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Greenville is More Than Just a Pretty Face

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Move over Charleston and Savannah. There’s a new southern belle in town and her name is Greenville. She can ooze sultry charm like the best of them and she’s picture-pretty, but there’s plenty of substance and depth under those good looks.

This South Carolina city has gotten plenty of buzz lately and for good reason.

Falls Park on the Reedy. Photo by Debbie Stone

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville’s a cultural lady. She loves museums, the theater, music and the arts. Art lovers will enjoy the Greenville County Museum of Art, home to the world’s most extensive public collection of watercolors by Andrew Wyeth and a treasure trove of paintings and prints by other notable artists, such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, and more. 

Art is also found outside the museum throughout Greenville as part of the Arts in Public Places initiative. Currently, more than seventy whimsical works are on display. They make for fun surprises as you amble around town.

One of the most well-known pieces is Joel Shapiro’s red steel sculpture, “Untitled 2002-2003,” commonly referred to as “Gumby” by residents. Another notable work is “Il Porcellino,” a bronze wild boar by Pietro Tacca.

It’s a full-sized replica of a 17th-century statue in Florence, Italy. According to local lore, if you rub the nose of the boar, you will return to Florence. And if you put a coin in its mouth and it falls in the well of the fountain below, you’ll have good luck. I did both. Stay tuned.

The newest sculpture is Dale Chihuly’s “Rose Crystal Tower,” which looks like a giant heap of pink rock candy. It begs to be touched.

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Greenville County Museum of Art. Photo by Debbie Stone

Art in Greenville

Murals also dot the city. It’s hard to miss the one bedecking the Canvas Tower, an eight-story office building. Created by award-winning Australian visual artist and photographer, Guido van Helten, this photorealistic piece spans the entire façade of the structure. According to the artist, the work focuses on diversity and unity in Greenville, using the history of integration in education as a symbolic theme. 

The Sigal Music Museum is another standout. It’s not every day you find a place dedicated to culturally important and rare world instruments. There are dozens of English, European and American pianos and harpsichords, dating from the late 1500s to 1845.

One of the harpsichords was reportedly played by a young Mozart. And there’s also an excellent collection of woodwinds. Touring the place is a musical immersion experience, with the added bonus of listening stations to hear various pieces performed on some of the instruments.

Live performances are a staple of Greenville, with several theaters, such as the Greenville Theatre, Warehouse Theatre and the Peace Center Concert Hall, showcasing an eclectic mix of everything from Broadway touring productions to innovative, new works by up-and-coming playwrights. 

The city’s music scene is also of note. Catch a show at Blues Boulevard Jazz, Gottrocks or Smiley’s Acoustic Café. Groove to the tunes till late at night, as Greenville is not your “roll up the sidewalks at sundown” kind of town!

Greenville’s not afraid to say how old she is and showcase her history. Head to the Upcountry History Museum for a good overview of the area’s past. Here you’ll learn the story of the Upcountry through a series of detailed exhibits, murals, audio recordings, artifacts and interactives.

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Sigal Music Museum. Photo courtesy of VisitGreenvilleSC

Historical Side Of Greenville, South Carolina

One gallery focuses on the Upcountry Frontier and its early inhabitants. Another delves into the turbulent times of South Carolinians’ divided political, economic and societal views.

It’s centered around the front porch of a rural dwelling in the 1790s and features, via film, Upcountry settler Mary Logan talking about her thoughts on the issues.

In a different gallery, visitors can stroll through Greenville in the mid-1850s, with facades of hotels, shops, churches, and character figures and computer presentations. Other museum areas are devoted to reconstruction in the years following the Civil War, the New South textile economy, contributions of the Upcountry’s military bases and an examination of the region post-WWII, including the Civil Rights movement. 

If you’re into baseball history, you’ll want to check out the “Shoeless” Joe Jackson Museum. Joe hailed from Greenville and is infamous for his arguable role in the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series fixing scandal.

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Shoeless Joe Jackson historical museum. Photo by Debbie Stone

In the museum, which is actually in the house where Jackson lived and died (of a heart attack at 63), you’ll learn about Joe’s career. His career began with him playing for the semi-pro Greenville Spinners before moving up to the majors and posting the third-best lifetime batting average of .356. Many baseball greats and historians regard Joe as the finest natural hitter of all time.

As for his moniker, “Shoeless Joe,” you’ll find out that it stemmed from one game in June of 1908. Joe’s brand-new cleats gave him blisters, so he took them off. Then, he hit a doozy of a homerun in his socks, causing a fan of the opposing team to shout, “You shoeless son-of-a-gun!” Though Joe never played shoeless in a game again, he was stuck with the name for eternity. 

Despite being small in size, the museum is chockful of numerous photos, letters, memorabilia, artifacts, books and is dedicated to honoring and preserving Joe’s legacy. It strives to dispel many myths about the man while educating people about the truth of his life and career. 

The museum is conveniently located across the street from Fluor Field, home to the Greenville Drive, a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A statue of Joe welcomes folks as they enter the park.

You might think the place looks familiar, especially if you’ve been to Fenway Park in Boston. That’s because Fluor is a mini replica of Fenway. 

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Droolworthy historic homes. Photo courtesy of VisitGreenvilleSC

Outdoor Treasures

Greenville has seven historical districts with drool-worthy homes, some dating back to the 1800s. Many are included in the National Historic Registry, such as the Wilkins House and J.M. Geer House.

