College Towns of the South: Clemson, South Carolina

Home of the Clemson Tigers

From the rust-colored sand on visitors’ toes at Lake Hartwell to the outfits of Tiger fans packing the roaring heights of Death Valley Memorial Stadium on game days, orange is always in season in Clemson. Nestled in the backwoods of Upstate South Carolina, Clemson is home to a vibrant college community and storied football program; it’s also an outstanding example of a small town done right. 

For a taste of the town, snag a counter seat at Mac’s Drive In. Curbside service at the fifty-eight-year-old favorite ended years ago, but the delightfully greasy cheeseburgers, beer-battered onion rings, and thick milkshakes remain. Another Clemson standard, The Esso Club, is regarded as one of the nation’s best sports bars. Pull in at the former service station for a cold beer and the Tiger Den Sampler (a platter of fried finger foods) on the patio.

Bed down at the university’s James F. Martin Inn, which offers all the amenities you’d expect at a big-city hotel and a peaceful setting on the Walker Golf Course at Lake Hartwell. The bed-and-breakfast set will love The Liberty Hall Inn in nearby Pendleton. The antebellum home features seven guest suites and wraparound verandas on both floors with views of the grand oaks and magnolias. Be sure to make dinner reservations at the on-site Italian restaurant, Brandini’s Cuisine, beloved for its classic dishes like chicken piccata. (Editor’s note: This restaurant has since closed).

Ram Cat Alley Historic District, Seneca
Ram Cat Alley Historic District, Seneca

Julie Eudt

Visitors will also want to pay a visit to the neighboring community of Seneca. In the town’s revitalized Ram Cat Alley Historic District, boutiques and cafes occupy storefronts dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Take in the timeless beauty of Lake Hartwell at Clemson’s Twelve Mile Recreation Area, a prime location for picnics, or pay a visit to the South Carolina Botanical Garden on the university campus. Begun in 1958 as a small camellia preserve, the garden has grown to encompass 295 acres and  is nationally renowned for its nature-based sculpture collection.


“Walker Golf Course is great for a round of golf. Be sure to take a picture of the 17th hole with the Tiger Paw Green.”—Nancy O’Dell, host of Entertainment Tonight, class of 1990

“Get out to the lakes. Clemson is surrounded by them, and there are lots of waterfalls. Any person that loves sports and the outdoors will love Clemson.”—Nancy Harris, women’s tennis head coach, ACC 2014 Coach of the Year 

“For comfort food, I love the Hangover from Hell [a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato on Texas Toast] with tater tots from TD’s.”—Tony Cawthon, professor of student affairs and higher education