Botanical gardens, parks, good food, and great music are just some of the fun things to do in Sumter, SC.
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I love visiting small towns. They each have their own charm and instantly feel like home. That’s how we felt in Sumter, SC. We were hosted there over Memorial Day Weekend, and as soon as we got to town and started exploring, Pete and I both decided it’s somewhere we could live.
The downtown area is filled with older, historic buildings that boast cute shops and delicious restaurants. It reminded us a lot of downtown Fayetteville, NC if you’ve been there, which makes sense because the Shaw Air Force Base is in Sumter and Fort Liberty (formerly known as Fort Bragg) is an extension of Fayetteville. There’s something transient and up and coming and hopefully about towns near military installations.
Sumter is also home to USC Sumter, Morris College, and Central Carolina Technical College, so you have a mix of residents and temporary residents (which is a fun way to refer to college students) in the area — and activities that cater to both groups.
If you’re coming to the area, our post will help. As with all our “24 hours in … ” posts, we take you through one full day in the town, highlighting the best the town has to offer. Of course, at the end, we have more options for you in case you have more time to explore.
24 Hours In Sumter, South Carolina
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We’re starting this 24 hours at dinnertime. That way you have the full next day to explore all the outdoor offering of Sumter. Of course, you can plan your day however it best fits your schedule.
When you get to town, head to J. O’Grady’s (5 S Main St.). It’s located in historic Sumter, where you’ll be spending the entire evening. So the location is super convenient. And the Pulled Pork Nacho Basket is amazing (and enough for three meals, even though they’re an appetizer).
J. O’Grady’s is known for its burgers, so you’d be remiss to not order one of those for dinner. There are 16 different burgers on the menu, everything from a classic cheeseburger to the Fredmaster, with cucumber, sprouts, guacamole, and bacon.
The burgers are cooked to order, but you can’t order how they’re cooked. So keep that in mind. Pete thought his burger was cooked well, but he would have preferred a little more pink.
Also a matter of preference: J. O’ Grady’s updated its menu in March and removed the corn nuggets. Now, if you’ve never been to Sumter before, you won’t miss them. But the regulars are upset over this change. So, if you head to the restaurant and there’s a new iteration of the menu, and you see corn nuggets, get them.
If you’re lucky to be there during the Fourth Friday Concert Series, definitely head there after dinner. It’s a short three block walk from the restaurant (which is a good way to walk off some of those nachos).
It’s on the fourth Friday of the month, in front of the Sumter County Courthouse (141 N Main Street) from May to September, from 6:30 pm to 9 pm. We were lucky to be in town for the first one this year, when Level 10 Live Band & Show. The band was so good and had the entire crowd — both young and old — dancing the whole time.
There are food trucks at the event selling food and desserts, beer and wine available for purchase (if you’re 21+, of course), and a tent set up with free books for kids and snacks for sale.
These events are my favorite. They’re such a great way to bring the community together.
Also, quick note: If you went to the series previously (when it was known as Downtown Friday Nights) it was on Main Street, like, literally on the road. There was a stage set up in the street, between Liberty Street and Hampton Street) and the road was closed to passing traffic.
This year, the stage is set up on the lawn in front of the courthouse and is off the road, which means cars can drive through now.
If you’re not in town for Fourth Friday, check the schedule at the Sumter Opera House (21 N Main St). The performing arts venue hosts touring events, plus live music, plays, and more at the theater. The Opera House is a beautiful historic building (built in the early 1990’s after a fire took down the first incarnation of the building) and a great place to see a show.
What’s very cool is the Sumter Opera House also does more for the community with the Take pArt program, which helps foster creativity. Through help from a grant, pianos were acquired, painted by local artists and organizations, and placed throughout the City of Sumter.
This pianos are actually playable, so you can sit down in front of a local business and play a tune. Just maybe try to play something other than Chopsticks. I bet the workers in the area have heard that a bunch of times since the program began.
After Fourth Friday, head down to Sumter Original Brewery (2 S Main St). It’s literally across the street from J. O’ Grady’s.
As the name implies, it’s Sumter’s original brewery. The building it’s in is 30,000 square feet — and it feels just as big as that number sounds. The bottom floor is a bar with mostly restaurant seating and a small stage (where trivia night is held weekly on Wednesdays). The second floor is filled with games like shuffleboard and Golden Tee, ping pong tables, and pool tables. Of course, there’s a bar.
But the rooftop is the perfect place to spend the evening. There’s a bar, tons of seating, cornhole boards, and a stage. There’s open mic on that stage on Thursdays, live music on select Fridays, beer yoga on some weekends, and more.
You can grab a bite to eat on any floor too, in case you need a late night snack.
When we were in town, DAZR was performing on the rooftop. The Clemson, SC band was phenomenal. And I don’t say that lightly. DAZR played classic rock and nailed everything, which is really, really hard to do. We had such a good time watching them on the roof. Small aside, but, we go out to watch live music multiple times every weekend (last weekend, just in town, we saw four bands). None of them were as good as DAZR.
