Carolina Children’s Garden, Columbia free, fun and magical things to do

Recently we visited the Carolina Children’s Garden inside the Clemson Research and Education Center, right across the Sandhills shopping center. The garden is open daily from dawn to dusk and admission is free. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on leash at all times.

Columbia free outdoor attractions

The view from inside the park is spectacular. I’ve seen people walk around the lake, sunbathing on the lawn or just enjoying a picnic with family and their four legged friends.

Walk the dog around beautiful lake

Very young kids can enjoy a slide, a large sandbox and many places to play hide and seek.

Best outdoor playground picnic tables

I liked the fact that the garden is themed after famous children stories and songs. You can visit Old McDonald’s Farm…

Carolina Childrens Themed Garden

Learn basic gardening skills, like using a wheel barrel to carry things around.

Carolina Childrens Garden Columbia free things to do

Hey, these are Peter Rabbit’s clothes! And that’s how you build a scarecrow for your garden

Magic children themed garden Columbia parks

Kids can see and even sift through a tiny compost bin. And yes, there are few live little crawlers in it!

Columbia fun natural education conservation program

Every month there is something going on, check the website for upcoming programs and events. Next to the garden is the Conservation Station where you can learn how to protect the forest, wildlife, and the quality of water, soil and air.

Mark your calendar! Every year, on the last weekend in April is the Sparkleberry Fair at the Clemson Research and Education Center.

Relax with Winnie, Tiger, Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Bears at the beautiful Caolina Children’s Garden!


Free and romantic Hilton Head attractions: mysterous Leamington Lighthouse, a ghost legend and military treasure

Featured on the National Register of Historic Places, the Leamington Lighthouse, is a legendary historic site on Hilton Head Island.

1881 Lighthouse belived to be haunted by light keeper's daughter ghost

1881 Lighthouse belived to be haunted by light keeper's daughter ghost

Originally known as the Hilton Head Range Light Station, the unusual skeleton and cypress wood structure was built to guide ships into Port Royal Sound.

It is the only historic lighthouse on Hilton Head Island and one of few surviving lighthouses in South Carolina

Historic Highlights (courtesy of Friends of the Lighthouse)

• In 1863 Union troops built the island first light, but only 6 years later the original tower was destroyed by a storm.

• In 1881 a pair of range lights was erected to guide vessels into Port Royal Sound. The front light stood 35 feet high right above the keeper’s house while the rear light was served by the 95 feet high skeleton-like tower. The cypress wood lantern and watch room were reached by climbing 112 steps.

• In 1884, a mobile front range light was constructed to track the shifting channel.

Lighthouse cistern ruin

Lighthouse cistern ruin

• In 1932 the lights were decommissioned and during World War II the surrounding area became Camp McDougal, a training facility for Marines men, dogs and horses.

• In the 1960s, the keeper’s dwellings were moved to Harbour Town at Sea Pines Plantation Resort.

Currently, one dwelling serves as a Bakery and Cafe, while the other is home to the Sea Pines Real Estate Company.

• In the mid 1980s the lighthouse was incorporated into the new Arthur Hills Golf Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort.

• Today the only remains are the old brick oil house and the cistern.

The Lady in Blue Ghost Story… (from “Ghosts of the Carolina Coasts”, by Terrance Zepke, 1999)

In 1898 a powerful hurricane washed over the island. Keeper Adam Fripp rushed to protect the lights.

Drenched in heavy rain, Fripp made his way to the tower and up the spiral staircase. A powerful gust of wind shattered one of the glass panes in the lantern room.

The strain of the ascent coupled with the shock of the exploding glass was more than Fripp’s heart could handle.

What was once Camp McDougal WWII, a Marines training site

What was once Camp McDougal WWII, a Marines training site

His daughter Caroline noticed her father’s prolonged absence and went in search of him.

She discovered him inside the tower who, with a last breath, implored her to “keep the light burning no matter how dangerous the storm.”

Several days passed before anyone made it to the island. Caroline had managed to tend the light throughout the storm, but her sorrow and exhaustion proved too much, as she died shortly thereafter.

