Big Surprises In a Small Town

You won’t believe the hidden gems in this storybook hamlet.
Valerie Fraser

If you're on South Carolina's slice of I-20, take Exit 98 and treat yourself to a Camden sojourn.

Located about 32 miles northeast of Columbia, Camden is nestled in the Olde English District. Like any great small town, it has its fair share of tree-lined streets, friendly locals, and beautiful architecture, including about 60 historic sites.

There is much more here than history though--namely, eclectic shops, nifty eateries, and world-class Thoroughbred racing at the Springdale Race Course.

Some of the best spots in Camden are conveniently located on or near Broad Street, the main drag. The TenEleven Galleria is a fabulous loft space with a small cluster of unusual shops. "Mission control" of the Galleria is Cups, where locals flock to savor gourmet coffee and catch up on the news. They can also browse a great bookstore that encircles the coffee shop or sign up for a tasting at Jennifer Hill's Wine 'n Gourmet.

Start With a Snack
Up the street a bit in Sin-Sational Desserts, Kathy Slaughter serves delicious coconut cake. Lucy's, also in this area, holds its own with the best urban "let's do lunch" spots.

Across the street at The Daily Grind, owner Christine Simpson serves the breakfast and lunch crowd fabulous gourmet coffees with her homemade soups, sandwiches, and desserts. Christine's tiramisu is worth the drive to Camden--even if you live in El Paso.

Camden Treasures
You can walk off dessert trolling a slew of shops and galleries. Don't miss Andries Van Dam on Market Street. Even if you tell Andy, the owner, that your art budget is nil, he'll still give you a personal tour.

Antiquers will find reasonable prices and a diverse selection at Heritage Antique Mall on DeKalb Street. Ducks Crossing Consignment on Broad Street is also a lot of fun. Besides its antiques offerings, The Granary on South Broad has a pretty courtyard featuring garden art and furniture. You'll find quality garden-themed gifts at The Garden Cottage, also on Broad.

While shopping, make a dinner reservation at Boykin's at the Mill Pond Restaurant, about 10 minutes from Camden. This is Charleston-caliber food in a relaxed setting with great views and service. You'll adore the crab cakes ($20), steaks ($25-$30), shrimp and grits ($18), and fried green tomatoes ($6).

Stay Put
After such a sumptuous meal, the last thing you'll want to do is face the interstate. So plan to spend the night here. If you want a basic chain hotel, the Fairfield Inn & Suites should suit you. For something more personal, try The Greenleaf Inn of Camden on Broad Street. Choose a comfortable room in one of two historic homes that make up the inn.

Breakfast is included. You can order lunch and dinner at The Greenleaf's elegant restaurant, where chef Eddie Suarez mixes classic Southern cooking with dishes he grew up with in Puerto Rico.

For a traditional English B&B experience, check in to Peter Korper's gracious Camden House. A retired British Army officer, Peter loves to serve guests a proper English breakfast. Standard rates include breakfast and afternoon tea. Guests also can preorder lunch, high tea, or evening meals.

Additional Information:
Camden Carriage Company offers carriage tours of historic Camden; departs from The Greenleaf Inn; contact Joy Gensler at (803) 425-5737 or www.camdencarriage.com.
Springdale Race Course & Carolina Cup Racing Association, 200 Knights Hill Road; 1-800-780-8117 or www.carolina-cup.org
Note: Some Camden shops and restaurants have limited hours during the month of July and during major horseraces and polo events.

You should know that Camden is serious horse country, and Thoroughbred racing is an incredible sight to see. If you plan way ahead you can catch one of the three major racing and polo events. The Carolina Cup is both a top-notch steeplechase and one of the South's largest tailgate parties. As the locals joke, "Sixty thousand people came to the Cup--and a few of them actually noticed the horses!"

Lodging
The Camden House: 1502 Broad Street; (803) 713-1013 or www.thecamdenhouse.com. Rates: $80-$100.
The Greenleaf Inn of Camden: 1308 North Broad Street; 1-800-437-5874 or www.greenleafinncamden.com. Rates: $89-$129.
Fairfield Inn & Suites: 220 Wall Street; (803) 425-1010 or www.fairfieldinn.com. Rates: $79-$119.

Note: Rates will be higher and rooms impossible to find on race/polo weekends. For information: Contact the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-968-4037 or www.camden-sc.org.

Dining
Boykin's at the Mill Pond Restaurant: 73 Boykin Mill Road; (803) 425-8825. Hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m Tuesday-Saturday. Reservations recommended.
The Greenleaf Inn of Camden: 1308 North Broad Street; 1-800-437-5874. Hours: breakfast 8 a.m.-11 am. Sunday; brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday; lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Reservations are recommended.
Sin-Sational Desserts: 1037 Broad Street; (803) 424-4746. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
The Daily Grind: 1012 Broad Street, (803) 713-0033. Hours: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; serves full breakfast then lunch; desserts available all day; homemade pizza 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Lucy's: 1043 Broad Street; (803) 432-9096. Hours: lunch 11:30 am.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, dinner 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, dinner 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Shopping
Heritage Antique Mall: 113 East DeKalb Street; (803) 425-4191. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; cafe serves lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.
Ducks Crossing Consignment: 1031 Broad Street; (803) 425-5787. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Andries Van Dam: 914 Market Street; (803) 432-0850. Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday or by appointment.
The Granary Antiques: 830-A South Broad Street; (803) 432-8811. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Garden Cottage: 1040-A Broad Street; (803) 424-0890. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday
TenEleven Galleria: 1011 Broad Street; 1-800-472-1011. Hours: (for Cups coffee shop, bookstore, and antiques/accessories gallery): 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-11p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Other shops in the Galleria: Wine 'n Gourmet: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday.

This article is from the March 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.