When you mention spring break or bike week in South Carolina, thoughts often turn to Myrtle Beach, where the white sand, a sparkling Atlantic Ocean, and parties stretch as far as the eye can see. However, there’s more to this Southern state than its most popular attractions. Find a South Carolina vacation rental somewhere off the beaten path, and experience the fantastic secret spots of the Palmetto State. Hang out at a UFO pit stop, snoop through a coastal castle, or see a moonshine still in operation when you check out these hidden gems in South Carolina.

1. Morris Island Lighthouse

Source: Flickr/Ted Kerwin

Morris Island Lighthouse stands forgotten and abandoned just off a secret beach. Take a boat out, then spend some time walking with Fido on the beach and looking at the lighthouse. It’s a great place to look for seashells, too. To see the lighthouse from Folly Beach, park at the end of Ashley Avenue and walk the paved path to the sandy trail. This easy hike leads to the water and a beautiful view of the lighthouse.

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2. Falls Park on the Reedy, Greenville

Source: Flickr/Neil Williamson

The waterfall at the end of Main Street leads to a park that includes a giant bridge, a music venue, and amazing nature trails in Falls Park on the Reedy. Swamp Rabbit Trail meanders through the park, mostly winding through the bottom of the ravine. Walk or ride a bike along the trail, or skew off on one of the paved paths that lead up the side of the ravine toward the shops and restaurants that line the streets above. The suspension bridge affords sweeping vistas the waterfall and people enjoying the park below.

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3. The Aiken Golf Club, Aiken

Source: aikengolfclub.net

The game of golf came to America first in South Carolina, and the state boasts some of the country’s best coastal golf courses, including Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach. The Aiken Golf Club gives the public a surprisingly beautiful and charming course with friendly staff and great tee times. This easily walkable course hearkens back to the good old days when people practiced proper golf etiquette.

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4. ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve, Otter Islands

You do not see this remarkable treasure, ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve, widely advertised in tourist publications. The area consists of over a million acres of wetlands, of which 250,000 acres belong to the ACE Conservation project. ACE stands for the names of the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers that meander through the region. ACE Basin features a variety of ecosystems, including wetlands, forested uplands, tidal marshes, and barrier islands. The waterways provide an essential habitat for migratory birds and some endangered species. Hiking options include plenty of well-maintained trails and boardwalks over the wetlands.

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5. St. Helena Island, Beaufort

Source: Flickr/Timothy Brown

When you stay on St. Helena Island, you get a chance to step back in time at Fort Fremont, which operated from 1898 until 1911. The old fort features staircases, passageways, and spaces to explore on your own, including a path that leads to the beach. Just 10 minutes away, Penn Center displays collections of artifacts, oral histories, crafts, and musical recordings that preserve the island’s African-American history. As you tour the campus grounds, look for the cottage in which Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”

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6. Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve, Spartanburg

Source: Facebook/Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve

The 10-acre Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve gives you a delightful place to getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life, all without having to leave the city. Paved pathways make it easy for everyone to stroll amidst the lush woodlands, flowers, meandering streams, a waterfall, and delightful bridges. Take some time to venture away from your comfy Spartanburg vacation rental to stop and smell the flowers or look for serenity under the secret bowers.

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7. Hagood Gristmill and Folklife Center, Pickens

The historic 1826 Hagood Gristmill and Folklife Center includes restored log cabins, a cotton gin, blacksmith shop, and even a moonshine still. From the three-quarter-mile hiking trail with its rustic covered bridge to the special programs, this place gives you lots of time to learn, relax, and enjoy a picnic. Look for demonstrations of by-gone skills, including pottery, quilting, and weaving. In addition to enjoying visiting musicians, check out the food vendors and the gift shop.

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8. Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden, Bishopville

Source: Facebook/Pearl Fryar

Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden began in 1981 when Fryar decided he wanted to win the “Yard of the Month” award from the Bishopville Gardener’s Club. Self-taught, he started working with discarded plants that he found at local nurseries. Over the years, the three-acre property grew into an enchanting little oasis amid surrounding cotton fields. The landscaping includes more than 300 topiaries which feature Fryar’s handmade junk-art scattered strategically throughout the garden. The topiary garden entices you to wander mindfully, admiring the beauty as it renews your spirit.

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9. UFO Welcome Center, Bowman

Source: Flickr/mogollon_1

Southern hospitality knows no bounds, especially at the UFO Welcome Center. Jody Pendarvis, an earth man, built this set of homemade spaceships to welcome space aliens, giving them a place to rest and use the restroom facilities. The site features all of the comforts an alien needs–according to Pendarvis–including a shower, a toilet, a television, and air conditioning. Sometimes Pendarvis stays in the welcome center, waiting for intergalactic visitors. Meanwhile, he allows earthlings to explore his out-of-this-world roadside oddity. Just look for the sign on the fence.

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10. Atalaya Castle, Pawleys Island

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Doug Coldwell

The rustic ruins of a rich couple’s vacation castle, Atalaya is a hidden gem in Huntington Park, Pawleys Island. It served as the winter home from 1931 to 1947 for Archer and Anna Huntington. The outer rooms of the home enclose a square inner courtyard that measures 200 feet on each side. Your self-guided tour takes you through over 40 rooms plus the large animal pens, where Anna kept horses, dogs, and bears, which she used as subjects for sculptures. Most visitors pay the Huntington Park entry fee to reach the castle, but some use the footpath from the beach to dodge the fees.

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