How to Spend a Weekend in Greenville, SC

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Greenville, South Carolina has many quirks. It has the famous Swamp Rabbit Trail and bunny emblems everywhere. It hosts an annual charity, “Duck Derby”, in which tens of thousands of cute rubber ducks race down the magnificent falls of the Reedy River which runs through the city. A whimsical Greenville pastime is trying to spot all the bronze mice lurking on Main Street (Mice on Main). It’s the home of baseball enigma Shoeless Joe Jackson and the vibrant poinsettia plant. It has one of the most talented concentrations of visual artists in the South you can find. Greenville feels both large for a big city and cozy for a small town. Locals beam when they talk about Greenville. They are proud of its particularities and ready to tell you about its hidden treasures. I’m proud of it too, having spent weeks and weeks of my childhood in nearby Spartanburg. Let’s plan an insider’s weekend in Greenville and get you on your way, too!

In the early 1900s, Greenville was the center of the world’s textile industry. Many of the old mill structures have been repurposed for play and living. Image: Aerial view of Van Zeppelin / VisitGreenvilleSC

DAY 1: Explore downtown Greenville

I hopped on the new nonstop flight from Nashville to Greenville/Spartanburg Airport (GSP) on Contour Airlines (GSP is adding many more direct routes across the country). The 50 minute ride led to a pristine airport which was surprisingly crowded. It was Furman University graduation weekend, I was going to check it out, and Artisphere, the arts festival I was there to experience with everything the city has to offer. This South Carolina town was full of excitement, and it was clear that I wasn’t the only one who had come a long way to figure it all out.

Straight from the airport, I met my weekend travel buddy – my mother – and walked up an unassuming dirt road to Oak Hill Café & Farm, James Beard semi-finalist for the best new restaurant 2020, where chemist Lori Nelson and Chef David Porras deliver delicious science experiments. The quiet cafe, with a working farm, is just outside the hustle and bustle of the city center and is a great place to start your day. Everyone working in the cafe was pushing the pancakes, and we both agreed that it was the best stack we’ve ever cut.

Breakfast at Oak Hill Cafe with pancakes and side dish of oatmeal

The pancakes come with an array of homemade syrups – and a side of cheese grits is a must. Image: Zoe Yarborough

After refueling, we settled into Marriott’s SpringHill Suites right downtown. The lobby is lined with swinging rope chairs and smells like the lobby of a posh Miami hotel. There is a pool and fire pit outside and a well appointed breakfast each morning. After a dip and a siesta, it was time to stroll. Downtown Greenville is only about a mile and a half so we barely used the car.

The site for the soon-to-open Grand Bohemian Lodge is underway and it looks like it will undoubtedly be the next hot spot hotel in the South. We popped into a few fabulous shops, including Vintage Now Modern (an indoor wonderland full of curiosities) and Mr. Judson Booksellers (a valuable independent bookstore and cafe). We both felt called to the famous Reedy Creek Falls, so we walked over the magnificent 345ft Liberty Bridge suspension bridge for the best view.

The Liberty Bridge at Falls Park over the Reedy River in Greenville, SC

The Liberty Bridge – a 345-foot curved bridge held aloft by a single suspension cable – is the only one of its kind in the United States. Image: Aerial view of Vanzeppelin / VisitGreenvilleSC

There’s no better place for a pre-dinner cocktail and sunset views than Juniper. The brightly colored flowers and greenery that adorn the space are as irresistibly picture-worthy as the gin-centric cocktails. For dinner, we’ve set up bar stools in a corner of the Chef’s Bar at CAMP, a reservation you’ll want to lock in as soon as you book your trip to Greenville. The steamed pork belly boas, chicken curry and coconut pie dessert were hits. Watching the fast and meticulous young chefs was the sweetest treat of all.

Flower decor at the entrance to the Juniper bar in Greenville SC

Went to Juniper on Cinco de Mayo so opted for the “Risk it for the Hibiscus” (silver tequila, hibiscus, lemon, blood orange olive oil and aquafaba) instead of a cocktail with gin. But be sure to get something with gin – that’s what they’re known for! Image: Zoe Yarborough

DAY 2: Art! And a lot !

