Florence SC isn’t old by most Carolina town standards. It was incorporated in 1890, however folks have lived there since the early 1700s, producing cotton, indigo, naval stores and timber. And, lots happened in and around the area from the earliest days of America’s settlement.
Today, it’s known for its flourishing arts scene, great shopping, and many historical sites.
Francis Marion University is in Florence, with many special events that welcome visitors. It’s the seat of Florence County and considered the hub of the Pee Dee region, which stretches through the Northeast section of the state.
First, let’s get settled with accommodations. Because it’s located on I-95, about midway between New York and Florida, there are lots of rooms from major hotel chains. However, if you’re looking for something a bit smaller, more upscale, consider Hotel Florence.
Located in the historic downtown district, you’ll find a boutique experience with 24-hour service luxurious, comfortable rooms and suites, and a grand penthouse for a truly remarkable getaway experience. One the first floor, the award-winning restaurant, Victor’s Bistro,offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has been named “Best of the Pee Dee fine Dining” for the past eight years in a row!
For breakfast, you can build your own omelet, enjoy their signature fish and grits, Eggs Benedict, or perhaps a yoghurt parfait. Lunch is a delight, and includes great curried chicken salad, buttermilk fried pork chops, and a petit filet mignon as well as lighter fare. Their broccoli cheese soup is divine, and if you can score a piece of Benton’s broccoli cornbread, don’t say no. Dinner offers options (sit at the bar, in the dining room or on the patio), and a range of items to suit every palate, from fresh seafood creations, to coq au vin or steak. Suffice it to say, you’ll eat well during your road trip, even if you never stray too far from the hotel.
WHAT TO DO NEXT?
You have choices, and we’ll explore them all, in no particular order. For history enthusiasts, you’ll have no shortage of explorations so grab your camera, comfortable walking shoes and your trusty smart phone.
You may want to begin with Florence Veterans Park, located behind the Florence Civic Center, near the intersection of I-95 and I-20. It’s really quite impressive, with its Wall of Honor, amphitheater, water wall with pool, a steel wall with the oath of enlistment, and a landscaped circular trellis. Pathways invite a reflective stroll. The Wall of Honor recognizes or remembers those who served in the armed services. Monuments and memorials include recognition of World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the first Persian Gulf War. Commemorative flags wave in the breeze. The centerpiece is a large, three-column obelisk with a bronze American bald eagle as the centerpiece on top. A meditation area is underneath. Trip Advisor reviewers call it worth the visit and very nicely done.
Also plan a visit to Florence National Cemetery where a number of veterans are buried. Be sure to take note of the resting place of James Elliot Williams, a Medal of Honor recipient who lost his life near the Mekong River during the Vietnam War. Florena Budwin is also buried there. The young bride of a Pennsylvania Captain disguised herself as a man and fought in the Civil War as she searched for her husband. She was captured in Charleston and sent to the Florence Stockade, where her gender was eventually discovered. After she recovered, she stayed in Florence, nursing other soldiers captured and sent to the Stockade. For additional information, call 843.669.8783.
Just south of the cemetery on Stockade Drive is the site of the Florence Stockade, where Union soldiers were held until they were released in prisoner swaps in 1865.
The War Between the States Museum is another historical attraction. It showcases life in the area during the 1860s, and exhibits include artifacts from various battles, camp sites, and photos. There is a gift shop for trinkets and memorabilia. Call: 843.669.1266.
When it’s time for lunch, consider The Clay Pot which garners rave reviews throughout the foodie review sites. They serve one dish for lunch each day, but it’s always good, according to their enthusiastic following. The mint tea is said to be divine. The emphasis is on local, organic and dietary restrictions/preferences can usually be honored. I’ve not eaten there, but I will, and soon.
HOW TO SPEND YOUR AFTERNOON
If you’re still in a history mode, and are in a group of ten or more, schedule a visit to The Columns, an 1857 plantation that is listed on the national Register of Historic Places. It’s the last working plantation in the area and the first weekend in March, it’s the site of an annual re-enactment of the “Skirmish at Gamble’s Hotel,” a local Civil War battle. Reservations are required at least two weeks in advance, but if you can’t visit, Florence Visitors Bureau will give you directions to see it from afar.
About 20 miles away, in the small town of Lake City, you’ll find the Ronald E. McNair Memorial and Life History Center. It pays tribute to the life of Dr. McNair, a Lake City native, astronaut and physicist who perished in the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle explosion.
If you’re ready for a different type of experience, and depending on the time of year you visit, a new coalition of farmers, artisans and agricultural professionals are celebrating agritourism in northeast South Carolina. The celebration may include corn mazes, vineyard tours, horse-drawn wagon rides, sheep shearing, berry picking and farmers markets filled with local produce and homemade goodies.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting during the last two weeks in April, consider a side trip back to Lake City to attend ArtFields.It’s the largest arts competition in the Southeast, and offers a fusion of arts and agriculture. Special arts and agriculture events are held at Moore Farms Botanical Garden. More than 400 pieces of art are displayed throughout the town in local businesses and galleries.
