Looking for cheap things to do in South Carolina shouldn’t be hard. After all, The Palmetto State has plenty of natural wonders, art hubs, and quirky destinations that won’t cost you a fortune to visit! Get ready to experience South Carolina on a budget as we delve into 10 interesting yet cheap destinations for your upcoming vacation!
- 1 1. Brookgreen Gardens
- 2 2. Lake Murray Dam Walkway
- 3 3. Swan Lake Iris Gardens
- 4 4. South Carolina Botanical Garden
- 5 5. Angel Oak Tree
- 6 6. Greenville County Museum of Art
- 7 7. Congaree National Park
- 8 8. Florence Railroad Museum
- 9 9. Blue Sky’s Roadside Attractions
- 10 10. Charleston Tea Garden
- 11 Budget-Friendly Vacation Homes Near Cheap Things to Do in South Carolina
1. Brookgreen Gardens
Location: Brookgreen Drive, Murrells Inlet
Brookgreen Gardens encompasses 9,100 acres of wildlife preserves, botanical gardens, and American sculptures. It is home to more than 2,000 sculptural works from 430 artists. There are sculpture displays throughout the outdoor gardens and the indoor galleries like the Rainey Sculpture Pavilion. A multitude of exhibits also display etchings, paintings, and other artwork throughout the grounds.
Take a walk inside the gardens and be refreshed by the sight of lovely flowers, lush plants, tiny insects, and birds! Brookgreen Gardens offer a plethora of botanical gardens, including the following:
• Huntington Sculpture Garden
• Palmetto Garden
• Brenda W. Rosen Carolina Terrace Garden
• Fountain of the Muses Garden
• Dorothy P. Peace Garden Room for Children
• Kitchen Garden
There’s also the Lowcountry Zoo for you to explore with your family or kids. Would you like to take a 50-minute informative and fun zoo tour? Or how about the kids 12 years and up participate in the Zookeeper for A Day program? These fun activities and many more await you at the Brookgreen Gardens.
You can visit Brookgreen Gardens daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm. Tickets cost $18 for adults 13-64 years, $16 for seniors 65 and up, and $10 for kids 4-12 years. Kids 3 and below are admitted for free. Tickets are valid for 7 consecutive days, so a visit to Brookgreen Gardens is truly a gem on the list of cheap things to do in South Carolina!
2. Lake Murray Dam Walkway
Lake Murray is known by a variety of names: Saluda Dam, Saluda River Dam, and Dreher Shoals Dam. Regardless of what you want to call it, this embarkment dam’s paved walkway is a great low-cost place for some sightseeing, strolling, jogging, and exercising.
Lake Murray Dam Walkway is located directly across the Dreher Shoals Dam’s top. Specifically, the walkway runs along South Carolina’s Highway 6. It overlooks the lake created by the Dreher Shoals Dam. The walkway has two sides: Lexington side and Irmo side.
The Lexington side is accessible for swimming – note that this is at your own risk as no lifeguards are on duty. Picnic facilities and restrooms are available here. However, pets and alcoholic beverages are not allowed.
Meanwhile, the Irmo side has fishing docks and boat launches available for more water activities. Picnic facilities and restrooms are also provided here. Pets are allowed as long as they’re leashed. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
Lake Murray Dam Walkway’s Lexington side is open from April to mid-September. It operates Monday through Friday from 11 am to 7 pm (until May 2nd). It’s also open Saturdays, Sunday, and holidays from 10 am to 8 pm. Admission fees are $2 for motorcycles, $3 for cars and trucks, and $5 for passenger vans. The entrance is located at 1797 North Lake Drive, Lexington.
Irmo side is open year-round for 24 hours. Admission fees apply only from April to Labor Day and are similar to those of Lexington side’s rates. Entrance is at 1201 North Lake Drive Columbia.
3. Swan Lake Iris Gardens
Moving on to another lovely low-cost destination in South Carolina – Swan Lake Iris Gardens. It’s America’s only public park that is home to eight swan species. It also has a lake surrounded by several Japanese iris flowers.
Savor the beauty of the Japanese iris flowers in full bloom when you visit during the summer months. Ideally, come to the gardens in mid-to-late May until the early days of June to catch the lovely floral views. You’ll also spot other flowers such as Japanese magnolias, azaleas, camellias, and day lilies.
