GREENVILLE, S.C. — This city of 62,000 halfway between Charlotte and Atlanta took a huge hit when its bustling textile manufacturing industry moved overseas in the 1960s. A decade later, then-Mayor Max Heller, a Holocaust refugee from Austria, set about infusing downtown with a European flavor, encouraging foot traffic, shops, and sidewalk cafes. The revitalization started in the 1980s with the construction of a Hyatt Regency and hasn’t stopped since. In fact, the Hyatt just underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation.
Today visitors will encounter a bustling center with scores of shops and restaurants and anchored by a stunning waterfall park. Meanwhile, global employers BMW and Michelin have attracted thousands of workers to the area, while Tour de France veteran George Hincapie has lured a growing community of cyclists to his adopted hometown to play in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Park it: Start your visit with a Greenville History Tour (864-567-3940, www.greenvillehistorytours.com, $12), where you learn that in 1873, Bostonians Oscar Sampson and George Hall opened the city’s first textile operation along the Reedy River. In 2002, Boston architect Miguel Rosales was tapped to help revive the blighted area with his award-winning Liberty Bridge. The elegant 355-foot curved suspension bridge for pedestrians replaced a car bridge that had obscured the falls 28 feet below. When it opened in 2004, the bridge united the city and provided a stunning focal point for the 26-acre Falls Park on the Reedy (Main Street at Camperdown Way, 864-467-4355, www.fallspark.com).
Greenville grown: American Grocery Restaurant (732 South Main St., 864-232-7665, www.americangr.com, entrees $26-$37) brought seasonal Carolina cuisine here in 2007 and has maintained its status as culinary kingpin since. Owners Joe and Darlene Clarke set a refined but unfussy tone in two compact rooms with exposed brick walls and dark furnishings. Dishes change weekly, but rabbit and trout are often on the menu, such as in Blue Chip Farms rabbit loin with tagliatelle pasta, marinated kale, and red pepper cream ($27).
After-dinner drinks: Restaurateur Josh Beeby bows to the brew at Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria (25 West Washington St., 864-232-3706, www.barleysgville.com) and, downstairs, in The Trappe Door (23 West Washington St., 864-451-7490, www.trappedoor.com). Barley’s is bright and airy, while the Belgian-influenced Trappe is dark and squat. At either spot, you’ll find good grub and dozens of top-flight American craft and Belgian beers.
Culture corner: Originally the site of Greenville Women’s College, Heritage Green is an 11-acre swath of land downtown devoted to housing institutions of education and culture. At the Children’s Museum of the Upstate (300 College St., 864-233-7755, www.tcmupstate.org, $9-$10), youngsters scramble over the Kaleidoscope Climber, an elaborate multistory climbing structure. The Upcountry History Museum (540 Buncombe St., 864-467-3100, www.upcountryhistory.org, $3-$5) follows the area’s growth, especially its textile manufacturing past. New Englanders might be surprised to learn that the Greenville County Museum of Art (420 College St., 862-271-7570, www.gcma.org, free admission) houses the world’s most complete collection of Andrew Wyeth watercolors. The newest addition on the Green is a satellite location of Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery (516 Buncombe St., 864-770-1331, www.bjumg.org, $3-$5), which opened in 2008 in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant. Educational displays upstairs enrich the holdings.
Main meander: Ten blocks of 19th-century brick buildings and gleaming glass-and-steel structures make up downtown Main Street. Dark Corner Distillery (241 North Main St., 864- 631-1144, www.darkcornerdistillery.com) shares samples of moonshine and sells it by the jug, while Michelin on Main carries branded retail products (550 South Main St., 864-241-4450, www.michelin.com). Women gravitate to Pedal Chic (651 South Main St., 864-242-2442, www.pedalchic.com), the country’s first female-centric bicycle and apparel shop, and craft lovers head for colorful Christopher Park Gallery (608 South Main St., 864-232-6744, www.chickenmanart.com).
Lazy lunch: Whether you snag a seat outside or in, the Reedy River lies in full splendor just below The Lazy Goat (170 RiverPlace, 864-679-5299, www.thelazygoat.com, plates $7-$25), a sophisticated Mediterranean-style restaurant in upscale RiverPlace. Warm up with Moroccan Pot Pie: roasted chicken, apricot, spices, and yogurt ($10).Continued...