Greenville, SC is a gorgeous city with abundant green space and a relaxed vibe. We recently spent a long weekend there, and I have to say, I fell in love with the place. From a plethora of culinary options and unique boutiques to fantastic outdoor spaces situated along the Reedy River featuring a picturesque waterfall, there is something for everyone. Venturing a bit farther afield, golf abounds, and there's even a special driving experience offered at the nearby BMW Performance Center for those who feel the need for speed.
It's Saturday morning, and my husband and I are up very early en route to the airport. We have a 6:35am flight to Greenville, SC. I'm never a huge fan of getting up before 4am, but I do love having a full day at a destination when we have limited time to explore. Also, early morning flights provide less chance for air travel delays which have become all too frequent lately. Happily, our 1.5 hour flight takes off on time and runs smoothly, and a little after 8am, we find ourselves zipping through the quiet Greenville airport. Our luggage is out in record time, and we are soon able to make the relatively quick trip to the city center and our hotel for the evening, the Springhill Suites Greenville Downtown.
Photos: Hotel Lobby (left); Hotel Pool/Courtyard, View From Our Room (center); Hotel Lobby (right)
Unfortunately, we are unable to check in this early, but we freshen up and drop our luggage at the front desk before heading out to explore downtown Greenville. The city center is compact and invitingly walkable. The streets are extremely picturesque--lined with shaded benches, appetizing restaurants, and unique boutiques. Several buildings have distinctive architectural features that we stop to admire. Capping all of this off with a bit of nature, the Reedy River flows peacefully through the city center, lined on each side with walking paths already energetically abuzz with activity.
Photos: Downtown Greenville
While Greenville certainly has all the benefits of a bustling city, a surprisingly verdant highlight is Falls Park. Situated as a green oasis in the midst of the city, the park frames the Reedy River and features pleasantly shaded garden paths and natural water features, including a picturesque waterfall, Reedy River Falls [article featured photo]. There is even a popular pedestrian bridge suspended over the falls spanning the center of the park.
Photos: Falls Park
We wander some of the garden paths, absorbing the cool, quiet greenery. It's easy to forget we're still in a bustling city. Eventually, we begin to follow the wider river path away from the city center along the river. You can actually follow the river all the way down to Cleveland Park (which features the Greenville Zoo and more nature trails), but we keep to the Falls Park area since we have a brunch reservation nearby at 11am.
Photos: Falls Park
As our brunch reservation time approaches, we work our way back toward South Main Street. We have a reservation at Soby's this morning, a restaurant offering New South Cuisine. The restaurant has an inviting outdoor seating area, but we decide to take a quiet booth in the main dining room instead. I think I must be reading the menu incorrectly, but it appears that they have a mimosa for $3.01. When I ask my server about it, she confirms that they feature both a mimosa and a Bloody Mary for $3.01 at brunch. We clearly know what we're ordering to drink...
Photos: Soby's - Dining Room (left); Frittata (center); Bar (right)
For my food order, I opt for the lemon ricotta and blueberry pancakes, and my husband selects the southwest frittata. I rarely order pancakes, but I couldn't say no to the combination of lemon, ricotta and blueberry. They are absolutely delicious, but the serving is enormous, and I barely put a dent in the hearty dish. My husband's frittata features roasted red peppers, black beans, avocado crema, and green tomato pico and is equally sumptuous. The mimosas are also quite large--and surprisingly strong. Overall, it's a great first dining experience in Greenville, and we leave brunch pleasantly full.
Photos: Greenville Golf Course
After brunch, my husband has a tee time at one of the many golf courses situated just outside the city. With nothing specific on my itinerary for once, I enjoyed a rare, relaxing afternoon of shopping. There are musicians performing throughout the city, and the shaded streets are a perfect spot to stroll with an iced coffee or gelato--I decide to opt for an iced tea and a Kilwins s'mores ice cream (a major weakness of mine), close enough.
Photos: Strolling Downtown Greenville
Later, my boutique purchases safely stowed in our now available hotel room, I decide to fill my remaining afternoon free time with a visit to the hotel gym to work off some of that ice cream. The gym's treadmills overlook the hotel's central courtyard which features comfortable couches surrounding gas fire pits and a very popular outdoor pool. Watching the comings and goings is a good distraction from my run, and the time passes relatively quickly.
