Having not visited Greenville, SC in more than 20 years, I was both shocked and thrilled at the complete renaissance of this once decaying textile manufacturing town. The perfectly planned and executed metamorphosis of this small Southern city is both beautiful and miraculous!
Since the end of World War II and the decline of the textile industry in the South, the downtown part of Greenville was on a downward “death spiral.” However, thanks to a vision by Mayor Knox White and a landscape architect named Lawrence Halprin, the struggling urban area was transformed into a place that has the attention of the whole nation.
The entire path along the once polluted Reedy River is now part of a 21-mile nature trail known as the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which replaces a defunct railway. The downtown section is now called Falls Park on the Reedy (www.fallspark.net) and is a world-class tourist attraction complete with multi-use facilities that offer a wide variety of activities for people of all ages and interests. This is a verdant park that includes a spectacular waterfall and is highlighted by the Liberty Bridge, a 345-foot-long suspension bridge for pedestrians. The span replaced a decaying, ugly, 4-lane bridge for cars, but now offers visitors an unobstructed view of the falls and the picturesque city in the background!
The downtown area has become a model for other cities to follow when designing a modern, interconnected urban utopia. You can literally walk from business to business under a gorgeous, tree-lined canopy of eclectic beauty. Especially appealing is the quickly emerging culinary market that features specialty restaurants like Nantucket Seafood (www.nantucketseafoodgrill.com) that would compete well with the best eateries in the world! In fact, their seafood trio entree of seared scallops with bacon jam, crab cake with remoulade, broiled cold water lobster tail with beurre blanc, sweet corn and pea risotto is beyond compare! Also, no meal would be complete without the Chef’s Ceviche Sampler of salmon, shrimp, scallops and ahi tuna.
To experience a fun and much more laid-back atmosphere complete with mouth-watering offerings, take a short walk to the Luna Rosa Gelato Café & Restaurant (www.lunarosagelato.com) in the middle of Main Street. This is a family-run restaurant that serves truly authentic home-made Italian gelato and New York Italian-inspired comfort food. Most recipes have been in their family for generations and are both tasty and uniquely different for a southern city.
The best place to stay in downtown Greenville right in the middle of all the action and less than a hundred yards from the Reedy River is the Hampton Inn and Suites, Greenville-Downtown-Riverplace (Phone-864-271-8700). This hotel is walking distance from the Peace Center for Performing Arts, Falls Park and all the Main Street shopping and dining. The Greenville County Museum of Art and Upcountry History Museum are just one mile away, and guests have easy access to nearby Highway 123. The service is great, plus a hot breakfast and WiFi are part of your stay.
Avid golfers can enjoy a nearby 18 hole, par 72 championship golf course designed by Willard Byrd, that is carved into a lush Carolina Forest with hills and mountain brooks, making The Preserve at Verdae (www.thepreserveatverdae.com) both scenic and challenging. This course is situated on more than 100 acres of green space in the heart of midtown Greenville and is committed to the environment. During any round you may encounter wild turkeys, hawks, deer and many smaller animals. It is truly a gorgeous place for golf and nature!
Another extremely interesting golf venue is the 3’s Greenville Golf & Grill (www.3s.golf) which is a new concept providing 12 unique and challenging holes designed by some of the world’s leading golf course architects. It’s a comfortable place to just hang out and enjoy interesting par 3 golf as well as delicious food, wine and cocktails served with authentic Southern hospitality in a casual, laid-back atmosphere. It also has an 18 hole putting green that will challenge even the best putters!
Because of the proximity to the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Greenville was always a perfect place for people to settle, but the dying textile industry practically killed it. However, the total environmental transformation of the downtown area has suddenly brought in much modern tech industry and has converted this beautiful city into a tourism and culinary destination that should be on everybody’s bucket list.
Photos: Bill Vanderford