Located in what’s referred to as South Carolina’s Upstate, Greenville is a two-hour drive from Fort Jackson, two-and-a-half hours from Gordon and four hours from both Fort Bragg and Fort Benning. Greenville is booming and quickly becoming one of the country’s most popular destinations, and you should make it yours the next time you get a weekend pass.
Located just north of I-85, the downtown area is easily accessible and a real sight to see. It has maintained its quaint Southern atmosphere while incorporating modern eateries, shops and entertainment that make it appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds. Plus, The New York Times put it at No. 12 on its list of 52 Places to Visit in 2017, and Conde Nast Travel says Greenville is one of the nation’s Top 5 places to retire.
If you make the wise decision to hit up the charming city of Greenville, let this list be your guide to what you need to see and do to make your trip unforgettable.
The Peace Center is a gorgeous theater, concert hall and amphitheater that hosts world famous plays, musicals and ballets. This summer alone it will host Broadway’s The Lion King, Finding Neverland and The King and I.
The Bon Secours Wellness Arena is home to the city’s minor league hockey team, the Swamp Rabbits. It also hosts famous musicians and features upcoming performances by Eric Church, Journey, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
As much as this Yankees fan hates to admit it, the Greenville Drive’s Fluor Field is awesome. The Drive is the Boston Red Sox’s Class A minor league team, and the stadium is replica of the famous Fenway Park (including a miniature 30-foot Green Monster in left field). There isn’t a bad seat in the park, and tickets are cheap. Plus, they have great beer on tap for just a few dollars per giant cup.
Located about a mile east of Main Street is the Greenville Zoo—a small, well-kept zoo that has plenty to see and do. The main attractions are the giraffes (be sure to visit baby Tatu who was born in February 2016) and lions, but it’s also home to red pandas, orangutans, giant anteaters, alligators and more. Adult tickets cost $9 and kids ages 3-15 are $5.75. You can cover the entire zoo in about an hour, but if the kids still have energy to burn, there’s a great playground located just in front of the zoo entrance.
A fun activity for kids and adults alike is the finding the Mice on Main. Small bronze mice are hidden throughout Main Street from the Hyatt to the Westin Poinsett Hotel. To “play,” you’ll need to read the Mice on Main book to get the clues for their locations, or just be extremely observant. The Mice on Main website also has the clue listed there.
In the summertime, Downtown Alive happens every Thursday. For three hours—from 5:30pm to 8:30pm—a portion of downtown is closed off so bands can play and attendees can relax and enjoy the tunes. On Fridays in the summer, Main Street Fridays will take over downtown for four hours (5:30-9:30) so you can listen to live music and enjoy adult beverages while the kids play on inflatables. Throughout the rest of the year, there’s almost always something going on downtown each weekend. Check the Greenville events calendar to see what’s happening when you visit.
Right and Up tip: If you attend the summer downtown events, be sure to bring your ID and get a wrist band at the beer trucks so you can walk around with your adult beverage in hand (something that’s not typically allowed). Wine is also offered, but if you’re a beer person, be sure to try the local brews they offer.
Most bars also have live music, so you’re destined to hear someone talented performing no matter where you go when grabbing a drink.
On any given night, take a walk up and down Main Street and you’ll catch incredible street performers who play instruments like the bongos, saxophone, violin and more.
Falls Park is the picturesque area that makes for a great Facebook cover photo. The focal point is the 345-foot long Liberty Bridge that is suspended above a rocky waterfall and the Reedy River. On a sunny afternoon, you’ll find droves of kids splashing in the shallow sections and happy pups taking a swim.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail is a 20-mile long walking, running and biking trail that utilizes greenway networks and abandoned rail lines along the Reedy River that connects Greenville neighborhoods with downtown, Cleveland Park, Falls Park, Furman University and the nearby town of Travelers Rest. If biking is your thing, Greenville has taken on an initiative to make it a bike-friendly city by increasing the number of bike lanes and educating drivers about sharing the roads.
If hiking is your jam, take the 40-minute drive up to Table Rock State Park in Pickens. Hiking trails range from .6 miles to just more than 8 mile round trips, and there’s areas where you can boat, fish, swim and bird watch. Plus, there are almost 100 camping sites that have individual water and electrical hook ups. Unfortunately, military IDs won’t get you free admission the way they do at National Parks. Adults are $5, seniors $3.25 and kids ages 6-15 are $3.
Right and Up tip: Feeling hungry after your hike? Three miles up the road from the park is Victoria Valley Vineyards—a gorgeous estate with an incredible view. They have wine tastings, tours and a great lunch menu.
Greenville has embraced the craft beer craze and has several breweries downtown and nearby that are worth a visit.
Upstate Craft Beer Co lets you create your very own craft beer (reservations are required). Simply create your own recipe with the help of a brew master and they’ll handle the fermenting. In two to four weeks you’ll come back to pick up your one-of-a-kind beverage. If you’re just in the mood to visit the brewpup, there are at least 20 unique beers to choose from as well as a great menu that includes classics with a twist, like Asian wings, naan pizzas and pimento (AKA the caviar of the South) BLTs.
Pour Taproom is an incredibly cool spot located just across the street from Falls Park. Rather than pay by the glass, you pay by the ounce—sort of like those frozen yogurt places where you create your own concoction. A row of taps covers almost an entire wall, and patrons walk up to whichever one looks tasty and can pour as much or as little as they want. Plus, dogs are welcome inside to hang out while you drink. I especially enjoy this concept because it makes drinking an adventurous experience rather than the boring “let’s go get a drink” outing where you inevitably order the same go-to beer you’ve been drinking since college.