The Kilgore-Lewis House (circa 1838) might be one of the oldest surviving structures in town. It’s an Upcountry farmhouse in the Classic Revival style and boasts lush gardens. 

Greenville’s an outdoorsy type. Her piece de resistance is Falls Park on the Reedy, a nationally acclaimed greenspace that serves as the city’s “living room.”

The park, in the middle of downtown, is the result of the transformation of a forgotten forty-foot-tall waterfall and overgrown river valley into an urban oasis. It boasts a spectacular bridge that allows for unobstructed views of the Reedy River Falls.

The Liberty Bridge is a 345-foot, curved structure held in the air by a single suspension cable. It has the distinction of being the only bridge of its kind in the country. 

The park includes an extensive network of trails amid landscaped areas and wooded valleys that connect the city with the river. The paths attract locals and tourists alike and there are benches to sit along the way.

You can also break a sweat on the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail, a popular 22-mile paved trail that was once a railway. It runs from the nearby town of Travelers Rest to Greenville, through Falls Park and to Furman University.

You’ll see runners, walkers, cyclists and skaters traversing the trail for exercise and using it as a transportation route. 

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Enjoy dining at the Mediterranean-inspired Lazy Goat. Photo by Debbie Stone

Creative Cuisine

Greenville’s a foodie, and the word is definitely out about her culinary scene. There are more than 110 restaurants in downtown alone, serving up mouth-watering dishes with global flavors.

The culturally diverse nature of the city lends itself to the culinary scene. There’s everything from Caribbean and French to Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Greek, and more. And, of course, there are distinctly Southern dishes.

Dine at Sassafras for a meld of Southern food with a creative flair. The menu’s offerings are mouth-watering with such specialties as Salmon and Lump Blue Crab, Charleston Shrimp and Grits, Seafood Trio (scallops, shrimp and blackened or grilled Catfish) and the proverbial Fried Green Tomatoes and Pimento Cheese.

Service is superb in this warm and inviting establishment. Be sure to save room for the Deep Dish Peanut Butter Pie or the Key Lime Pie.

At the Mediterranean-themed Lazy Goat, treat your taste buds to a falafel bowl, handmade pasta, paella or rustic Italian flatbreads while you soak in the river view ambiance. Then finish your meal with the Winter Citrus Loukoumades, best described as Greek-style doughnut holes with lemon glaze and berries. 

Enjoy breakfast or a mid-day treat at Old Europe Coffee and Desserts. This cozy café specializes in European-inspired pastries and locally roasted coffee. I felt like a kid in a candy shop as I peered at the freshly made sweets.

They all called to me – the coconut crème cake, tiramisu, hazelnut Napoleons, Lemon Bavarians and macarons. As it was morning, I only selected a few breakfast items to sample, including a slice of vegetarian quiche, a scone, and a cruffin.

The latter, I discovered, is a muffin made with croissant dough. All were yummy.  

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Poppington’s popcorn shop. Photo by Debbie Stone

Greenville is a shopper. You’ll find anything and everything in this cosmopolitan and hip town, whether you’re looking for the latest clothing styles, unique jewelry or handcrafted items.

Make sure to stop at Mast General Store on your forays, if only to peruse the aisles of merchandise – from outdoor gear and South Carolina souvenirs to toys and kitchen gadgets.

The place is a throwback to days gone by, with creaky wooden floors and penny candy barrels filled to the brim with over 500 different kinds of old-fashioned candies. It was a walk down memory lane for me!

M. Judson Booksellers and Storytellers will appeal to bibliophiles. This independent, local bookstore is a thriving literary hub. Located in Greenville’s historic courthouse building, it specializes in Southern lit, cookbooks, new releases, kids’ books and has an assortment of funky South Carolina gifts.

And if you get hungry while browsing, Camilla’s Kitchen is right in the store, offering an array of beverages and treats. Try the Pipi Longstocking, an orange, vanilla, white chocolate latte reminiscent of a Creamsicle, and a sea salt chocolate chip cookie.

Put Poppington’s Popcorn on your list, too. Owners Rose and Bob Augustyn make over 75 different kinds of popcorn flavors. Get out of your comfort zone and try the Bloody Mary, Spicy Dill Pickle or Asian Spice for something different.

Greenville loves visitors and her Southern hospitality is on display in full force. I found the locals to be incredibly friendly and helpful. And everything is made easy for tourists, as the center core of the city is completely walkable.

So, you can conveniently access shops, restaurants, galleries and many attractions without having to get in your car. Great way to get in your daily steps!

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Il Porcellini. Photo by Debbie Stone

Where To Stay in Greenville, South Carolina

It’s also nice to know that accommodations are plentiful in Greenville, South Carolina with numerous options to suit your preferences and budget. I recommend staying in the heart of town, and during my visit, I made the Hyatt Place Greenville Downtown home base.

The hotel sits just off Main Street, the city’s primary hub, and is close to Falls Park on the Reedy, making it simple to start your day off with a stroll around this lovely greenspace. 

Rooms are spacious with comfy beds and complimentary breakfast, plus there’s a fitness center, pool and bar. Bring Fido if you want, as the place is pet-friendly.

For all things Greenville: www.visitgreenvillesc.com

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