If you are at all familiar with the upstate of South Carolina, then you have likely heard of downtown Greenville. Adored for its riverfront charm, arboreal splendor, and wealth of culinary and cultural offerings, Greenville often overshadows its companion to the east. But lesser-known Spartanburg, which is responsible—somewhat ironically—for the greater share of the acronym in “GSP International Airport,” possesses its own allure as a southern city in the midst of a downtown revitalization.
Whereas Greenville’s activity has begun to resemble the buzzing intensity of a mid-major metropolis like Charlotte, the pace of existence in the so-called “Sparkle City” continues to retain that appealing small-town placidity. In Spartanburg, the tea is equally as icy and sweet as it is in its neighboring city, but the living remains slow and easy so as to put the overextended soul at ease. Impressively, the Burg maintains this atmosphere while simultaneously teeming with life at all its stages. A slew of colleges calls it home, from the renowned liberal-arts institutions of Wofford and Converse; to Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine and Sherman College of Chiropractic; to Spartanburg Community College and Spartanburg Methodist College, which train and supply a significant number of the county’s industrial employees. Additionally, Spartanburg lies at what many would deem the heart of the I-85 corridor, along which economic expansion occurs at a remarkable rate. German automaker BMW, for instance, took up residence in the county in the 1990s, breaking ground for a manufacturing plant that has since grown to become one of the company’s most productive facilities worldwide.
But Spartanburg’s impressive resume does not stop there. For years, it has provided one of the finest snapshots of the South’s rich culinary heritage. And again, its ideal geographic situation puts the city in a prime position to do so. Spartanburg nips the heels of the North Carolina foothills, which are home to some of the most savory barbecue in the country, and sits a mere three and a half hours from Charleston, whose coastal flavors have garnered global renown for decades. Sitting at these regions’ intersection, the Burg touts a number of establishments that add to these already-tasty traditions. If you’re craving the classic “meat-and-two,” you need not look any further than Wade’s Restaurant, which received the great honor back in 2008 of being named Southern Living magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards favorite family restaurant (Shackleford 2008). Sweet tea, yeast rolls, and cornbread come with your meal; therefore plan to sit back and loosen your belt for a feast that likely surpasses any meal that your Mama might make—or your Grandma, for that matter. After a fried-chicken plate at Wade’s, the nationally acclaimed Beacon Drive-In may be your next move. If you have room, its famous “Pig’s Dinner” contains enough ice cream to induce immediate cardiac arrest. Proceed cautiously.
In the city’s downtown, Morgan Square acts as the lively and verdant anchor, its ample lawn space serving as a venue for countless festivities throughout Spartanburg’s year: Music on Main, for example, unites locals who share a love for live, outdoor performances, while the winter ice-skating rink becomes an annual refuge for those many residents seeking a respite from the rush of holiday shopping. Lining both sides of the square, eating establishments ranging from the more reasonable Groucho’s Deli to the more lavish Renato’s Italian Restaurant are accompanied by specialty stores and boutiques whose breadth and numbers seem to grow by the month. A trip down the sidewalk funnels one to yet another Spartanburg institution, the Hub City Coffee Bar, whose delicious and robust blends come courtesy of the local Little River Roasting Company. Conveniently, the coffeehouse attaches to the Hub City Bookstore, so grab a warm beverage and browse a paperback—or vice versa. In the case that you need to do some serious study, claim a spot and put your nose to the grindstone. The bar is replete with seating arrangements—and sources of caffeine.
As you exit the downtown, you’ll undoubtedly notice the ongoing construction project. In the coming months, a new AC Hotel will pierce the Spartanburg skyline. Of course, pierce is a relative term in a place that possesses all of one “skyscraper,” the Denny’s Tower. Nonetheless it may be wise to book your visit for the hotel’s opening. Settle into the lap of luxury, then emerge to take a tour of the BMW Zentrum and factory, before enrolling in its performance driving course. From there, carve out some time to tour the wooded oasis that is Wofford College’s campus: admire its historic administrative building Old Main, and take a peek at its gleaming new athletic facility and arts building. When you’re famished from a day of sightseeing, head for a plate of country fried steak, mac-n-cheese, and green beans at Wade’s, and don’t forget to top it off with a Pig’s Dinner at the Beacon—tackled with a partner, of course. Finally, as you head out of town, acquire a specialty latte from the Coffee Bar to serve as a caffeine boost for the road.
But before all that’s said and done, come on down, come on in, and set awhile…
Shackleford, Lynne P. “Southern Living Magazine readers rate Wade’s No. 1.” GoUpstate.com. January 3, 2008. Accessed July 9, 2017. http://www.goupstate.com/news/20080103/southern-living-magazine-readers-rate-wades-no-1?start=4.