In August 2017

Another fine, locally owned magazine in North Carolina does an excellent job pointing out the best of Our State. But they shouldn’t have all the fun. Over the last several weeks I got out of the city and traveled from west to east, including lots of rural areas. I saw too much substandard housing, too many defunct factories and lots of empty downtown and strip-center retail space. Record stock prices, corporate profits, property values and employment rates can’t mask that many areas deserve more attention and investment.

But tripping from the mountains to the coastal plain also left me more aware than ever of North Carolina’s diversity, history and beauty. Here are a few of my favorite stops and new discoveries. How many have you visited?

The History Museum of Burke County in Morganton. Many museums may bore, but this one gives great insight into our state’s development.

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in downtown Wilson. Still under construction, the 2-acre park sports large, peculiar metal sculptures and has drawn art-world attention.

Wiseman’s View near Linville. Provides a stunning view of the Linville Gorge, and the best vista I’ve seen in North Carolina.

Drexel Barber Shop jam sessions. Show up on a Saturday afternoon to hear bluegrass strummed by folks ages 15 to 90. A block from the long-shuttered Drexel Heritage furniture plant.

The Benjamin May-Lewis House, a beautifully restored 1830s farmhouse near Farmville. It’s a private residence but includes a large barn leased for wedding receptions.

The WRAL Azalea Gardens in Raleigh. Gorgeous tranquility, a block from N.C. State University on Western Boulevard.

A short walk from WRAL is the majestic Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, scheduled for opening in late July. A
$41 million investment, the sanctuary seats more than 2,000.

Sun Crest Water Park near Boomer in Alexander County. The coolest old-time water park I’ve ever seen, with some of the coldest water.

Downtown Kinston, which is enjoying a rebirth led by The Chef and the Farmer restaurant and Mother Earth Brewing.

Happy Trails Cowboy Church near Hiddenite meets Monday nights. A dozen churches around the state cater to horsey types who spend weekends at rodeos or on trail rides. This one features bluegrass and a fired-up preacher.

Sup Dogs in Chapel Hill. A quick bite at the hamburger and hot dog joint on Franklin Street gives you enough time to check in with your  Carolina student, before he or she starts getting fidgety.

The Taylorsville YMCA. Great showers for gym rats — and mission-trip chaperones and their minions staying at a church lacking such luxury.

Parker’s Barbecue. Teenage boys wearing paper hats serve North Carolina’s most famous food at the legendary Wilson restaurant.

Photo of Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park By Stef Rae

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