Perched on South Carolina’s uplands just before the Appalachian Mountains begin their ascent, this former textile and transportation town is experiencing a cultural revival. Nicknamed Hub City for its historic confluence of railroad tracks, Spartanburg's old mills and brick buildings are being transformed into buzzy restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and shops. Here are the best things to do in this unexpectedly happening city.
Take in a Top-Notch Performance
If you want to see a show, you’re in luck. Spartanburg has several outstanding theaters. The queen of cultural venues is the 3,244-seat Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, christened the Showplace of the South when it was built in 1951. The grande dame puts on a diverse slate of off-Broadway shows, comedy, and big-name concerts. On a smaller scale, Proud Mary Theatre presents dramas, comedies, plays, and campy musicals that celebrate LGBTQ+ voices and stories. And for the younger set, there’s Spartanburg Youth! Theater.
Explore the Music Trail
Spartanburg has fostered its fair share of big-name musicians in a variety of styles, and you can learn all about them along the Spartanburg Music Trail. Among them: the Marshall Tucker Band, Singin’ Billy Walker, and Don Reno. The walking trail, sprinkled with informative signs, begins in the Grain District at the corner of Main and South Daniel Morgan Avenue and ends at the Chapman Cultural Center at 200 E. John Street. The Spartanburg Music Trail website offers online stories, samples, and side trips and brochures can be found at Hub City Bookshop.
Check Out Downtown Spartanburg
Downtown Spartanburg is happening. It centers on the Old Clock Tower from the 1880s, placing you within easy strolling distance of restaurants, art galleries, music venues, museums, and more. Trendy restaurants include Ciclops Cyderi and Brewery, and RJ Rockers Brewing Company. FR8yard, an outdoor kitchen and bar comprised of shipping containers and an outdoor patio, is a local hangout with sports events playing on the jumbotron and musical acts on the stage. For the best views of the city, head to the top of the AC Hotel Spartanburg, with four terraces offering 360-degree views of the city and amzing food to match the view. Throughout the year, downtown Spartanburg hosts all kinds of festivals, including live music on Thursdays (April-August), Jazz on the Square on Fridays (April-October), and an ArtWalk every third Thursday.
Learn About the Black Mountain School Artists
The future of modern art was in placed in jeopardy in the 1930s when the Nazis closed Germany’s Bauhaus school. Many of the artists—Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Buckminster Fuller, and Josef and Anni Albers among them—fled to the United States, establishing the experimental Black Mountain School near Asheville. The college closed in 1957, but many of their works are on display in Spartanburg. The Johnson Collection on Main Street exhibits artworks associated with the American South—many of which derived from Black Mountain College. There’s also the AC Hotel Spartanburg on Main Street, which holds lectures and other educational events relating to the museum-quality Black Mountain College artworks decorating the lobby walls.
Walk in Nature
You might not expect a former industrial town like Spartanburg to have green spaces, but that it does. The Cottonwood Trail is a pretty path that winds through a 115-acre urban preserve along Lawson’s Fork Creek, just minutes from downtown Spartanburg. Here, a boardwalk and observation deck overlook bird-filled wetlands. There’s also Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve, a ten-acre garden showcasing seasonal flowers, shrubs, and trees—the perfect place for a picnic.
Learn How to Build a BMW
If you’ve ever wondered how the Germans put together one of the sleekest cars on Earth, the BMW Group Plant Spartanburg—the only BMW factory in the USA—offers one- and two-hour tours. Visitors get an inside look at the body shop and assembly line in the 7-million-square-foot, high-tech facility, which builds 7,000 cars a day. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance; the tours fill up fast. Here, too, the Zentrum museum takes visitors step-by-step through the company’s historic milestones, showcases classic and modern cars (some of which are rare), and gives the inside scoop on the next generation of BMWs.
Tap Into the Southern Literary Movement
Tucked away in the historic Masonic Temple on Main Street, the independent Hub City Bookshop is stoking a cultural revolution in the book world. You’ll find a smart, hand-selected collection of books displayed in an industrial-modern setting, including New York Times bestsellers, Southern literature, literary fiction and nonfiction, history, and children’s books. But Hub City isn't just a bookstore, it's also a press, focusing on Southern, especially South Carolina, authors, with 74 titles in print. You’ll find them on sale here, with all proceeds funding creative writing education, community outreach, and publishing.
Learn About the State's Plantation History
Walnut Grove Plantation in Roebuck, about 5 miles south of town, delves into the history of the free and enslaved people who lived in South Carolina’s backcountry, along with the history of the Scots-Irish immigrants who settled here. Built in 1765, the plantation house itself is a simple farmhouse typical of the region. The property also features a kitchen, wheat house, bar, school, doctor’s quarters, and nature trail. Prior to the Battle of Cowpens in 1781, local soldiers mustered at Walnut Grove. Guided tours are offered, and reenactors often make appearances.