Best Towns 2013: Greenville, South Carolina

With killer farmers’ markets, quick access to adventure, and bike shares galore, these 17 towns redefine living well

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The downtown pedestrian bridge of the 17.5 mile Swamp Rabbit Trail extends over the Reedy River in Falls Park of Greenville, SC.     Photo: Patrick Cavan Brown

Population: 60,709
Median Household Income: $40,925
Median Home Price: $188,200
Unemployment: 6.9 percent
Votes: 7,154

In the past two decades, this former mill town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains landed big employers like GE, Michelin, and BMW and transformed itself into a small city that’s alive with parks, leafy streets, bike paths, and a thriving foodie scene. Which has Greenvillians psyched.

Citizens pulled out all the stops in an effort to top our list, putting signs on lawns, bombing our Facebook page (more than 7,000 people voted), and even organizing a parade down Main Street led by the mayor. While Greenville didn’t win, we wouldn’t hesitate to consider a move here. There are more than 200 downtown events each year, from a weekly music series (Greenville Heritage Main Street Fridays) to a three-day arts festival (Artisphere) to frequent cycling races (including the 2013 Para-Cycling Open).

Voters lauded the parks and greenways, particularly the 18-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail—a virtual pedestrian super-highway—and the strong cycling and running communities. “I’ve lived in Greenville for 12 years and have gone from couch potato to marathon runner,” says reader Marisa Marshall, a marketing project manager for tech company ScanSource. And the weather encourages everyone to get outside. “Pretty much ten months out of the year, I can be hiking, biking—anything I want,” says Brad Willis, a 39-year-old freelance writer.

Food and Nightlife: There are 112 independently run restaurants within a square mile of the town’s center. “Greenville is turning into a serious food town, with new places popping up all the time,” says Katie Faulk, a local barista. Coming for a weekend? Hit food trucks Neue Southern and Asada for lunch and The Owl, a top gastropub, for dinner. Try the chimichurri bison with poblano hash and smoked onion.

Access: “I can decide at lunch that I want to be on a beautiful trail and be there in less time than it takes to get takeout,” says Willis. Greenville is also easy to escape. Voters lauded the Green and Chattooga Rivers and Saluda Lake for paddling, Lake Conestee Nature Park for hiking and biking, and Dupont State Forest or Pisgah National Forest for mountain biking. All of which are within an hour’s drive.

Biking: This spring, Greenville debuted its B-cycle bike-share program. “There are bike lanes all over the place,” says Tonya Morris, 50, an aesthetician and avid mountain biker. “And some of the best mountain-bike trails are right in our backyard at Paris Mountain State Park,” which has 15 miles of trails within four miles of downtown. Don’t miss the two-mile section locals call Kanuga. “It’s super flowy and smooth,” says Ty Houck, 42, who manages natural spaces for Greenville County.

From Outside Magazine, Sep 2013 Get the Latest Issue

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