We started our first full day visiting the new Unity Park, a soothing, natural wonderland for kids of all ages devoid of typical playground equipment. The park collides with The Commons, a funky shopping mall with handcrafted libations at Community Tap, fresh baked goods at Bake Room, deliciously flavorful concoctions from famed Methodical Coffee, and local fare from Automatic Taco and GB&D. We also spoke with the local denim craftsman behind Billiam Jeans in his studio.

Bakery in Commons Food Hall SC

Bake Room at The Commons is known for its AM rolls (they sell out almost daily) and people love the croissants, but I tried a delicious salted chocolate chip cookie. Picture: The Communes / Facebook

Any city can carry the moniker “supporting the arts,” but few places embrace the arts more than Greenville. Visual artists to bloom there… I heard the same refrain from every artist we met at Artisphere and beyond. We had the incredible opportunity to visit Oyé Studios, a collective of ten artists’ studios in an old church. As Oyé tenant and artist Michelle Jardines showed us around each room, I found myself fangirling every time I realized what studio I had walked into – including the studios of Dorothy Shain, Rey Alfonso, Patricia DeLeon , Glory Day Loflin and Jessica Fields, to name a few.

Rey Alfonso's artist studio at Oye Studios in Greenville SC

Outside the old church that houses Oyé studios, old paintbrushes hang from tree branches like ornaments. A gravel patio is the designated stage for ritual evening jam sessions over cigars and beers. Inside, every space – like Rey Alfonso’s collection of paintings – was raw and inspiring. Image: Zoe Yarborough

There was so much to soak up at the Artisphere festival in town. We grabbed a local beer at the Arts & Drafts tent to sip as we browsed through the art of over 130 jured artists in every conceivable field, from precious jewelry by Kate Furman to giant abstract steel sculptures by Dale Rogers.

Artisphere Street Artists

The streets of the festival were dotted with stages of live music, street performers and interactive demonstrations by artists like glass blowing and weaving. Image: Allie Wall

Once you’ve fully explored downtown, head to Gather GVL: one of the coolest places to congregate in town, where a spectacle of colorfully stacked shipping containers shelters a multitude of food vendors . We let the locals of Greenville direct us to The Lob Father for melt-in-your-mouth lobster rolls and homemade blueberry lemonade which was the *chef’s kiss* in addition to a day’s walk of more than 20,000 steps.

GVL Gather Lobster Roll

We ordered two lobster rolls from Lob Father – Connecticut style (buttery and hot) and Maine style (cold, with lots of mayonnaise). Honestly, I couldn’t choose a favorite. Image: Zoe Yarborough

As we headed to dinner, we took advantage of “First Fridays,” where participating physical galleries in Greenville stay open later and welcome visitors with refreshments and meet-and-greets with artists. At dinner at Urban Wren, choose from an impressive wine list and share standout dishes like Mouth Punch Noodles and their famous Chicken & Burnt Ends.

DAY 3: Get off the beaten track

We kicked off our final day with Greenville’s first coffee tour hosted by Greenville guru and guide extraordinaire John Nolan of Greenville History & Culinary Tours. John drove us around in his comfortable threesome sprinter van totally distinct but individually fantastic cafes: Coffee Underground, Unlocked and Mountain Goat, where we tasted and learned all about their roasts.

sunset over liberty bridge

Fall is the perfect time to visit Greenville. Attend the Fall for Greenville festival (pictured) and rent an e-bike to ride the Swamp Rabbit Trail to the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Image: Aerial view of Vanzeppelin / VisitGreenvilleSC

After John treated and caffeinated us well, we headed out to Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit Trail, a versatile 22-mile rail-to-trail that’s received a slew of awards, including #1 Best Bike Trail cities of America by Fodor’s Journey. More than 750,000 locals and visitors use the trail each year, and it goes all the way to Travelers Rest. A lovely nearby town, which we discovered, is Greer. The European-style (and gutterless) downtown Greer Station is covered in a ceiling of fairy lights and flanked by chic shops and restaurants. Grab a coffee at the trendy Barista Alley and a healthy pre-flight (or pre-departure) meal at the Harvest Kitchen.

Greer Station Streets in Greer, SC

The town of Greer, SC is right next to the airport, so make it your last stop! Image: Aerial view of Vanzeppelin / VisitGreenvilleSC

Even leaving Greenville, I guarantee you will plan your return. Whether you go for Artisphere in the spring, Fall for Greenville in the fall, or any long weekend you can get away from it all, Greenville and all of its quirks are ready for you.

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