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Fast-growing Greenville, South Carolina has a rich history, a thriving downtown, and despite its common name, unique offerings to visitors.
The big picture: #yeahTHATGreenville (the hashtag the city uses to differentiate it from other Greenvilles) is just under two hours from Uptown. You’ll know you’re about halfway there when you pass the iconic Peachoid off Interstate 85 in Gaffney.
It’s got all the trappings of a quintessential southern town with hints of big city energy. The former textile town is also home to a number of popular Charlotte establishments, from Ink N Ivy and Foxcroft Wine Co. to Pour. In some ways it feels like a smaller, more compact version of the Queen City.
Be smart: Back in 2017 the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Greenville as the fourth fastest growing city in America. Since then growth has slowed a bit, but there are still signs of new development and expansion all around the city.
- Michelin’s North American headquarters are the Upstate, and BMW has a large plant nearby — both manufacturers have helped spark growth in the area.
Geography: In addition to being a cool place on its own, Greenville is about two hours from Atlanta; just over an hour from Asheville; and 40 minutes from Clemson (a big deal for college football fans). It’s also surrounded by cute smaller towns like Traveler’s Rest, Fountain Inn and Greer.
On a personal note, I lived in Greenville for about two years and loved it. The city truly is a great place with some of the nicest people. Going back to visit gave me the opportunity to reunite with a couple of old friends and some of the restaurants and bars I’ve missed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit them all into one trip… so don’t @ me.
Fast facts: Greenville has a lot of history. For much more information on the area, check out the Upcountry History Museum.
- Greenville County is the largest county in South Carolina.
- Greenville is the hometown of civil rights icon Jesse Jackson, and the place where he conducted some of his first demonstrations and marches.
Downtown Greenville has about a dozen different hotels. Most have their own restaurants and bars. They’re great for getting to know the area, and because downtown is so walkable, you likely won’t need to touch your car during your visit.
Outside of the downtown area, you’ll find dozens more hotel options. Plus, there are a variety of cute southern homes for rent via Airbnb.
Aloft Greenville Downtown is super pet friendly. You’ll also find foster dogs available for adoption in the lobby. It features bright pops of color throughout and is an all around fun place to stay.
The Westin Poinsett, Greenville is a downtown classic and a popular place for events. It prides itself on having four stars and offering a variety of amenities including 24-hour room service.
AC Hotel Greenville is one of Greenville’s newest additions as part of the brand new Camperdown development. Its Spanish fusion restaurant and bar, Paloma, is already a popular spot in the city. The hotel also has a rooftop bar, Juniper.
FOOD + DRINK
Narrowing down food and drink suggestions was no easy task. Downtown Greenville is a densely-packed haven for foodies. It’s just about a two-mile radius and houses approximately 110 restaurants (!), so saying you have options is an understatement.
Abanico Tapas Bar, Restaurant & Music: The Spanish tapas and drinks are top-notch and the music brings the experience up to another level. You’ll have a lot of fun and get a taste of Spain. The restaurant transitions to more of a dance club the later it gets.
Brick Street Cafe: I’ll get to the point — no matter what, order the sweet potato cake. It’s rich and moist and oh so good. Outside of the sweet stuff, Brick Street has tons of character and an extensive menu. It’s covered in art, vintage pieces and antiques. This place captures the spirit of Greenville.
Gather GVL: A food hall with 11 different vendors housed in renovated shipping containers. It’s a really fun spot that overcame quite a few setbacks on top of pandemic restrictions. It’s usually bustling with families, kids and lots of dogs. There are also events like fitness classes, plus live music each week.
Greenville classics: These restaurants are places Greenville natives take out-of-town guests to give them a taste of the city. Many are on the upscale side with pricier menus, but well worth it. Here’s a quick rundown:
- The Anchorage, James Beard Best New Restaurant semi-finalist.
- Halls Chophouse, high-quality steakhouse with live music and a great bar.
- Husk Barbeque, smoked barbecue. The sister concept to Southern classic Husk Restaurant in Charleston, Nashville and Savannah.
- Jianna, modern Italian. The perfect place to dine al fresco.
- Larkin’s, decorated steakhouse with great seafood and a great patio.
- Limoncello, Italian, and another popular outdoor dining spot. From the same restaurant group behind Larkin’s and Grill Marks (tasty burgers).
