Greenville: A Gem of a Southern Town by Robin Gorman Newman
I’m always on the lookout for vacation spots that offer things of interest to both my son, Seth, and I (and my husband if he can break from work to join us.). When Greenville, South Carolina came on my radar, I was curious to see what it had to offer, and it turned out to be a lovely destination for a four night stay (and a short plane ride from New York, which was a bonus.)
We stayed at the MARRIOTT GREENVILLE in a well-appointed, spacious, comfortable, four poster king bed suite (Seth slept on a pullout sofa.) with a large bathroom. There was also a tea/coffee maker and mini fridge. We were on the Concierge floor where there is a special lounge that puts out food and has beverages conveniently available. It’s a lovely place to sit ‘n read as well. The hotel offers complimentary shuttle service to and from the GSP airport, a full business center, high speed internet, 24/7 fitness facility, and a nice, outdoor seasonal pool. There is a day spa on-site, and a restaurant/bar in the lobby area, featuring southern cuisine. Though not walking distance to town, it was a short cab or Uber ride to downtown Greenville and other attractions we visited. Some were a further distance, so I’d recommend you consider renting a car to get around.
We had some really noteworthy DINING experiences in Greenville that contributed to our trip. They included the following:
Port City Java: You walk in the door, and it smells great at this Carolinas-based casual coffee house and bakery on the main street downtown serving fresh-roasted coffee, smoothies, freezes and more. We had breakfast, and Seth fell in love with their freshly prepared everything bagel egg and bacon sandwich. They offer sandwiches, wraps, salads, breakfast items and baked goods. This is a good choice for a quick, casual, well-priced eating option…..or coffee, etc. to go. Visit http://www.portcityjava.com/
The Lazy Goat: With an eclectic menu of Mediterranean-inspired dishes and plates that are meant to be shared. We did lunch here, and I really enjoyed the Moroccan Chicken Salad Wrap, and my son and husband liked the Moroccan lamb Sandwich. This is an interesting menu, and an open, airy restaurant with large windows that was warm and welcoming. Visit http://thelazygoat.com/
Southern Culture: Southern Culture prides itself in its made-from-scratch, upscale Southern-style cuisine at down home prices. Entrees include such choices as as Pulled Pork Nachos, Crab Cake Tacos, Big Mama’s Meatloaf or their signature Fried Chicken. Their fresh Banana Puddin’ is served warm in a mason jar. We enjoyed the live entertainment — a singing guitar player — though the dinner was not our favorite, I have to admit. Visit http://www.southernculturekitchenandbar.com/
Brazwell’s: One of Greenville’s newest eateries, this Charlotte-based pub features traditional items such as wings, nachos and fried pickles along with burgers, salads and other specialties. We did dinner here, and the Shrimp and Grits, a Southern specialty, were very good. Visit http://greenville.brazwellspub.com/
Larkin’s on the River: Enjoy one of the best steakhouses in town while overlooking The Reedy River and Peace Center Amphitheatre. The service is top notch, and they were very accommodating. High quality steak and seafood and an upscale, clubby ambiance. I had lobster tails and shrimp for dinner, and they were excellent. Visit http://www.larkinsontheriver.com/
Soby’s New Southern Cuisine: As one of the earliest restaurants in the Nation to introduce “New SouthCuisine,”Soby’s has become known for its modern twists on classic Southern dishes like barbecue shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and crab cakes remoulade. The Greenville restaurant has become an institution in the revitalized city since it opened in November 1997 as downtown Greenville’s first fine dining restaurant. We did Sunday brunch here, and it was really wonderful. Lots to pick from, and fantastic food! A must go brunch spot! Visit www.sobys.com
THE GREENVILLE BBQ TRAIL BUS TOUR: Owner/Historian John Nolan provides interesting facts about the Greenville area and food scene while guiding you through a tasting of some of Greenville’s top ranked BBQ joints. We loved this intimate tour! The company is 10 years old, and they are the first BBQ tour in the Carolinas. You make three stops, and the food was great at all. First was Mike & Jeff’s Catering, then Henry’s Smokehouse and lastly Bucky’s Bar-B-Q. Mike & Jeff’s had the best sauce and cole slaw. Henry’s had the most amazing sweet potato casserole, and Bucky’s had purely delectable ribs. At each, we learned about their BBQ process and saw where/how the meat is cooked. The food was plentiful, and they offer to-go containers, which we all readily requested. They all cater and are reasonably priced. If I lived in Greenville, I’d be a regular at all of them, and John Nolan is a likeable, knowledgeable tour leader! Visit http://greenvillehistorytours.com/
SHOPPING is always on my To Do List for travel, and I was advised that Beija-Flor Jeans is a must visit. Beija-Flor Jeans started in 2005 with a mission to design jeans to fit real women’s bodies. The women-owned, socially responsible premium denim company features four core designs and a limited edition collection each season. All of the jeans feature memory stretch, advanced-technology fabrics with a contoured mid-rise and no gap waist. Beija-Flor’s flagship retail store opened in 2012 in Greenville where the company is headquartered. The staff was extremely helpful, and they really know their stock. I felt like I was being treated like royalty trying on a bunch of styles and patterns before selecting a pair to take home with me….a fun Windowpane pattern. It’s no wonder actresses including Viola Davis and Lisa Rinna are fans! (P.S. Gotta love the pretty bird logo, which adorns their reusable shopping bag!) And, you can order online. Visit http://www.beijaflorjeans.com/
Also noteworthy: There is a lovely bookstore (M. Judson Booksellers and Storytellers) downtown that features amazing cupcakes at The Chocolate Moose within the store, a wonderful cooking shop (Cook’s Station) where I picked up some unique, useful novelty items, and Seth loved Popcorn Parlor where he bought some delish flavored popcorn.
