About 100 miles northwest of the state capital, Greenville, S.C., boasts one of the region’s most picturesque and lively downtowns, with an abundance of restaurants, shops and parks. As officials at this former mill town reinvigorated the Main Street corridor, they also developed the Greenville Health System (GHS) Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 14-mile greenway that runs along the Reedy River and connects many of the area’s top attractions. It’s a great resource for exploring this charming, fast-growing city that’s situated at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Here are three weekend itineraries to get the most out of your visit, whether you bike, ride or walk.
Thanks to the level terrain, the multi-use GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail, most of which is paved, is ideal for bicyclists. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, not to worry, there are numerous places around Greenville that rent bikes. Options include Reedy Rides and Pedal Chic, both of which are in downtown.
If you’d prefer to start your biking excursion at the northern end of the trail, try Sunrift Adventures in Travelers Rest. You may also want to arrange to have a vehicle with a bike rack at the end of your destination so you can easily return the bikes to the shop when you’re done.
If you start at the northern end of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail, a convenient access point is the 15-acre Gateway Park, located behind Sunrift Adventures. As you head south, fuel up for the day’s ride at the Cafe at Williams Hardware. Located inside a renovated hardware store, this laid-back restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, including omelets, scratch-made biscuits and pancakes, along with a variety of sandwiches and homemade desserts for lunch. Be sure to grab a table on the screened-in back porch that overlooks the trail. Next up is the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery. This funky spot is a popular gathering place for locals and biking enthusiasts. It specializes in delicious made-from-scratch artisan baked goods, fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as organic coffees. Don’t leave without a bagful of the famous light and moist scones or muffins.
From Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery, it’s about two miles to downtown Greenville. Along the way you can make a pit stop at the five-acre Mayberry Park, which has a shady picnic shelter, or The Children’s Garden at Linky Stone Park, a 1.7-acre multi-themed green space where kids can explore and play.
As you enter downtown via the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail, you’ll arrive at RiverPlace, a vibrant mixed-use development with condos, retail shops, artist studios, restaurants and a hotel. There’s also an artfully designed fountain play area with synchronized water spouts that’s an ideal spot for both kids and adults to cool off. Afterwards, quiet your growling stomach at The Lazy Goat. This two-level, Mediterranean-themed restaurant has outside seating overlooking the river and features delectable specialties such as Kobe flank steak and pan-roasted snapper, along with pasta and pizza dishes.
Pick up your rental bikes at Reedy Rides or Pedal Chic in downtown and continue your Greenville exploration. From RiverPlace, the Swamp Rabbit Trail meanders underneath Greenville’s scenic Main Street bridge and winds along Falls Park, which features walking trails, picnic areas, and the 380-foot Liberty Bridge that overlooks Reedy River and rushing waterfalls. Secure your bike at one of the many public racks, find a shady spot and enjoy the natural surroundings and all the great people-watching opportunities.
As you head south, the next point of interest is the 122-acre Cleveland Park, with athletic fields, playground areas, a fitness trail, and picnic shelters. Here you’ll also find the Rudolf Anderson memorial airplane, a tribute to Air Force Major Rudolf Anderson, a Greenville native whose plane was shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. As the trail follows the winding Reedy River, you’ll traverse several scenic bridges, including the 118-foot McDaniel Avenue Bypass Bridge, which features stonework that pays tribute to Greenville’s past. Along the way look for the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and the Fernwood Nature Trail, where you can stroll through a mature hardwood forest that’s a popular destination among birdwatchers.
The final leg of the trail crosses over the Jeanne Lenhardt Memorial Bridge, which is dedicated to Jeanne Lenhardt, an African-American educator and civil rights activist. Finally, before culminating at Greenville Technical College, the trail crosses over C. Dan Joyner Bridge, which honors one of Greenville’s most respected business and community leaders who in 1998 was awarded the Order of the Palmetto.
Another convenient way to explore Greenville is via the Greenlink public transportation system. The Greenlink buses cover 11 routes to destinations all across Greenville County. The Greenlink Transit Center, located on McBee Avenue in downtown, is the central hub of all bus routes. The station is located lesss than a mile from the Swamp Rabbit Trail via River Street. If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss The Children’s Museum of the Upstate, which has more than a dozen interactive exhibits.
Located in the heart of the three-story museum is the Climber, which has multi-level platforms where kids can crawl and slide in a challenging and dynamic environment. At Garage Rock, kids can experiment with instruments made of tools, plastic pipe and other unusual materials. Or head to WTCM Studios, which offers budding actors, news reporters, meteorologists and singers the chance to make a video using green screen technology and teleprompters. Other seasonal exhibits are offered at the museum and include space exploration, the human body and earth sciences.