Dark Corner Distillery is located downtown and allows for drop-in whiskey tastings. Visitors can taste up to six whiskeys and purchase their favorites.
Right and Up tip: Try the aptly named World’s Best Moonshine, as it has won more than half a dozen spirit awards. For something unique and sweet, try Whiskey Girl Butterscotch. It’s delicious in coffee!
Thomas Creek Brewery is growing in popularity now that its beer are available in stores and at local restaurants. Located 4 miles south of the heart of downtown (2054 Piedmont Highway), the brewery offers a taproom for tastings and a patio area for relaxing where you can order flights and pints.
Find local items and renowned brands alike at the Mast General Store downtown. It’s a cool, large space with wooden floors that sells just about everything from clothing to unusual kitchen tools. In one trip alone I bought earrings from local jeweler Lily Wikoff, a handwarmer mug and a new collar for my dog. Plus, they have classic candy store sweets in giant barrels you can scoop out yourself.
Southern Fried Cotton sells the typical South Carolinian’s uniform pieces like T-shirts with bold pictures and funny sayings, sweatshirts, bowties and a whole lotta seersucker. Prices are reasonable, so it’s worth picking something to remind you of your time in Greenville.
If you love your alma matter or are a big college or professional sports fan, you’ll have to swing by The Vault. This store is packed with retro and vintage college and professional apparel like T-shirts, caps, pennants and more.
It’s safe to say you can throw a rock in downtown Greenville and hit at least three fantastic restaurants. I’ll sound like an actor accepting an Oscar obnoxiously thanking every single key grip and interns from craft services if I try to list all my favorites. Inevitably, I’ll leave someone out and feelings would get hurt. But, for the sake of providing recommendations and helping you pick a good’un, here are the places I love in each category.
Mexican and Japanese: Can’t decide if you want queso or miso? Hit up TakoSushi, a Japanese and Mexican fusion place. Its happy hour is fantastic since you can load up on delicious tuna rolls and throw back margaritas while it’s still light out.
Southern: Tupelo Honey has your classic Southern staples with a twist. Plus, everything is responsibly sourced from local farms. The sweet potato pancakes are delicious and enormous, and the homemade biscuits with house-made blueberry jam are to die for. Their non-alcoholic house drinks are amazing too, especially the Lavender-Limeade Fizz. (The alcoholic ones are fantastic, too.)
American: Grill Marks sells your classic burger and fries, but way fancier and way better than the ones you’ll find elsewhere. All burgers are 100% Certified Angus Beef and the buns are baked in-house fresh daily. Plus, they sell phenomenal milkshakes, unique alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and wine. Great, now I’m hungry just thinking about their Salted Caramel milkshake.
Right and Up tip: What’s better than a yummy milkshake? A yummy milkshake with liquor in it. Grills Marks has ’em, so be sure to save room at the end of your meal.
Ice cream: Outside of Florence, Italy, Luna Rosa has the best gelato I’ve ever had. Full disclosure: I was super pregnant when I ate here—and sweets taste infinitely better when you’re pregnant. Still. Also delicious is the new spot, Creme Shack. It uses the Thai technique of spreading out ice cream on a frozen slate and rolling it up into tubes. Plus, you can add your choice of toppings or select one of their signature orders. The aptly named Chocolate Lover’s Dream is pictured above.
Coffee: Spill The Beans owns some seriously great real estate since it overlooks Falls Park. Plus, “Spill the Beans” for a coffee place??!! They simply score bonus points because I love double entendres. Their menu features classic coffees like cappuccinos and lattes along with signature drinks, espressos and iced coffees. They also sell great vanilla and chocolate ice cream with a wide variety of mix-ins.
Pizza: All the pizza restaurants downtown are great, but my personal favorite is Mellow Mushroom. The atmosphere and décor is fun and cool, and the food and beer are awesome. The crust is made with spring water, which might be another name for liquid fairies because of how delicious it is.
Right and Up tip: Start with hummus and toasted pita and order the Maui Wowie pizza. Let’s be honest, there are two types of people in this world: those who like pineapple on pizza and those with no taste buds.
Barbecue: Smoke on the Water is the best of both worlds. It has the amazing food you’d expect to find at a secret hole in the wall BBQ joint, but is upscale enough for a fancy date night. You can’t go wrong with the pulled pork, especially since they serve it the right way: naked so you can add your own sauce. The server will present you with a rack of sauces when your food arrives, so you can apply whichever one you like best.
Splurge: Halls Chophouse is an award-winning steakhouse that started in Charleston and recently opened here. In fact, Trip Advisor listed the original location as the nation’s fourth-best restaurant in the United States. It’s pricy, but the service, atmosphere, location and unbelievable food are well worth the price. The filet mignon (cliché, I know) is easily the best steak I’ve ever had, and the lobster mac n’ cheese is something I’ll obsess over for years. And, the Southern Praline Caramel Cake is now my go-to answer when asked the weird icebreaker question, “If you had to eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
Cover photo by TimothyJ
About the Author
Rachel is the Editor of Right and Up, an Auburn grad (War Damn Eagle!) and holds a degree in journalism. While working as a sports writer covering the Tigers, she met a cute, tall officer stationed at Fort Benning. A few margaritas, conversations about why a no-huddle offense is superior and 18 months later, they got married. They have PCS’d to Fort Huachuca, Fort Riley and will soon head to Washington DC. They have a ridiculously adorable son named Gavin and two furry children, Jeter and Lilly.