Even in a city with as much going for it as our dear old hometown, sometimes you just get a little stir-crazy. That's when it helps to remember that we've got a slew of beautiful, art-friendly towns just a few hours away. There are far too many museums, art galleries, and literary hotspots in each place to include them all, but we've picked a few favorites to help jump-start your culture-vulture vacation.
It's been called the armpit of the state, but we think that's unfair. Thanks to the University of South Carolina, Columbia's got a vibrant intellectual and artistic side — it's not just football anymore.
406 Meeting St., West Columbia
You'll find this well-stocked indie bookstore just across the river from downtown Columbia. With a huge selection of used, rare, and collectible books, Ed's has something to tickle your fancy whether you're looking to spend $8 or $10,000 — seriously. At the former price, you'll find gently used titles in everything from contemporary fiction to fairy tales to drama. At the latter, the store currently has a limited edition volume of the art book Sur La Pierre with original lithographs by the artist Francoise Gilot, a muse of Picasso's who gave birth to his children Claude and Paloma.
Columbia Museum of Art
1515 Main St.
If you haven't been to the Columbia Museum of Art, make time this summer. Not only does it house an impressive permanent collection including works by Brueghel and Monet, but the museum also brings in world-class temporary exhibitions. Currently, you can see etchings, lithographs, and stencils by Picasso in Picasso: The Master Prints and the abstract work of Arab-American artist Steven Naifeh in Found in Translation. This fall, the museum will host the traveling Annie Leibovitz exhibit Pilgrimage. The museum is closed on Mondays, but you can always see the permanent collection for free on Sundays.
Thomas Cooper Library, Rare Books and Special Collections
University of South Carolina
945 Bull St.
University libraries don't usually make it onto tourist "must-see" lists, but that's not necessarily a bad thing — it just means you won't be fighting any crowds while you ogle incredible literary artifacts like F. Scott Fitzgerald's business ledger and a first edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays. The Rare Books and Special Collections division is open to the public Mon.-Fri. from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
This riverside city is like Charleston's sweet little sister — small, quaint, and oh-so-pretty. Once you've wandered around the lovely Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, head back into town a block or two to take in the artsy sights.
McIntosh Book Shoppe
919 Bay St.
We've spent hours in this quiet bookshop, which boasts a huge wall of old hardcover fiction, a massive poetry selection, and a healthy collection of drama. That's not to mention the excellent natural science, children's, history, military, foreign language, and paperback sections (and that's still not all you can find here). It's the kind of place that makes you want to whisper, so even if you're there on a busy summer day, the volume doesn't seem to go above a quiet hum. Be sure to rifle through the scattered book baskets, too — they house some real gems.
2127 Boundary St., Suite 18A
(843) 379-ARTS (2787)
This community art center, theater, and gallery hosts music performances, readings, exhibitions, and more throughout the year. It's pretty quiet during the summer, but check out the gallery come September — ARTWorks will host a celebration of the artist Sam Doyle starting on Sept. 23.
The Charles Street Gallery
914 Charles St.
Housed in a restored home in Beaufort's historic district, the Charles Street Gallery displays photography, paintings, drawings, and collages by eight Lowcountry artists year-round, with shows taking place from October-May. You'll want to spend some time in the gallery's garden, too — in the summertime it's filled with tropical flowers. Sonny Phillips, who owns the gallery with his wife Georgia, is also a carpenter and makes furniture from reclaimed wood in a shop behind the house.
Beaufort History Museum
City Hall, 1911 Boundary St.
This small museum is filled with 19th-century fashions, old Gullah tools, cannonballs, and other artifacts from Beaufort's past. They've got two summer exhibits, one on the nearby Hunting Island and the other on the Beaufort Water Festival, an annual sports, art, and community festival now in its 58th year. Both will run through the first week of August.
York Bailey Museum
at the Penn Center
16 Penn Center Circle W.
St. Helena Island
For a fascinating historical experience, drive five miles from Beaufort on Highway 21 to St. Helena Island, home of the Penn Center. The Center was established in the 1860s to offer education and skills training to freed slaves, and now it's a monument to the Sea Islands' African-American and Gullah-Geechee history. You can see artifacts, letters, documents, photographs, and more. You can even tour a cottage where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stayed during a visit to the island.
