We’re continually on the hunt for opportunities to add richness to our lives. In the time of the road trip revival, we are proud to feature a monthly section featuring destinations within driving distance of Charleston that make for a great getaway. We feel that our worldly and devoted readers will find these places interesting.
Driving six hours south and a touch west of Charleston brings you to Seneca in the northwest corner of Upstate South Carolina. This is one of the longest road trips I’ve suggested but once you see the incredible lakes, waterfalls, and mountain scenery in this area, you’ll know why it is worthy of a weekend getaway or long weekend. Seneca is chock full of adventures and has something for the whole family, though it could also be a place to enjoy a romantic getaway. There is no better time than this fall, with the changing colors of leaves and to see what this little slice of heaven has to offer.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN SENECA
Seneca is an outdoor lover’s paradise, with great state and county parks and picture-perfect lakes: Hartwell, Jocassee, and Keowee. A boat tour of Lake Jocassee is fantastic any time of the year with Jocassee Lake Tours. Zach is a fun and knowledgeable naturalist to ask for as your guide. See waterfalls accessible by water-only, do some swimming, primo fishing, or soak up the scenery. On foot, Ramsey Creek Falls (in Westminster) and Issaqueena Waterfalls are only steps from the parking lot, but avid hikers will prefer the trail out to Yellow Branch Falls. Right up the street from it is the historic Stumphouse Tunnel, which you can walk through.
Seneca has an adorable downtown, with vibrant murals, galleries, and excellent locally-owned shops along Ram Cat Alley. Pick up a coffee drink or craft beer from BREWS on the Alley or the most delicious cupcake you’ve ever tried at Walnut Street Bakery. An art gallery worth seeing is End of the Road Studios, in Walhalla. This working studio has festive, colorful designs ranging from pottery to paintings and mixed media folk art.
A must in the Seneca area is visiting Chattooga Belle Farm, a pristine property with jaw-dropping mountain views, a market, vineyards, and you-pick ’em farm. Then, pop in next door to the distillery for a small-batch, high-quality whiskey and moonshine spirits sampling.
Lastly, see if there are concerts at the Walhalla Performing Arts Center or Walhalla Civic Auditorium on your visit. Upcoming shows include Kathy Mattea, a Fleetwood Mac Tribute Band, and Edwin McCain.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
For breakfast, drive over to Kountry Kupboard, where the omelets are cooked to perfection, and the biscuits alone are worth the drive. Dimas Bros. Cafe is a second option, with breakfast sandwiches, smoothie bowls, and stuffed French toast with blueberry compote.
The lunch choices are creative and fabulous at Presst Food and Wine, which has excellent sandwiches (I recommend the Hot Brown), soup, and bowls, and a great selection of wines. Carolina Pizza Co. is another lunch favorite with eclectic pizzas to match the restaurant’s decor. Then, walk down the street to Mountain Mocha for a flavored latte or hand-dipped ice cream cone.
For an upscale dinner, Vangeli’s Bistro can’t be beaten—with melt-in-your-mouth scallops, succulent steaks and chops, and hearty, full-of-flavor pasta dishes. Sole Grill and Sushi Bar is another popular eatery in Seneca with darned tasty tapas and sushi. If you are stumped for what to order, try the Buffalo Bleu Cheese Chicken Nachos.
WHERE TO STAY IN SENECA
Lofts Over Main, a few minutes away in Walhalla, is my top pick for staying in Oconee County, South Carolina. There are two gorgeously decorated upstairs lofts with a full kitchen, dining area, comfortable furnishings, and luxury touches. They are pet-friendly, and the downtown street location is so convenient. There are chain hotels in the area for a traditional hotel experience, including Quality Inn, Tru by Hilton, and Hampton Inn & Suites.
If you enjoy tent camping or are bringing an RV, South Cove County Park has excellent lakefront and lake view campsites for reasonable prices. Full hook-ups are available, and you can also swim, fish, kayak, and boat from this area. Bring your bike for epic trails.