Known as Sparkle City or Hub City, Spartanburg, South Carolina, was once the center of the thriving Southern textile industry and the peach-growing industry in the United States. I spent a huge portion of my childhood in the city and its surrounding towns visiting my dad’s side of the family. When I think back on my late grandparents, I think of Spartanburg with so much fondness. I can taste the juicy strawberries and peaches that line the stands at Strawberry Hill. I can smell the buttery yeast rolls at Wade’s. I can see the rolling green horse pastures turning gently into mountains as you go through Tryon toward Asheville.

Often overlooked because of its glittering neighbor, Greenville, we’re here to convince you that Sparkle City is sparkling brighter than ever and worthy of a trip. Home to Wofford and Converse Colleges, the young-adult transplant demographic has catalyzed new boutiques and fun watering holes for all ages. Spartanburg is a nationally renowned hub for the arts, a nature lover’s playground, and home to the most iconic greasy spoon restaurants in the South. Here’s why you need to visit this year.

Downtown Spartanburg

Spartanburg County is projected to add nearly 40,000 residents by 2030, increasing the total population to more than 331,000 people, according to Spartanburg County Area Performance Planning. Image: VisitSpartanburg.com

6 Reasons to Visit Spartanburg, SC

Reason 1: There’s a room key for every taste.

Spartanburg has multiple lodging options that make the perfect jump-off point for your trip. The flashy new AC Hotel on Main Street has a rooftop bar and restaurant and an impressive art collection from Black Mountain College artists. On the opposite end of Main Street (and embodying a completely opposite vibe of the AC), you’ll find The Inn on Main. This historic bed-and-breakfast epitomizes Southern hospitality. “Imagine Spartanburg in its heyday of railroads, textile mills, and agricultural boom. Step back to 1904 and experience the charm and nostalgia of an earlier time,” the owners share on the Inn’s website.

AC Hotel Spartanburg Lobby

The Johnson Collection, on display at TJC Gallery and in the AC Hotel, prompted Forbes to call out Spartanburg for having “the world’s greatest modern art where you least expect to find it.” Image: AC Hotel Spartanburg

Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens is one couple’s five-year project to revitalize a 220-year-old property into an inn, wedding venue, garden, and event destination with lots to discover across the four-acre grounds. From the tranquil gardens to the room you can book in a train caboose, each space tells a story, and you can hear those stories directly from the owners during your stay.

Reason 2: It’s brimming with cultural excitement.

Spartanburg’s downtown Cultural District is only the second designated in the state. There’s public art on every corner, from street performers to painted crosswalks to murals and more. Chapman Cultural Center is the centerpiece of the arts community, home to the noteworthy Spartanburg Art Museum (which currently has a fantastic exhibition about fiber) as well as Spartanburg Ballet, Philharmonic, Little Theatre, and many others adding to a packed live event calendar.

Crosswalks Project Spartanburg

The Chapman Cultural Center, in partnership with the City of Spartanburg, the Downtown Development Partnership, and OneSpartanburg, implemented artist-designed crosswalk murals at two intersections downtown. Image: VisitSpartanburg.com

Take a step back in time and learn about how the railroads were foundational to the textile and peach industries in South Carolina at the Hub City Railroad Museum. Walking tour and music fans can embark on the Spartanburg Music Trail, a 30-minute tour that highlights Spartanburg’s place in genres from blues to rock-n-roll. It ends at Hub City Bookshop, an award-winning independent bookstore with a trove of Southern literature, adjoined to Little River Coffee Shop for a refuel.

Spartanburg has something for shoppers and collectors of all kinds. Run by a mother-daughter artist team, The Kindred Spirits offers shoppers work from local makers across lots of mediums such as ceramics, textiles, paper, painting, and more. Artists Collective boasts 20,000 square feet of art with 32 studios and more than 50 artists on display.

For those less inclined to browse the boutiques and shops, Sparkle City Mini Putt is a fabulously fun and free nine-hole miniature golf course with holes inspired by Spartanburg’s restaurants, railroad, textile history, and identity as a bike and arts town.

Sparkle City Mini Putt

Bring your own putter and golf ball, or borrow them from five participating downtown businesses: Paisley Paw, The Local Hiker, Growler Haus, and Little River Coffee. Image: VisitSpartanburg.com

Reason 3: Culture meets imbibing!

When you’re ready to give your feet a break, it’s easy to find a happy hour with a story in Spartanburg. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, it’s worth exploring the art at the AC Hotel, and you can do that with a cocktail from AC Lounge in hand. Grab a signature AC GinTonic, a Spanish red, or your favorite cocktail mixed with locally distilled Mottes & Sons. The Son of Peach beer by RJ Rockers Brewing Co., the city’s original craft brewery, can be found all over Spartanburg menus, or you can go straight to the source and tour and taste the brewery itself.

