I consider myself a North Carolinian even though I wasn’t born and raised here. I’ve lived in North Carolina longer than I’ve lived in any other state and definitely consider it my home. I also travelled here several times before deciding to move here. Funny story- when I was in grade school I had to write a story about my future self. I was supposed to write like it was set in the future and I was looking back on my life. I wrote about where I lived, what my career had been, and described my family and home in detail. In my story I lived in North Carolina.
The weird thing is at that point I’m pretty sure I had never been to North Carolina before. I remember going to the Outer Banks when I was in junior high school and again in high school and I remember going to the Charlotte area when I was in junior high school but I’m pretty sure I had never been to North Carolina in grade school. Somehow I must have known this is where I would end up as an adult. Strange, huh? I guess it was my destiny. Anyway, I digress.
I’ve lived in North Carolina since 1997 and since then I’ve explored the entire state, from the Atlantic Ocean on the east, to the piedmont area in the middle, and the mountains on the west. North Carolina truly is a unique state with plenty of diversity, natural beauty, and plenty of things to do. The estimated 50 million visitors annually seem to affirm that North Carolina is a great place to visit.
For simplicity’s sake I’m going to break down this post into the three main regions of North Carolina, the coastal plain, piedmont, and mountains.
Within the Coastal Plain is the Tidewater region, which is the area of land along the coast at or near sea level. There are seven sounds, wetlands, the Great Dismal Swamp, and all of the beaches of North Carolina. The top part of the Coastal Plain begins with the long stretch of land called the Outer Banks. I recently went back for a vacation to the Outer Banks, which you can read about here: Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. As I said in my post, the Outer Banks area runs along a large section of the coast of North Carolina and includes several cities. There’s no shortage of places to stay or things to do in this area and I feel it includes some of North Carolina’s prettiest beaches.
The most popular beach town south of the Outer Banks is Wilmington, which I’ve been to many times. It’s your typical beach town with some good restaurants, cheesy tourist shops as well as some decent local shops, and a wide range of accommodations in all prices. If you’re looking for a luxurious Bed and Breakfast for a special occasion, you can’t go wrong with https://graystoneinn.com/. If you want to stay right on the beach, Blockade Runner has been a good choice when I’ve stayed there. Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront is also nice and a convenient option for easy access to some of the best restaurants and shopping.
In the middle of the state is the Piedmont region where you can find Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and many smaller towns. This area has the highest concentration of universities in the state as well as technology industries in Research Triangle Park, locally known as RTP. RTP is the largest planned research center in the United States and has brought much prosperity to the area along with all of the jobs.
Raleigh is not a place people from other states would first think of when planning a vacation but it’s an up-and-coming tourist destination, with almost 18 million visitors in 2018. Downtown Raleigh has several music and theater venues, James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen plus some Top Chef winners, and plenty of art, science, and history museums. Raleigh really deserves a post of its own, which I plan to post soon. More well-known Charlotte had an estimated 29.6 million visitors in 2018 and hit a record high of visitor spending in 2019. Also deserving of its own post, Charlotte has everything from the popular indoor water park Great Wolf Lodge, NASCAR and NASCAR Hall of Fame, Carowinds amusement park, U.S. National Whitewater Center, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, many wonderful museums, and two James Beard Award semifinalists.
The Blue Ridge Mountains separate the Piedmont from the Mountain region. Other mountain ranges include the Bald, Balsam, Black, Brushy, Great Smoky, Iron, Pigsah, Stone, and Unaka, all of which are part of the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve been to most of these mountains and have hiked a fair portion of them, and I have several posts on regions in the mountains including: Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux, Camping in Asheville, North Carolina, and Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina. In addition to Asheville, I also love Boone, which has Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns, Mast General Store, ski resorts in the winter and mountain biking the rest of the year, hiking, golf, Tweetsie Railroad, and ziplining.
One of the fun things about staying in the mountains is you can find some unique accommodations. Of course there’s the obvious tent or RV camping but there are also Bed and Breakfasts and cabins galore. Just be sure to ask your host about the area to see if you need a 4 x 4 vehicle to safely get around. I once stayed at a place with a gnarly hill to climb to get up the “driveway” but fortunately my vehicle was able to get up it and had a high enough clearance I didn’t have to worry about dragging the bottom of the car out. In the winter you will need to be better prepared for snowy/icy roads if you plan on driving and also know that backcountry roads don’t get plowed and treated nearly as quickly (if ever sometimes) as city roads.
As of this writing North Carolina has no state-mandated COVID travel restrictions.
Have you been to North Carolina? If so, where did you go and what did you do? Have you never been but would like to come here and if so, what area interests you?