People say that on dark rainy nights a girl in a blue dress may be seen on the beach or near the skeleton tower signaling with her arms to “Go back… Go back”.

Avid for more ghost stories and romantic sites? Drive to Sea Pines Plantation to wander around the haunted Stoney-Baynard Ruins and 4,000 years old mystery-filled Indian Shell Ring.

Life is good at Sea Pines! Hilton Head free fun things to do with kids

On our second Hilton Head vacation I finally got a chance to explore the amazing Sea Pines Forest Preserve.

On the Buggy Gut swamp trail

On the Buggy Gut swamp trail

Admission is free, however visitors need $5 all day guest pass to get inside the Sea Pines Plantation.

In less than 2 hours we came close to alligators, anhingas and blue herons, and stepped back in time along the old Lawton rice fields and the prehistoric Indian shell ring.

That’s about all the outdoor trekking my 5 year old could take…so I drove to the Harbor Town playground, her favorite spot at Sea Pines.

Fun things to do and see

• Walk or bike on the historic trails through lush maritime forests and around pristine lakes. The most popular one is the 1 mile Boggy Gut board walk that takes you along an 1840 rice fields operation. Here is a detailed map along with the preserve overview.

• Admire the abundant wildlife, plants and trees. Common reptiles: alligators, snakes (copperhead, cottonmouth, black racer, Eastern King and yellow rat) and yellow-bellied turtles. The forest is a bird paradise, home or winter rest to over 200 species. Popular plants are the cat tail, saw grass, swamp willow, duck weed and marsh perry-wart.

Cute baby alligator resting on a log at Sea Pines

Cute baby alligator resting on a log at Sea Pines

• Fish at one of the several freshwater lakes inside the preserve. Only children can fish at Lake Joe. You can drive or walk to Fish Island. There are picnic tables, a shelter and restrooms. Permits can be for free obtained at the CSA Security Office. More info by phone at (843) 671-7170.

Organized “catch and release” fishing is provided by Sea Pines Plantation guides on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 10:30 AM. Fish for large mouth bass, crappie, bream and catfish with tackle provided by Shakespeare. Reservations are required, call (843) 842-1979.

Family fun fishing at Lake Joe

Family fun fishing at Lake Joe

• Walk around a replica of a 4,000 years old Native American ceremonial site made out of oyster shells. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Indian Shell Ring remains a mystery as no signs of permanent settlements have been found to date. Experts believe the area was used only for celebrations and hunting rituals.

In the middle of a 4,000 years old shell ring replica

In the middle of a 4,000 years old shell ring replica

Tips to know before you go
• Bring a bug spray! No see ums and mosquitoes really own the place. Apply sunscreen generously every 2 hours.
• Make sure to carry water with you, there are no water fountains around (at least none that I could see / use)
• Expect the unexpected…you never know what wildlife you may encounter. Some attractions look better on paper (like the shell ring)… while pleasant surprises pop up at every corner (we ran into a Christmas Present poem, a funny buck head like tree stomp and a baby gator)

Hi there Anhinga bird!

Hi there Anhinga bird!

Spend an hour with the earth and her nature
And I promise that you will surely see
The truest meaning of the season
The one best present you could receive
– The Christmas Gift

Make sure to also visit the rewarding Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn plantation for nature and turtle walks, exclusive history tours and beautiful butterflies! (admission is free, donations welcome)

Here is a virtual tour of our favorite historic sites you can visit on Hilton Head Island.

Live curious in the South Carolina Lowcouuntry!

A Taste of Freedom Park, Charlotte’s best outdoor family recreation

Freedom Park is an oasis of natural beauty, peace and healthy relaxation in the heart of the Queen City. Charlotte’s “Central Park” has indulged, pampered and energized, in a rite of passage, entire families for generations.

Freedom Park duck pond

Freedom Park duck pond

Fun things to do

(Freedom Park parking and activities map)

• Hike, jog or bike on miles of trails along the lake and Little Sugar Creek Greenway.

