The Dorchester County town of Summerville, population 30,000, is gaining a reputation as a friendly, scenic, and upscale suburb north of Charleston . That’s funny, since that’s basically what Summerville has always been.
Founded as Pineland Village in 1785, Summerville made its reputation as a place for plantation owners and their families to escape the insects and heat of the swampier areas of the Lowcountry. While the plantation system disintegrated with the South’s loss in the Civil War, Summerville got a second wind at the turn of the 20th century, when it was recommended by doctors all over the world as a great place to recover from tuberculosis (supposedly all the turpentine fumes in the air from the pine trees were a big help).
Summerville’s about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston . Take I-26 north.
Due to its longstanding popularity as a getaway for wealthy planters and then as a spa town, Summerville boasts a whopping 700 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
For a walking tour of the historic district, download the map at www.visitsummerville.com  or pick up a hard copy at the Summerville Visitors Center (402 N. Main St., 843/873-8535). (Alas, the grand old Pine Forest Inn, perhaps the greatest of all Summerville landmarks, Winter White House for presidents William Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, was torn down after World War II, a victim of the Florida vacation craze.)
Much visitor activity in Summerville centers on Azalea Park (South Main St. and W. 5th St. South, daily dusk–dawn, free), rather obviously named for its most scenic inhabitants.
Several fun yearly events take place here, most notably the Flowertown Festival (www.flowertownfestival.com , free) each April, a three-day affair heralding the coming of spring and the blooming of the flowers. One of the biggest festivals in South Carolina, a quarter-million people usually attend.
Another event, Sculpture in the South (www.sculptureinthesouth.com ) in May, takes advantage of the extensive public sculpture in the park.
To learn more about Summerville’s interesting history, go just off Main Street to the Summerville-Dorchester Museum (100 E. Doty Ave., 843/875-9666, www.summervilledorchestermuseum.org , Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–2 p.m.). Located in the former town police station, the museum has a wealth of good exhibits and boasts a new curator, Chris Ohm, with wide local experience, including at Middleton Place  and with the CSS Hunley  project in North Charleston.
Just south of Summerville on the way back to Charleston  is Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site (300 State Park Rd., 843/873-1740, www.southcarolinaparks.com , daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m., $2 adults, 15 and under free), marking the remains of the dead town of Dorchester. With a pedigree going back to 1697, Dorchester was fortified by colonists during the Revolution and commanded briefly for a time by the Swamp Fox himself, Francis Marion. The encampment was reclaimed by the surrounding forest, with research not beginning until the 1960s. Today you can view the poignant remains of the 1719 church bell tower and a circa-1750 tabby fort from the French and Indian War, as well as enjoying interpretive trails.
The renowned Woodlands Resort & Inn (125 Parsons Rd., 843/875-2600, $325–650) is one of a handful of inns in America with a five-star rating both for lodging and dining. Its 18 rooms within the 1906 great house are decorated in a mix of old-fashioned plantation high-style and contemporary designer aesthetics, with modern, luxurious baths. There’s also a freestanding guest cottage ($850) which seeks to replicate a hunting-lodge type of vibe.
As you’d expect, there’s a full day spa on premises; an hour massage, the most basic offering, will run you $110. The pool is outside, but heated for all-year enjoyment, at least theoretically. Woodlands is making a big play for the growing pet-friendly market, and eagerly pampers your dog or cat while you stay. You might not want to leave the grounds, but you should take advantage of their complimentary bikes to tour around historic Summerville.
Within Woodlands is its award-winning, world-class restaurant, simply called The Dining Room (Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 6–9 p.m., brunch Sun. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., $25–40). New executive chef Nate Whiting, once the sous chef here, mixes the love of the fresh ingredients of his Italian heritage with the boldness of his French training. His signature dishes include a linguini with wild burgundy escargot and sweet chili threads. It will come as no surprise to find out that the 900-entry wine list and sommelier are collectively awesome, as are the desserts of pastry chef Sheree McDowell. Jackets required, and reservations are highly advisable.
In Summerville proper, try Mustard Seed (101 N. Main St., 843/821-7101, lunch Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–9 p.m. and Fri.–Sat. 5–10 p.m., $8–10), a health food restaurant that doesn’t skimp on the taste. For a more down-home-style pancakes-and-sandwich place that’s popular with the locals at all hours of the day, try Flowertown Restaurant (120 E. 5th North St., 843/871-3202, daily 24 hours, $8).
Another popular local landmark is Guerin’s Pharmacy (140 S. Main St., 843/873-2531, Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m.), which claims to be the State’s oldest pharmacy. Complete with old-fashioned soda fountain, they offer malted milkshakes and lemonade.