Sometimes planning a family trip can seem out-of-reach for many people. Instead of skipping the chance to enjoy a family vacation, consider a visit to Greenville, South Carolina. Travel should never be put off. It’s the best way to experience different parts of our beautiful country, and if you’re like me, it makes your heart happier! A budget friendly South Carolina vacation is exactly what a family needs for their annual road trip.
Excellent Options for a Budget Friendly South Carolina Vacation
My family and I had the pleasure of enjoying South Carolina’s upstate as a change of pace from our go-to spot, Lake George in the Adirondack region of New York. Plus, I wanted to introduce the area to my kids since Mama Sunflower will be spending her winters there once both of the little sunflowers graduate from high school. Wooohooo.
Greenville, South Carolina has been touted as one of the best new places to visit thanks to its beautiful green spaces, walkable downtown, and uprising in the culinary world. Frankly, it’s relatively inexpensive to live there if you’re used to how expensive it is to live in New York, which is what FIRST attracted me to the area. After researching the area, I realized how similar Upstate South Carolina is to my beloved Upstate New York. The area is packed with state parks filled with mountains, waterfalls, lakes and rivers and much like Rochester, it has a waterfall smack in the middle of all the action!
All of the amazing free and inexpensive activities drew me in further. The food scene had me drooling like my puppies for their raw meat meals each morning and evening! What sealed the deal for me and Greenville, South Carolina? The fact that the climate is much more moderate than New York’s.
The next step was visiting with the kids to show them all Greenville and the rest of Upstate South Carolina has to offer people of all ages and life stages!
Let’s Explore Upstate South Caroline’s Many Gems
The best way to explore Greenville and its surrounding area is by car. You can find great deals on hotels in Downtown Greenville, many with inexpensive parking, but it truly is less pricey if you stay further from Downtown Greenville. Whichever hotel you do choose to stay at, you’ll need a car to get to many of the state parks for some hiking and breathtaking views.
There’s plenty of places to eat close to the downtown area, but not close enough to walk to. You’ll want a car, for sure. However, a FREE TROLLEY can help transport you around various areas of Greenville making it easier to explore parks, restaurants, and activities.
YEAR ROUND ROUTES
- Routes 901 & 902: NORTH MAIN & SOUTH MAIN ROUTES
- Thursdays & Fridays: 6pm – 11pm
- Saturdays: 10am – 11pm
- Sundays: 10am – 8pm
- Route 906: LUNCH LINK ROUTE
- Fridays: 11am – 2pm
APRIL THROUGH SEPTEMBER ROUTES
- Route 903: WEST GREENVILLE ROUTE
- Thursdays: NO SERVICE
- Fridays: 4pm – 11pm
- Saturdays: 10am – 11pm
- Sundays: 10am – 8pm
- Route 905: GAME DAY ROUTE
- One hour before first pitch until Fluor Field’s gates are closed.
Free Things to Do in (and around) Downtown Greenville
Being outdoors is a big deal in Greenville. Walking, biking, eating, and spending time outdoors is the way of life and it’s probably because of the moderate climate. If you love to walk, ride your bike, and take your dog everywhere – you’ll love vacationing in Greenville with your entire family. All the free places, spaces, and events will provide you with more than a week’s worth of entertainment and fun.
Falls Park on the Reedy
Falls Park on the Reedy is the jewel in Greenville’s crown (all the amazing dining options are the jewels flanking it on either side). It’s over 30 acres of pure beauty. You’ll fall in love with all the large green spaces, waterfall, tons of walking and biking trails, along with a suspension bridge that allows unique vantage points to the falls and park below it. You can walk from Falls Park to Unity Park and Cancer Survivors Park courtesy of the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
Unity Park, easily accessible from Falls Park on the Reedy along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, offers plenty of trails to walk and bike, as well as wide open green lawns to enjoy with your kids and dogs. You can enjoy lunch at one of the covered picnic tables (there’s even charcoal grills to BBQ on). If that’s not your thing, head over to the playground or splash pad open to everyone at no charge.
For those who prefer driving, there’s plenty of complimentary parking for those visiting the park.
Cancer Survivors Park
Another park along the Swamp Rabbit Trail that you can pick up from Falls Park on the Reedy is the inspirational and healing Cancer Survivors Park. There’s no playground for kids, but rather plenty of serene places to find peace in a hectic world. Whether you’ve experienced cancer and the battles to recover from it, or you’ve been touched by it in some other way, this place can provide plenty of spaces to connect with nature and its power to heal and renew.
If you don’t want to walk to it, not a problem. There’s a parking lot with complimentary parking available for those who want to drive over to the park and skip the walk.
Downtown Greenville Events
In between visiting parks, and walking or biking the many trails around Downtown Greenville, there’s a ton of free events available throughout the year right in Downtown. All the entertainment on the below list is free, but the Saturday Market does have plenty of vendors selling locally grown produce and flowers, as well as locally made art, candles, crafts and more.
- PNG Downtown Alive (March – August)
- GHFCU Main Street Fridays (March – September)
- TD Saturday Market (May – October)
- Shakespeare in Falls Park on the Reedy (May – July)
- Fall for Greenville (October)
- Moonlight Movies (September – October)
- Imagine Upstate STEAM Festival (April)
Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum & Baseball Library
Traveling with baseball fans? On Saturdays you can visit the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum at no charge. All are welcome, and afterwards head to a Greenville Drive game at Fluor Field. Tickets to the games are extremely affordable and no matter where you sit, you’ll have a dynamite view of the game. Go on a Friday and they often have a fireworks show after the game!
Experience Free Things Near Greenville
Now, this is where having that car will only benefit you and your family. You’ll encounter so many beautiful outdoor spaces when you and your travel party can hop in the car and motor out to a few other upstate areas in South Carolina.