Beware it gets crowded in the weekend as roller bladders and skaters take control of the many paved trails.

• Play tennis, soccer, baseball, volleyball or basketball. Cheer for the Dilworth baseball and softball teams, little league heroes since 1951!

• Bring your little ones to the 2 playgrounds where there is even an antique locomotive replica to climb on!

• Get the family together for an outdoor picnic at one of the five grill-equipped shelters.

• Enjoy music and art performances at the Mahlon Adams Pavilion throughout the summer.

Bridge over Little Sugar Creek

Bridge over Little Sugar Creek

• Learn about the abundant and colorful flora and fauna of the Carolinas at the Charlotte Nature Museum ($6 admission)

Upcoming events at Freedom Park

• Amphitheater at Sunset – bring chairs, blankets and a high spirit for free movie nights under the sky on July 10 and August 14

• Annual Festival in the Park, September 24 – 27. Join tens of thousands of music and art lovers and enjoy one of the best festivals in the South.

Hundreds of craft artists, entertainers and music bands will perform for free every day (remember Friday, September 25 is Kids’ Day!)

The park is open year around form dawn to dusk. For more info, tennis classes and facility rentals check the parks and recreation website or call (704) 432-4280.

Feeling artsy? Short drive from the park is the incredible Charlotte Museum of Art Museum now featuring fancy platform shoes and haute couture fashion collections!

While in Charlotte, you must take the kids downtown to Discovery Place, the coolest science museum in the Southeast! It was recently renovated with fun and exciting exhibits kids will love to play in. Admission is $12 adults and $9 children 2-13.

Summer is best enjoyed in Freedom Park, Charlotte NC!

Free weekend fun in Walterboro: The Great Swamp, Artisans Center and Tuskegee Memorial

Great Swamp Sanctuary

The Great Swamp Sanctuary is South Carolina’s newest nature-based attraction providing the ultimate Lowcountry experience: a pristine black waters swamp filled with history, culture, recreation and education.

Kids walking on the Great Walterboro Swamp trails

Kids walking on the Great Walterboro Swamp trails

The swamp is located within the ACE Basin and its entrance is just minutes from I-95. At 842-acre, the Sanctuary is the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve featuring the only “braided creek” swamp accessible to the public.

Fun things to do inside the Sanctuary
The swamp consists of hardwood flats abundant with wild turkey, deer, raccoons, otter, mink, opossum, squirrels, fox, and wildcats. There is a variety of song birds, wading birds, ducks, and predator birds.

Bird watching – Over 80 species have been observed including wild turkeys, wood ducks, warblers, wood storks, pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, accipiters, buteos, falcons, owls and kinglets.

Beaver Dam at the Great Swamp Sanctuary

Beaver Dam at the Great Swamp Sanctuary

Hiking, walking, jogging and bicycling – There are miles of overland trails and boardwalks crossing the braided streams and the historic Charleston to Savannah wagon road.

A bicycle path follows an existing easement that will become a part of residential and the historic downtown area.

Canoeing and kayaking – 1.5 miles of Ireland Creek are navigable by shallow draft boats allowing you to enjoy the sanctuary or to learn to canoe in relative safety.

Lowcountry Preservation – The headwaters of the Ashepoo River originate in the sanctuary. The Charleston to Savannah wagon road runs through the heart of the sanctuary.
The decayed wooded bridges have been replaced with boardwalks and the road bed has become an integral part of the trails.

Gullah Dolls

Gullah Dolls

Now you can traverse the Old Wagon Stagecoach Road like our ancestors did hundreds of years ago!

Once rejuvenated outdoors soothe your spiritual cravings at the standout SC Artisans Center downtown Walterboro.

There are new artists showcased every year, from paintings to pottery, from glass to wooden toys. My favorites this time around were the Gullah and Kudzu-based crafts.

No visit to Walterboro is complete without a tribute stop at the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial. The Black Bird Men (as feared by the Germans), or the Red Tail Angels (as reveered by Americans) proved to be formidable pilots during WWII raids over Western Europe.

