Known for its scenic riverways and nature trails, Florence is more than a largely agricultural destination. The city's exciting, culture-rich downtown is bursting with unique shops, theater spaces and arts-minded venues. It's Florence's mix of cultural attractions, annual festivals and unspoiled vistas that make this Southern destination a true charmer. Florence emerged as a railroad junction in the mid-1850s and became a major rail center and the site of the stockade to house Union soldiers during the Civil War. Today, Florence has become an agricultural and industrial development hub, as well as the home of Francis Marion University.
Many of Florence's attractions celebrate its serene agricultural setting. More than 250,000 annual visitors come to the 55-acre Pee Dee State Farmers Market, home to a variety of fresh produce, plants, flowers and pottery for sale. The market features a 45,000-square-foot drive-through farmer shed, as well as a lob cabin gift shop with gardens and greenhouses and 100-year-old barn with a pecan kitchen and cafe. The delightfully magical Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden is home to more than 300 topiary plants, including junipers, hollies, Leyland cypress, pines and oaks. Visitors are welcome to tour the private residence garden and perhaps meet Fryar, who has created topiary in his garden since the early 1980s and recognized in the 2006 documentary "A Man Named Pearl."
Other Florence attractions marry the region's natural beauty with a zest for science. The nonprofit educational institution ScienceSouth welcomes children, adults and families to take part in hands-on science workshops at its 5,000-square-foot pavilion along Jeffries Creek. As part of the institution's growing outreach program, participants can take part in such activities as extracting DNA from a strawberry and building a solar cap. Visitors can also tour the 1.5-mile Clemson Outdoor Education Trail, which snakes through agricultural, forest, lake, wetland and urban ecosystems along the scenic 150-acre Dargan's Pond.
Florence's agricultural strength can also be experienced in area restaurants that utilize fresh, local ingredients. Redbone Alley incorporates local ingredients in its innovative South Carolina regional cuisine, accented with French, Mediterranean, African, English and West Indian influences. Victor's Bistro & Garden Room also incorporates local ingredients in such selections as seared duck breast, sweet potato mash, collard greens and cranberry-Granny Smith apple chutney. Percy & Willie's Food and Spirits is a local favorite known for its friendly atmosphere and American fare, while Starfire Grill & Spirits serves a variety of Greek, American and Southern dishes. For a taste of old country Italy, visit Stefano's Italian Restaurant, which incorporates choice imported meats, cheeses and seasonings into its authentic Italian offerings.