When my husband returns from golf, we shower and head back out for the evening with no particular direction in mind. The weather is perfect--warm with a light breeze. We decide to start at a brewery he spotted around the corner from our hotel--Yee Haw Brewing Company. It has a fun, lively atmosphere and plenty of options on tap from which to choose.
Photos: Yea Haw Brewing Company (left & center); Ink n Ivy (right)
After, we decide to change direction a bit and experience one of the city's several popular rooftop bars for an evening cocktail. We choose Ink n Ivy since it is situated only two blocks from the hotel. Perched at a table overlooking the street below, we sip our drinks and discuss our plans for the evening. We don't have dinner reservations; so, we decide to hit Halls Chophouse next. They feature live music in their bar, and we'd like to check it out. We visited Hall's flagship location in Charleston several years ago and still remember the impeccable service and equally impressive meal. Having been unable to score a Saturday night dinner reservation in Greenville when I tried, we settled on a Sunday brunch reservation here instead so we do plan to dine at the restaurant tomorrow.
When we arrive at Halls, the hostess seats us as a corner table in the bar's lounge, complete with padded leather seats. We have a great view of the bar and musicians, and plenty of space to make ourselves comfortable. After ordering a drink, we start looking at the bar menu for a potential appetizer to hold us over until wherever dinner may take us.
While we're debating this, Ted, one of the restaurant's managers comes over and strikes up a conversation with us. He's extremely good at his job, and has that customer-centered focus you just can't teach. During the course of our conversation, along with making local golf course recommendations for my husband (his favorite topic of conversation), Ted makes several menu recommendations. All of the options he describes sound delicious and we decide to settle in for the evening. I guess we're going to be eating two meals in a row here--there could be worse fates!
Photos: Halls Chophouse - Fried Green Tomatoes (left); Fillet Mignon (center); Salmon Salad (right)
The Greenville Halls lives up to the Charleston location's reputation; their food and service is just phenomenal. Our server is a Greenville transplant (as are most of the people in Greenville we talk to--everyone seems to start out as a visitor and become a resident), and she is friendly and attentive. Ted stops by our table several times to check on us and provide further great recommendations; he genuinely seems to love his job and wants to ensure you have a great experience. We decide to start out with the fried green tomatoes with crab, shrimp, and bacon succotash, as well as the blackened salmon salad with pears, oranges, buttermilk blue cheese, candied pecans, and a white balsamic vinaigrette. Everything is absolutely delicious, but the fillet mignon we split as an entree, accompanied by half sides of the Brussels sprouts and the parmesan truffle fries, is the star of the meal. It's one of the best steaks I've ever eaten. At the end of our meal, Ted brings by a sample of a fresh pineapple drink they make in-house for us to try which is both tasty and a bit strong--I sip slowly. He also talks us into dessert even though we can barely breathe at this point!
After dinner, we're exhausted. It's been a long day, so we decide to call it a night. Following a good meal, several (well-spaced) cocktails, and a day that began at 3:30am, I'm fairly certain that I'm going to sleep well tonight!
The following morning I wake up well rested. We have a 10am reservation at Halls for brunch but nothing scheduled before that. So, my husband visits the hotel gym, and I lazily get ready for the day. We are switching hotels this afternoon, but we've been granted a late checkout, so there's no need to rush to pack up our belongings before brunch.
Promptly at 10am, we arrive at Halls for our reservation. Ted is already back on duty at the front and greets us as if we are old friends, amused to see us back so soon. We didn't realize just how large the restaurant was the evening before having never left the bar area, but as we are led through the restaurant and down the stairs to the main dining room, I'm taken aback by its size.
Photos: Halls Chophouse Brunch - Creamed Corn (left); Steakhouse Omelet (center); Creme Brûlée (right)
Our waitress this morning is just as friendly as our server the previous evening. We each choose the chophouse omelet stuffed with steak, mushrooms, creamed spinach, onions, white cheddar, and Swiss (no onions for me). It comes with choice of hash brown potatoes or pepper jack grits, and we each choose the opposite. Our waitress also talks us into ordering a half side of the creamed corn. According to her, it's the best thing on the menu. When it comes, I have to agree that it is phenomenal. We are celebrating my birthday, and at the end of the meal, they insist on bringing us a dessert despite our protests of how full we are from the omelets. We select the creme brûlée, and it comes out complete with a candle. Full or not, we lick the plate clean.
