The city was peacefully silent. Trees along Main Street were wrapped in twinkling lights. Sidewalks were empty. When the sun goes down in Rock Hill there is only one thing to do: find a local place to eat, drink, and be merry. That’s exactly what I was about to do.
Rock Hill is the largest city in the Olde English District and the fifth largest in South Carolina. The city has become a hub for sports events throughout the year and the potential for tourism is beginning to rise. Local restaurants, outdoor recreation, and scenic drives all await your arrival.
I arrived in Rock Hill after spending a few days in nearby Charlotte. I found the smaller city a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the Queen City. I tried the local food, met interesting people, discovered a new favorite coffee shop, and attended my first Revolutionary War reenactment.
It’s no wonder Rock Hill is one of my favorite destinations in the Southeast. After reading these ten awesome things to do in Rock Hill I’m sure it’ll be one of your favorites, too!
1. Go Shopping in the “Old Town”
Towering trees cast a shade across the sidewalks that were lined with neatly trimmed shrubbery. Somewhere I could hear a wind chime dangling from a tree casting a beautiful melody between the brick buildings.
I rounded a corner onto Main Street, hopped inside the first store I came to, and came to a screeching halt. Vinyl records! I didn’t know these kinds of stores still existed. Newsstand Record & Books had stacks of vinyl records in bins along with shelves of new books. An inviting seating area in the back was tempting to pull a book off the shelf and give it a good flipping through before buying.
Just down the street I came to my favorite kind of shop to visit, Friends Books on Main. The used bookstore, operated by Friends of the York County Library, sold copies no longer in circulation at the local library. It was one of the larger used bookstores I’ve come across.
Overhead Station was a wonderful place to explore and made me wish I had more room in my car while traveling! Most of the items for sale in the large shop were made by local or regional artisans. It was the perfect place to look for unique gift ideas.
Main Street Bottle Company is something I’ve been seeing more of recently. The small shop on Main Street specializes in selling locally made craft beer in packs of cans or bottles. They also have a bar inside where visitors can sample some of the beers on tap or order individual bottles.
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2. Explore the Arts of York County
The Arts Council of York County is a non-profit organization that organizes art classes and workshops, special festivals and events, and operates eight galleries in the county. One of those galleries is Center for the Arts, the premiere downtown destination for seeing local artisans’ work on display.
The Gettys Art Center was my favorite gallery to explore in Rock Hill. The small art center is located in the basement of the Post Office and Court House on Main Street. Inside, I found a giftshop with pottery, jewelry, clothing, and photography from local artists.
The most interesting work by the Arts Council I learned about was called Alleys on Gallerys (I checked the spelling on that). The council plans to turn alleyways into outdoor public works of art throughout the county. The only one I found was the Cotton Alley Gallery off Main Street.
Among the classes and workshops hosted by the Arts Council is the interesting CRAFTED series. A few weekends out of the year, the Arts Council and Downtown Artistry hosts a workshop at Legal Remedy Brewing. How cool would it be to take an art class at the brewery?
3. Visit the Museum of York County
I am always eager to learn the history of the places I visit. The Museum of York County was an excellent place to learn about local Native American history, discover the kinds of wildlife native to the area, and explore the Carolina Piedmont area. The museum had a fascinating display of taxidermies that rivaled what I’ve seen in Smithsonian Museums.
The one thing I wish I could have done during my visit was see a show at the planetarium. The museum recently upgraded the planetarium with a state-of-the-art digital projector that I’m certain makes every show a spectacle to watch.
4. Visit the Catawba Indian Cultural Center
The Catawba Indian Nation is the only federally recognized Native American tribe in South Carolina. Once making their home across much of the Carolinas, today the nation has been reduced to a small area along the Catawba River just outside Rock Hill.
The Catawba Indian Cultural Center is open to the public with a small museum, artwork displays, and information on the tribe. While visiting, I learned about their pottery techniques that creates gorgeous patterns in their artwork. Actually, I didn’t learn much about it because the method is a tightly held secret, making their pottery downright exciting!
5. Discover the Freedom Walkway
This narrow alley off Main Street is dedicated to the history of the Civil Rights movement in South Carolina. The beautiful walkway has information on the movement, including the history of the Friendship Nine.
On February 12, 1960, nine black students from nearby Friendship Junior College staged a sit-in at McCrory’s Five and Dime on Main Street. They were denied service based on their ethnicity, and later arrested for disturbing the “peace.”
In 1961 future United States Congressman John Lewis arrived in Rock Hill as a Freedom Rider, black activists who rode public transportation buses across state lines to test the South’s willingness to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling on desegregation.
All these stories and more were on display at the Freedom Walkway.
6. Take a Stroll Through Fountain Park
Whenever I visit a place for the first time, I take a drive along Main Street to scope it out. At one end of the street I found a grassy park with a towering water fountain. I pulled over and watched with my jaw hung open as the fountain cycled through a series of patterns with dozens of water streams and then suddenly shot a hundred feet into the air!
Fountain Park is a block-sized urban park at Main and Elizabeth Streets within walking distance to all the downtown shopping and restaurants. One end of the park featured a covered amphitheater stage while the other is the water fountain.
One of the best times to visit Fountain Park is every third Friday from May through October during Food Truck Friday. Dozens of food trucks line the streets surrounding the park, which are closed to vehicles for the event, as live music echoes through the air from the stage. When I visited one very cool summer night I grabbed a couple slices of enormous pizza, a cold craft beer from Amor Artis, a local brewery in nearby Fort Mill, and enjoyed the night from a perch near the fountain.
