For an urban getaway with a healthy dose of the arts, dining and the great outdoors, head to Greenville, South Carolina.
by Cathy Martin
If the pandemic took a toll on downtowns across the country, Greenville, South Carolina, didn’t get the message.
The first time I visited Greenville, about a two-hour drive down Interstate 85 South, it reminded me of a smaller, younger version of Charlotte — a tidy uptown business district reminiscent of Trade and Tryon, a few chain hotels, and a smattering of locally owned cafes, shops and galleries. When I returned last fall, I found the city more vibrant than ever, with a few unique charms the Queen City might even envy.
That vitality is due in part to the opening of the AC Hotel Greenville in February 2021. The new hotel sits at Camperdown Plaza, named after one of the historic textile mills that were once the lifeblood of the area. You can’t beat the location: The 196-room hotel is directly across the street from the Peace Center, the performing-arts venue that rivals the Blumenthal with its schedule of world-class acts. (The Tony Award-winning Hadestown kicked off its national tour there in October.)
It’s also steps from Falls Park on the Reedy, created in the early 2000s when city leaders decided to turn a polluted waterway into a 32-acre urban oasis. Here, visitors can admire the falls from a 355-foot suspension bridge, wander through the meticulously maintained gardens, view art installations and explore the area’s history, including the ruins of an old textile mill where cotton yarn was made.
To give the hotel a local vibe, the designers worked with Greenville’s Art and Light Gallery to curate more than 100 works by 35 local artists, which are installed throughout the property. If you’ve previously stayed at an AC Hotel, Marriott’s sleek, clean-lined concept developed in Spain, you know what to expect: moderately priced guest rooms with a streamlined décor and an emphasis on public spaces, including lively food and drink options.
Here, those options include Paloma, situated at the corner of the property across from the Peace Center. This busy cocktail lounge features a central U-shaped bar and a tapas menu highlighting familiar flavors, such as the burrata and tomato with pesto and toasted pine nuts, crispy calamari with lemon aioli, or hummus and olives. The shareable plates pair well with Paloma’s well-crafted cocktails such as The Dove — the restaurant’s signature drink made with Maestro Dobel Humito tequila, peach habanero syrup and grapefruit soda — along with wine, sangria, beer, and refreshing mocktails if you’re starting the new year alcohol-free. If the weather is nice, the doors slide open, creating an indoor-outdoor space perfect for people-watching and enjoying a breeze. Paloma is an ideal stop for pre-dinner drinks or a light bite before a show.
Open Wednesday through Saturday, Juniper is AC Greenville’s sprawling rooftop bar, with a garden-party theme and an emphasis on gin cocktails with whimsical presentations. The greenhouse-inspired spot has a clubby atmosphere that exudes fun. Gather round a fire pit on one of Juniper’s heated patios (open year-round) and take in the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains (come at sunset for the best views). The vibe here is electric, with a DJ or live music each night.
For a truly unique experience that’s a little more low-key, you’ll want to check out The Press Room, a 30-seat speakeasy inspired by the legacy of The Greenville News, the local paper founded by the Peace family that was previously located at the site of the hotel. After reserving your table (Wednesday-Saturday evenings only), you’ll receive a code and instructions for how to access the speakeasy, a dimly lit lounge with comfortable seating and a distinct drink menu highlighting tequila and bourbon cocktails, along with a few light bites. The Press Room, which incorporates memorabilia from the old newsroom — you enter through a re-created editor’s office from the 1920s — is also a great spot for winding down with an after-dinner cordial and dessert.
If the hotel’s seven restaurants and bars aren’t enough to satisfy your cravings (including soon-to-open pizza and burger outlets), the AC is near plenty of other stellar dining options, including CAMP, the creative comfort food eatery led by French Laundry alum Drew Erickson. A few blocks south, historic West End is an up-and-coming, walkable neighborhood with cafes, boutiques and galleries.
Just north of town is Travelers Rest, a charming hamlet that’s about a 20-minute drive from Greenville where you’ll find a brewery, a distillery and plenty of places to grab a leisurely bite to eat. Upcountry Provisions is a great no-frills spot for breakfast or lunch, featuring fresh-baked breads and pastries. Travelers Rest is also close to several outfitters that can help plan outdoor adventures (whitewater rafting, ziplining, kayaking and more) and offers access to the 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail greenway for walking and cycling.
Whether taking in a show, exploring the upstate’s trails, lakes and rivers, or just escaping for a weekend away, you’re likely to leave Greenville with a long to-do list for the “next time.” SP
Learn more at achotelgreenville.com. Through the end of February, Juniper, the rooftop cocktail bar, has been transformed into a Winter Wonderland, complete with cozy igloos to protect you from the winter chill.