A great destination for young and old is the Greenville Zoo. Situated near Cleveland Park less than a mile from downtown, the 14-acre zoo has nearly 30 exhibits where you can get an up-close look at hundreds of exotic animals, including spider monkeys, lions, giraffes, and alligators. Grab lunch at the zoo’s concession stand next to the reptile house and afterwards head to the expansive playground nearby where the kids can play on elaborate climbing and swinging structures.
For dinner, try Chicora Alley, which has live entertainment and a great selection of chicken, beef and seafood entrees, as well as some tasty vegetarian options, such as roasted red pepper quesadilla, tofu tacos and veggie burritos. If you’re in the mood for pizza, enjoy a slice at Barley’s, which has open, street-level seating along with 72 craft beers on tap and an upstairs game room with pool tables, darts, foosball and shuffleboard.
For its size, Greenville offers an impressive array of art and cultural amenities. The Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery, located about three miles northeast of downtown, is recognized for having a fine collection of European Old Masters paintings, including more than 400 religious, original paintings by artists such as Rubens, Botticelli, Tintoretto and Van Dyck. There’s also the Greenville County Museum of Art, home to the world’s largest public collection of watercolors by Andrew Wyeth.
You can also use Greenlink as a convenient way to explore downtown Greenville’s many stores and boutiques. For foodies, there’s Charleston Cooks!, a kitchen retail shop that offers cooking demonstrations and classes, as well as The Cook’s Station, which carries a wide variety of cookware, gadgets, barware, and small appliances.
You can find a little bit of everything at Mast General Store, including men’s and women’s fashions, outdoor gear, pottery, gourmet foods, toys, and more than 500 kinds of old-fashioned candies. For name brand designer goods, try Denim Salon by Beija-Flor, which offers locally designed jeans; Rush Wilson Limited offers classic men’s clothing and accessories from top-rated brands such as Oxxford Clothes, Zanella, Southwick, and Coppley.
Cap off the day with dinner and drinks at The Trappe Door, an authentic Belgium restaurant with an eclectic menu of sweet and savory dishes such as sautéed duck breast, walnut crusted pork loin and panseared salmon. Moreover, The Trappe Door has a full wine and liquor menu, along with ten taps and some 150 bottled beers from around the world, including rare craft beers.
With its vibrant and pedestrian-friendly Main Street, walking is a great way to explore downtown Greenville. Kick off the weekend with Main Street Fridays at NOMA Square. This weekly music series, which runs from March to September, starts at 5:30 p.m. and features an eclectic line-up of bands along with family-fun activities likes bounce houses and inflatables.
Enjoy dinner at Roost, a farm-to-table restaurant with a sleek bar situated at the Hyatt Regency in the heart of NOMA Square. But be sure to reserve a table at the outdoor terrace where you can enjoy people watching and Southern favorites like shrimp and grits and bacon-wrapped meatloaf. For dessert, stroll across the street to Kilwins, where you’ll find a mouth-watering selection of ice cream, fudge, salt water taffy and peanut brittle.
Start the day with breakfast at Mary Beth’s at McBee Station. The owners use local ingredients to prepare wonderful items including pastries, omelets, pancakes, waffles and crepes. Afterwards, it’s a brief stroll to Main Street and Coffee & Crema, a cozy coffee shop with everything from espresso, cappuccino, smoothies and tea.
Walk in any direction on Main Street and you can browse dozens of shops and boutiques, including art galleries (Christopher Park Gallery), cultural centers (Heritage Green, a multi-faceted campus three blocks from Main Street with museums and theater space), as well as more unusual offerings such as Dark Corner Distillery, where you can watch the store’s founders craft specialized distilled spirits.
For lunch, a top option is Tupelo Honey Cafe, which opened last summer in One, a new development along Main Street. The restaurant, which has a full bar, patio seating and open kitchen, offers a creative twist on Southern favorites using locally sourced ingredients.
Afterwards, take in the scenery at Falls Park or embark on a guided visit of up to four local breweries with Greenville Brew Tours. In addition to sampling tasty local beers, you’ll better understand the brewing process and check out new establishments, such as Quest Brewing and Brewery 85.
Indulge in the decadent French-inspired dishes at Passerelle Bistro, a wonderful restaurant with arguably the best location in Greenville, right next to Liberty Bridge overlooking Falls Park. Some not-to-miss items include the baked goat cheese, mussels with saffron, tomatoes and espelette pepper, and duck confit served with fresh shell beans, tomato, prosciutto and wilted arugula. If you have room for desert, stroll over to Poppington’s, which has about 75 varieties of gourmet popcorn.
Before heading home, stop in at Blues Boulevard for Sunday brunch. Here you can enjoy live jazz and sample an all-you-can-eat brunch bar with catfish and grits, French toast and made-to-order omelets. There are also $12 bottomless mimosas.