Greenville, South Carolina
In the heart of South Carolina’s Upcountry, Greenville has breathed new life into its downtown, garnering a well-earned Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Within a 10-block section of Main Street, shops, galleries and restaurants line streets rife with trees that twinkle at night year-round. The Reedy River runs through this Southern city, and folks can meander across its 355-foot Liberty Suspension Bridge, gaze at the 60-foot-high falls and picnic at 32-acre Falls River Park, where textile mills and cotton warehouses once stood.
“Visiting groups tend to give their members a lot of free time here to explore on their own,” said Michelle Stoudemire, convention services manager for Visit Greenville, South Carolina. “At Heritage Green downtown, they can visit four museums: our art, history and children’s museums and our satellite museum for Bob Jones University’s wonderful religious art collection.”
The culture-minded can take in a symphony, a ballet, a concert or a play at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, and history-seekers can ride or learn outdoors on a Greenville History Tour.
“Our community is very outdoors-minded, and bicycling is a big part of that,” said Stoudemire. “Visitors can rent bicycles or a Segway downtown and ride all the way to Travelers Rest on our new Rails-to-Trails Swamp Rabbit Trail.”
Raleigh, North Carolina
Since the Raleigh Convention Center opened in 2008, North Carolina’s capital continues to grow its lively downtown, adding attractions, retail shops and restaurants. The state Capitol and Executive Mansion, numerous historic homes and gardens (including President Andrew Johnson’s Birthplace) and museums galore are all open for tours.
Brand new in April, the 80,000-square-foot, high-tech Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Science is geared toward engaging the public in scientific research. Visitors can go into labs to learn about a current project and have a question-and-answer session with a scientist who will explain ongoing research.
“The center’s director, Meg Lowman, is known as the real-life Lorax — the Dr. Seuss character that spoke in defense of trees — because she has spent years researching the canopy of the Amazon rain forest,” said Ryan Smith, director of communications for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. “With advance notice, groups can arrange a speaking engagement with her.”
Across the street, the state’s Museum of History tells about the Tar Heel State, including its storied tobacco industry. The Contemporary Art Museum and the City of Raleigh Museum are nearby.
Catching the national craze, Raleigh is becoming known for its craft breweries, and walking tours can focus on the brewing industry or have a culinary slant with peeks into several of a variety of eateries.
“You can get anything from a $5 barbecue plate to a pricey upscale dinner,” said Smith.