Dubbed “the next Charleston” by the New York Times, Greenville, South Carolina – a somewhat undiscovered gem – sits at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a newer, hipper revitalization of its former incarnation as a deserted mill town. This charismatic city makes a perfect weekend destination. Here are some things to do for your first visit (yes, you will return!).
1. Go Straight to Downtown
Charming, vibrant downtown Greenville is undoubtedly the most popular spot in the South Carolina upstate. And with good reason. Livability recently ranked it one of the “Top 10 Best Downtowns in the Country,” and The New York Times called Greenville “a national model for a pedestrian-friendly city center.” The lush tree-lined Main Street is bursting with lively outdoor cafés and boutique shops and there are numerous squares and plazas sprinkled throughout, many of which are used to host free public events. There’s also a free trolley which runs along Main Street.
Some of my favorite recurring events in downtown are:
- Summertime Friday Night Music Series – live music and dancing in NOMA Square
- Winter ice skating – the ponds don’t freeze here, but you can still lace up your skates and take a spin around the makeshift ice rink
- Two annual festivals – Artisphere (May) and Fall for Greenville (October)
- Mice on Main – nine bronze mice sculptures scattered in downtown as a scavenger for children (young and old!) to find
2. Take a Walk in the Park
Falls Park on the Reedy is the beating heart of downtown and favorite of locals and visitors alike. Trails for hiking, gardens for strolling, picnics by the waterfall, frisbee on the expansive green area, the suspension Liberty Bridge overlooking the river, and unique modern sculptures all beckon like a magnet. The park also hosts public events like “Shakespeare in the Park” and outdoor big-screen classic movies during the summer.
3. Watch a Play
There are quite a few venues to see excellent live theater in Greenville, all located in the downtown area. Small, local theaters include The Warehouse Theater, Center Stage, ad Greenville Little Theater. Café And Then Some offers original musical comedies while you dine. For big-budget, Broadway-style productions, the Peace Center is the place to go.
4. Take Yourself Out to the Ball Game
Home of the Greenville Drive baseball team, Fluor Field is nicknamed “Little Fenway” because it’s modeled after Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Fluor Field even has its own smaller version of the famed “Green Monster,” a 30-foot high wall in left field. The dimensions all around the outfield wall are to the same specifications as Fenway Park, including “Pesky’s Pole” in right field. Why so many comparisons to the Boston Red Sox? Because the Drive is a minor league (Class-A) team for the Red Sox! Note: Shoeless Joe Jackson’s (who grew up in Greenville) house is across the street from the field and is now a museum.
5. Take a Hike
Once a rural retreat, Paris Mountain State Park is now frequented by bikers, hikers and campers who keep the park bustling year round. The camping facilities are top-notch and include paved camping sites with tent pads, and five trailside campsites. The park has several sheltered picnic areas and nine hiking trails of different lengths, ranging from easy to strenuous, all offering differing views of nature, forestry, mountains and/or lakes.
6. Eat Some BBQ
Heck, yeah! You’re in the south, so enjoy some BBQ. BBQ refers the technique of slow roasting or cooking pork outdoors over a fire then “pulling” the tender meat apart and adding a special smoky sauce. In South Carolina BBQ is not just a style of cooking, but a subculture unto itself, and quite competitive at that. You can find two types of BBQ in Greenville: the more common ketchup-based BBQ akin to other parts of the South, but with a more pepper and vinegary twist is here. But perhaps more popular is the other type of BBQ sauce which is a mixture of yellow mustard, vinegar, brown sugar and other spices. Whichever one you chose, they are both tangy and delicious! My favorite places for BBQ in Greenville are Smoke on the Water and Mac’s Speed Shop.
7. Take a Flying Leap
Sky Zone trampoline park is a fun and safe place to practice your mad aerial skills! You can choose to jump and flip in the wall-to-wall freestyle zone, freefall into the foam zone, basketball skyslam, test yourself on the agility course, or bring it on with dodgeball.
8. Glide Through History
Of all the ways to see the sights in and around historic downtown Greenville, South Carolina, gliding effortlessly on top of a Segway could just be the most fun! The “people mover” machines used by the Greenville Segway Tour are fun and easy. The concept of the non-motorized machines is based on balance and response to how your body shifts. The tour takes you through the historic West End of Greenville, one of South Carolina’s most popular and revitalized areas.
9. Gaze into a Gallery
If you’re visiting Greenville during Easter season, don’t miss the annual Living Gallery production put on at Bob Jones University since 1998. Even if you’re not religious, you will be impressed by the life-size re-creations of famous masterpieces that consist of living people – mostly students of the university. I was blown away not just by the sets, props, lighting, costumes, and makeup used to create the larger-than-life pieces of art – but mostly by the talent of the students who assimilate so perfectly into the works of the masters that you think you’re looking at an enlarged version of the painting… until the subjects inside the frame disperse.
10. Make Your Escape
Live escapes are hot right now and Greenville has its own version. The Escape Room is a live mystery adventure with puzzles that must be solved to get out. Use your brain to solve the clues before time runs out so you can break out of the locked room.
Oh, and don’t forget the weather, which arguably is the best thing about Greenville. As a relocated New England Yankee, the fact that I can endure the two months of “winter” with just a light jacket, is not lost on me. I love it here!