Paul Mulkey / Provided

Charleston folks consider it the kickoff of tourist season — every year the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) brings approximately 40,000 loyal visitors to the Holy City. These visitors are so loyal, in fact, that SEWE estimates that three quarters of attendees have already been to the event an average of nine times. The largest event of its kind in the country, SEWE celebrates all things outdoors, from fine art to DockDogs competitions to tasty bites of homegrown meats and grains. The city seems to transform every February, invaded by friendly folks donning hunting jackets, mud-kickin’ boots and down vests. And while the fashion trends are predictable the programming can be surprising: In recent years we’ve been downright delighted by the work of a SEWE artist, Larry Moore, whose paintings are meant to be visual narratives that present a post-apocalyptic world where animals inhabit spaces once held by humans. Nothing against marsh landscapes, but we think Moore’s pieces are a refreshing addition to wildlife conversations. We’ve also enjoyed a recent visit and demonstration from the Search Tactics and Rescue Recovery Team (S.T.A.R.R.), a group of handlers and their cadaver dogs who help law enforcement solve crimes. Dogs are, needless to say, the stars of the SEWE show every year, whether they’re Boykins gathering with a local interest group, Border Collies herding sheep or local labradors strutting their stuff in the daily DockDogs competition. And while the festival is notorious for its fun (hello, rollicking parties) and its economic impact (local and state governments have a net tax impact of about $2.8 million), its dedication to conservation and preservation in South Carolina is what we really love. —Connelly Hardaway

Runner Up:
Charleston Wine + Food Festival

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