Have you visited Newberry, SC? Recently named one of the “Most Charming Small Towns in America” by Travel Channel, this historic town offers museums, art, hiking, and more! Newberry has continuously been selected as one of the South Carolina 7 Expedition stopping points because of its natural splendor and gorgeous Japanese garden. As a KAG SC7 correspondent, Liene Kukainis joined the team on the trail to see what all the press is about!
About Historic Newberry, SC
At the very heart of downtown is the Newberry Opera House. Completed in 1882, the Opera House was designed as a place of entertainment for locals and as a seat of government for the city – including a fire engine room and three jail cells! Silent pictures were slowly replaced by movies, and in the 1920s it was renovated as a movie theater. But in 1952 the movie theater closed, and there was even talk of tearing it down; luckily the Newberry Historical Society stepped in, and in 1970 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998, the Newberry Opera House was reopened for performances after extensive renovations.
However, in 2010 downtown Newberry was struggling in the wake of the large national recession. When the City took steps to begin a revitalization of downtown, to make it more pedestrian-friendly and welcoming to visitors, the Opera remained at the center of it all. The location between the Greenville-Spartanburg corridor and Columbia makes it one of only a few venues in the Midlands/Piedmont, and musicians coming from Charleston often take the opportunity to get in one more show before heading north/west. Newberry has really capitalized on the unique location in regards to the arts, and today is a vibrant, old-fashioned town center that is a centerpiece for the community.
The Travel Channel praised Newberry as “a college town with lots of extras: lovely architecture, a historic Opera House, a winery where rocking chairs beckon from a big porch, and world-class dining and drinking experiences. Nicknamed the ‘City of Friendly Folks,’ it’s been called one of the 100 best small towns in America.” The accolades are well-deserved, and Newberry has something for everyone… even for a cross-state expedition!
The Palmetto Trail in Newberry, SC
The South Carolina 7 Expedition has been using the Palmetto Trail as a backbone to its explorations, and on a sunny summer day, I found myself “hiking” the Newberry Passage along with Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, Pamela Evette, and the Mayor of Newberry, Foster Senn. Our urban hike took us into the very heart of Newberry, passing Newberry College, established in 1856, past several ornate homes built 1880-1915, then right up to Main Street. We passed the old Coca-Cola bottling plant (turned indoor shooting range, turned law office), and City Hall.
The Newberry Passage is a 10-mile section of trail, with approximately 4 of those miles within city limits. Be warned that there is little shade, and most of the section is along busy roads. However, I found the 3-4 miles within city limits to be interesting, with the historic houses, an old cemetery, and of course the renovated Main Street with shops, cafes, bars, and ice cream parlors.
Another Newberry treasure is a second passage of the Palmetto Trail, Lynch’s Woods. In direct contrast with the urban Newberry Passage, Lynch’s Woods is a relaxing 5-mile loop hike through a beautiful park full of old-growth trees. Lynch’s Woods Park was created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and today the 276-acre park features trails for mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians.
Things to Do with families in Newberry, SC
We stopped in the Old Court House, completed in 1853, to get a map and a few brochures – the historic building now houses the chamber of commerce. There, they directed us to the Newberry Museum, housed in the 1911 Federal Building and United States Post Office. The museum offers permanent and rotating exhibitions about the history of the county as well as surrounding municipalities. The Newberry Museum regularly updates its calendar of exhibits and events, so there is always something new to explore.
Newberry Arts Center
Only a few blocks from the museum is the Newberry Arts Center. Through the windows, we could see children busy creating as part of the NAC Youth Summer Camp, and the Art Center store was full of hand-made pieces by local artisans. The Arts Center also sponsors Rec Mobile Friday Art in the Park, a free, traveling activity with a local artist occurring 6 weeks of summer. Art programs are offered year-round; more information can be found on the Newberry Arts Center website.
Japanese Garden in Newberry, SC
I was pleasantly surprised that Newberry has a Japanese Garden, tucked away and just waiting to be discovered. Over the last few years, the garden has undergone renovations to help revitalize the garden. The Wells Japanese Garden is a Newberry landmark that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. With a temple, tea garden, Moon Bridge, and Torri Gate situated amongst a natural landscape, there is a lot of culture and beauty to explore. For more on the garden, please visit the Newberry website.
Events in Newberry, SC
Newberry hosts many events throughout the year, including Oktoberfest on the first Saturday in October, a pumpkin painting party in late October, and Main Street Lights in late November; all in the charming setting of Memorial Park, opposite the Opera House. Originally the parking area for horses and carriages, on our recent visit it was transformed into an exuberant welcome to the SC7 expedition, tables set up in the shade of the enormous trees where we ate our fill of barbecue and ice cream while listening to a DJ play music.
Just around the corner, the Newberry Police Department had set up a bike rodeo, for young cyclists to test their knowledge of road signs and their skill at navigating an obstacle course. To top it off, the Opera House hosted the green carpet premiere of the SC7 documentary “Higher Ground,” and we were able to see the ornate interior of the grand building. Yes, Newberry can also throw a party!
Shopping and Restaurants in Newberry, SC
On our wanders through downtown we saw several intriguing antique stores, including one advertising “World Famous, as seen on American Pickers.” An antique bookstore, art galleries, clothing and jewelry stores round out the shopping experience – we could easily have spent a morning wandering the shops. Don’t forget the Art Center store when looking for that souvenir!
We had lunch and ice cream at family-friendly Laila’s Place, and cultural icon “Zesto’s” was on the Newberry Passage on the way into town. Several fine dining establishments catering to the Opera House crowd, and the Figaro Market was stocked full of local products and tantalizing eats.
Places to Stay in Newberry, SC
Lodging options include several of the big chains, although there are a few bed & breakfast type options in the vicinity.
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Newberry’s Nearby attractions
Peak to Prosperity Passage of the Palmetto Trail
Just to the south is the well-known Peak to Prosperity Passage of the Palmetto Trail, great for biking and hiking, and known for the converted rail bridge that now allows pedestrians to traverse the Broad River.
Less than an hour away is Lake Murray, with all sorts of recreational opportunities. This time of year we go to see the purple martins on their way south; the thousands of birds all coming in to roost on Bomb Island at dusk is a sight to see!
Ending the Day in Newberry, SC
That evening the lights were dimmed in the Grand Opera House, and after Governor Henry McMaster gave a welcome speech, the lights were dimmed to the premiere of “Higher Ground.” We sank into our plush, red velvet chairs, and took it all in the history, the hiking, the small-town, the culture…. Yes, indeed, Newberry is one of the best small towns in America!
Are you ready to spend the day in historic Newberry, SC?