So the fact that the band played in Sumter, for free, shows you the quality of live entertainment at the brewery, the care the brewery is putting into events, and the revitalization of the town itself.
I told you everything you’re doing this evening was in the same area, and I wasn’t kidding.
Walk across the street from Sumter Original Brewery (not towards J. O’ Grady’s … the other across the street) and there’s the Hyatt Place (18 N Main St). That’s where we recommend you stay the night.
There’s a free public parking lot conveniently located behind the hotel and Main Street Tavern, with spots designated for hotel guests (although you’re permitted to park in any spots).
Our room was really nice. We had a king bed room that overlooked Main Street, and I loved our view. There was a small partition in the room, separating the bed from a nice sectional couch. You could easily see the television from the couch, and it felt like you were in a separate room. That was really nice because it rained quite a bit during our time in Sumter (including the entire day on Saturday), so we did spend quite a bit of time in the room.
The room has a fridge and coffee maker, two perks which we always look for. It didn’t have a microwave, but there was one in the hallway near the elevators. We actually did use it to heat up the leftover J. O’Grady’s nachos as a midnight snack, and it felt kind of funny carrying hot food down the hallway to our room.
And, if you can’t sleep, the Hyatt Place has a 24 hour gym on the ground floor. You know we always try to exercise on vacation, so this is an easy way to do that.
Booking a hotel with is a complementary breakfast is one of the best things you can do to stretch your vacation budget. So, you’ll be excited to know that the Hyatt Place has a complementary hot breakfast, with items like scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes, and grits. My personal go to here: yogurt topped with macerated strawberries and granola. So, so good.
There’s a ton of seating in front of the breakfast room. And ample coffee. No hot chocolate mix, so no hotel mocha for me this trip (if you know, you know). But there are fresh fruits out at all times, which you should grab a piece of to take on your hike (if you’re following the outdoor portion of your Sumter adventure next).
If you slept in and missed breakfast, head across the street from the hotel to Brubaker’s Café & Bakery (13 N Main St.). It’s located in Naomi and Warner (a local gift shop) and has a ton of seating available in the shop. You can grab a cup of coffee and a pastry to start your day (or as an afternoon pick me up).
I highly suggest you order one of their Fudge Pies to go with your coffee. And eat it as soon as possible because it’s delicious cold. It’s sweet, but not overly sweet, and the icing is perfection (and, if you know me, I search far and wide for good icing because most of it is cloyingly sweet. This is not. And had I known that, I would have bought every Fudge Pie in the display case. Instead, I just decided to go back the next day … but the cafe was closed every day for the rest of our trip so, sigh, no more treats for me).
So, now you have two options. You can either spend the day outdoors or you can spend the day indoors. Or, of course, you can mix and match.
If you like botanical gardens, you need to head over to Swan Lake Iris Gardens (822 W. Liberty Street). It’s less than a five minute drive from the hotel.
The 150-acre gardens are home to all eight known species of swan. It’s actually the only public park in the United States with all the swan species. It also has a ton of iris flowers, which actually were a happy accident. See, the gardens were originally a fishing retreat for a local businessman. He tried to plant irises there — and failed miserably. So he hired someone to pull up the bulbs and throw them into the swamp. Well, the next year, they bloomed beautifully and the gardens were (basically) born.
Swan Lake Iris Gardens hosts multiple festivals during the year, like the Iris Festival, which is South Carolina’s oldest festival, and Swan Lake Fantasy of Lights, South Carolina’s largest free display of Christmas lights.
Even without a festival, you can spend the entire afternoon at the gardens. The gardens which are free, by the way. There’s a butterfly garden, chocolate garden (with plants that smell and look like chocolate), and a braille garden, which I just thought was incredibly compassionate.
If you haven’t had enough outdoor time yet, reapply your sunscreen and head out to Poinsett State Park (6660 Poinsett Park Rd, Wedgefield). It’s in Sumter County, not Sumter proper, but it’s the closest state park to the city center. It’s a really nice park.
The visitor’s center is made of coquina shells and seeing that is worth the price of admission ($3 for adults, less for others). It was built years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps when the state was looking for affordable recreation options for the area.
There are 10 acres of lakes, which you can rent paddleboats for, fish on, or swim in (weather permitting, of course). There are over 25 miles of hiking trails too. And you can camp here, if you’d rather do that instead of staying at a hotel.
If you’d rather stay in Sumter, there are over a dozen of parks in town with playgrounds, baseball and soccer fields, splash pads, greenspace, and walking trails. The most popular is Palmetto Park (416 S Wise Dr), a large park with athletic fields, walking trails, a splash pad, and more. It’s also home to the Palmetto Tennis Center, the largest tennis center in the state. The tennis center has pickleball and tennis courts, so pack your racquets.
If you’re in town when it’s raining (like we were) or during colder months when you don’t want to spend all your time outside, you have a bunch of options.