- Symmes Chapel/YMCA “Pretty Place” in Cleveland, SC
- South Carolina Botanical Gardens in Clemson, SC
- Covered Bridges in Upstate South Carolina
- Duke Energy’s World of Energy in Seneca, SC
- Cedar Falls Park in Fountain Inn, SC
If you’re going to be around Greer for a meal, or visiting the downtown area there, consider stopping by BMW’s Zentrum Museum where entry is free. It’s not a big place and certainly not worth a special trip to Greer for. However, fun for a quick stop if you’re in the area doing something else.
Great Deals & Discounts Available in the Greenville Area
When I travel, much of my planning starts with what deals I can find to save on food, activities, and entertainment.
If I can save on a meal, I’m doing it, and if it means enjoying burgers or Italian cuisine, I’m all in! We thoroughly enjoyed the burgers and service at Bohemian Bull, along with the only pizza we actually enjoyed at Antonino Bertolo’s, and the amazing service we received at Trio. I recommend hitting all three of these places to save on restaurant costs without skimping on some decent food.
- 1/2 Off Burgers on Wednesdays at Bohemian Bull.
- Lunch Specials at Antonino Bertolo’s Pizza provide a good amount of food that tastes great for great prices!
- Lunch Menu at Trio A Brick Oven Cafe offers decent food for some fair prices for the amount of it you get, and the service we had during our visit was fantastic. Zach was a great waiter and offered some great conversation about sports, and the local baseball team.
During our visit, being outside for too long would probably have killed us. There was a bit of a heatwave the week we visited, so indoor activities had to be added to our itinerary and every day there was a different money-saving deal found at Spare Time in Greenville.
- 1/2 Off Day on Wednesdays @ Spare Time (Game Zone games, Bowling, Laser Tag)
- All You Can Bowl for $9.99 on Sundays through Tuesdays from 9pm to 11pm @ Spare Time
- Strikes & Slices for $12.99 on Thursdays from 9pm to 11pm @ Spare Time (2 hours unlimited bowling & unlimited cheese for pepperoni pizza slices)
- Spare Time After Dark for $14.99 on Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm to 12am (2 hours unlimited bowling, music and light show)
Outdoor State Parks
Spending time in Greenville doesn’t make sense without frequenting multiple state parks to enjoy the mountains, lakes, and waterfalls! If you love hiking, head to the mountains for various hiking trails that are cooler than ones in Downtown Greenville. Save the downtown trails for early mornings before it’s too hot, or in the evenings when the sun isn’t doing major damage to your body.
And no, they aren’t free, but they’re relatively inexpensive and provide a ton of outdoor experiences for the small amount of money you’re shelling out!
- Caesars Head State Park – enjoy fishing, hiking that includes beautiful waterfalls, bird watching
- Paris Mountain State Park – there’s hiking trails, a lake to swim in, and you can even enjoy biking trails.
- Table Rock State Park – fishing, hiking, pedal boats, canoes and kayaks, swimming, bird watching, playground and boating.
Here’s Some Things You Can Skip in Greenville
Along with tons of amazing outdoor parks, waterfalls, places to eat and activities that provide plenty of enjoyment for teensy fees, or in the case of some food options are worth the price for what you get…. there are a few things that are totally overrated and can be skipped! I know, because I spent the money and realized how small the value was for the huge price tags.
Juniper for Brunch
Juniper is talked about by pretty much everyone in Greenville. My daughter wanted to check it out for the view and the decor. Honestly, I wanted to see just how good the view from their restaurant’s amazing location atop the AC Hotel. I thought brunch would be the best way to check out the place, as well as the food.
Now, listen, I’m sure it’s great for late night fun events, because they really do have Instagram0-worthy decor. The view is okay, but I’m from New York and when New Yorkers say there’s an unbeatable view of something, we mean it. This was not the case for what we experienced at Juniper…and we even had the best tables for our brunch experience.
Here’s my advice: skip Juniper’s brunch. It is without a doubt the most over priced brunch buffet I have ever been to (including ones I have been to in San Diego California, Manhattan New York, and Sarasota Florida. The food is mediocre at best and the servers aren’t educated about any of the food being served. Even more ridiculous: absolutely no beverages are included in the high priced brunch besides water (yep, you pay $25 per person and you then have to pay for BASIC beverages like juice, coffee, and tea).
I wish I had a great alternative if you are insistent on a brunch experience… maybe hit the free breakfast at your hotel, then splurge on some great coffee and desserts at Spill the Beans right on Main Street right before you enter Falls Park on the Reedy, or Coffee Underground located in Downtown Greenville IRONICALLY on the corner of East Coffee Street and Main Street, or Old Europe Coffee and Desserts on South Main Street in Downtown Greenville’s West End.
Group Therapy for Miniature Golf
Group Therapy is overhyped. After hours when they no longer allow people under 21 it might be worth it for games, food, and drinking. However, if you’re there with kids and you want to play indoor mini golf, it’s an over priced money sucker. Just go ahead can skip it.
Instead of Group Therapy head to head to Frankie’s for $10 mini golf games, plus a whole lot of other fun family entertainment like laser tag and an arcade (pricing varies depending on what you want to do) or, if it’s beautiful out and not too hot, go to an outdoor mini golf place not far from Downtown that’s actually a lot of fun, Take Off Mini Golf. We loved seeing planes take off and land at nearby Runway Park at GMU.
Do Your Greenville SC Vacation for Less
When you want to create those core memories for your kids, and introduce new places to your family, your income shouldn’t be an obstacle. No matter where you’re traveling to there’s ways to do so without going into debt (I think this might even be true for trips to Disney, although not as easy to accomplish). Greenville, South Carolina provides plenty of inexpensive options, as well as many free ones. Make it your next road trip destination!