Small Town Saturdays in the South

I love a back road, a small town, a meandering drive to places off the beaten path. Since COVID, we’ve started packing the kids in the car to explore. It gives us a change of scene, an activity, and air conditioning (which was desperately necessary in SC over the summer). We circumvent I-77, we bypass I-26, and we avoid I-20. Instead, we set out on to roads less traveled and explore pockets of our state; we take our 21st century car on 20th century roads to visit 19th century towns.

One Saturday, we headed east out of Columbia, SC turning from Percival Road onto Screaming Eagle Road then right onto McCord’s Ferry Road…it already sounds more interesting than I-26, doesn’t it? We quickly passed through Eastover, SC (home of Kensington Plantation and International Paper) and through the towns of Wateree and St. Matthews. We had a podcast playing in the front; the kids had books and games in the back. We cruised two-lane roads surrounded by farmland, punctuated with the lone building every few miles. If I had my way, and three fewer kids in the car, I would have stopped to explore every abandoned structure I saw, but day trips with kiddos are a delicate balancing act of relaxing into the soothing rhythm of a moving car and exploring the quirks of a small town or the shadows of places left behind.

Despite our back road exploration, I did have a destination in mind. I was driving us to the town of Elloree, SC for a picnic lunch. I’d driven through it a few times on my way to Charleston and just fell in love. I don’t know what it is about this little place, incorporated 1886, but I think it’s charming. There was a little park in town with a gazebo and I planned for that to be our first stop but before we got there, we passed what looked like an old farmer’s market and I had to stop.

It was the Good Hope Picnic, a cluster of wooden stalls and picnic tables, in Cameron, SC. We parked on a dirt road called Friendly Lane, right off the main road, and took a few minutes to walk around and stretch our legs.

There was something special about visiting the spot, prominent in this particular African American community for over 100 years, in the summer of 2020. I read the marker to my boys and we talked of family and community and history.

We made it to Elloree a little bit later, had our picnic lunch in the gazebo, and the boys got to play in the park, for a few minutes because 1. It was uncomfortably hot and 2. I (belatedly) saw a sign that the park was closed for COVID. Whoops! We packed the boys up and hit the road.

A few weeks later, a new adventure in the opposite direction…

We headed west toward Aiken, SC. Our first stop was The Little Bake Shoppe in Wagener, SC. Much like the Good Hope Picnic, I spotted it while driving and immediately pulled over. We did a quick bathroom break but couldn’t leave without grabbing a few goodies. The boys both got a doughnut, I had to get one of their monster lemon bars. I also grabbed a jar a Bean and Corn Salsa and a jar of Raspberry and Pepper jam – both homemade and both delicious. The raspberry jam is delicious with warm brie and a baguette. Omg, chef’s kiss.

We took our time heading to Aiken and arrived in time for a late lunch. Aiken was hopping – it has a great downtown area and the weather was clear and warm. You could see people wanted to be outside…safely, socially distanced, and masked. Aiken is an adorable town in the bottom corner of the state, not far from the SC/GA border. It’s horse country and it is beautiful. I would highly recommend a day trip or weekend stay. If you go for the weekend, and can swing it, stay at The Willcox. I haven’t done an overnight there my mom, sister, and I did a ladies’ tea there, many years ago. We still talk about that afternoon; it was an experience.

We did lunch at The Alley Downtown Tap Room. It was outside, tucked off the main street. Our waitress was incredible and so good with the kids. She brought out a bucket of chalk so they could color on the alley, which let Bill and me enjoy a beer in peace. Beautiful weather, a change of scene, nachos, wings, a beer, and kids who were occupied and entertained? Sold! We had the best afternoon on our little family adventure in Aiken.

I love the sense of discovery and adventure these day trips give the kids; I get wrapped up in the energy and rhythms of places new or different; and my patient husband is just along for the ride.

I have a small bucket list of places around SC for these day trips and family adventures. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting places. If you have any to share, drop them in the comments!

All photos property of Katie Washington © Do not use without written consent.

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