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I’ve never fallen in love with a place as quickly as I did with Greenville. This was a surprise, because I arrived in South Carolina with low expectations. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I spent most childhood school vacations and several weeks each summer visiting grandparents who lived elsewhere in the Palmetto State. On many trips there, we would take time to explore a new area recommended to us by a local. Someone once recommended a frog jumping competition in Springfield, but no one ever recommended Greenville, in the Appalachian foothills about halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte.

But when I arrived last spring, the city of 70,000 had me at the first “Hey, y’all” I heard. (This happened before I had exited its airport.) In that greeting, and echoed in dozens of other interactions over the following days, were vibrancy and pride: The Greenvillians I met lived there because they loved the lifestyle the city gave them. While Greenville in the 1980s was not a best bet for family vacations, today it has a wide-ranging (and well-priced) food scene; quirky boutiques; outdoor cafes on bustling, tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly streets; art galleries; bike trails; ample urban green space; a public art collection with more than 70 sculptures; and the fastest-growing population of any city in the state. No wonder its branded social media hashtag is #yeahTHATGreenville.