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Greenville, SC: The Perfect Small City Urban Retirement

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

October 25, 2017 — For the person looking for a urban retirement on a small scale, it is hard to come up with a better choice than Greenville, South Carolina. It has parks and a downtown that attracts people every day of the week, including Sunday morning. There are plenty of housing opportunities downtown that let you walk to just about anything you might need. There is an ever expanding bike path that runs through the heart of the downtown and 8 miles up the road – through the Furman University campus and on to Travelers Rest, SC. The cultural scene is hectic with frequent festivals, multiple events, and an array of cultural resources.

This fast growing town in northwest South Carolina has 68,000 citizens in the city proper, while the larger MSA area including Spartanburg approaches 1 million. The downtown has been the subject of intense and successful redevelopment efforts. Those have paid off, as the city won Great American Main Street awards from the National Trust for Historical Preservation in 2003 and 2009. The city has a diverse industrial and commercial base with manufacturing plant including Michelin and BMW. It is home to a number of colleges and technical colleges, including Furman University and Bob Jones University. It is host to several minor league sports teams including the Boston Red Sox minor league team, Drive. It is a thriving community for the arts. Downtown Greenville is home to many specialty shops and boutiques.

What really makes Greenville special
We had the good fortune to visit this fair city earlier this week with relatives and friends who live here. Going in we knew we were going to like it, but it was still a happy case to experience the reality better than the expectation. Although we had been in its suburbs many times before, which are very nice, the downtown was a most pleasant surprise.

After driving into town we parked at our friend’s house in a beautiful neighborhood of single family and town homes. Then we walked about a block and entered Falls Park on the Reedy, a large regional park in the West End with gardens and several waterfalls.

Falls Park on the Reedy

The $15.0 million park showcasing the falls is home to the Liberty Bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge overlooking the falls.

Greenville SC

The Falls Park on the Reedy in downtown Greenville

What is really most remarkable is that as you walk along the path above the falls you emerge into the heart of a $75 million public-private development, Riverplace, directly across Main Street. There is dining, shops, entertainment, and abundant and inexpensive above ground parking. We were there on a Sunday morning and the streets were busy with families and couples out for an adventure. It is certainly the rare urban downtown that can claim pedestrian traffic on a Sunday morning, but Greenville does it with its Main Street. We were blown away.

Plaza in downtown Greenville

Some of the attractions downtown include the Peace Center, a performing arts center that includes a concert hall with 2,100 seats and a theater seating 400. The Greenville Zoo is a popular downtown attraction – from there the park offers continued access to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which goes on to Travelers Rest.

Other cultural and sports venues in the area include the multi-purpose 5,000 seat Timmons Arena at Furman University, Upcountry History Museum, the TD Convention Center, and the Bon Secour Wellness Arena. Fluor Field at the West End is home of the Greenville Drive baseball team, the Class-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The stadium has many of the features of Fenway Park, including a representation of Fenway’s fabled Green Monster.

Peace Center

Beautiful deco-style building downtown

What to do
The city has a constant stream of festivals and fun events. Some of those include Euphoria Greenville, an annual three-day culinary event held in the Wyche Pavilion at Larkin’s on the River. Art in the Park is another. Greenville County Museum of Art specializes in American art. Fall for Greenville is a three-day music and food street festival held each fall. Artisphere is a three-day art festival held in the spring. For sports there is Class A minor league baseball with the Drive, and the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL. The Haywood Mall is a major mall in the area.

Where to live
For the urban experience there are plenty of places to live downtown or within walking distance – from single family to condo homes. The Zillow Home Value Index is at the national median of about $200,000. Mills Mill converted into loft condominiums. Our friends live in a small townhome development that is peaceful and charming, yet hard by the Falls at Reedy River Park. There are nice apartments above many of the downtown stores. Outside of town there are many Greenville active adult and 55+ communities, if that is what you are looking for.

Restored buildings on the river

Downtown street

Beautiful sidewalks and shops

Furman University

Other aspects – crime, healthcare, transportation
Crime is higher than the US average but has been dropping over the last ten years, now a third less than in 2000, while the population in the area has been constantly growing.

The Greenville-Spartansburg Airport has good connections and service. There is an Amtrak service. People use Uber here, and there are bus routes. But your car, bike, or feet will be your primary methods of getting around.There is plenty of rush hour traffic on Interstate 385 and Interstate 85. Woodruff Road can be brutal, especially on the weekend as this road is a major retail corridor. The city is conveniently located half way between Atlanta GA and Charlotte NC (about a hundred miles in either direction). The mountains are about an hour away and the coast is about 3.5 hours away.

Medical Care is high quality and ample. Greenville has two main health systems, the Bon Secours St. Francis Health System and the Greenville Health System.

Politically speaking
Greenville is in the South in a very red state. If your political leanings are conservative, you will fit right in. If you move here from a blue state and are liberally oriented, you will be in for some adjustments. That has certainly been the case for our friends, who are very happy here but feel like they are in the minority. If you run into a Democrat in the Palmetto State, chances are good that will happen in Greenville.

Bottom line
Greenville is, in our view, the perfect example of a place that offers an ideal urban environment on a manageable scale. You can live, shop, walk or bike downtown. It has tremendous parks and a beautiful, busy downtown There are an amazing array of cultural and sports venues. If these describe what you are looking for a place to retire, come on down and check it out!

