There's more to occupy a tourist's time in South Carolina than a humdrum view from the interstate would suggest. A tour of the best that South Carolina has to offer includes:
The Grand Strand. This 55-mile stretch of beach, including Myrtle Beach, provides discos, heart-stopping rides, boutiques, 35 golf courses, more than 150 tennis courts, fishing from piers or charter boats and a huge crafts supermarket called the Waccamaw Pottery Complex (Highway 501 west of Myrtle Beach). Brookgreen Gardens, 18 miles south of Myrtle Beach on U.S. 17, offers respite from the sand and surf. A former site of rice and indigo plantations, Brookgreen now displays an outdoor sculpture garden stocked with 19th and 20th-century American works. Further down the coast is Georgetown, settled in 1735, where visitors to the Rice Museum can see how rice was grown and harvested.
Accommodations are of greater variety and price range than in the resorts near Charleston (Isle of Palms, Seabrook and Kiawah) or those on and around Hilton Head Island. In addition to more than 38,000 commercial rooms and cottages and 12,000 privately owned campsites, Myrtle Beach State Park rents cabins and campsites. Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Box 2115, Myrtle Beach, S.C. 29577; (803) 626-7444.
Charleston. A post-Civil War depression kept new houses from being built in this city, so many historic buildings escaped being torn down. The 789-acre historic district includes approximately 75 buildings constructed before the American Revolution, 136 built in the late 18th century and more than 600 others built before 1840, many of them in Greek Revival and Adam-style decor. Tours of homes will be held Feb. 26 and will run almost continuously from March 18 to April 12; the cost is around $15. Visitors also may take carriage tours of the city (for $3 to $5) or tours of the harbor ($2.50 to $5).
The harbor tour includes a visit to Fort Sumter, where in 1861 the first shot of the Civil War was fired. Charleston also offers the Spoleto Festival May 21 to June 6, an arts gala patterned after one in Spoleto, Italy, and featuring drama, opera, ballet and music.
Three miles north of Charleston is Charles Towne Landing, including a replica of a 1670 settlement on that site, a garden planted with crops the settlers grew (rice, indigo, cotton) and a zoo that houses animals the settlers would have seen -- wolves, bison, cougar, bears.
Major gardens near Charleston include Middleton Place, this country's oldest landscaped garden (a Greek festival is scheduled there May 9); Cypress, where visitors can take boat tours of this erstwhile reservoir for rice fields, and Magnolia, which British author John Galsworthy once called "a miraculously enchanted wilderness." Charleston County Park, Recreation and Tourist Commission, Box 834, Charleston, S.C. 29402; outside South Carolina, the toll-free number is (800) 845-7108. Inside South Carolina: (803) 723-7641.
Beaufort County. Often called a scaled-down version of Charleston, Beaufort features historic homes and churches, many of which can be seen on tours April 1 to 3. North of Beaufort, St. Helena's Episcopal Church sponsors, on the second Sunday after Easter, a service and picnic on the grounds of the Sheldon Church ruins. (The church was burned in 1865 by Sherman's troops.)
Nearby resorts on Fripp Island and Hilton Head Island -- the latter including Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes, and Shipyard and Port Royal plantations -- attract 600,000 visitors a year. The Heritage Golf Classic is held on Hilton Head March 24 to 28. Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, Box 910, Beaufort, S.C. 29902; (803) 524-3163.
Aiken. Northwest of Beaufort and near Augusta, Ga., Aiken is synomymous in many people's minds with horses. Polo matches are scheduled for Feb. 7 to May 2, and Triple Crown races are tentatively scheduled for March 6, 13 and 20. In addition, a house and garden tour will be held March 28 and 29. Horse-loving visitors can view a collection of racing memorabilia at the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame at Hopeland Gardens. Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, Box 892, Aiken, S.C. 29801; (803) 648-0485.
Santee Cooper Country. Fishing is the primary activity in this south central section, where lakes Marion (110,600 acres) and Moultrie (60,400 acres) teem with striped bass, bluegill, catfish and crappie. Bobwhite quail may be hunted in both the Moultrie and Santee Cooper game management areas, as well as in the 245,000-acre Francis Marion National Forest. The forest also provides camping, hiking, and a chance to explore old forts and American Indian mounds. For golfers, 13 courses are scattered through the region. Santee Cooper Country, Box 12, Santee, S.C. 29142; (803) 854-2131.
Northeastern South Carolina. Near Lake City, amid the soybean and tobacco fields, Truluck Vineyards schedules winery tours and tastings of its "Carolina Rose" and other varieties. The Rebel 500 stock car race at Darlington is held April 10. While in Darlington, you might visit the Stock Car Hall of Fame housing the speed machines of such racing greats as Richard Petty and David Pearson. Darlington Chamber of Commerce, Box 274, Darlington, S.C. 29532; (803) 393-2641. Greater Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, Box 605, Camden, S.C. 29020; (803) 432-4181.
Columbia area. Although its reputation is more as governmental center than historic district, the state capital contains many historic houses and such noted churches as First Baptist, built in 1859 and site of the opening of First Secession Convention in 1860, and Trinity Cathedral, built about 1845 and modeled after England's Yorkminster Cathedral. Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Box 1360, Columbia, S.C. 29202; (803) 779-5350.
Upcountry. So named to distinguish the region from the coastal "Lowcountry," this area west of Columbia, extending to the Georgia border, provides rolling farmland and red-clay soil that brightens the countryside. The town of Ninety Six sponsors Historical Heritage Days with battle reenactments and street dances, June 11 to 13. Abbeville's Opera House schedules dramatic performances; its historic homes include the Burt-Stark house, where Confederate armies were disbanded in the presence of Jefferson Davis on May 4, 1865. Clark Hill Reservoir, its sinewy branches trailing along the state border and then deep into Georgia, offers 600 miles of shore. Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Box 980, Greenwood, S.C. 29646; (803) 223-8431. Abbeville County Development Board, Box 533, Abbeville, S.C. 29620; (803) 459-2181. Clark Hill Authority, Box 716, McCormick, S.C. 29835; (803) 443-2168.
North Central.This textile manufacturing region near Charlotte, N.C., includes Carowinds, a theme park with rides and other amusements, and the quiet town of York, which lets loose each year at a Grape Festival (tentatively scheduled for Aug. 7 to 9), at which visitors tour nearby vineyards and take turns stomping the juicy purple produce. York Chamber of Commerce, Box 97, York, S.C. 29745; (803) 684-2590.
Mountains. One of the most pleasurable ways to take in this Appalachian region is to follow S.C. 11, the "Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway," which begins at I85 near the North Carolina line at Gaffney and wends west and south for more than 100 miles to rejoin I85 at the Georgia line near Fair Play. Along the way you can visit, among other historic and nature sites, Kings Mountain National Military Park and Cowpens National Battlefield, where American troops defeated the British in two major confrontations; Walnut Grove Plantation's restored manor house, built around 1765, and school, smokehouse, barn and doctor's office; and several state parks, including Keowee-Toxaway, with its exhibits of Cherokee Indian life. Discover Upcountry Carolina Association, Box 3132, Greenville, S.C. 29602; (803) 233-2690.
More detailed information on the places and events listed above, as well as other attractions, can be obtained from the South Carolina Division of Tourism, Box 71, Columbia, S.C. 29202; (803) 758-2536. The division also will send you a free copy of their 64-page guide to the state, titled "South Carolina."
Sendor, a native of South Carolina, is a Washington writer.