South Carolina, known for its “smiling faces, beautiful places,” has countless hidden gems – restaurants, parks, communities that shine for their uniqueness and special offerings.

We all have a special place that we value, whether it’s a waterfall, a mountain walk, a blackwater river, a country store, a prime fishing hole or a tucked-away corner of a beach. Over the last week, we’ve asked people from across South Carolina to share their hidden gem. Here are some of the best:

Stumphouse Tunnel, Walhalla. State Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, suggests a trip to this uncompleted tunnel started during the Civil War. Cool in the steamy summers, it reportedly is where Clemson’s famous blue cheese was housed in the early days. “It’s very dark, wet and creepy in the back,” Bryant says – just the thing for a kid around Halloween time. More.

thorntreeWilliamsburg County. S.C. Coastal Conservation League leader Dana Beach says a great place to check out is this rural, poor county that is abundant with natural resources – “the Black River, Black Mingo Creek, beautiful longleaf pine forests and small towns without the clutter of development.” And if you’re hungry, stop by Brown’s to get some of the best barbecue around. More.

Chesterfield County. Wendy Wagner at Chesterfield General Hospital writes, “Enjoy the peace and beauty of nature in Sandhills Wildlife Refuge in an area with the best air and water quality around – Chesterfield.” More.

WELCM_EXTR_07_CBeautiful Charleston view. Former 1974 gubernatorial candidate Pug Ravenel of Charleston recommends a visit to the top floor restaurant on the round Holiday Inn on the Ashley River in Charleston because it has “the best panoramic view in South Carolina – marshes, Ravenel Bridge, the Citadel, Fort Sumter, downtown old houses and the Atlantic Ocean.”

Willington. Charleston politico Phil Noble says a must-visit is to the small McCormick town of Willington, which is rebranding itself as a destination for book-lovers to buy books.Willington is truly an inspiration,” he says. “It was once a thriving little town that nearly died and is now coming back to life. And they are doing it in a unique and creative way that can show countless other struggling communities – in South Carolina and across the country – what can be done with bold leadership, a sense of a caring community….and just plain hard work. They are true heroes.”

Orangeburg restaurant. S.C. Chamber of Commerce President Otis Rawl couldn’t say enough about the Four Moons Restaurant and says that some of his well-traveled friends rate it as one of the top dining spots in the world. “The menu and wine selection is second to none. The atmosphere is delightful. The quality and the variety of the food is the experience.”

Belton eatery. Not to be outdone is Grits and Groceries, a Belton restaurant that is a favorite of GOP gubernatorial candidate Gresham Barrett. “Grits and Groceries offers a taste of New Orleans right here in rural South Carolina. Heidi and Joe [the owners] always live up to their motto of ‘real food, done real good.’”

Hitchcock Woods, Aiken. Steve Hale says this 2,000-acre preserve in Aiken is “a true treasure and people in Aiken would riot if someone wanted to disturb it.” More.

Conway. Allen Stalvey of the S.C. Hospital Association recommends his hometown and its “small streets, beautiful old homes, large oak trees, a nice riverfront area near the beach.” More.

thejoeThe Joe. Charleston RiverDogs General Manager Dave Echols says one of the nicest, soothing spots in Charleston is the back railing near the marsh during sunset at Charleston’s Joseph Riley Stadium.

Glencairn Garden, Rock Hill. Marketing coordinator Laurie Helms says the renovated 11-acre garden is a jewel in the heart of Rock Hill: “No matter who visits, no matter the time of year, Glencairn Garden leaves guests with the strong imprint of the beauty and history that live within its flower-filled borders.” More.

And one of my hidden gems? Caw Caw Interpretive Center near Ravenel. This Glencairn-postcard-image-webCharleston County park is a wonder of calming marsh vistas and trails. Wildlife is abundant. On recent visits, my daughters thrilled to the swooping flight of a great blue heron, jumping mullet and baby foot-long alligators within a few feet of their 8-foot mother.

If you have a hidden gem to share, send an email to: [email protected]. We’ll keep a running list on our Web site, http://www.statehousereport.com/

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Andy Brack

Andy Brack

Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and the publisher of StatehouseReport.com. Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a twice-weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, CharlestonCurrents.com. A former U.S. Senate press secretary and reporter, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack also is president and chairman of the Center for a Better South, a nonprofit regional think tank. Brack received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. He, his wife, two daughters and dogs live in Charleston, S.C.