As the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for York County, South Carolina, Visit York County exists to raise the profile and boost the economy of York County through tourism and destination marketing while also contributing to the quality of life for residents.
Just a 30-minute drive from uptown Charlotte, Rock Hill is an expansive, eclectic community packed with homegrown businesses, unique finds and nuggets of history around every corner.
I recently spent a day in downtown Rock Hill becoming better acquainted with Charlotte’s southern neighbor.
First some trivia: Rock Hill began in 1852 as a depot and watering station on the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad. The name stuck when a construction supervisor noted on his map where the road encountered a small, flinty knoll. Learn more.
Now, back to my visit.
Coffee, murals and flowers to start your morning
Any great day starts with a cup of coffee and good vibes, and The Mercantile has just that and more. Known for its MercEMPOWER program and leading Rock Hill’s first Pride festival, The Mercantile was opened by husband-and-wife duo, Michael and Brittany Kelly, in 2018.
“There’s a lot of culture here and support. And there is a scene that’s going on here that a lot of people don’t know about. And it’s really cool to see that blossom and growing into something,” Michael Kelly said.
The multipurpose space operates as a cafe, clothing boutique and general store. It aims to blend old-school customer service and nostalgia with a new way of seeing community. Stop by its Jackass Cafe & Deli and grab local favorites like the B.E.C sandwich and Crazy Ass Grandpa, and iced latte flavored with caramel.
While you’re there, take a selfie in front of the sprawling Shephard’s Fairy mural, part of Rock Hill’s Mural Mile.
Once you’re full and caffeinated, take a walk through the award-winning Glencairn Garden. The 11-acre landscape is covered in elegant greenery and includes showcase gardens, tiered fountains, ponds, boardwalks, a performance stage, and gorgeous walkways filled with colorful flowers. There are also plenty of swinging benches to sit and take in the beauty.
If you’re looking for more outdoor sites, check out the breathtaking views in Fountain Park.
Engage in Black History over an unforgettable meal
Through a collection of letters, newspaper articles, images and videos, the exhibit eloquently details the 30 days that nine Black, Friendship College students spent in jail and on a chain gang after refusing to leave the then-segregated McCrory’s lunch counter. The center also details the role their tribulations played in shaping the Civil Rights Movement in Rock Hill and across the nation.
“The story of the Friendship Nine is very important to the legacy of Rock Hill, because it is Rock Hill,” Dontavius Williams, a Historic Rock Hill board member, said. “It brings all of us together. This is a story that shows where once we were separated but now we are one.”
Directly across the hall from the exhibit is Kounter, the site of that original McCrory’s lunch counter, now a must-stop restaurant with a great atmosphere and frequently changing cuisine. There you can see the preserved lunch counter where the McCrory’s sit-in actually happened.
After you’ve had a bite to eat, step outside to the Freedom Walkway, which celebrates the heroes of justice and equality in Rock Hill. The symbolic walkway houses several key pieces of the city’s history:
- mosaics dedicated to the Friendship Nine and Rock Hill’s textile history
- sunflower paintings that call back to the foundational landscape
- Beacon, a blue, brick chimney original to the building that symbolically protects the African American community of Rock Hill.
Take a short walk to the African American Business District Monument. Located at the corner of Black Street and Dave Lyle Boulevard, the monument’s days-gone-by storefront look pays homage to the Business District, which once served the city’s Black communities. The district was demolished in the early 1970s.
End your day with shopping, Black-owned restaurants and bars
Take a walk down Main Street and visit some of the eclectic shops along the historic street. Stop by McFadden’s Men’s Shop, a men’s clothing store and grooming lounge with formal staples and accessories unique to the South Carolina lifestyle. Or pop into the Hickory Post, an art and furniture store with unique finds. It’s also home to Ramble On Records, which carries an expansive collection of vinyl records.
When the sun goes down, the streets of downtown Rock Hill come alive. If you’re looking for a soul-filled bite to eat, hit up the Sweet Tea Cafe, a Black-owned Southern eatery with a little New York flair and a weekly rotation of flavored sweet teas.
“If you want to lay back and get away from the hustle and bustle of life and you just want to relax, it’s the place for you,” Jose Morales, owner of Sweet Tea Cafe, said.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, head to the family owned Two Scoops on West Main Street for homemade ice cream and locally roasted coffee.
If you’re up for late-night fun, make your way back to Tattooed Brews or Rock Hill Brewing Company in the heart of downtown. Or end your day at The Pump House, a scenic, rooftop restaurant and bar that overlooks the Catawba River. It was ranked on Open Table’s “100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America” list in 2017.
See exactly where all the exciting restaurants and attractions mentioned in this article are using our map guide.
Learn more about the latest events and things to do in York County, SC at VisitYorkCounty.com.