crab soup and classic fish boils.

Beaufort Visitors Bureau, 701 Craven St., Beaufort, S.C. 843-525-8500, beaufortsc.org, @Visit_Beaufort.

Aiken

If your significant other longs to be part of the horsey set, this town just 35 minutes east of Augusta is the place for an equestrian rendezvous. The town traces its roots to the 1820s, when its status as a railroad hub also inspired its name (taken from a railroad exec). After the Civil War, it developed a reputation as a “winter colony” for wealthy Northerners who established an equestrian culture that exists to this day. The Aiken Polo Club, one of the oldest in the nation, holds matches every Sunday in the spring and fall. Aiken Driving Club members showcase their horse-drawn carriages and carts once a month. A fall steeplechase and the Katydid Carriage Driving competition also put horses in the spotlight, as does the Blessing of the Hounds, the official start of the local hunt season.

Visitors Center, 406 Park Ave., Aiken, S.C. 803-293-7846, visitaikensc.com, @CityofAikenSC.

Greenville

Looking for a downtown that doesn’t feel like an urban metropolis? Just two and a half hours from Atlanta, Greenville hits the right note between small-town quaintness and big-city allure. Start with a stroll, bike ride or picnic at Falls Park, where nature trails, waterfalls, a suspended pedestrian bridge and rock formations line the Reedy River. The park connects to the 17-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail and is close to a 14-acre zoo. Theaters and performance venues, including the home of the Carolina Ballet and a children’s museum, are also nearby. Still pining for the Thrashers? Get a hockey fix at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, where the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, affiliated with the New York Rangers, make their home. Refuel at eateries that range from bakeries and coffeehouses to gastropubs and fine dining. On Memorial Day, the town hosts Gallabrae, a Scottish Games festival. The holidays draw crowds to the Roper Mountain Science Center for its annual display of lights.

Visitors Center, 206 S. Main St., Greenville, S.C. 1-800-717-0023, visitgreenvillesc.com, @Greenville_SC.

Find a lighthouse

Along South Carolina’s jagged coastline, it’s still possible to find reminders of the old maritime days when ships were guided away from the shore by the beams of lighthouses. The quaint structures provide romantic backdrops for a picnic or photo. Hilton Head Island’s red-and-white striped Harbour Town lighthouse (149 Lighthouse Road, Hilton Head Island, S.C. 866-305-9814, harbourtownlighthouse.com, @HarbourtownLH) also provides an aerobic workout for visitors who climb 90 feet to the top, where a gift shop and museum await. (It’s available for weddings and special events.) Visitors in the Beaufort area can follow the Sea Island Parkway to Hunting Island State Park, where the palm-lined beach wraps around a 132-foot lighthouse (2555 Sea Island Parkway, St. Helena Island, S.C. 843-838-2011, huntingisland.com). The 1850s structure is made of iron plates that can be moved if necessary. Follow the spiral staircase to the top for sweeping views of the Atlantic and the island’s nature park. The lighthouse on Sullivan’s Island near Charleston (1214 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island, S.C. 843-883-3123, sullivansisland.com) is one of the youngest, dating to the early 1960s, and boasts an unusual triangular shape and a rare feature: an elevator. Though the structure itself is closed to the public, the surrounding grounds are open for up-close viewing.

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