Start at the Sumter County Museum (122 N Washington St Suite A). It’s operated in the Williams-Brice House, so it’s a home-turned-museum (similar to the Bellamy Mansion here in Wilmington). The first floor is mostly antiques (with the coolest cabinet that I’ve ever seen in the dining area). Upstairs is an exhibit dedicated to Coca-Cola (because a Coca-Cola Bottling Company plant was in Sumter), lots of old dolls (some from the 1800’s), and two rooms of rotating exhibits that change frequently.
There’s a huge back area with a plantation room and (sometimes) a living museum, which I will admit is probably the best way for kids to learn history.
If you’re heading to the museum, you can pay a couple dollars more and get admission into the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center (15 Church St). It’s an in use temple, with a current congregation. And the temple itself, with its gorgeous stained glass windows, are available for viewing during museum hours.
The back of the temple leads into (what I’m guessing was originally) a community room. There are a bunch of displays, educating visitors not only about the Jewish community in the area and how they came to the area (via Charleston in 1815), but also about Judaism as a whole.
That’s really interesting, honestly, especially because Christian-based religions dominate the South. So it’s nice to have a space where people can be educated.
And finally, we suggest you head over to the Sumter County Gallery of Art (200 Hasel St). The donation-based museum hosts two artists at a time, one on each side of the gallery.
When we were there, Emma Knight‘s Twisted Eden series was on display and I instantly fell in love with it. Her style is whimsical and blown out, cartoony and bubbly, with tons of vibrant colors. Her art is just stunning. If I had the money, I would have purchased all of them.
Now, you’ve walked around enough — either outside or indoors — so it’s time for lunch.
I hope you like wings because we’re sending you to Leo’s Wings (961 McCrays Mill Rd B). The restaurant has won best chicken wing for over 20 years in a row. So of course, you’re gonna want to order a half dozen. We did and actually, the wings were really good. I like the flats and Pete likes the drums, so we’re a perfect wing eating duo. And Leo’s served them perfectly because we got three of each. The wings were cooked really well and the skin wasn’t chewy.
Of course, you can’t get full on wings alone (I mean, I guess you could, but we didn’t), so there’s more to the menu. I really liked the Buffalo chicken sandwich. It was your basic spicy chicken sandwich, but it was cooked really well. I only finished half and ate the other half cold later in our trip and it was still enjoyable.
Pete got the Kitchen Sink Salad, which we jokingly kept calling a meat salad, because it had ham, turkey, bacon, and fried chicken on top of lettuce, tomato, and onion.
Wipe that hot sauce and blue cheese off your fingers because you have to drive. It’s time to leave Sumter because your 24 hours are over.
More Outdoor Things To Do In Sumter, SC:
There are a variety of outdoor activities to do in Sumter that you might want to add to your itinerary.
The public use pool opens on Memorial Day Weekend. You do have to pay a daily rate to swim, but you don’t need a membership, which is really nice.
Sumter has a dirt, car racing track, very close to downtown Sumter. Races are held every Saturday during the season (except Memorial Day Weekend, which happened to be when we were in town).
If you’ve never been to drag racing (the car kind, not the Ru Paul kind) before, it’s really fun. Definitely check it out if you’re in town when races are happening.
More Indoor Things To Do In Sumter, SC:
If you’re in town on a rainy day, or you just need a break from the sun, there are a ton of fun indoor activities.
If your day is really rained out, movie theaters are always there to save the day. If that happens when you’re in Sumter, head to Beacon Cinemas (1121 Broad St) to see the latest movies.
Gamecock Lanes (817 Broad St) is a 24 lane bowling alley that’s open to the public. Be sure to call ahead of time to see if you need to reserve a lane.
Escape rooms are really popular. If they’re popular amongst your group, you can check out Lock, Clock, and Peril Escape Rooms (5535 Broad St) when you’re in town.
Roller skating is having a resurgence (I heard about underground pop up roller skating in Tacoma when I was in Washington). If you want to get nostalgic, or try it for the first time, head to Skate Station of Sumter (45 Old Manning Rd). There’s a snack bar there too, if you want to grab a bite to eat while watching your kids skate.
In a time when traditional malls are closing, the Sumter Mall (1057 Broad St) is thriving. The entire mall is enclosed (unlike the open air model that’s happening lately), so if you need to shop when you’re in town, this is a great option.
Special Events In Sumter, SC
Sumter is home to a ton of festivals that happen throughout the year. The top five, which are worth planning a trip around, are:
Christmas lights are placed around Swan Lake Iris Gardens. There’s also Santa’s workshop at the opportunity to take photos with the big man himself.
The festival, which takes place each April, is a West African Bimbé festival of harvest, with soul food, music, art, dance, parades, and living history.
The Iris Festival is the state’s oldest festival. The three-day festival, held over Memorial Day Weekend, showcases the gardens, has over 100 vendors, live music shows, and more.
The fair, which happens in mid October, features rides, a petting zoo, a flower show, baking competitions, juried art shows,
Sumter’s annual Oktoberfest festival happens right on Main Street in the center of town.
Road Trips From Sumter, SC:
If you’re in Sumter, and you’re looking for other places to visit in the area, you can road trip to the following places (which are all within three hours of Sumter):
Which of these Things To Do In Sumter, SC is making your list? Let us know in the comments.