Underpin Lanes is a locally owned upscale bowling alley and creative cocktail lounge with eight full-service lanes all set in a long-forgotten warehouse space that lay dormant for decades. For an al-fresco hang, head to FR8yard, South Carolina’s first fully outdoor Biergarten built entirely from re-purposed shipping containers. Wine lovers will love Bond Street Wines‘ extensive global grape selection and tasting events. No matter your palate, there’s a pre- or post-dinner drink waiting to be poured.

fr8yard spartanburg sc

Located in the heart of downtown, FR8yard is a family-friendly, dog-friendly, community gathering spot centered around food, drinks and entertainment. Image: VisitSpartanburg.com

Reason 4: It’s a hub for some of the best Southern food.

Spartanburg has a burgeoning culinary scene that mixes international flavors and Southern cuisine. Traditional meat-n-threes and burger joints meet refined smokehouses and modern bistros. You’ve likely heard of Spartanburg’s greasy (in the best way) mainstays Beacon Drive-In (serving famous Chili-Cheese-A-Plenty burgers since 1946), Sugar-n-Spice (family-run drive-in for more than 60 years), and Wade’s (cafeteria-style meat-n-three serving the best yeast rolls on the planet since 1947). These are not to be missed both for their mouthwatering Southern food but also for the unique, rowdy experience each still offers patrons. If you’re confused in line, just look to your right or left and there is bound to be a local to help you nail your order.

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Sugar n Spice Drive In

Who doesn’t love the nostalgia and the scents of a classic, retro drive-in or dive burger joint? Image: VisitSpartanburg.com

More upscale options abound, and it seems new eateries are popping up every month. Right downtown on Morgan Square, The Tulip Tree — part restaurant/bar, part art destination — serves elevated Southern-inspired cuisine and mixologist-created cocktails in an artistic setting. The casual Cribbs Kitchen and its swankier sister The Kennedy are the brainchildren of the Cribb family, former peach farmers in the upstate area with a long-standing reputation for festive gatherings and generous hospitality. This beloved group is still relentlessly devoted to instilling the best Southern flavors and flare into Spartanburg’s dining scene.

Initial Q is an upscale smokehouse with a vibe-giving cocktail bar. Historic mill-town eatery Heirloom weaves together Spartanburg’s past and present in each dish. And finally, to get picnic ready for our next reason to visit Spartanburg, Blue Moon offers homemade specialty food products, dine-in breakfast and lunch service, a broad selection of prepared foods to take away, and fun after-hours events and cooking classes. If there is one thing this town will do, it’ll keep you fed and happy.

Heirloom dish

The interior of Heirloom restaurant is just as photogenic and welcoming as its food. Image: VisitSpartanburg.com

Reason 5: The city and its partners are pouring a lot into outdoor fun and green efforts.

Locals and visitors alike love exploring Spartanburg’s scenic Glendale Shoals Preserve — 13 acres of trails, green space, wildlife, and cascading waterfalls located at the old Glendale Mill on Lawson’s Fork Creek. Just a few minutes from downtown, Cottonwood Trail at Edwin M. Griffin Nature Preserve is currently a 115-acre urban preserve and trail system that boasts a newly revamped boardwalk that you can walk, run, and bike.

Spartanburg Glendale Shoals SPACE

The Preserve has diverse plant and animal life and, if the water is as low as it is here, you can scamper across the shoals, skip some rocks, and enjoy a picnic with a view! Image: SPACE (Spartanburg Area Conservancy)

Other nearby parks and places to explore are Cleveland Park, Croft State Park, and the Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve. Another peculiar outdoor gem of Spartanburg is Milliken Arboretum. At the headquarters of a prominent textile company, it’s one of the largest corporate green spaces in the Southeast and is a nationally recognized arboretum. There are miles and miles of ponds, trees, and outdoor art to explore.

RELATED: 5 Southern Outdoor Destinations Off the Beaten Path

Reason 6: There are lots of nearby destinations to explore.

Outside of the city, there are lots of quick trips worth making. BMW employs 11,000 people at the 7-million-square-foot campus in Spartanburg. It’s truly worth the drive (pun intended!). You can visit the Zentrum Museum, go on an adrenaline-pumping driving experience, or book a plant tour to see how the luxury X-series is made.

Landrum and Tryon are both charming, quaint nearby towns with a handful of cute cafés and shops. Bringing this Spartanburg story full-circle, no trip to Sparkle City is complete without a stop at Strawberry Hill USA. I can picture 10-year-old me running through the colorful rows of produce in the Cooley Farms sheds — likely with hand-churned chocolate ice cream smudged all over my face — waving to the older two Yarborough generations sitting in the rocking chairs nearby.

Landrum SC

In the heart of horse country, Landrum is a small town with mountain views that’s gained a regional reputation for its antiques and furniture. Meandering through the heart of Landrum feels like being plopped into a vintage movie. Image: VisitSpartanburg.com

Strawberry Hill south carolina

Since 1947, this family-run farm (now with a market and cafe) has been a source for the South’s finest peaches, strawberries, blackberries, pumpkins, and sunflowers. Image: Strawberry Hill USA

If you’re half as lucky as I’ve been, Spartanburg will provide some lasting memories for you, too.

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