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Small City or Big Town, Greenville Is Worth a Visit


By Victor Block

When I first heard mention of Greenville, South Carolina, I had to look at a map to learn exactly where it is. Little did I know that it has received rave reviews from major newspapers and magazines. It didn't take long after I got there to agree with those accolades.

My first impression after arriving was the inviting setting. Greenville is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While its population (about 70,000) gives it small-city status, the atmosphere in many ways resembles that of a small town. Adding to the attraction is a unique blend of traditional Southern charm and cosmopolitan cool.

No wonder The New York Times ranked Greenville No. 14 on its 2023 list of "52 places to go," and Conde Nast Traveler called it "No. 1 Friendliest city in the U.S." while Travel + Leisure reported that its culinary treasures earn it a place among the "Best Food Cities in the U.S."

My enjoyable task was to verify the truth of these tributes, and verify them I did. I was immediately immersed in what could be a motion-picture setting, and, in fact, a number of movie scenes have been filmed in Greenville.

The center of the action, and appeal for me and many visitors, is Main Street. It's the bustling heart of the city with wide, tree-shaded sidewalks that lead past restaurants and bars, galleries and an eclectic collection of boutiques in a pedestrian-friendly environment.


Typical of the diverse lineup of shops are the Cornerstone gallery, which sells crystals, minerals and animal skulls and skeletons; the Savannah Bee Co. that offers a free mead experience; and the local branch of Mast General Store. It originally opened in 1883 selling everything "from cradles to caskets." Along with traditional merchandise, it offers stone-ground corn meal and grits, locally produced "old timey" soaps and Amish-made rocking chairs.

While strolling in town, I also kept my eyes peeled for glimpses of sculptures, murals and other public art that transform Greenville's streets into an open-air gallery. I saw one reference to more than 160 pieces of public art, including statues, fountains, plaques and more.

Perhaps most famous is a 40-foot-tall, 2-ton kinetic metal sculpture by Anthony Howe, titled "Octo," that moves with the wind and is said to represent the sun. At the other end of the size spectrum are nine tiny whimsical bronze statues of mice hidden along Main Street, inspired by the children's book "Goodnight Moon," which people of all ages delight in locating.

A world-class collection of other works is not far away at Heritage Green, an arts and cultural campus. The Greenville County Museum of Art houses the world's largest public display of watercolors by Andrew Wyeth along with an impressive assortment of paintings and prints by Jasper Johns. Its Southern Collection surveys American art from Colonial times to the present.


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