Steeped in history dating back to 1732, Camden is a beautiful small town with a penchant for steeplechase racing and a full range of equestrian activities. Less than 30 minutes from downtown Columbia with its big city vibe, Camden offers the best of all worlds.
If you love antebellum homes and equestrian activities, you’ll be in heaven in Camden. Dating back to 1732, Camden is a beautiful small town filled with friendly people and far more arts than one would expect in a community of 7,000 people.
It’s the oldest inland town in South Carolina and some say the original layout was similar to that of Philadelphia. Today, Camden reflects friendly residents who are dedicated to preserving magnificent old homes and combining green space and a walkable downtown.
The horse culture is strong here, with an internationally famous steeplechase race meet each year, and an equestrian center that brings in events many weekends. Horse farms dot the nearby countryside. Columbia, the state capital is very close. Antique stores offer treasures, and restaurants showcase the abundance of local food.
When Tony Scully and his wife, Joy, moved to Camden from Los Angeles they were welcomed with open arms. “What an amazing place to start a business, raise a family, or retire,” he explained. The Scullys enjoy the historic district, arts, outdoor lifestyle and 150 acres of city parks and green space. They visited, fell in love and moved across the country to build a new life.
Enhance your visiting experience by reserving accommodations in one of two historic mansions.
Bloomsbury Inn is ranked in the top 20 Inns/B&Bs in the U.S., and offers luxury and charm to spare in the heart of Camden’s historic district. Civil War author Mary Boykin Chesnut stayed here during the Civil War. Her family built the house and portions of her diary were written here. The porch and white rockers invite a relaxing respite (with WiFi available if necessary). Innkeepers Katherine Lemay Brown and Dr. Bruce Brown welcome guests who leave as friends. Make time for breakfast, which will include free range eggs, local jams, and biscuits cooked in the innkeeper’s cast iron skillet.
Camden House offers the grandeur of the old south, in the historic district and within easy walking distance to fun and food. With 12-foot ceilings and heart-pine floors, guests will feel the southern hospitality, accompanied by modern conveniences in this Robert Mills-inspired mansion. Breakfasts include fresh fruit, homemade biscuits and specialty entrees. A pool adds another restful touch.
There are hotels here with a mix of deluxe suites and standard accommodations.
There is a variety of cuisine to be found in and around Camden. Farm-fresh and gourmet are descriptions frequently used. Depending on where you are when hunger strikes, one of these options will make you smile.
Sam Kendall’s showcases its marvelous food in a historic (1875) building, complete with antique tin ceiling and heart pine floors. The menu ranges from steak to seafood, with some appealing surprises, such as tomato basil crab bisque, and pork tenderloin, marinated in Jamaican spices and served with mushroom Madeira sauce. Another Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence.
Salud is a modern Mexican restaurant that garners rave reviews on Trip Advisor. For those who love a hand-crafted margarita, consider this: 100 different types of the very southern beverage, with a tequila lounge in which to enjoy. With a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence and endless comments praising the salsa, guacamole and entrees, you may want to put this on your short list.
Mulberry Market offers the taste and feel of a small town bakery in France. Chocolate croissants are amazing. Breads and pastries are fresh and perfect for snacking.
HiFalutin presents south-influenced cuisine in rich, colorful surroundings. Think about fried oysters over hot sauce with bleu cheese crumbles, or a salmon BLT with lemon garlic aioli on brioche. Extra: with 48 hours’ notice, you can purchase a handmade cheesecake in one of 18 flavors. Chocolate Tiramisu? Yes, please.
Sweet Lili’s is a cupcake shop, bakery and ice cream parlor that will satisfy your sweetest cravings. Red Velvet cupcakes, chocolate in several iterations and homemade ice cream. Yum.
Happy Daze Ice Cream Parlor is the place to go for a little something sweet. Those in the know recommend their blueberry cheesecake ice cream. Want to combine lunch and dessert? Go for the banana split.
WHAT TO DO
Camden is known for the three Hs – history, horses and hospitality. Explore the town and learn why.
Historic Camden offers self-guided and guided tours to points of interest in the community (and there are many). Tours may include the interior of the Kershaw Mansion, McCaa’s Tavern and the 18th Century Craven House. It’s a 106-acre outdoor museum where you’re invited to “spend a few peaceful hours where the British spent a rough year.”
Camden Archives & Museum features a robust schedule of rotating exhibits. Their permanent exhibits include the Boykin spaniel story (South Carolina’s State Dog) and the Ross E. Beard Gun Collection, which is considered one of the best gun collections in the south. Visitors can research their genealogy at the Archives as well. Well-known businessman Andrew Carnegie donated money to build the facility in 1915, and its permanent and loaned collections are fascinating. The South Carolina Daughters of the American Revolution Library and the Colonial Dames XVII Century Library are also located at the archives.
The National Steeplechase Museum is the only Museum in the United States dedicated solely to the sport of steeplechase racing – from its beginnings in the British Isles to its evolution in America.
Camden Carriage Tour offers a nostalgic and slow-going way to tour Camden. You’ll learn a bit about the history from locals who love the area (and take great care of their horses). Lots of options and an excellent way to get an overview of the town.
Camden’s Historic District features more than 60 historic sites pre-dating 1865, containing cottages as well as spacious mansions. Architectural styles range from 19th century South Carolina vernacular and Antebellum, to winter residences established in the early 1900s. Among the famous individuals who spent time in Camden are Thomas Sumter, Marquis de Lafayette, Andrew Jackson and George Washington among others.
SPORTS TO WATCH & PLAY
For some, simply watching horses is enough. Others want to own one of these beauties. Camden is perfect for both. Springdale Race Course presents the fantastic Carolina Cup steeplechase racing event each year. It attracts thousands of folks who love horses – and a great party. The clothes are uptown, and quite often, the silver is brought out to present platters of fried chicken, or perhaps pimento cheese party sandwiches. Check out the time and date as you begin to plan your trip. Even if your visit doesn’t coincide with “The Cup,” be sure to visit the national Steeplechase Museum on the grounds of the race course. Don’t miss the statue of Lonesome Glory, one of the grand champions in America.
The South Carolina Equine Park has events many weekends, so for horse lovers, it’s worth checking out the events calendar.
Golf has brought a number of families to the Midlands of South Carolina who relish the opportunity to play year round on this beautiful private course. Camden Country Club, chartered in 1899, was re-designed by the late, great golf course designer, Donald Ross.
Motorsports haven’t been around as long as equestrian activities, but for enthusiasts, Carolina Motorsports Park offers kart tracks, events, races, test days and more. Home to the Palmetto Motorsports Club, the Park has great events attracting folks from all over. Consider a trip on the track with a professional instructor.
Camden has a charming arts and antiques district within the very walkable downtown. With so much history, it follows that beautiful furniture and home accessories are found here. Camden has more than 35 locations for shoppers to browse for original artwork, fine antiques, 18th Century furniture reproductions, and specialty gifts. A recent addition to the antiques scene is Wooten & Wooten Auction House which specializes in auctions of fine art, antiques and great estates.
Clearly, visitors have a huge range of options during a long weekend. Start at the Visitors Center at the Robert Mills Courthouse at 607 Broad Street and plan to alternate between the history around you and the modern good times which can be found around every corner. It’s becoming known as the “Classically Carolina” town and with good reason. Enjoy.
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