- Nose Dive, gastropub with urban comfort food.
- Soby’s, Southern-inspired cuisine with a modern twist.
Jamaica Mi Irie: The authentic Jamaican restaurant has two locations in Greenville; one of them is right downtown. The restaurant also has affordable pricing and classic Jamaican dishes like jerk chicken and oxtails.
Otto Izakaya, I’ll be honest, this is one of my favorites. Otto is a sassy sushi restaurant with great Japanese-fusion dishes. Its downtown location is brightly colored with slogans like “wasa-bae” and “talk sushi to me” plastered on the walls. The restaurant also has sushi deals after 10 p.m. (they’re open late).
Pomegranate: Persian cuisine and yet another great spot for outdoor dining. Menu items are prepared fresh and packed with flavor.
Wings: M & J’s Wings & Plenty, a family-run wings spot with sandwiches, fries, beans and other cookout classics. L.A. Hot Wings: A family-run Asian restaurant with great wings. It also serves dishes like fried rice and pad thai.
BARS + BREWERIES
From custom cocktails to craft beer, there’s a healthy bar and brewery scene in Greenville.
Beer: Birds Fly South is outside of downtown in an area perfect for bringing pets or kids. The ale project makes a variety of beers.
The Velo Fellow is located in Greenville’s west end. Their late-night food menu is a life-saver (I suggest the cheese tots). For beer they have ten rotating local taps among other selections.
Yee-Haw Brewing Co’s Greenville location is right downtown. It’s a fun place to watch a game or hang out outside with friends. The brewery has a solid selection of beer and a tasty food menu; they’ve recently partnered with Prince’s Hot Chicken.
Rooftops + Cocktails: Despite being a mid-sized city, Greenville has a pretty skyline and its fun to watch it light up at night. Up on the Roof and Sip are rooftop bar options with creative cocktails and great vibes. Juniper is one of Greenville’s newest rooftop bars with greenhouse garden feels. It’s located on top of the AC Hotel Greenville.
Vault and Vator is Greenville’s dim-lit speakeasy with a romantic feel. The elevated cocktails are beautifully presented, and there are small plates as well.
Outside of eating your way into a coma, there’s lots to do in Greenville, and lots of ways to work all that food off. Visiting the Greenville Zoo is a fun activity, especially with kids. You might also catch a show at the Peace Center.
Plus there’s so much shopping downtown; from clothing boutiques; to O.P. Taylor’s, a classic toy store; to the Mast General Store, which has a little bit of everything; to the quaint M. Judson Booksellers, a well-stocked bookstore with a cafe (Camilla Kitchen) and other goods.
Get outside: Greenville is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is a beautiful place to explore outdoors. Right downtown there’s Falls Park on the Reedy, an Instagrammable park with a waterfall right in the middle. It’s a great place to have a picnic and enjoy the outdoors in the center of the city.
The park is located on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 22-mile greenway that goes all around Greenville County. Make sure to visit the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery. The food is fresh and tasty and there’s always a new locally-sourced product to discover.
Lake Conestee, “the wildest place in Greenville” is great if you want to immerse yourself a little deeper in nature. There are multiple trails throughout the preserve.
Baseball: Greenville is home to the Drive, a Boston Red Sox affiliate team. Whether you enjoy the sport or not, Fluor Field is a fun place to be and it usually has great drink and food deals.
Festivals: Greenville loves a good food or arts festival (most of them donate proceeds to charity). You’ll often find Main Street downtown closed off for Main Street Fridays or the Saturday farmers market. There are also a few big annual events that bring thousands of residents and visitors to the area.
Artisphere, a fine arts festival that attracted 70,000 people and generated over $9 million in 2019 alone, is back on this year from May 7-9. Euphoria, an upscale (and very cool) food, drink and music festival, features some of the area’s most talented creators. It also holds preview events in the months leading up to the main festival in September. Fall for Greenville, another well attended food festival that brings thousands of people to Main Street every October. It features dozens of restaurants and musicians plus beer and wine.
Mice on Main: Greenville is a very clean city so you won’t often find real rodents but the Mice on Main game is a cute tradition, especially for kids. While exploring downtown, keep an eye out for bronze mice scattered throughout.