Photos: Hampton Pinckney Historic Preservation Area
After brunch, we decide to walk off our meal by strolling over to the Hampton Pinckney historic preservation area which is about a mile away. It's a pleasant walk, and the weather is sunny and warm. The district is lined with historic homes from various architectural genres. We walk down Pinckney Street and up Hampton Avenue. A local sees us admiring one of the homes along Hampton Avenue and gives us some background on the street's homes, including pointing out the McBee House, the oldest in the neighborhood, built in the early 1800s [white home picture above].
Photos: Greenville sculpture (left); Cosmic Rabbit Tea Company (center); Greenville mural (right)
Our explorations complete, I'm in search of some caffeine. I look at my phone's map to see what my options are and happen to come across a place near our hotel that specializes in tea, Cosmic Rabbits Tea Company. Their menu reads like a tea lover's dream, and I can't choose just one thing. So, I select an iced matcha tea and a black tea latte for us to share.
Our time downtown coming to a close, we pack up and head to our new hotel for tonight, the Greenville Marriott. The hotel is situated about 10 miles outside of the city center, but it has close proximity to the airport and the BMW Performance Center we are visiting in the morning for an exciting driving experience, so it's a convenient sleeping location--and a nice hotel, too. Since we spend most trips on the go and are used to living out of our suitcases, only unpacking what's necessary, it's a relatively easy transition.
Photos: TOPGOLF Greenville
We plan to just hang at the hotel this evening and eat dinner there, but we still have a few hours remaining to our day. So, after checking into our room, we decide to check out the TOPGOLF a 1/2 mile down the road. My golf-loving husband is always trying to get me more interested in the sport, so spending an hour hitting some balls and enjoying the gorgeous weather is a win-win. We even strike up a friendly conversation with the person practicing in the bay next to us when he asks my husband for some swing tips--everyone is always so friendly in the south!
Photos: Marriott Greenville Pool
After TOPGOLF, we decide to change into our swimsuits and sit by the hotel pool for an hour or two. The outdoor space is very nice, and we have the place pretty much to ourselves. The water feels a bit too chilly for swimming for me personally, but we have our pick of lounge chairs, and we stretch out to soak up a little vitamin D.
As the sun begins to dip down, we decide to head up to our room to change for dinner. We are eating at the hotel restaurant tonight, Artisan. It's not Halls Chophouse, but our dinner is still quite good. We each start with a salad, and then my husband selects the pistachio crusted unicorn fish with fava bean and mushroom risotto and a dijon buerre blanc for his entree and I choose the house made fettuccini pasts with seafood (shrimp, fish, clams, artichoke hearts, tomato, spinach, and mushrooms in a champagne cream sauce).
Photos: Dinner at Marriott Greenville, Artisan Restaurant
After our dinner, we decide to go back up to our room to relax. We have an early start in the morning, and it's been a busy trip. We put a movie on and call it a night.
On Monday morning, after packing up, we go down to breakfast at the hotel. They have made to order omelets and a buffet, so there are plenty of choices. Afterward, we get our luggage and head over to the BMW Performance Center--the part of our trip my husband is most excited about.
When we arrive at the BMW Performance Center, we are directed into a classroom, and our small group of participants is introduced to our instructors. They have some impressive driving backgrounds, many having driven professionally at some point in their careers or they still do. We are teamed up with a driver named Andy. After some initial safety instruction and an overview on what we will be doing together today, we head out to select our vehicles and drive down to the track.
Photos: BMW Performance Center & Our Instructor Andy
We split off into pairs and each pair is given a different vehicle to ride (my husband and I get an X5). First, Andy runs us through how to do a full-force stop by slamming down the brake while also turning to avoid a potential collision (the obstacle is simulated with cones). He tells us we will run through this drill four times each, going progressively faster each time until on the last run we get up to between 55 and 58 MPH before slamming on the brakes at a given marker. Andy says you'll know you did it right if the windows on your vehicle begin to automatically go up (an apparent safety feature in the cars).
This entire exercise is an excellent driving lesson for me, even after years of driving. It teaches me how to stop my vehicle as quickly as possible--regardless of my speed--and look for an exit to avoid a collision simultaneously. I'm a bit nervous throughout the exercise, but Andy is extremely patient and a very calming presence over the walky-talky we have placed in our car to facilitate easy communication. We burn a lot of rubber slamming on the brakes repeatedly which is a novelty; it's fun doing something like this in a controlled environment with an experienced instructor. I can't imagine how many tires this place goes through, though!
