On the Road

Savoring Spartanburg, South Carolina

By: The Local Palate

What was once known as “Hub City” for the rays of railroad tracks that transported textiles from the manufacturing hotspot, Spartanburg is now recognized as a South Carolina hub for the arts, dining, and adventure—so much so that it has a new nickname: Sparkle City. With its downtown recently revitalized and its proximity to—and views of—the Carolinas’ treasured stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Spartanburg is a microcosm of every metropolis, all contained in a snow-globe-sized city with ample activity

See all of Spartanburg and beyond from a room at the towering AC Hotel downtown. Retreat to the rooftop for happy hour or to the pool deck for some of Spartanburg’s 225 days a year of sunshine before experiencing the hotel’s signature restaurant, Level Ten on the top floor. Seafood and steak dominate the menu with an equally approachable cocktail list—all of which can be enjoyed from the terrace.

Dinner and drinks at Level 10 at AC Hotel in downtown Spartanburg
Image courtesy of Hinge Creative

Local Spartanburgers can be found at Papa’s Breakfast Nook, a 24-hour diner that puts out hearty comfort foods around the clock. The red-roofed, throwback building opened to the public in 1988, and you’ll probably find a regular or two who has spent their morning flipping through the Spartanburg Herald ever since. Order the trash can wrap—an all-the-way omelet jammed into a fried burrito—or the breakfast bowl topped with livermush.
In Spartanburg, the only thing that outnumbers the railroad tracks are the coffeehouses. Craft coffee can be found at the Pharmacy Coffee, an early 20th-century storefront that nods to its past as a pharmacy and soda shop. You can also find similar house-baked goods and brews at their mother location, Little River Coffee Bar on Main Street.
To cool off, dip into Hub City Scoops for ice cream with a local spin. With more than fifty rotating flavors, it’s impossible to try them all in one go, but one step in that direction is their ice cream flight board, complete with waffle cone chips. Don’t be fooled by the name; Smallcakes’ softball-sized cupcakes are a whole meal. Although they do offer “minis,” we recommend reaching for the half dozen to sample as many of the classic flavors as possible.

Office building in Croft State Park in Spartanburg
Image courtesy of SCPRT, photo by Heidi Stone

No need to travel farther north to the Blue Ridge Mountains for green space when there are several escapes tucked around the city. The nearby Croft State Park is home to more than 50 miles of hiking and biking trails. Once a bustling textile mill, the transformed Glendale Shoals Preserve sits across Lawson’s Fork Creek and provides views of the waterway. Stroll down the shaded Cottonwood Trail that parallels the creek for a reprieve from the sun or a try at the rope swing.
When in search of a light lunch or a snack, Downtown Deli & Donuts’ menu of sandwiches and salads pairs well with their dessert case packed with
fresh donuts and other confections. Less than a block away, Blue Moon Specialty Foods’ gourmet menu of hot and cold foods are served at their eat-in marketplace filled with artisan pantry items, like their signature Yep! Seasoning or a selection of goods from Altman Farm and Mill.
Learn about the rich past of Spartanburg from early exploration to the Revolutionary War and up through the textile boom at the Spartanburg Regional History Museum. Also in the lineup of the Spartanburg County Historical Association’s protected properties are sites such as the Seay House and Walnut Grove Plantation, both of which story different eras of the locale’s history.

A double-decker cheese burger from Fr8 Yard in Spartanburg
Image by Andrew Cooke

There are plenty of places to kick back for a mid-afternoon drink downtown. Ciclops Cyderi & Brewery is a good place to start. With thirty taps ranging from bourbon barrel-aged stouts to IPAs, there’s a pour for everyone. For live music, head to FR8 Yard—a once-vacant lot in the heart of downtown that’s been converted into an open-air hangout. The beer garden is complete with a big screen, fire pits, and their popular yard dogs for munching.

Home to multiple galleries and a burgeoning arts scene, Spartanburg’s the Johnson Collection Gallery features pieces from a collection that focuses on the evolution of the American South. For the performing arts, look only a couple of blocks away to the Chapman Cultural Center, which is home to the Spartanburg Little Theatre. Check their schedule to see what Broadway show or hit play they’re bringing to the stage.

Johnson Collection Gallery in Spartanburg
Image by Robert C. Clark

Elevated American fare can be found at Spartanburg’s the Kennedy—an art deco-inspired space that sources fresh ingredients from the region’s farmers to support their seasonal menu. Though the menu rotates, be sure to order the burnt chocolate spoonbread—a mainstay—to finish your meal.

Spartanburg is known for low-frills, laid-back dining. Step into the trippy, 1990s pizzeria Venus Pie for exaggerated slices of New York-style, thin-crust pizza, and beer from local favorites. The newer, equally popular Willy Taco—a chef driven twist on Mexican fusion—hones new wave Tex-Mex with inventive plates like the cauliflower power taco or their limited-run shrimp and grits taco.

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