Did you know? Visit York County has put together a YoCo Brew Trail! The self-guided trail includes five breweries, a cidery, and a craft beer market. After visiting all the stops, preferably not in one trip, participants can collect an exclusive t-shirt. I still have some exploring to do before I get a t-shirt.
7. Learn About the Revolutionary War at Historic Brattonsville
About thirty minutes from downtown Rock Hill, Historic Brattonsville preserves several historical buildings on the site of an old frontier farming plantation. A day trip visit to the historic site includes a short film introducing the history of the site, self-guided walk through the plantation house and around the grounds, and opportunity to learn what frontier farming was like.
The annual Battle of Huck’s Defeat is the largest event of the year at the historic site. The event recounts a pivotal battle during the Revolutionary War between British soldiers and a Patriot militia. The two-day event includes demonstrations, living history, and reenactments throughout the day.
8. Spend a Day at Carowinds
I scream, you scream, we all scream on roller coasters! Carowinds, straddling the line between North Carolina and South Carolina, is one of the premiere amusement park destinations in the southeast.
Roller coasters, thrill rides, and water attractions are sure to keep you busy for a day or two. Just in case that’s not enough you can also attend a concert, special performance, or one of their iconic destinations such as Carolina Summer Nights and Scarowinds!
To make the most of a visit to Carowinds buy your admission tickets in advance on their website and take advantage of the bundle deals to save on admission, parking, and food. Bring your RV and you can spend the night at Carowinds Camp Wilderness, or you can rent one of the 15 two-bedroom cabins. SpringHill Suites is brand-new for the 2020 season, and the nearby Best Western is an excellent budget-friendly choice for spending the night.
9. Go For a Scenic Drive Through the Olde English District
The Olde English District includes seven counties in South Carolina with history rooted in British settlement. It was a hotly contested area during the Revolutionary War where several pivotal battles such as the Battle of Huck’s Defeat and Battle at King’s Mountain took place. Today, the district is one of the most diverse and exciting for day-long road trips in the state.
Rock Hill is perfectly situated for several of these road trips through the district. Here are a few suggestions where you can start the day with breakfast in Rock Hill, spend the day traveling through the district, and return to spend the night.
1. Travel along US Highway 21 to visit Landsford Canal State Park to see the blooming rocky shoals spider lilies in the spring and continue on to an adventure at Lake Wateree State Park. Grab lunch at Laura’s Tea Room in Ridgeway before hopping on I-77 for a quick return.
2. SC Highway 9 travels across the entire district. Take the highway from Rock Hill to Cheraw where you can visit Cheraw State Park, one of only two state parks in South Carolina with a golf course. In Cheraw get lunch at River’s Edge and take a walk through the historic district.
3. Go for a drive along US Highway 521 through the small towns of Lancaster and Kershaw, eventually reaching Camden. Grab lunch at Blackmon’s Little Midget, Broad Street Lunch, or Sam Kendall’s before heading over to Historic Camden to learn about the British occupation during the Revolutionary War.
4. Make a quick trip down I-77 to Ridgeway then begin an adventure along US Highway 321 to Winnsboro for lunch at Cornwallis House Tea Co., then walk down the street to Fairfield County Museum to learn about the history of the town. Keep driving to Chester and pay a visit to Chester County Historical Society, located inside the old jail that still exists on the upper floors of the old building.
10. Try the Local Food
Food, oh glorious food! You won’t go hungry from a lack of options in Rock Hill, although the bustling little city could use a few more coffee shops. Try some of these locally owned restaurants for some fantastic local food.
Legal Remedy Brewing is my favorite place to eat in Rock Hill. The craft brewery also includes a full-service restaurant with lots of comfortable indoor and outdoor seating. During my first visit I tried the Southern Poutine; a plate of crispy fries topped with smoked jalapeno pimento cheese, pepper jelly, and crumbled bacon!
I’m not a morning person, but I will always get up early on weekends for brunch at Flipside Restaurant. While the Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Waffles was tempting, I instead opted for the Flipside Biscuit; buttermilk biscuits topped with aged cheddar, sausage gravy, smoked bacon, and two eggs over easy.
Millstone Pizza and Taproom was my first dinner ever in Rock Hill and certainly one I’ll never forget. The stack of firewood inside the entrance was a good sign for the savory wood fired pizza I’d eat a half hour later. The garlic knots were the perfect appetizer followed by a pizza topped with thick slices of Italian sausage and pepperoni.
Regardless of where you get dinner you will want to get dessert at Amelie’s French Bakery & Café. The small eatery on Main Street is within walking distance of most downtown restaurants. The café specializes in creating mouthwatering French-inspired pastries that make for a wonderful end to a day exploring the city.
Although Amelie’s is fantastic, I also found I loved the dessert creations at PW’s Gourmet Ice Cream. Their “concrete” desserts are made with homemade ice cream mixed with your choice of candy or syrup for a cool and sweet treat.
Where to Stay
Rock Hill is a popular destination for sports and business, located just thirty minutes south of Charlotte. There are a lot of hotels in the city, but only three I would wholeheartedly recommend.
My top recommendation for staying in Rock Hill is Hampton Inn. Comfortable rooms, great customer service, and they have one of the best free breakfast spreads of any hotel chain I’ve ever visited.
Holiday Inn is another great option for staying in Rock Hill. Along with comfortable rooms, this hotel has an indoor swimming pool and special amenities. You’ll have to fork over $20 for breakfast, though.
La Quinta is another hotel I recommend in Rock Hill. Their comfortable rooms include a full suite with either two queen beds or a king bed with sleeper sofa, perfect for traveling families.
Visit York County
130 East Main Street, Rock Hill, SC