Experience The Best Food, Cities, And Shops In South Carolina On This Scenic Road Trip

To see South Carolina, you can take a road trip down I-26, which cuts diagonally across the state for around 200 miles from Spartanburg to Charleston. This route will also take you through the state capital, Columbia, and the town of Summerville, which bills itself as the birthplace of sweet tea. Spartanburg is roughly 20 miles from the North Carolina–South Carolina state line, while Charleston, the biggest city in the state, provides another natural boundary on the Atlantic coast. The actual driving time between these two places only amounts to about three hours. However, with small-town shops, a corn maze, and one hearty barbecue buffet, there's enough to experience along the way that it could keep you busy for days as you embark on a whirlwind tour of the Palmetto State.

Downtown Spartanburg happens to be where the corporate headquarters of Denny's, the 24-hour diner chain, is located. There's a Denny's franchise over on Reidville Road, but it serves the same old Grand Slam breakfast. For a more authentic slice of Americana, try heading across town to the Beacon Drive-In. This Spartanburg joint, seen on the Food Network and Travel Channel, has been in business since 1946. As its name suggests, it still has curb hops who will bring your food out to your car for you. That makes it ideal for a road trip, as long as you're ready to suffer some possible indigestion from the mountain of onion rings and French fries buried between buns in the Chili Cheeseburger A-Plenty.

Spartanburg to Saluda Shoals Park

If you're a bibliophile, Hub City Press, an indie publisher backed by the National Endowment for the Arts, operates a bookstore in downtown Spartanburg. The Hub City Bookshop occupies the ground floor of a Masonic temple. It has all the Southern literature you need to deepen your appreciation of the Upstate, Midlands, and Lowcountry scenery you'll be seeing on the road. The "Hub City" nickname comes from a time when maps of Spartanburg and the railroads running out of it made it look like the center of a wheel.

Further down the interstate, off exit 41, you'll find the seasonal hotspot of Stewart Farms. It's a must-stop in autumn when you can take wagon rides and get lost in the corn maze, which features a different pattern every year. In 2023, the maze was shaped like country singer Reba McEntire. For 2024, it's celebrating its 75th anniversary with a "Peanuts" theme — an appropriate choice, given the farm's Charlie Brown-esque pumpkin patch.

In Newberry, a Nobel Prize is among the curios at CT Summer Hardware & Antiques. Dedicated in 1882, the nearby Newberry Opera House has hosted everything from Oak Ridge Boys concerts to Garrison Keillor's one-man show beneath its eye-catching French Gothic clock tower. After a night out there, you can hit the road again for a day of outdoor activities in Saluda Shoals Park. Kids can enjoy the splash pad and playground, and the whole family can enjoy tubing down the Lower Saluda River.

Columbia to Charleston

In Columbia, college sports fans can see the Gamecocks play at the University of South Carolina. With a 180-foot copper dome rising behind its Corinthian columns, the South Carolina State house welcomes visitors with free tours. Museums are another big draw in Columbia, including the South Carolina State Museum, the South Carolina Military Museum, and the Columbia Museum of Art. For a side trip away from the city, Congaree is a lesser-known national park that's the perfect place to see fall foliage.

The many barbecue joints named Dukes in South Carolina are different restaurants started by members of the same family tree, which has its culinary roots in Orangeburg. A pig with Elvis sideburns graces the Dukes Bar-B-Que sign on Whitman Street, as if to say there's no shame in pigging out on the buffet. Once you get to Summerville, you can wash it down with sweet tea. While some dispute its "birthplace of sweet tea" reputation, the town has trademarked that phrase, and it's embraced tourism with sights like the Guinness-official world's largest iced tea.

From Summerville, you can drive or dance the Charleston over to South Carolina's original capital (before it moved to Columbia). Tourists call Charleston the most budget-friendly East Coast city, and it's the home of Fort Sumter, the site where the Civil War began. Not ready to go home? Continue on to St. Augustine, Florida, and you can see more of the Southern East Coast on this road trip route.