Off the Beaten Path: Visiting Hartsville, South Carolina

One of South Carolina’s best-kept secrets lies an easy 80-minute drive from Columbia.



Barry Thompson Photography

One of South Carolina’s best-kept secrets lies an easy 80-minute drive from Columbia. The city of Hartsville is captured well in its unofficial slogan — “Small Town with a Big Heart” — and, luckily for those in the Midlands, is perfect for a planned getaway or a last-minute retreat. Sarah Bowers and I enjoyed the perfect girls’ weekend in this charming Southern town, where everyone we passed smiled, spoke, and wanted to know us better. Downtown is lovely with pretty brick hardscaping, manicured flower beds, and beautiful old trees. However, the biggest surprise for us was just how upscale Hartsville is on every level.  Additionally, this historic town is home to Sonoco (a Fortune 500 company), Coker College, and the Governor’s School for Math and Science.

 

Where to Stay

The Mantissa Executive Suites & Spa sets the tone for how Hartsville entertains its guests and is truly a tribute to the quality of the town. This boutique hotel sits right in the heart of downtown and was conveniently positioned to be within walking distance from most of our destinations. The owners not only ensure that guests experience luxury at The Mantissa, but their choice to showcase local artisans –– from the art adorning the walls to the soap and lotion in each room –– guarantees that authentic Hartsville flavor is prolific.

Corey checked us in to our executive dual queen suite, decorated in soft neutrals with hints of red tones, which offered a beautiful view over Carolina Avenue. Plantation shutters over the beds, a leather sofa in the living room, quartz countertops in the full kitchen, and plush towels hanging in a spacious bathroom each added a touch of elegance.

 

Where to Dine

We had a delicious brunch at Midnight Rooster. An artsy coffee shop right next door to The Mantissa, it boasts an expansive, tantalizing Saturday morning menu complete with crepes, omelets, beignets, waffles, and several different grits dishes — just to name a few. We were shown through a side door that opened into a courtyard that felt outside yet was enclosed with beautiful brick and covered with a clear tent-roof. I ordered French toast and the signature pimento cheese biscuit on the side, served with bacon and honey mustard. Later in the afternoon, we returned for an afternoon snack to tide us over until dinner, and we had trouble deciding between the assortment of macaroons, quiche, cupcakes, muffins, and cookies.

That evening, our breakfast for the following morning was delivered to our suite in The Mantissa from Griggs Circle Bakery. Our repast included iced cinnamon rolls, banana nut bread, and a blueberry coffee cake pastry.

Over the two nights we spent in Hartsville, we were thrilled to discover two exquisite restaurants for dinner. The first night we dined at Sam Kendall’s, which has a sister location in Camden. The restaurant is adjacent to The Mantissa, across a lovely, stone alleyway. The atmosphere is sophisticated yet casual, as arriving either dressed up or dressed down would have been appropriate. Between us, we sampled the crab-stuffed mushrooms and bacon-wrapped scallops to start, and I ordered the filet mignon, which came with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a “lobster pot” –– a mini casserole of Maine lobster claw meat, parmesan cheese, cracker crumbs, and lemon. For dessert, I ordered the chocolate cake, and Sarah tried the crème brulee; both were perfection.

Our second evening, we went to Black Creek Bistro, which had a quieter, fine dining ambiance located in a historic home. We decided to again split two appetizers: the fried green tomatoes, served with pimento goat cheese and red pepper jelly, and the crispy pork belly, served with apple puree, oyster mushrooms, charred scallions and chipotle-honey gastrique. Our entrees consisted of a jumbo lump crabcake with arugula corn salad and the lamb chops, served with tomato and saffron couscous, feta, asparagus and, of course, mint oil. For dessert, we ordered the brownie a la mode and the salted caramel cheesecake, completed with a glass of smooth, tawny port.

 

 

 

Where to Socialize

Vintage feels like a step back to 1950. This wine shop, brewery and general hangout, is the perfect place to catch up with friends on a Saturday afternoon. Sarah and I enjoyed a glass of prosecco over a game of chess by the window, while an old teal refrigerator watched over my shoulder from a corner.

We spent a delightful happy hour just upstairs from our room at Rooftop at Mantissa. This rooftop bar offers a shaded view over downtown, refreshing breezes, and a fun menu of mixed drinks. Soon, they will have appetizers catered up from Sam Kendall’s next door.

After dinner one evening, we strolled down to Retrofit Sip-n-Seat, which doubles as an artsy gift shop as well as an eclectic outdoor bar. We ordered inside and then sat out on sofas on the covered patio, while local musician Jim Money played the guitar and sang with his soothing voice on his 70th birthday. I sipped on the best blueberry mimosa I’ve ever had, and the night air was deliciously pleasant.

 

What to Do

Coker College’s Kalmia Gardens offers a 35-acre public botanical garden with gorgeous, winding, manicured trails through a very mature forest that seemed to magically transport us to the mountains, had not the hilltops plunged down to boardwalks meandering through the swamp. The Thomas E. Hart House, built in 1820 from timber cut on the property, and the gardens are on the National Register of Historic Places.

No girls’ weekend is complete without a visit to the spa, and Spa Soleil, a full-service medical spa located in The Mantissa, satisfied that craving. Experienced therapists Wendy and Billy Jo gave us each an incredible massage with hot oil, while we relaxed to the sounds of crashing waves and seagulls in our respective rooms.

What’s a girl to do to wake up from a massage? Shop, of course! We were amazed at the variety of boutiques in downtown Hartsville.

Mahala Reese — This upscale women’s clothing store is a true testament to Hartsville. Owner Amy Owen said that while many visitors ask why they are not in a larger city, they are passionate about bringing designer retail to a small town.

Minnie’s Giftique — This preppy store carries items from chic clothing to fine china and everything in between, including jewelry, luggage, and home décor. This truly is a one-stop shop!

Raised Down South — This boutique offers fun, trendy clothing and cute jewelry. I picked up a pair of beautiful stud earrings.

Timms Attic — This consignment store and antique shop has a little of everything. I enjoyed time browsing a glass case of fine, rare books.

Burry Bookstore — A used bookstore with a wonderful atmosphere, Burry Bookstore is well organized and filled with natural light. A reading nook around the fireplace invites patrons to stay a while, and the store’s offerings also include beautiful stationery.

Brandi’s on College — Owner Brandi Wheeler (married to the owner of Vintage, which is across the street) told us that this eclectic clothing, shoes, and accessories shop has been there for 50 years. The decor consists of vintage books, typewriters, and trunks. She offered us a glass of wine to sip while we shopped.

Sadly, one weekend was not long enough to enjoy all that Hartsville has to offer, and we ran out of time to visit about half a dozen other local downtown shops; nor were we able to explore the Black Creek Art Museum, the Hartsville Museum, the historic Hart-Mills Cottage, the Coker Farms National Historic Landmark, Lawton Park and Prestwood Lake, or catch a live performance of The Wizard of Oz playing at Center Theater.

Until next time, Hartsville!