Exploring the Arts and Treasures in Lake City, SC
I’m almost reluctant to reveal my secret love affair with the little town of Lake City, South Carolina, that has big artistic community energy (BACE).
But I think this hidden gem off the beaten path in the center of the state has already been uncovered, polished, and brightly shines outside of my humble experience. For instance, it was named by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2019 as one of the 12 Best Places to Travel in May. That makes a statement for a town of less than 7,000 residents, but I’m not surprised. I witnessed Lake City’s appeal on a major scale on a recent visit to their annual ArtFields festival, one of the largest art competitions in the South that magically turns the entire town into an art gallery.
The heart and soul of Lake City’s centuries-old history is rooted in agriculture as a strong source of earth and water. You would think it is truly a city of lakes, but the town is actually located on the western tip of Lynches Lake, a series of lakes that extends into Johnsonville. Harvests evolved from strawberries into snap beans, lima beans, squash, and cucumbers – one of the most diverse ag markets in the Carolinas. Later, the tobacco market snuffed out produce in the late 1890s as the second largest in the state and eleventh in the country, boasting up to five tobacco warehouses in town.
Another interesting tidbit is that Lake City has been called the Crossroads since the 1820s, when the town was known as the meeting place between Charleston and Cheraw, and Georgetown and Camden. Railroad tracks were first laid in 1856 by the Northeastern Railroad, followed by Atlantic Coastline, which gave the farming town a boost and became a busy stop for its produce and tobacco.
Today, 25 trains pass through Lake City on these historic tracks run by CSX Railroad, and the business community meets in the former depot, which is now the location for the chamber of commerce. Note: I witnessed the trains that come barreling through the center of town after the signals ding and the gates close – and it takes your breath away.
The Inn at the The Crossroads
128 Main St.
My husband and I last stayed in Lake City during the time of ArtFields, which also fell on our wedding anniversary, and we had booked a cottage on Airbnb, but I highly recommend The Inn at the Crossroads in downtown Lake City. The boutique hotel is an exquisite renovation to the colonial McCrea’s Inn and today reveals a smart balance of ultra-modern and classic charm, from the polished hardwood floors to the coffered ceilings. Choose from spacious rooms or suites, if you’d prefer a dine-in kitchen. The Crossroads often hosts weddings onsite indoors in their banquet space or outdoors in their lovely courtyard. Dining amenities include the more upscale Lake City Bistro and their welcoming lobby bar.
This annual arts festival just celebrated its eleventh year of honoring artists throughout the Southeast. It’s an incredible 11-day event that truly turns the town into a living art gallery, featuring artists of nearly every medium from across 12 southeastern states who compete for over $100,000 in cash prizes. Up to 400 works of art are on display in locally owned venues, from renovated 1920s warehouses and professional art spaces, such as Jones-Carter Gallery and TRAX Visual Art Center, to the library, the history museum, the Ronald E. McNair Life History Center, restaurants, boutiques and other shops. And it’s not just framed art, but sculpture, sidewalk art, glassblowing, ceiling art, murals, and much more.
Grab a pamphlet at the hub on Main Street, map out where you’d like to explore art, then vote for your People’s Choice submission. On top of all things art, there are outdoor music stages, a marketplace, and a wine tour at the nearby Moore Farms Botanical Garden, among other sub-events.
Moore Farms Botanical Gardens
100 New Zion Road
Lake City native Darla Moore revived her family’s legacy by founding Moore Farms Botanical Gardens in 2002 on her grandparents’ former tobacco farm. Moore left Lake City to become a Wall Street mogul in the 1980s, at one point racking up a $2.3 billion fortune and landing on the cover of Fortune magazine (the first woman to accomplish this). She has since returned to her roots, giving back to her alma mater of the University of South Carolina over the years, as well as Clemson University, and her hometown of Lake City.
Moore Farms is a hybrid place of horticultural research and education, as well as a beautiful display of native flowers, sculptures (some are former ArtFields winners), and funky art to be discovered as you meander down garden paths and seek shade in the gazebos or under the mature trees. It’s a must-see for the senses.
Lake City Community Park
273 N. Church St.
Located not too far from downtown Lake City, this new park offers another peaceful, outdoor to-do option. Opened in 2018, the Lake City Community Park features an eight-acre lake with a board walk, walking trail, five fishing piers, a canoe/kayak launch, shaded gazebo, a picnic shelter with a wood-burning fireplace, restrooms, plus grills and picnic tables scattered throughout the park. Take a deep breath of that country air and relax!
Take the time to pop into local shops to support Lake City retailers offering a wide array of unique items you won’t find in the big box stores. A few that I humbly recommend are:
- Bold & Sassy Boutique: The name says it all, and I love their selections of children’s and women’s fashion finds.
- Lake City Emporium: This cute boutique on Main Street is laden with antiques and extremely eclectic, unique home décor items.
- The Cabbage Patch: Located inside Merle Norman, this shop is stocked with fun, flirty women’s clothing, jewelry, and accessories.
SIP & DINE
112 East Main St.
This casual-chic lounge has all the right vibes, laid out in clusters of Victorian-style arm chairs, sofas, love seats, and low coffee tables, all under low lighting. Cozy up to a glass of wine or creative cocktail, like the Bee’s Knees (a classic Prohibition era creation with gin, lemon, ginger beer, and local honey) and a charcuterie board you can build yourself with an assortment of meats, cheeses, fruits, and nuts. Order the Caprese Bites or any of the paninis and finish your visit at Tammy’s with a melted chocolate dippers dessert.
Green Frog Social House
118 East Main St.
Expect traditional bar grub with a Southern twist at this newer pub that boasts a boisterous social atmosphere for all ages. Try their Pork Rinds with Pimento Cheese, Shrimp and Grits, Chicken and Waffle with strawberries and maple syrup, Frog Burger, or Southern Chicken Salad.
Baker’s Sweets Bistro & Bakery
129 East Main St.
Be prepared for Baker’s to be bustling for breakfast and lunch—but there’s a reason why! Their handcrafted dishes are worth writing about. We had the Sausage and Cheddar Sandwich (sausage, egg, Vermont cheddar, and mayo on a Croissant) and the Southern Skillet (two eggs, grits, and bacon topped with pepper gravy and cheese). Oh, and we took a homemade Butter Cake for the road! Lunch offering standouts are their housemade chicken salad sandwich, their creamy loaded baked potato soup, fresh-cut fries, and broccoli salad.
Sip Co. Wine & Beer
116 North Church St.
If you’re into sipping over supping, make your way to Sip Co., a trendy beer and wine bar converted from a former Citgo gas station. On a nice day, they roll up the garage doors and have live music outdoors. While there is no food menu, there’s usually always a food truck parked outside. On your way out, stop by their beer and wine retail store.
For more information to plan your getaway to Lake City, South Carolina, visitlakecitysc.com