Renowned for its shoreline of subtropical beaches, South Carolina offers plenty of vacationers the ultimate summer experience at Myrtle Beach. But did you know The Palmetto State also lays claim to such surprising sites as the UFO Welcome Center, Pumpkintown and Boneyard Beach? See it all and more in this list of the 17 most surreal places in S.C.
Table Rock State Park
The great outdoors awaits you in this 3,000-acre state park located just off of Highway 11. At the tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Table Rock State Park has some of the state’s most breathtaking vistas with challenging hikes to take you to the most scenic points.
Table Rock Mountain Summit is the highest point in the park and is also the park’s namesake. A difficult uphill climb, the trail’s ending view is more than enough of a reward for eager hikers. Take on the challenge yourself and feast your eyes on the magnificent world below.
Selected as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Gardens” by Travel + Leisure Magazine, Magnolia Plantation is Charleston’s most-visited plantation. The grounds were founded in 1676 by the Drayton family and has survived the centuries as the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry, opening its doors to the world in 1870.
Magnolia Plantation is home to the last large-scale, romantic-style garden and prides itself on cooperating with nature rather than attempting to control it. It is a beautiful testament to South Carolina wildlife and should definitely make your bucket list for places you need to visit.
South of the Border
Love it or hate it, this famous tourist attraction is a local phenomena that refuses to leave. For miles leading up to the 97-foot-tall, mustachioed, sombrero-wearing icon, billboards plague the highway counting down to Exit 1A. Enter the tourist attraction by driving between the giant legs of its mascot and be transported to an alternate universe where tacky souvenirs, novelty architecture and, yes, even alligators commingle to create a truly surreal and unforgettable experience.
The establishment is a time-honored tradition for weary travelers looking for a quick stop for some much-needed fun on the road. Whether you’re on a road trip or a lifelong South Carolina citizen, a trip to South of the Border is an absolute must.
Caesars Head State Park
Connected to Jones Gap State Park, Caesars Head gets its name from the granite rock formation atop the Blue Ridge Escarpment. At the Blue Ridge Escarpment overlook, visitors can get a clear view of North Carolina and Georgia for a spectacular sight that will take your breath away.
The most popular hiking trail in the park is the Raven Cliff Falls trail, a four-mile round-trip hike leading to the 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls. Alternatively, hikers can opt for the 6.6-mile hike to the suspension bridge that crosses over the falls. A truly amazing way to view the falls, this is definitely the route to take for an unforgettable view that you won’t get anywhere else.
Mars Bluff Atomic Bomb Impact Site
On March 11, 1958, a 26-kiloton Mark 6 atom bomb accidentally fell out of a B-47 jet and into the backyard of Walter Gregg in Mars Bluff, South Carolina. While the plutonium core did not explode, 6,000 pounds of conventional high explosives detonated, destroying Gregg’s home and creating the only tourist-accessible site in the U.S. accidentally cratered by a nuclear weapon.
The site is a bit difficult to find and can only be accessed by navigating the overgrown path from the abandoned trailer park past the Gregg house’s foundation. An observation deck stands at the site’s edge, where a large plywood cutout of an atom bomb matching the exact size of the Mark 6 that dropped into the Greggs’ yard sits in a clearing to give context to those visiting the grim site. Equally awe-inspiring and terrifying, this permanent reminder of the nearly catastrophic event in 1956 is like something right out of a dystopian novel. You’ve just got to see it.
Old Charleston Jail
Gaze upon the site where South Carolina’s hardest criminals did their time. Said to be haunted — and even appearing on an episode of Ghost Adventures — the Old Charleston Jail (aka Old City Jail) operated from 1802 – 1939 and housed prisoners of the Civil War, high sea pirates, and the notorious Lavinia Fisher.
The building looks like something out of a horror movie, somehow a perennial gray even on the sunniest days. Feeling daring? Tour the jail for yourself and learn all about how dismal life was inside its foreboding walls.
The Kazoo Museum
No, you didn’t walk into a Dr. Seuss story. The Kazoobie Kazoo Factory, Museum and Gift Shop is a real place in The Palmetto State. Manufacturing kazoos since 1999, the museum is dedicated to the plastic instrument that’s every parent’s worst nightmare.
You can tour the factory to get an up-close look at how kazoos are made, learn all about its storied past and take one home for yourself at the museum gift shop. It’s definitely something you’ll have to see to believe, so make sure you carve out some time while in S.C. to check out the museum that has everyone buzzing.
No need to dream of Halloween Town; one already exists. If you’re a fan of the fall, then you’ve got to check out Pumpkintown. One of the first to be settled in South Carolina, this bustling little town was once ablaze with monstrous, yellow pumpkins from which it got its name.