Other noteworthy spots inside the gardens include the following:
• Braille Trail
• Butterfly Garden
• Chocolate Garden
The garden is also home to several events such as the Iris Festival, Fantasy of Lights, Taste of the Gardens, Recovery Road Race, and Earth Day Celebration.
Visit Swan Lake Iris Gardens daily from 7:30 am until dusk. Meanwhile, its Visitor Center is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm. There’s no entrance fee – admission is free for all!
4. South Carolina Botanical Garden
South Carolina Botanical Garden enters our list of the 10 cheap things to do in South Carolina. This is a 295-acre botanical wonderland situated on the Clemson University campus. The garden began as a simple camellia collection in the 1950s, which ultimately grew into a diverse sanctuary for plant life and art.
Roam around the vast botanical garden and hike any of the following picturesque trails:
• Natural Heritage Trail
• Gwen Heusel Nature Trail
• Arboretum Loop Road
• Trails along the Hunnicutt Creek which connects to different garden areas and gives you stunning vistas of vast meadows
Explore other areas inside the gardens, including the following:
• The Fuller Gallery and its accompanying Featured Artists Gallery
• Nature-Based Sculpture Program
• Historic homes such as the Hunt Cabin and the Hanover House
• Bob Campbell Geology Museum
• Schoenike Arboretum
Start your journey inside South Carolina Botanical Garden by heading to the Fran Hanson Visitor’s Center and Gift Shop. You may visit every day from 10 am to 5 pm. The botanical garden and visitor center are closed during university holidays and various days on and around the Christmas and New Year seasons. No entrance fees are collected, but donations are much appreciated.
5. Angel Oak Tree
Location: Angel Oak Park, Johns Island
Angel Oak is a magnificent tree believed to be over 500 years old. It’s located inside Angel Oak Park in Johns Island, near Charleston. The tree stands at 66.5 feet tall and has a circumference of 28 feet. It has a majestic tentacular crown of branches, with the largest branch reaching 187 feet. The tree can also provide shade to approximately 17,200 square feet of land.
The name “Angel Oak” was given to the tree in honor of a couple who owns the Angel Estate. They are Justus and Martha Waight Angel. But according to legends, the apparitions of slaves may sometimes be witnessed as angels around the tree, earning its name as the Angel Oak.
Angel Oak Tree comes from the Southern live oaks type. These trees are actually native to the lowland coastal Carolinas. While such trees usually grow upward like the others, they also tend to grow outward, such as the case with Angel Oak.
Now, this tree has survived several floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Hurricane Hugo damaged the Angel Oak Tree in 1989 but the tree recovered and continued its amazing growth.
Come and admire the majestic beauty of the Angel Oak Tree in person – it’s free to the public all year round except holidays! Operating hours are 9 am to 5 pm from Monday to Saturday, and 1 pm to 5 pm every Sunday. Consider leaving any amount as a donation for the continued efforts to preserve this wonderful tree. You can also visit the gift shop for some keepsakes before leaving the area.
6. Greenville County Museum of Art
Art lovers, listen up! Here’s a lovely art hub that’s free for all to visit – the Greenville County Museum of Art! Here, you’ll find prints, paintings, watercolors, contemporary abstract pieces, portraits, and lots of other artwork from Southern American and South Carolina-based artists.
Greenville County Museum of Art features works of two prominent art creators: Andrew Wyeth and Jasper Johns. The museum showcases Wyeth’s large watercolor collection and Johns’ prints and paintings.
Other artists with representations inside the museum include Andy Warhol, Helen Turner, Jacob Lawrence, Mary Tannahill, Leon Golub, and Henrietta Johnston, among others.
The museum primarily features three collections, namely:
• The Southern Collection
• Andrew Wyeth: The Greenville Collection
• A collection of contemporary artworks
Visit the museum on Sundays at 2 pm and take part in free educational activities! These programs may include live art demonstrations, gallery talks, lectures, hands-on activities, and musical presentations.
Presently, the Greenville County Museum of Art is closed to the public due to renovation work that began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the museum aims to reopen by 2021.
The museum operates on Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm, and Wednesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free, while a small fee is collected for parking: $0.50 per hour to a maximum of $4 per day. Free parking is available on weekdays after 5 pm and every weekend.
7. Congaree National Park
A visit to a national park certainly makes for fun yet cheap things to do in South Carolina. Hence, prepare for a lovely nature trip to Congaree National Park in Hopkins!
Congaree National Park is located in central South Carolina and spans a massive 26,276 acres of land. The park is home to a diverse range of plants, champion trees, water forms, and wildlife. The park is also the largest remaining expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the USA.