Savannah may be the home of lax open-container laws and the craziest St. Paddy's Day celebration in the Southeast, but this city's got some serious refinement, too. The Savannah College of Art and Design is smack in the heart of downtown, and its presence has helped ensure that Savannah is as known for its arts culture as it is for its drinking one.
Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art
601 Turner Blvd.
SCAD hosts tons of exhibitions year-round by both students and established artists. At any given time you can see video installations, sculpture collections, fashion exhibits, works on paper, paintings, drawings, jewelry displays, and more. The SCAD Museum of Art is a good place to start, as you can see many exhibitions under one roof, but there are other, smaller SCAD galleries scattered throughout the city as well.
The Telfair Museums consist of three separate locations, each with distinct offerings. The Telfair Academy is perfect for the traditional fine art lover with its collection of 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, including a notable collection of American Impressionist works. Contemporary art buffs will love the Jepson Center, which features works by greats like Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, and Richard Avedon. If historic homes are your thing, visit the Owens-Thomas House, a beautiful Regency mansion complete with an English parterre garden and carriage house.
The Book Lady Bookstore
6 East Liberty St.
This proudly independent book shop offers a huge, eclectic selection, cozy ambiance, and booksellers who can find you pretty much any book your heart desires, no matter how rare or how long it's been out of print. If you need some coffee with your reads, walk a few feet to their cafe — it's got free wifi, too. The Book Lady keeps a packed calendar of literary events with both local and national authors, so check it out before you head down Savannah way. You never know who might be reading.
E. Shaver, Bookseller
326 Bull St.
The name says it all: This bookstore is serious about what they do. You won't find any literary garbage within E. Shaver's 12 rooms, and if you're at a loss for what to read next, just ask the staff. They're always happy to point you toward a new or old favorite.
Charleston's flat streets may be good for biking, but they can get a bit boring. For some hilly, mountain action, Asheville's the place to be. It's a well-known fact that outdoorsy types can stay busy from sunup to sundown in this Blue Ridge Mountains city, but Asheville's also got a rich artistic culture, especially in the folk arts.
Southern Highland Craft Guild
Folk Art Center
Milepost 382 Blue Ridge Pkwy.
Located right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this gallery, library, and craft shop sells both traditional and contemporary Appalachian craft arts. Members of the Guild work in everything from weaving to pottery to woodworking, and they give daily demonstrations of their crafts in the Center's lobby from March through December. The Guild also has several other galleries in the area, including the new Southern Highland Craft Gallery in Asheville's Biltmore Village. The Guild expects to have it open by the end of July.
Malaprop's Bookstore and Café
55 Haywood St.
Malaprop's is one of the biggest indie bookstores in this mountain town, complete with a café and cute little children's corner. They regularly bring in big-name authors like the history writer Mark Kurlansky, Marisha Pessl (who penned the fabulous Special Topics in Calamity Physics), and the tearjerking YA scribe Sarah Dessen, in addition to authors from across the Southeast. Envirogeeks will love their sustainability section, and they've also got an outstanding selection of cookbooks.
48 Commerce St.
This worker-owned, cooperatively managed bookstore is underground through and through — for one thing, it's literally beneath sidewalk level. For another, though, most of Firestorm's offerings are independently published, eclectic tomes like For Wilderness and Anarchy by Kevin Tucker, Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech, and Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History by Staughton Lynd. Firestorm's café sells coffee, tea, snacks, wraps, and desserts, and — naturally — they use as many local and organic ingredients as possible.
HandMade in America
125 S. Lexington Ave. Suite 101
HandMade in America is both a gallery and nonprofit dedicated to advancing regional craft. They host regular gallery shows by area fine craftspeople, but they also offer entrepreneurship networking, mentoring, and economic and community development programs. In other words, when you purchase a piece of art from HandMade, your money not only supports the artisan who made it, but also the local craft community. And here's something really cool: They've started an art CSA where you pay $200 to get six pieces of art, each from a different artist.