WANT TO GET PHYSICAL?
The Florence area is known for its scenic rivers, and paddling them is the best way to experience them.
There are several local river tour guides who will help you get the most out of the trip.
River Rats Canoe and Kayak Rental, located in Coward, right on the Lynches River, offers relaxing two to six hour tours and moonlight trips for beginning paddlers.
River Rats and Swamp Fox Canoe Rentals in Johnsonville both provide day and overnight excursions in the stomping grounds of the Revolutionary War hero General Francis Marion. The fact that he and his band of militia could simply disappear into the cypress swamplands earned him the name “Swamp Fox.”
Swamp Fox Adventures runs frequent excursions to the Little Pee Dee and other less paddled spots. The area is known in the archaeological world for a fossil that can be found along the banks of the Great Pee Dee River.
If you’re just looking to get out and paddle, head down to Lynches River County Park where you can rent a kayak or canoe, or put your own boat in at the handicapped-accessible boat ramp. While there, trek through the tree top canopy on a swinging boardwalk, head to the Splash Pad at Lynches River County Park with the kids, or try out your archery equipment at the range.
The park also has cozy cabins for an overnight stay, or rustic campsites for the more adventurous. Make sure you call for reservations if you plan to spend the night.
There is more information for these options, here.
Get a City of Florence Trail System brochure and map at www.cityofflorence.com.
The Florence CVB and Pee Dee Geocachers have coordinated a Florence County Geocoin Challenge. There’s even special geocoin for the first 250 cachers that complete the challenge! For more information, visit www.visitflo.com/geocaching.
New to geocaching? Here is a description from geocaching.com: “Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.”
As the day winds down, your hotel offers an inviting patio for a cool beverage as dinner is contemplated. You won’t go wrong staying there and dining at Victor’s Bistro, but there are other charming options as well, including Red Bone Alley a local restaurant that is regionally famous for its shrimp and grits. They sell food products as well, including a variety of aioli finishing sauces as well as the Professional’s Tailgate Cookbook featuring (get ready) everything from smoked wings to lobster popcicles.
If the night is young, Florence is known for its vibrant arts scene, from Florence Little Theatre, to the Florence Philharmonic Orchestra and Mastersingers, to Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center, which features Broadway shows, concerts and special events. Check out current performances before you go.
It’s been a wonderful day and there’s more to come tomorrow.
Shop til you drop.
Did you know at Florence has about 40 antique shops and auction houses around the town? Lots of plundering for treasure can be found, here, from carnival glass to Coca-Cola trays and Wrought iron gates.
It’s clearly coincidental, however, Florence also happens to be the home town of Mark Walberg, the very popular host of the Antiques Roadshow Series on PBS.
A few notable treasure troves include Palmetto Peddler’s Antique Mall, The Thieves Market, Vintage Vogue and Hamilton House for more upscale items and decorative items. Need restoration of a favorite piece of wood furniture? Chehaw River Woodworks just might be able to bring your heirloom back to life.
Find a list of antique hot spots in Florence County – and be sure to check out the antiques tab on their app. Go to www.visitflo.com for a list of all the shops in the region, or to download the app. There is also a link to the MLS database showing homes for sale if you find yourself falling in love with the area.
When it’s time for lunch, consider one of these two local favorites:
Stefano’s Pizza has lots more than pizza, including homemade calzones, strombolis, subs, pasta and salads, plus the usual suspects. The emphasis is on fresh and homemade and the food is great for lunch or dinner.
Roger’s Bar-B-Q is about as South Carolina as it gets. Open Wednesday-Sunday, the buffet is filled with Southern Favorites including mac and cheese and other high-carb goodies. On Second Loop Road, with parking in the back. No special drinks, no fancy appetizers. The real deal. 843.667.9291
If you still have energy after a feast at either location, consider a round of golf. There are at least four courses nearby that are public, and for snowbirds headed south, this midway point between New York and Florida might get golfers through to their ultimate destination. Florence Visitors Bureau has the details.
Or, you may still have a bit of shopping or sightseeing to finish the day. We’ve got two more recommendations for late afternoon enjoyment.
Top Hat Special-Teas is a great little location for British style tea and scones, as well as a light lunch of salads and scones. Folks love it and consistently give it excellent scores on every food site.
Dolce Vita is an upscale chocolate and wine tasting room. The chocolates are homemade and it’s a great after dinner, date night experience in the downtown area.
Depending on your personal preferences, either one might be the perfect way to pause and reflect on your just-completed road trip, before you head off for more adventure. Or, you may be tempted to stay another night and start all over again!
Get more information at www.visitflo.com
READ MORE ABOUT
Share this article: