Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all. South Carolina, a coastal state with a subtropical climate, attracts lots of visitors with its beaches and marsh-like sea islands. But South Carolina is also rich in history; this is where the opening shots of the U.S. Civil War were fired, and many sites here recall the antebellum era. Plus, the state is known as the Birthplace of Barbecue, so come and enjoy some great food, outdoors recreation and old-fashioned Southern hospitality!

Echoes of the past can be found throughout South Carolina, especially in Charleston. However, if you want to sample the state’s cultural offerings, add Columbia to your itinerary. It’s the capital of South Carolina, and its many theaters, art galleries, dance companies, orchestras and museums cater to a wide range of interests.

Although South Carolina’s coastal communities account for much of the state’s tourism, the western part of the state has much to recommend it as well. That’s where you’ll find Paris Mountain State Park, a scenic area that’s ideal for hiking, biking, swimming and kayaking. And don’t miss Falls Park on the Reedy, on the banks of the Reedy River in Greenville, with trails and landscaped gardens leading to downtown shops, pubs and restaurants.

Read more about South Carolina and check out the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.

(State Dept.)

History and charm

No visit to South Carolina would be complete without a stop in Charleston, a port city filled with magnificent old houses and architecturally significant churches. Ride in a horse-drawn carriage through Charleston’s Historic District and tour one of several grand estates open to the public.

A horse-drawn carriage ride through Charleston offers an overview of the city’s historic houses, some of which are painted in pastel colors, like this stately pink mansion. (Shutterstock)

You can also visit plantations, such as Magnolia Plantation and Gardens or McLeod Plantation Historical Site, which capture the flavor of the Old South.

The Azalea Bridge is one of the standout features at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston. (Thinkstock)

Other popular attractions include Fort Sumter, a seaport noted for its role in two U.S. Civil War battles, and the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier of the World War II era. And be sure to check out the South Carolina Aquarium, which offers interactive exhibits and a hospital for sick and injured sea turtles.

Drop by the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston to see sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, sea turtles and other resident creatures. (Shutterstock)

Surf, sand and live music

Myrtle Beach is South Carolina’s top resort town, with pristine sands, more than 100 golf courses, upscale shopping and plenty of water-themed amusement parks. The town is also known for live entertainment, including shows at the Carolina Opry, a music venue that prides itself on its Broadway-quality productions (but be forewarned: Tickets sell out quickly!).

South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach is a magnet for vacationers all summer long. (Shutterstock)

The island experience

South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island is a perfect getaway destination if you want to bask in the sun while avoiding big crowds. This laid-back paradise offers biking, golfing, sailing, shopping and fine dining. Be sure to visit nearby Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, where you can spot many types of birds (including bald eagles and other raptors) and get a close-up view of alligators, salamanders and armadillos.

The setting sun casts a glow over the lighthouse at South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, seen here with yachts docked in the marina. (Shutterstock)

Animal magnetism

Traveling with kids? South Carolina’s first-rate zoos will keep them enthralled. In Columbia, stop by the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, home to more than 2,000 animals representing some 350 species. The zoo features a botanical garden, daily animal demonstrations, and zip lines. If you’re in Greenville, check out the Greenville Zoo’s menagerie of exotic and North American animal species. The zoo even allows overnight stays.

An alligator at the Greenville Zoo turns a deceptively lazy eye on visitors. (Tony Crescibene/Creative Commons)

Comfort food

South Carolina is known for its barbecued meats, but you should also try a favorite local specialty called shrimp and grits — a creamy combination of ground and boiled corn (grits) and freshly caught shrimp.

A meal of shrimp and grits offers an authentic taste of South Carolina. (Thinkstock)