Make sure to also visit the Colleton County museum (also free to attend) housed in a hundred year old jail.

Hero Tuskegee pilot (photo by Hiram Mann)

Hero Tuskegee pilot (photo by Hiram Mann)

Be proud, healthy and curious in the ever mysterious Lowcountry!

Delight your soul with vibrant roses and iris flowers at Edisto and Sumter Swan Lake Gardens

A sea of roses, a swamp of irises. Brilliant colors, sublime aromas and joyfulness in the air. You can’t help but feel happy!

Best things in life are free. And yes the incredible Edisto Memorial Rose Gardens in Orangeburg and Swan Lake and Iris Gardens in Sumter are free to attend.

This Memorial Day weekend bring your family to the annual Sumter Iris Festival. There will be fun things to do for kids, music, food, gorgeous iris flowers for sale and of course the ever popular swans!

Not too far away is the nature’s wonder Congaree National Park, another FREE family attraction you must enjoy at least once a year. The park features the world’s tallest deciduous forest, cathedral canopies, abundant wildlife and miles of hiking, canoeing, and fishing along the mysterious Congaree River.

Walk the 3 miles stroller friendly nature boardwalk around the Visitors center or join the FREE ranger-guided canoe tours every Saturday and Sunday. Call (803)-776-4396 ext. 0 to make reservations (requires 2 weeks advance notice).

Here is a customized map with these 3 amazing attractions.

Fun free family time at the Cheraw Spring Festival: arts, music and Civil War demonstrations

Cheraw is Pee Dee’s jewel, a vibrant little city filled with music, arts and magnificent historic houses and churches. Cheraw is famous for the SC Jazz Festival that celebrates her beloved son, Dizzy Gillespie. This weekend the city will open its arms to welcome visitors to the 34th annual Spring Festival.

Beautiful Cheraw Town Hall

Beautiful Cheraw Town Hall

Historic Events
• Living History Expo – Saturday and Sunday until 3PM at Riverside Park
The 26th SC Volunteers will demonstrate camp life in the Confederate Army. Enjoy a “skirmish” reenactment at 2PM (Free to attend).

• Civil War Lantern Tours – Saturday 8:30 – 9:30PM at Riverside Park
Experience the Civil War ravages by camp fires and lantern lights. Tickets sold in the morning at the park, $5 adults and $4 for kids 12 and under.

Cheraw Historic Reenactment

Confederate Army Camp

• Confederate Church Service – Saturday 10AM at Old. St. David Church
The Old St. David Church was completed in 1774 and was used as a hospital by four armies. The churchyard features the country’s oldest Confederate Monument.

Art and Car Shows
• Arts and Crafts – Saturday 10AM – 5PM and Sunday 12 – 5PM at the Community Center.
Over 100 artists are displaying their wares and demonstrate their craft.



Enjoy live music, magic shows, juggling and clown acts, and dance performances.

Delight your taste buds with delicious BBQ, Greek foods, baked goodies, hot dogs, hamburgers and funnel cakes.

• Classic Car Show – Sunday 11AM – 2PM at Market Street

Oldie Beauty

Old Beauty

Just for Kids Events
• Children Fair and Wagon Rides – Saturday 10AM – 5PM and Sunday 1 – 5PM at Town Green
On Saturday kids can enjoy petting zoo, pony rides, face painting and story telling (1 and 3PM). Horse drawn wagon rides start at 11 on Saturday and 1PM on Sunday.

• Antique Fire Truck Parade – Saturday 10AM on Market Street
Over 20 antique fire trucks will parade down Market Street then there will a free demonstration at Cheraw State Park

Here come the fire trucks

Here come the fire trucks

• Duck Regatta – Saturday 11:30AM – 12PM at Riverside Park
See ducks race to the finish line. Ducks are $20 each and ca be purchased at the Community Center before 10AM. Cash prizes for top 3 contenders.

Drive to nearby Bishopville to see the world’s famous Pearl Friar Topiary Garden and the unique Button King Museum.