Greenville: Culture and Entertainment in Upstate South Carolina

We found a hidden gem in the south: Greenville, South Carolina.  It is conveniently located near larger hotspots, such as Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA, is less than an hour from Asheville, NC and is 4 hours from the coastal cities of Charleston, NC and Savannah, SC.  Being close to the mountains, it is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with ample hiking, biking, and camping.  In addition to Greenville Technical College and Furman University in town, Clemson University, an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) school and leading public research institution, is 30 miles west of Greenville.  Undoubtedly, Greenville is a great place for visiting and living.

Pedestrian bridge across the Reedy River, downtown Greenville, SC

Hiking/Walking

We stayed north of Greenville in Travelers Rest, which is a neat little town in and of itself.  It also happens to connect to Greenville via the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 22-mile greenway.  We found this trail to be well maintained and convenient to many businesses along the way and quite popular with with locals.  As you reach downtown, you can enjoy the beauty of Falls Park, with its terraced gardens, pedestrian bridge, art, food and events.  A little farther southeast of Falls Park is Cleveland Park, which is next door to the Greenville Zoo, contains several walking paths, and is adjacent to a dog park and the Fernwood Nature Trail.  The mayor of Greenville is committed to expanding greenways, bike lanes, and making the area more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, which is great to see with the tremendous amount of growth the area has seen over the past 10 years.

Next door to Greenville and Travelers Rest is Paris Mountain State Park, which has 17 miles of hiking and biking trails, paved camp spots, and trailside camp spots around North Lake, which used to be a reservoir for the City of Greenville until 1930.   Some of the trails are for hikers only and others are shared with mountain bikers.  Along the the Kanuga trail we saw wild turkeys and a random dwarf village someone created in the hillside.  Later we saw several waterfalls along the Sulphur Springs Loop Trail along with more remnants from the reservoir and dam used in the early 1900’s.  Day use costs were a little steep at $6 per person, but the annual South Carolina State Pass would make it a lot more affordable if you wanted to frequent the park and neighboring state parks.  

Next, we enjoyed one of the many great hikes in nearby Jones Gap State Park, which had parking fees of just $2 per person.  We did a 6.5 mile loop that drops down significantly at first, so watch your step.  However, we had the trail mostly to ourselves, enjoyed the many waterfalls that feed into the creeks, and spring wildflowers starting to bloom.  The air in the parks out east have a sweet scent, almost like a floral perfume that I can’t quite place, but it’s lovely.  Afterward, we drove just over the North Carolina state line and enjoyed a beer at the Cedar Mountain Canteen and Bier Garden.  They have several options on tap as well as a bottle shop, and a lovely little spot outside to sit next to the riverside.  The canteen was hosting a potluck, seed swap and had a group of guitarists and fiddlers jamming as well. It capped off a lovely day.

Finally, we also discovered some free hiking options, just southeast of Jones Gap is the Ashmore Heritage Preserve, which has a few hiking options with nice views and a loop around Lake Wattacoo.  We went there for my birthday, and enjoyed a sunny, quiet hike that was delightful. 

Eating/Drinking

If you’re looking for some great places to eat, fear not!  The downtown area alone has over 110 restaurants, and there are over 1000 in the county.  You will not go hungry here, with a nice variety for just about everyone.  Here is a sampling of what we enjoyed.

In downtown, you can visit Falls Park and enjoy the stunning views at Passerelle Bistro.  We stopped here for lunch when we biked in on the Swamp Rabbit Trail.  There was a man playing music, the food was great, and the weather was perfect during our stay.  If the weather is not so kind, go check out The Trappe Door and enjoy some Belgian beer.  It gets busy quickly, so make a reservation or go early.  I can’t drink Belgian beer, so I had their whiskey sour instead, and we loved their Moules Frites (mussels and fries), which has different flavors of broth and mayonnaise for the fries to choose from.  

For my birthday, we went to Soby’s, which is a bit fancier, but definitely delivered on taste and atmosphere.  We enjoyed the most tender grilled octopus we have ever had, plus shrimp and grits, and duck confit.  The desserts were also impressive.  Matt had their cheesecake and I had a mousse cake in the shape of a pinecone.  Soby’s is a great place for a special occasion.

If you’re staying in or near Travelers Rest, you must visit the Tandem Creperie and Coffeehouse.  You order at the little yellow bus outside and they assign you a spot inside.  It’s hopping in there, and is a great place to fuel up before you hop on the Swamp Rabbit Trail or head over to Sunrift Adventures to gear up for your next outdoor activity.  Thank you to Joni for introducing us to your friend Nicole, who shared her impressions of the area after moving from the northeast.  And thank you Nicole for meeting with us and introducing us to Tandem.  We appreciate it so much! ❤️ 

Another place we enjoyed in Travelers Rest is Farmhouse Tacos, which has another location in Greenville.  They have so many different tacos to choose from and all the ones we chose were delicious.  We went to Sidewall Pizza, which has 5 locations, with another newfound friend, Cristy.  Thank you to Kristina for introducing us to your friend Cristy.  Cristy grew up in Placerville, CA and has lived in the Greenville area for over 20 years, is a sweetheart and we met with her three times during our stay.  Cristy’s experiences moving to the area and living there have been invaluable to us, and we had such fun spending time with her. 😍 

Farmhouse Tacos. Yum!

While out running errands on a very rainy day, we discovered Kairos Mediterranean, which is like the Greek version of Chipotle.  This South Carolina chain is gaining popularity with its delicious and nutritious options.  You can choose your own pita, salad or bowl and dress these options with different greens, grains, protein, veg and more.  We loved it and hope it catches on elsewhere.  

Kairos Mediterranean. Also yum!

Lastly, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Cristy and her lovely dogs at Southern Growl, in Greer, SC.  They have a large indoor area, but also a relaxing outdoor area for those who love to bring their four-legged friends.  It was a perfect day to be outside, the food and brews were all delicious, and thankfully it wasn’t too busy given the holiday. 🍀

Lodging

We were pleasantly surprised at the Travelers Rest/Greenville KOA.  It is tucked away off Highway 25 just north of Travelers Rest, and the sites are nicely spaced apart.  They have a centrally located laundry, outdoor pool, dog run, playground, basketball, and more.  They also have Jen’s Little Library near the office, where you can pick up or leave books to read.  I did just that while we were here and hope someone else enjoys the book I donated.  There are also a few short “nature trails” that climb up into the hills behind the centrally located facilities, and the whole park is situated next to a creek.  Overall, it was a quiet, relaxing stay and I would recommend it based on the convenience to Travelers Rest and Greenville.

In addition to hiking and eating, we explored the surrounding areas, visited a friend in Columbia (see my next post for that), and I talked with a representative of one of the science departments at Clemson University about potentially going back to school and what that would entail.  We also connected with a real estate agent to get a feel for the current market conditions here.  These have all been good steps in setting up a benchmark for livability to compare with some of our upcoming destinations.  

For us, Greenville has a lot of potential due to the growth and investment in Greenville county, educational opportunities, creative outlets, proximity to the mountains, and pedestrian and cyclist-friendly infrastructure.  In fact, Greenville is home to George Hincapie and other professional cyclists, making it a destination for training and a safe place to ride both on and off road.  The food scene, access to fresh produce and centralized location near larger cities makes it a great hub for those looking for a little bit of everything without big-city living.  We shall see how it stacks up as we finish out our travels. 😊

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