Comments? Is this the kind of retirement you are looking for. Have you lived in Greenville and have some experiences you could share? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
Which is the Best Carolina for Retirement
My Big Southern Retirement Adventure
One Year Later: Artie’s Observations on Moving from New York to the Carolinas

Posted by Admin on October 24th, 2017


  1. My husband and I retired to Greenville and lived in south Greenville for almost 3 yrs. We bought a home with 7 acres thinking we would have some peace and privacy, but we were so mistaken! It turned out that we were surrounded by barking dogs, people shooting guns and overall inconsideration from our neighbors whose son would ride a dirt bike up and down the property line. We had never anticipated this “culture” in our wildest dreams. We moved to the Charleston area and are building a home in a 55+ community. So do your due diligence and check out the area you are considering all times of the day and night. Overall, “culture” is so different from what we were used to. On the plus side, enough shopping venues and activities, as mentioned in the article.

    by Fionna — October 25, 2017

  2. The Charleston area, especially fast growing Berkeley County, isn’t much different (except that you should be okay living in a 55 plus community where few locals live). It’s the south folks, and that’s the culture, regardless of your price point. If it’s not to your liking there are plenty other parts of the country to consider, each with its own unique culture as well. If you want the east coast consider Florida, the most northeastern of the southern states, but also any of the towns along the southeastern coast where a lot of transplants have settled.

    by Alice — October 25, 2017

  3. Alice,

    I agree with your assessment of the south. That is why we are building in a 55+ community where there are rules and someone to enforce them. We just didn’t want to take a chance out in the “community” again, even though there were homes I was interested in… just not worth it!

    by Fionna — October 25, 2017

  4. Hello everyone. We would like to remind you that the point of this story was about the “Urban” lifestyle, not living in the countryside or in a 55+ community, and not really about living in the south. Not for everyone, but it is a perfect lifestyle for many. If you would like to discuss living in a 55+ or active community this article will be interesting. Thanks to everyone for your contributions – we look forward to more.

    by Admin — October 25, 2017

  5. Everything you have said about Greenville is correct. An excellent city. Furman University hosts an Osher LLI which is another plus. Paris Mountain is another special place for homes/ homesites plus a magnificent park/ lake for overnight campers. And golf courses!
    Yes, you are in a RED state. And YES you have some Rednecks, but you don’t have to live in the areas that they inhabit. Most likely you will live in a neighborhood similar to what you are leaving or even more upscale in retirement. And Greenville has them in triplicate.
    You have a joyful town. We moved to Charleston because we wanted to be closer to our grandchildren.

    by Jack — October 25, 2017

  6. Having moved down from Connecticut two years ago, I do feel Greenville is a very special and unique place. The article is spot on in regards to the beautiful downtown area, surrounding parks, nature centers, arts and cultural scene.
    It’s always being mentioned for the outstanding choices of diverse restaurants…quality and quantity. A food’s lover delight! Take in a ballgame, go shopping, see a play, eat out, ride the free trolleys, or just take a walk in beautiful Falls park or down Main street. Yes, Woodruff road at certain times can be a traffic headache, but it also has everything you might need, and most of the buildings are of fairly new construction and tastefully done. The Greenville health system I find is also very expansive and growing. The mountains are close with some nice hiking trails and scenic lookouts. One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article was the cost of living. Compared to Connecticut, it’s really like night and day. My property taxes are 1/8 of what we paid in Connecticut, and for more house and land. Utilities are also less, with food costing about the same. Jobs are plentiful, with unemployment in Greenville at this time being 3.3%. All in all, it was a big move for us, but we couldn’t be happier! We love Greenville and are excited to watch it grow better each day…just wished we would have moved sooner.

    by David — October 25, 2017

  7. I live in southern AZ, which is not the same “south” mentioned above. I think this type of culture is nationwide because I have neighbors to the east of my 5 acres who do the same as mentioned above. They were born and bred in AZ. I hear gunshots, ATVs, and racist remarks around me, so it’s everywhere, not just in the South.

    by Elaine Cubbins — October 25, 2017

  8. I live in Connecticut on 4 acres and I hear gunshots, ATVs, barking dogs, constant chainsaws cutting trees, and racism all around me. I am searching for my utopian retirement of peace and quiet.

    by Jasmine — October 25, 2017

  9. My wife and I moved from Michigan to Greenville in 2012 for employment. We lived 2 miles outside of downtown. We used to walk to downtown from our place. We really loved downtown. It reminded us of a smaller Ann Arbor. PLenty of things to do especially in the summer. They had four seasons there. They even got some snow. Close to Asheville, NC, Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston was about 3 hrs away. People there were very friendly. We had to move back to Michigan because of work. We would consider moving back to Greenville again when retired.

    by Charles — October 25, 2017

  10. Greenville is a great place for urban dwellers. There is plenty of apartments and condo’s. I prefer smaller towns with around 20k populations with less traffic and noise, like Gaffney east of Greenville. It is good advice to check out areas during the day and night and rent for a season.

    by William DeyErmand — October 26, 2017

  11. My husband and I have visited various potential places that we thought would be great places to retire. We spent about a week in Greenville and really did love the place. However, we have been watching the real estate prices in Greenville spin out of control. It appears that there are many “flippers” in the area, folks who buy houses, make slight improvements, and turn around and place them on the market at a huge increase. We were quite disappointed to see so much of that. There appears to be quite the bubble in prices. The new construction is also quite pricey.

    by Lynn — October 27, 2017

  12. 2 thoughts: looking for single family home neighborhoods and winter. How cold /snow on ground in winter? Also more about health care programs e. g. Blue cross, Humana etc. not interested in acreage. Thank you, Katie

    by K.T. — November 2, 2017

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