South Carolina's Readers' Choice Awards

For fabulous restaurants, comfy inns, and seaside charm, no state does it better than South Carolina.
Karen Lingo

Grant me a trip anywhere in the South and I immediately think of South Carolina. Judging from the votes cast in our Readers' Choice Awards, many of you who live there feel the same way. From the top of Table Rock Mountain in the Upcountry to the towns and cities along U.S. 17 in the Lowcountry, the Palmetto State offers a bounty of fabulous experiences and vacation destinations.

Dining Treasures
Charleston invariably tops the list of your favorite Southern cities, which makes me smile. I sampled my first escargot there. At Charleston's 82 Queen I fell in love with she-crab soup. Now, I crave the freshly made potato chips topped with Clemson Blue Cheese at Magnolia's, which also ranks as your favorite splurge restaurant.

Two other Charleston restaurants, Hyman's Seafood and Hank's Seafood Restaurant, received tons of votes as best seafood restaurants. But Linda Hall, who moved to Murrells Inlet three years ago, prefers something close to home. "We fell in love with Murrells Inlet the first time we visited," she says. "My favorite place for seafood is Flo's Place, which comes with a New Orleans flair. Go on Sunday afternoons, when they have a jazz band playing."

For family fare, hundreds of readers rave about Wade's Family Restaurant in Spartanburg. "Wade's serves Southern cooking, with creamed corn, fried okra, green beans, and desserts that are out of this world," says one reader.

Beaches and Barbecue
Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, and Kiawah Island all vie for the title of top beach. For Leanne Gossett, who vacations on the coast every year, it's no contest. "We sometimes go to Myrtle Beach or Garden City Beach, but our favorite is Kiawah," she says. "It's like a whole different world."

Leanne's favorite barbecue joint just happens to be on the way to Kiawah. "JB's Smokeshack on John's Island is just a little hole-in-the-wall, but it's by far the best barbecue I've had," she says. Another popular spot among readers is Shealy's Bar-B-Que House in Leesville, which is worth the detour off I-20 west of Columbia.

Inn for the Night
Charleston's Two Meeting Street Inn rates high as a country inn, along with Beaufort Inn just down the coast. But reader Marsha Penn and I share a soft spot for The Inn at Merridun in Union. "I adore the cat," she says. It's hard not to be charmed by J.D., the inn cat, and intrigued by the friendly ghosts who sometimes make their presence known to true believers. "I didn't encounter any ghosts," Marsha says. "I just felt so at home."

That's what I love most about South Carolina. When I'm there, I feel right at home too.

Click here to enter the 2008 Readers' Choice Awards.