Discovering the Upstate’s pride and joy: Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville, South Carolina, is about a four-and-a-half-hour drive away from the Grand Strand and miles away from the landscape of natural and cultural offerings you find here on the coast.
Carved into the foothills of the state’s Blue Ridge Mountains in the upstate, Greenville has been gaining momentum as a city bursting with treasures for foodies, art gurus, shopaholics, and lovers of the great outdoors.
It’s where we as a family have settled in for a long weekend twice for a double purpose of lacrosse tournament and swim meet/family vacation and we have fallen in love with Greenville’s healthy marriage of metro and rural, cutting-edge and historic.
Here are a few takeaways we experienced and now recommend from our getaways to Greenville.
SEE & DO
Explore downtown Greenville and you’ll discover unique shops, studios, breweries, and more at every turn. While we didn’t stop to shop or browse through too many of these mentioned (maybe another time sans children), I had looked up beforehand online a cute scavenger hunt designed by visitgreenvillesc.com: Mice on Main. It’s so much fun! Nine bronze mice are hidden high and low on one side of Main Street or the other – from the Hyatt Regency to Westin Poinsett. (Clues are included.) It was all the brainchild of Jim Ryan for his high school senior project, who was inspired by the children’s book, “Goodnight Moon,” in 2000. The mice were than created by local sculptor and illustrator Zan Wells.
Along your hunt, you’ll see a statue of Joel Poinsett, the 19th century South Carolina political leader, world traveler, and arts supporter responsible for bringing the first Poinsettia plant to the states from Mexico. Born in Charleston, he was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian and found the red plant while serving as Secretary of War from 1837 to 1841 and Minister to Mexico. Poinsett died in 1851 in Statesburg en route from Greenville to Charleston. Besides the statue to honor him, Greenville also pays tribute to him with the Poinsett Hotel, the Poinsett Bridge near Camp Old Indian, a textile plant in Greenville, Poinsett Highway (US Highway No. 25 North), Poinsett Avenue, and a number of apartments and businesses.
This lovely, one-of-a-kind experience is also downtown, but worthy of its own section under See & Do. That’s because it’s a waterfall … in a city. How cool is that? Believe me, it is. And seeing is believing. Falls Park on The Reedy and the Reedy River Falls was recently ranked as one of the Top 10 U.S. Parks, next to the likes of Golden Gate Park and New York's Central Park. Located in Greenville’s West End, Falls Park features 32 acres of walking trails that meander past amphitheaters and beautiful flora and fauna, plus the pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge, the only single-sided suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. I’m not big on heights, but I forced myself across the bridge that gives unbeatable views of the Greenville skyline and the falls below. FYI: There are more than 50 waterfalls within the area’s Blue Ridge Escarpment, which makes it the heaviest concentration of waterfalls in the Eastern United States. You can grab a map on visitgreenvillesc.com and make a day of just touring waterfalls if you wanted to!
The Greenville Zoo
The paths of Falls Park connect to nearby Cleveland Park, home of The Greenville Zoo founded in 1960. Giraffes, Colobus monkeys, lions, sea lions, leopards and more await you with their open-air exhibits. It’s small, but well-maintained, with an education center, reptile house (not my favorite), South American area, and waterfowl lagoon. You need to meet the zoo’s little red panda named Willie, named after country singer Willie Nelson. Because the zoo is located within Cleveland Park, you also have access to the park’s playgrounds, picnic tables for a lunch break, and walking and biking paths. The Greenville Zoo is open year-round, but hours vary by season.
Gather GVL, 126 August St.
There’s something here for everyone, including picky eaters, at this cool gathering spot in Greenville’s popular West End. This fun, open-air food court houses tables and casual lounge seating, a stage for live music and a lineup of restaurants, including Cocobowl GVL, serving up a blend of acai bowls and my son’s favorite; Greenville Beer Exchange, tapping into craft beers; Hendough Chicken & Donuts, offering some of the best fried chicken sandwiches, gourmet donuts and biscuits; Juice Box Wine Bar, pouring good ol’ grownup juices, like mimosas, frosé, and wines by the bottle; KO Burger, specializing in the boys’ favorite trending, retro-style, thin, crispy, and juice griddle burgers; and much more from just about any cuisine you can think of.
Passerelle Bistro, 601 S. Main St.
This quaint French bistro is perched on the banks of the Reedy River in Falls Park. Passerelle actually translates to footbridge in tribute to the nearby Liberty Bridge the cafe overlooks. You can dine inside, but why would you when have the beautiful backdrop of the falls? So we dined alfresco. Lunch, dinner and weekend brunch are served at Passerelle; we chose for our dinner visit their Steak Frites; Trout dressed in Dijon crème and herb crust with rosemary fingerling potatoes, grilled asparagus, and fried capers; the Bistro Burger; and Bouillabaisse a dreamy dish in saffron shrimp stock, with mussels, red snapper, shrimp, garlic, and grilled baguette.
Nose Dive, 116 Main St.
Creative comfort food is the main course at this popular gastropub in downtown Greenville. Dine inside or out – you’ll love the locally sourced food and craft cocktails no matter where you are. We kickstarted lunch with the Boiled Peanut Hummus, which comes with carrots and cucumber, pickles and grilled Naan, and continued with the crowd favorite Fried Chicken and Waffles; the Tzatziki Turkey Burger topped with arugula, roasted tomato salad, pickled red onions, Havarti cheese and tzatziki on a brioche bun; and Nose Dive Mac & Cheese, a blend of a creamy cheese sauce, sharp cheddar, fontina and ricotta salata. They also have daily specials that dive into a diverse collection of cuisines.
Residence Inn by Marriott
We booked our stay here for the long weekend and it did not disappoint. Our two-queen bed suite was spacious and updated, complete with a full kitchen and dine-in area, which we used one night to order pizza. Amenities that were a must and greatly appreciated were the free, hot breakfast spread each morning and the outdoor pool. The outdoor courtyard surrounding the pool was also a relaxing retreat; we even used the outdoor gas grills there to cook burgers and hot dogs and eat at one of their café tables for a more affordable lunch one day.