The BMW plant in Spartanburg is the International Manufacturing Headquarters and the largest manufacturing facility in the world as of 2016. Every X3, X4, X5, X6 and Z3 is produced at this plant. To quote my son, this factory tour was simply awesome. You get up close ‘n personal, and it’s really quite fascinating to see the process, including the usage of robots. My son and husband were in all their glory. You must be age 12 or older to tour. Here’s some interesting facts:
- BMW Manufacturing, located in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, started production in September, 1994.
- BMW Manufacturing is the largest BMW Group plant – by volume – in the world. In 2015, the plant produced 400,904 units.
- This plant produces the BMW X3 and X5 Sports Activity Vehicles and the BMW X4 and X6 Sports Activity Coupes, along with the X5 M and X6 M (Motorsport versions of these vehicles). A new, larger model was announced and will be coming soon – the BMW X7.
- In nearly 22 years of production, the plant has produced more than 3.4 million vehicles. During this time, the BMW Group has invested more than $7.2 Billion in the South Carolina plant.
Currently, the plant produces more than 1,400 vehicles per day with more than 8,000 jobs onsite.
- The factory gets nearly 50 percent of its total energy needs from methane gas from a local landfill.
Be sure to wear fully enclosed shoes for this behind-the-scenes look at the assembly line at the plant. Our Tour Guide Ken clearly knew his stuff, and it was a really memorable experience. Allow two hours for your visit, and advanced reservations are required.
LeMans Karting: The indoor wheel-to-wheel kart racing will give you a total adrenaline rush. Seth could have spent the entire day here. It’s as much fun for adults as kids, and attracts many regulars. They are open six days/week and offer classes for those age 17 and over. To go racing, you need to be age 8 or older and a certain height. The karts go up to an impressive 50 miles/hour. They bill themselves as “The Fastest Fun in Greenville!” Visit www.lemanskarting.com/greenville/
Other Greenville attractions that we didn’t get to include: Greenville Zoo, The Children’s Museum of the Upstate and the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum.
EXPLORING DOWNTOWN: Downtown Greenville features hundreds of locally owned restaurants and boutiques, plus more than 70 works of public art on display including the most recent addition- Dale Chihuly’s “Rose Crystal Tower” which sits at one end of Falls Park. There is a free hop on, hop off trolley that is very convenient, but it’s a nice main street to stroll if you have the time.
Falls Park is a must see. It is a nationally acclaimed green space with a spectacular bridge that allows unobstructed views of the Reedy River Falls. The Liberty Bridge – a 345-foot, curved bridge held in the air by a single suspension cable – is the only one of its kind in the United States. It’s a truly lovely place to spend time walking, reflecting and just taking in the beautiful view of the stunning Falls and scenery.
Take a stop at Mast General Store and pick up a copy of MICE ON MAIN…A Very Special Scavenger Hunt. There are adorable bronze mice statues (9 in total) scattered on the main drag, and it’s fun to attempt to find them all.
And, Downtown Alive is a lively downtown experience on Thursdays during this 24-week long concert series. A literal party on Main Street, bands from across the region come out to play while people eat, drink and dance in the street. Visit http://www.greenvillesc.gov/239/PNG-Downtown-Alive
For theatre lovers, downtown Greenville has Centre Stage South Carolina offering up some impressive shows and cultural happenings.
JUST OUTSIDE GREENVILLE: It was recommended that we visit Traveler’s Rest, and the trip proved more memorable than expected. Ten years ago, no one visited Travelers Rest. But over the past seven years, the small town has seen a boom thanks to the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail, an immensely popular 20+ mile cycling trail. As recently as 2009, there was just one restaurant in the downtown, now there are more than a dozen, as well as a brewery, distillery, honey shop and boutiques- all because more than 750,000 bike riders are hitting the trail.
Cute stores worth a look: Goose Feathers (A Shabby Chic Boutique) and My Sister’s Store: Books and more.
A DINING MUST STOP: We visited Upcountry Provisions Bakery & Bistro, a popular, casual breakfast, lunch or dinner destination that has the most amazing baked goods, salads, and sandwiches. They also feature a small retail space including their baked good and bottled sauces. They cater for business and individuals.
They make the delectable croissant dough in-house, and all baking is done on the premises.
Our favorites: Mouth-watering sandwich cookies with vanilla butter creme or peanut butter. To die-for Parmesan Asiago Bread. Wonderful Humus and Pimento Cheese spread. They also make sheet cakes, including for weddings, with all kinds of cake and icing options and customization. Sandwich-wise, we particularly liked The Traveler: Roast beef, crispy bacon, sauerkraut, feta cheese and horsey sauce. Very unique flavor and textures.
On Fridays, they feature live music and a tapas bar, and they participate in periodic special events and fundraisers for causes.
The hard-working, talented and personable Bistro Manager, Stephen Krauss, who owns Upcountry Provisions (opened four years ago with his wife Cheryl), was an earnest, engaging host. Not only were they generous with the food we got to sample, but he was eager to show off the new land they acquired nearby that they are working on spinning into what will be a wonderful outdoor party/event space.
We loved the baked goods so much that we took some home to friends who said they were beyond impressed and sorry they couldn’t buy them in NY….but they do ship. This place is a culinary gem! Visit http://upcountryprovisions.com/
While we were in Greenville, we met a number of people who had relocated from New York and elsewhere, seeking a more economical, low key, yet still stimulating way of life. It’s a town that has been growing and gaining more ‘n more popularity. And, it’s easy to see why. It offers a lot both for residents and tourists who will find things to do without feeling they have to jam pack their schedule or break the bank to enjoy.
Note: Our stay, dining, touring, attractions and select shopping was hosted, but our opinions are our own.