Family Travel 2011

Megan Sexton

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Park the car and enjoy downtown Greenville

Posted 11/1/2011 9:39:00 AM

Before arriving in South Carolina's Upstate for a weekend earlier this year, I wondered if there would be enough to do to fill two days and nights on foot in Greenville.

I shouldn't have been concerned. Turns out, we had a weekend jam-packed with visits to museums, parks, a minor league baseball stadium, a downtown farmer's market and excellent restaurants.


We never got in the car -- although we did hop on a free trolley that circles around the downtown area, offering a great overview of the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. But mostly we walked -- along with lots of other people. One of the first things that struck us about downtown is the thriving street life of the business district. From the time we arrived Friday afternoon (when there was a concert going on outside the Hyatt, where we were staying) until we left on Sunday, the streets were alive with people walking, shopping, eating, listening to music and enjoying being downtown.

Greenville has gone through a transformation in the past decade or two, moving from a sedate Upstate town known for its textile mills to a bustling city with recreational and cultural opportunities, excellent restaurants and more of an international feel.

"In the past 10 to 15 years you've seen a tremendous amount of growth and new businesses opening up," said Tim Todd, executive director of the Discover Upcountry Carolina Association. "We have about five hotels downtown, there are apartments and condos downtown, there's all types of shopping … There are over 75 restaurants just right in the downtown area. And Liberty Bridge and Falls Park, that's kind of the icon."

It was more than enough to fill a weekend; when we left we were already planning another visit. Here is what's at the top of our family's must-do list for a weekend trip.

No. 1: Falls Park on the Reedy

This oasis in Greenville's Historic West End is a focal point of downtown. It's the perfect spot for a picnic, a chance to listen to music (or the roar of the waterfalls), toss a football, or marvel at the Liberty bridge, the 345-foot long, 12-foot wide curved pedestrian bridge that is supported by a single suspension cable.

"Not many downtowns in the country have a 60-foot waterfall right in the middle of downtown, so that's a neat and very unique attraction," Todd said.

No. 2: The Children's Museum of the Upstate

Just a few blocks off Main Street, you'll find the seventh largest children's museum in the country (and one of the best).

"This is a place where families can come interact, play together, and engage in some quality experiences for the children that adults can participate in as well," said Elizabeth McSherry, program manager for the museum.

The museum is geared toward kids ages 6 to 11, but there are specialized exhibits for a younger audience, and plenty of areas where teens can have fun, too.

"We like to think that we're not limited by age, and everything in the exhibit is built for adults and teenagers as well to participate and play on," McSherry said. "So that will hopefully bring out the child in everyone. "

While you’re there, don't miss the kaleidoscope climber. (Well, you can't miss it. The multi-story structure in the center of the museum offers kids the chance to climb, crawl and slide -- and see the world from a different perspective). The TV studio also is popular, along with the BiLo Market for younger kids.

No. 3: The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library

If you have a baseball fan in the family, it's worth a stop at the museum dedicated to Greenville native Joe Jackson, one of history's greatest ballplayers, who was banned from the game after the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal. Jackson and several of his Chicago White Sox teammates were accused of throwing the World Series, although Jackson always maintained his innocence.

The museum, which features some remarkable baseball memorabilia, is located in the house where Jackson lived and died. It's open every Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., and other times by appointment.

No. 4: Flour Field

If your visit is in the summer, wander across the street from the museum to Flour Field, home of the Greenville Drive minor league baseball team. The park, which is built to resemble Boston's Fenway, is a perfect spot for a family outing. Don't miss the children's play area down the left field line.

No. 5: Eating, shopping

There are more than 75 restaurants in the Main Street area, along with plenty of shops to check out. A favorite eatery of ours was Smoke on the Water, a Southern themed restaurant that specializes in comfort food. Tops for our kids were the pulled pork, ribs and macaroni and cheese. The restaurant offers a variety of barbecue sauces, so you can choose your favorite.

Kids will also enjoy getting an ice cream at Marble Slab Creamery and a bag of old-time candy (sold by the pound) at Mast General Store. Also popular with kids is O.P. Taylor's Toy Store -- "the coolest toy store on the planet."

If your visit is in the fall, plan your trip around Euphoria, a four-day food, wine and music festival held downtown. The festival is for adults only, but if you have someone to watch the kids, it would be a nice break. Our Food Insider went this year said it's not to miss. Check out her video here.  

No. 6: Public art.

There are pieces of public art throughout downtown. One that caught our attention is the statue depicting students from the old Sterling High School, Greenville's first black public high school. The bronze artwork is at Main and Washington streets, the site of the old Woolworth building where Sterling students held sit-in and protests during the Civil Rights era. It's a beautiful statue (by sculptor Maria Kirby-Smith) and also offers the chance to start an important conversation with your kids.

No. 7: Mice on Main

This mouse hunt is perfect for kids. Nine bronze mice sculptures are located at spots along Main Street, and kids can use the "Mice on Main" book or a set of clues to find each of them.


The sign as you head into Greenville doesn't welcome visitors. Instead, it proclaims: "Enjoy downtown Greenville."

We did. And we'll be back to add to our list of favorites.