I’m preaching to the choir here, but isn’t North Carolina just the best? We’ve got laid-back beaches, stunning mountains, thriving cities, quaint small towns, artisans, entrepreneurs, fine dining, and down-home cooking. I could keep talking for pages, but we’d rather just show you. Take a trip with Main & Broad’s Chief Photographer Jonathan Fredin and discover dozens of reasons to love the Old North State.
Nature knows how to put on a show, be it over the Appalachian Mountains to the west or the Atlantic Ocean to the east. NC residents enjoy the best of both worlds, including this picturesque evening on Bald Head Island.
- Wayah Bald Lookout Tower, Nantahala National Forest, near Franklin
- Fahrenheit restaurant’s rooftop terrace, Charlotte
- Queens Landing dinner cruise, Lake Norman
Water, Water Everywhere
Jackson County is home to the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, 4,600 miles of streams dotted with natural waterfalls, like Schoolhouse Falls near Cashiers, and opportunities for rafting.
- Lake Lure, near Chimney Rock State Park
- Jordan Lake, near Apex
- The Crystal Coast, NC’s southern Outer Banks
Find panoramic views and engaging hikes at Chimney Rock State Park, headlined by a trek to the top of iconic Chimney Rock via the Outcroppings Trail. Climbers who summit the 494 steps will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. (An elevator also provides access to Chimney Rock, bypassing most of the stairs.)
- Grandfather Mountain Swing Bridge and State Park, near Linville
- Craggy Pinnacle Hike, near Black Mountain
55 acres, 4,500 varieties of plants, and 5 miles of walking trails comprise Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, open 365 days a year in the middle of Duke University.
- The Biltmore House Gardens & Grounds, Asheville
- JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh
- Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, Lake Lure
So Much BBQ
The Eastern- versus Western-style debate never ends, and thankfully, neither does the list of barbecue joints entering the competition. Classic spot B’s Barbecue in Greenville sells between five and six pit-cooked hogs a day — takeout and cash only.
- Lexington Barbecue, Lexington
- Longleaf Swine, Raleigh
- Parker’s Barbecue, Wilson
- Skylight Inn, Ayden
We’re Crazy for Craft Beer
Southern Wake knows a thing or two about craft beer, and lucky for us, plenty of other NC towns do, too. Hugger Mugger Brewing, in Sanford, offers 18 beers brewed onsite and displays gothic tapestries by local artist Craig Gillooly.
- Highland Brewing, Asheville
- Bond Brothers Beer Company, Cary
- Deep River Brewing Company, Clayton
Witness a dramatic retelling of the story of The Lost Colony at the Waterside Theater in Manteo, featuring Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts to establish an English settlement in the New World and the mysterious disappearance of the settlers on Roanoke Island.
- Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills
- Duke Homestead, Durham
- Tryon Palace, New Bern
Inconspicuous and unassuming, like 4 Corners Diner in Atlantic Beach, longstanding diners, grills and cafes, often family run with grandma’s recipes, attract loyal customers day in and day out.
- Flo’s Kitchen, Wilson
- The Roast Grill, Raleigh
- El’s Drive-In, Morehead City
- Cosmic Cantina, Chapel Hill
Pinehurst No. 2 tops the charts of best and best-known NC golf courses, but the state’s mild winters mean golf enthusiasts can find open fairways and manicured greens nearly year-round.
- Wade Hampton Golf Club, Cashiers
- Old Town Club, Winston-Salem
- Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte
Fun for Families
Enjoy Tweetsie Railroad’s amusement rides, Wild West-themed entertainment, live animals, and train rides behind a historic narrow-gauge steam locomotive, located in Blowing Rock.
- Greensboro Science Center, Greensboro
- Discovery Place, Charlotte
- Carowinds, Charlotte
- Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh
Serious Sweet Tooth
Chef Robert Reynaud traded the Chicago culinary scene for a 14-table neighborhood eatery on Maynard Road in Cary, La Grassa Pastificio, with a lineup of showstopping “Dolces.” Gorgeously plated tiramisu is classic; other dessert offerings include gelato, sorbetto, cannoli, and budino, a decadent dark chocolate mousse crowned with toasted pistachios.
- Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery, Raleigh
- Mama Bird’s Ice Cream, Holly Springs
- Amelie’s French Bakery, Charlotte
- Britt’s Donut Shop, Carolina Beach
North Carolina’s roots in agriculture, rural/urban dichotomy, and growing population combine to create a vibrant culinary scene that continues to impress. Last year in Cary alone, Top Chef alum Katsuji Tanabe opened a’Verde Cocina & Tequila Library, and the Fenton development welcomed eight new eateries, with more on the way, including a steakhouse from notable Raleigh chef Scott Crawford.
- Manna, Wilmington
- Supperland, Charlotte
- The Fearrington House Restaurant, Pittsboro
- Print Works Bistro, Greensboro
An iconic NC attraction, the Linn Cove Viaduct is a 7-mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain without disrupting the natural habitat. The Parkway winds through the southern and central Appalachians, showcasing beautiful vegetation, wildlife, and natural attractions such as Mount Mitchell, Linville Gorge, and Whitewater Falls.
- Outer Banks National Scenic Byway
Bordering the Cape Fear riverfront, downtown New Bern boasts historic architecture, art galleries, unique boutiques, and the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola. During the warm months, downtown restaurants spill outdoors for popular al fresco dining, called the Street Cafe.
- Blowing Rock
- Wilmington Riverwalk
Creativity and passion are welcome neighbors throughout NC, fueling business owners like Alisha Ramsey, owner of Glam Soldier boutique in Apex, which sells upcycled military clothing and one-of-a-kind boho apparel. Ramsey, a US Army veteran, earmarks a portion of sales to benefit Advocates 4 Vets, a local nonprofit that helps and houses veterans.
Others to inspire:
- Cary Heise, Designed for Joy
- Jasmine Brown, FACTS for Youth
- Justin Senkbeil, CompostNow
Many small NC farmers, like Michael Phillips of Phillips Farms in Cary, have worked hard to preserve North Carolina’s agricultural heritage by transitioning to agritourism, inviting guests to pick-your-own fruit and pumpkins, wander a corn maze, feed farm animals, and celebrate farm life with a healthy dose of family fun.
- DJs Berry Patch, Apex
- Willow Oak Farms, Fuquay-Varina
- Millstone Creek Orchards, Ramseur
- Farmer Mac’s Berries, Hampstead
A visit to the Shallotte River Swamp Park & Outdoor Center combines adventure and ecological education. See more than a dozen American alligators in the reptile sanctuary, then hop on the Swamp Boat Eco Tour to wind through the waters of the Shallotte River Swamp.
- Bald Head Island Conservancy, Bald Head Island
- Corolla Wild Horse Tours, Corolla
- North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro
The popularization of outdoor murals has added vibrant color and personality to NC’s cities and towns over recent years, often highlighting local artists. Town of Sanford historic preservation planner Liz Whitmore dreamed up a mural project to transform boring brick walls into artistic representations of the town’s important historical figures and events, including the Fairview Dairy mural, at Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream & Grill in Sanford, one of 12 murals completed for the project.
- White Oak Greenway Tunnel, Cary
- NC Museum of Art Museum Park, Raleigh
- Outdoor sculptures and murals, Uptown Charlotte