Photos: BMW Performance Center, Out On The Track
Next, we head over to an obstacle course that consists of cones we have to weave between, tight corners, and fast straightaways. It is quite challenging, and we are encouraged to do it faster (within our comfort zone) each time we go around. By the last lap, I feel surprisingly comfortable whipping around the corners and weaving through cones--better understanding how the vehicle responds to various acceleration and braking patterns after some practice. It's a lot of fun!
Following the obstacle course, we are led over to a wet course and get to take turns getting into a sedan with Andy for a spin around the track--quite literally. Andy shows me how to turn off the traction control in the vehicle and then tells me to start accelerating around the turns. He says all I need to do is listen to his instructions to brake, accelerate, turn, etc. and I'll be fine. I'm feeling a bit anxious about this portion, but it's also the part I've been most looking forward to trying. At the right moment I slam on the brakes, and the car begins to spin around on the track, executing a near 360 degree turn before I come to a stop. It's exhilarating--and just a tiny a bit terrifying. I get to do it twice through before it's the next person's turn, and it is definitely the highlight of my day.
Video: Me Spinning The Car As Andy Guides Me Through It
The final track portion of the experience puts us in the passenger seat for a hot lap with our instructor. Two instructor cars at at time take turns whipping around the track together executing coordinated turns and quite literally burning up the track. It's amazing to see their skills put into action from inside the vehicle--and how close they are able to get to one another's vehicles without having a collision.
Photo: Instructors Zipping Around the Course
After the track, we get to try an off-road course. If I was a bit trepidatious at the track, the off-road course certainly takes me farther outside of my comfort zone. First, we drive our vehicles through 18 inches of water. The water is quite literally past the doorframe as we drive through the obstacle.* These cars are fairly airtight, and no water gets inside despite the water lapping at our doors. Next, we drive up an incline and get our vehicle balanced on only two wheels at the top of the hill; then, we take the car partway down the incline on only those two wheels before leveling back out.** This is the craziest thing I think we do on the course. It appears to defy the laws of gravity. Andy is there with each of us every step of the way, walking us through how to balance the vehicle, which way to turn, how much to speed up, slow down, etc. to get it right. We each get to execute various off-road maneuvers throughout the course, and it's amazing seeing what these cars are capable of doing. I guess there's a reason they call BMWs the ultimate driving machine.
*Note 1: Do not try this in an uncontrolled environment. Andy cautioned us that this is a very controlled environment with standing water at a known depth; never drive through rushing water or water of an unknown depth; 10 inches of rushing water is enough to carry away a car.
**Note 2: Do not try this in an uncontrolled environment. Andy cautioned us that in a non-BMW, you could bend your vehicle's frame doing this type of a maneuver or quite literally flip your vehicle; BMWs have a very low center of gravity and a frame that can withstand this level of pressure--but that does not mean they are incapable of flipping given the wrong circumstances.
Photos: BMW Off-Road Course
Our driving experience essentially complete, we also get a chance to Tour the BMW Plant before our departure. The impressive BMW Spartanburg Plant's 7 million square foot facility employs more than 11,000 people and churns out over 1400 vehicles per day. [Photography is strictly prohibited inside due to espionage concerns--we're required to sign a waiver stating we understand stealing trade secrets comes with criminal penalties in order to even enter the facility.] Over the course of an hour, we are able to see how a vehicle goes from a painted body through the various complex installation steps and quality checkpoints to ultimate completion. Watching the plant's robotic machinery accomplishing various assembly steps, I feel as if I have stepped onto the set of a science fiction movie. It is quite literally astonishing to view robotic arms taking measurements and putting pieces of a future vehicle together with microscopic precision. We even get to see a completed BMW being driven off the end of the assembly line and out of the plant, now a brand new vehicle off to its new home.
Photo: Outside the BMW Spartanburg Plant
Our day at BMW will definitely stand out as the highlight of our trip, but overall, all of our time in Greenville was exceptional. From exploring the historic downtown and its culinary highlights to golfing (both on a course and at TOPGOLF) to getting our adrenaline pumping at the BMW Performance Center, we truly made the most of our long weekend in Greenville. My husband's already asking me if we can plan a trip back!