Hike any of the numerous trails inside Congaree! Easy trails to start with include Boardwalk Loop Trail, Sims Trail, Bluff Trail, Longleaf Trail, Bates Ferry Trail, and Spur Trail. Want more of a challenge? Moderate trails like Fork Swamp Trail and Weston Lake Loop Trail may be for you. For the experienced outdoorsman, difficult trails are also available, including Kingsnake Trail, River Trail, and Oakridge Trail.
Go camping in Congaree at the Longleaf Campground, Bluff Campground, or the backcountry. Note that reservations and permits are required for camping activities. Fees may apply, but it generally doesn’t exceed $20. Backcountry camping is free.
Fishing is allowed anywhere inside the park with a valid South Carolina fishing license. Canoeing and kayaking at Cedar Creek are also permitted.
Congaree National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. It’s even open during all holidays! There are also no entrance or parking fees, making this national park a low-cost destination for you or your entire family.
8. Florence Railroad Museum
Location: Irby Street, Florence
Florence Railroad Museum is an interesting place teeming with history and beauty. Florence began as a railroad town and railroads are still significant in the area today. The museum stands to house artifacts and exhibits that speak volumes about Florence’s rich railroad history.
The museum is home to several displays that follow railroad development in the Pee Dee Region from 1853 until today. It was in 1853 when a small railroad depot was built on a five-acre land by the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad company. This railroad became instrumental in bringing the town of Florence to life.
As you tour the museum, you’ll find a vintage steam locomotive and wood car that was originally built by Vulcan Iron Works. Upon reaching the Florence City-County Government complex, marvel at the outdoor murals painted by local artist Elvis Hatchell to depict Florence’s railroad heritage.
Guided tours of the museum are available. Simply contact Florence Museum by phone to reserve a spot. The museum is open from June to August every Saturday and Sunday, 2 pm to 5 pm. Admission is currently free.
9. Blue Sky’s Roadside Attractions
Looking for quirky roadside attractions in South Carolina? South Carolina artist Blue Sky has created three of them in Columbia – The Busted Plug Plaza, Tunnelvision Mural, and Neverbust Chain.
Busted Plug Plaza is an enormous sculpture of a fire hydrant. It stands 40 feet tall and is made of steel, aluminum, and concrete. The large fire hydrant was made to look like it’s about to fall over. Busted Plug Plaza remains the largest fire hydrant in the country since its completion in 2001. Visit it at 1400 Taylor Street.
Tunnelvision Mural is perhaps the most famous of Blue Sky’s works. This 1975 realistic mural shows an illusion of a tunnel heading over to a lovely sunset landscape. It was painted on the walls of the AgFirst Farm Credit Bank building at Taylor and Marion Streets. Tunnelvision mural is located at 1550 Marion Street, in the same parking lot as the Busted Plug Plaza.
Neverbust Chain was installed in 2000 in between two large office buildings, resulting in an instant response from the locals. These massive chains are beloved by everyone including the city government, despite the artwork being hung over a city property! The chain installations were constructed of steel and required 2,000 pounds of hydraulic pressure just to complete the last chain. Find it across the Columbia Museum of Art at the corner of Main and Hampton Streets.
10. Charleston Tea Garden
Location: Maybank Highway, Wadmalaw Island
Rounding up our cheap things to do in South Carolina list is a trip to Charleston Tea Garden. The highlight activity here is the Trolley Tour, where you’ll be taken on a 35 to 40-minute trolley ride to see the plantation’s tea bushes. A greenhouse tour is included where you can see how new tea plants are being cared for. The tour charges $14 for adults and $7 for kids 4-11 years. Kids 3 years and below may tour for free.
Apart from the Trolley Tour, Charleston Tea Garden also offers a free Factory Tour. Walk down the factory’s gallery and see for yourself how tea is made on the actual factory floor. And before leaving the gardens, stop by the gift shop and pick up some of Charleston’s delightful tea as well as souvenir items.
Charleston Tea Garden is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, and Sundays from 12 pm to 4 pm. The garden is closed during some major holidays like New Year Day, Easter Sunday, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve and Day.
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To wrap all this up, South Carolina is teeming with cheap or free destinations that’ll surely appeal to many budget travelers! So, start planning your budget vacation today and include our recommendations for cheap things to do in South Carolina. You’ll surely enjoy your stay at The Palmetto State without breaking the bank!