Pumpkintown hosts a pumpkin festival each year, where local vendors, craftsman, and musicians gather in celebration of autumn and all its golden glory. The foliage in Pumpkintown during this time draws the attention of travelers worldwide and is one of the main reasons why you need to pay a visit to this gourd-eous hidden gem.
Button King Museum
Imagine a world completely covered in buttons. For Dalton “Button King” Stevens, that world was his reality. In the days when television wasn’t available all night long (yes, those days existed), Stevens passed the time by sewing buttons into a jumpsuit when insomnia wouldn’t let him sleep. After three years of sewing, his jumpsuit held 16,333 buttons.
In the years that followed, Stevens’ passion spilled into other areas of his life: cars, shoes, instruments, etc. His obsession with buttons eventually made it to the news, earning him an appearance on Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Regis & Kathy Lee, to name a few. Stevens passed away in November 2016, but his spirit lives on in this eclectic and unbelievable collection at the Button King Museum in Bishopville, South Carolina.
Located off the coast of Charleston County, Johns Island is the largest island in South Carolina and the fourth-largest island on the East Coast. The island is home to the Angel Oak, a live oak tree that’s estimated to be between 500 and 1,500 years old.
The impressive and ancient trees create an ethereal landscape on the island that is reminiscent of the Forbidden Forest on Hogwarts’ grounds. You won’t ever want to leave this mini paradise just a few miles away from downtown Charleston.
Congaree National Park
This incredible national wonder boasts 26,276 acres of natural beauty and protects one of the largest tracts of old growth bottomland hardwood forests (significantly aged woodland grown without interference) left in the United States.
The park is the only national park in South Carolina and is home to some of the East Coast’s tallest trees. The best part about this park is that it remains a hidden gem despite its status as a national park: You won’t find the same crowds here as in Yosemite, Yellowstone or Arches National Parks. That means you get more one-on-one time with the best nature S.C. has to offer; your own private paradise just a few hours from city limits.
Enter a living Dali painting on South Carolina’s surf-stranded, sun-bleached forest of live oak and red cedar trees. An eerie calm rests in the barren woodlands that populate the eroded island. You’ll think you walked into a post-apocalyptic wasteland when you stroll through the empty wooden skeletons that line the Carolina shore.
Definitely, one of the most intriguing and unreal spectacles this southern state has to offer, a trip to Boneyard Beach has to make your list. The photo ops alone are enough of a reason to go!
Yellow Branch Falls
Located in Oconee State Park, Yellow Branch Falls sits at the end of the three-mile hiking trail that bears its name. It’s not the height that makes this waterfall so impressive, but rather the dozens of cascades flowing into one another to create a truly mesmerizing effect.
Be sure to plan your visit after it’s rained in the area as the falls can dry up after a long period without rainfall. But when the elements work together, the result is an unforgettably breathtaking experience that you’ll need to be sure you catch on camera. You may not believe you saw it first-hand later.
UFO Welcome Center
You may not be aware of this, but South Carolina lays claim to the United States’ only alien embassy specially made for extraterrestrials. It’s true: Jody Pendarvis build the UFO Welcome Center in 1994 to be a place where aliens would feel comfortable meeting humans for the first time. The abandoned-looking center boasts not one, but two flying saucers as part of its sagging architecture.
Pendarvis welcomes aliens and humans alike to his personal creation (which may or may not be up to code). While we can’t attest to the functionality of his flying saucers, Pendarvis’ UFO Welcome Center certainly is an imaginative and astonishing sight to behold.
Up for a daring adventure off the beaten path? Lee Falls is the hike you’ve been looking for. With no official trail leading to this 75-foot waterfall, hikers have been nothing but persistent on their quest to bask in its glory, creating a 1.5-mile path through the forest that may take some searching to find.
It’s a difficult task to undertake, but once you stand at the base of the falls, you’ll understand why the effort was necessary. A testament to the beauty for which South Carolina is known, Lee Falls is a rewarding challenge for any adventure-seeker.
One of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast, ACE Basin is a group effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve the natural integrity of the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Basins. Recently celebrating 25 years of conservation, the group has successfully maintained 217,000 acres of South Carolina’s coastal plain.
Visitors are welcome to enjoy all that the basins have to offer, with plenty of outdoor recreation and public lands for everyone to experience. It’s a beautiful landscape and is an important reminder for why we need to protect Mother Nature and all her wonders.
South Carolina has some of the most interesting, breathtaking and surreal destinations that you’ve simply got to see to believe. What are the most surreal places you’ve been to in the Palmetto State? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below. In the meantime, get out there and explore the world around you. The things you find just might surprise you.