If you’re visiting the Triangle during college basketball season and are hoping to catch a game in person, don’t count on being able to buy a ticket at the box office. In fact, count on not being able to. The 20,000-seat Dean Dome, UNC’s Dean E. Smith Center, routinely sells out for men’s in-conference games, and PNC Arena, the NC State Wolfpack men’s 20,000-seat home arena, often does as well. Duke plays at the comparatively quaint and tiny Cameron Indoor Stadium, and its 9,000 seats are the hardest of all to obtain.
The most prized and scarce treasure of all is a ticket to the Duke-UNC men’s game. Unless a current student at one of the schools really, really likes you, or you’re a major benefactor with a building named in your honor, your chances of paying face value for a ticket are slim to none. When the game is played at Duke, students follow an elaborately codified protocol of camping out next to Cameron in “Krzyzewskiville,” a whimsical tent city named for the legendary Duke coach, for a chance at getting into the game. The university provides K-Ville with its own Wi-Fi; however, no heaters are allowed in the tents, and someone must always occupy a tent to keep its place in line or else the whole tent is disqualified. Some students spend the better part of a semester living at least part-time in K-Ville.
[pullquote align=”right”]On game day, the scalpers are the people hanging around outside the arena, or on nearby street corners, holding signs that say “Need Tickets,” code for “I’ve got tickets.”[/pullquote]During basketball season, tickets appear on eBay, Craigslist, and ticket-scalping search engines. For a minor out-of-conference game, such as those played early in the season—the Wolfpack versus the Flying Menace of Snickelfritz County Community College, let’s say—you should be able to get a reasonably good ticket for $10-20 above face value and without much difficulty. For a sold-out game between ACC teams, prices go up steeply. If you want to go to a UNC-Duke game, seats up in the rafters will be in the hundreds, and a good seat could easily set you back $1,000 or more.
Scalping is illegal in North Carolina; it’s also pretty common. On game day, the scalpers are the people hanging around outside the arena, or on nearby street corners, holding signs that say “Need Tickets,” code for “I’ve got tickets.” If you ask one of them if he has a ticket, he’ll ask cagily what you’re looking for. Draw your line in the sand—you want a really good ticket for not a lot of money. If you ask for courtside seats for $20 each, you’ll only get laughter and lose your bargaining chips, but if you start not too far from the bounds of reason, he’ll talk business. Be firm, and be willing to turn down a best offer. There’s another scalper just a few steps away. If you don’t mind missing the first few minutes of the game, you’ll find that prices start going down at tip-off.
Whenever I travel, one of the first questions I ask is, “Where will I eat?”
Where will I eat? What will I eat? Is there a can’t-miss meal-of-a-lifetime nearby?
These are important questions, and everywhere I go I try to find some food experience that exemplifies the place. Sometimes it’s a simple meal, sometimes it’s something decadent, but whatever is on the plate or in the glass always embodies the spirit of where I am.
So on that note, here are a few of the best spots I’ve been lately; places the food and drink are so good that, when I close my eyes and think about that meal, I’m transported and transformed.
New Orleans, LA
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Fried chicken is a Southern staple and every cook worth their salt has a twist on a family recipe they claim is the tastiest you’ll ever try. But Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans may just have them all beat. The breading is seasoned and perfectly crispy; the meat—white or dark—so juicy you want to cry; and the sides…oh, you’ll never have a better bite of fried okra or forkful of red beans and rice.
The restaurant sits out and away from the bustle of Bourbon Street and the tourist traffic of the French Quarter. The fare is simple—fried chicken and sides—but you’ll want to add this to your list of New Orleans must-eats (which should also include Toup’s Meatery, Compère Lapin and, of course, Café DuMonde).
While I’m talking about New Orleans I may as well go ahead and point out the obvious: it’s hot. Now, you can cool off with a daiquiri; Lord knows there are plenty of those to go around in the Big Easy, but if you really want some refreshment, make your way to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz.
Hansen’s serves shaved ice doused with homemade syrups and creams and it’ll give you a break from the heat like nothing else on earth. This family (it’s now owned and operated by the granddaughter of the Sno-Bliz OGs) has been serving Sno-Bliz since 1936, so they’ve got it down to an art.
Head into this nondescript little shop and see if you can spot their James Beard Award while you choose between the four-dozen flavors and toppings. If you get lucky, like I did, you may just run into Top Chef favorite and New Orleans chef Nina Compton getting a treat of her own in line in front of you.
Mills River, NC, and Nellysford, VA
Bold Rock Cider
Hard cider is making a comeback, and in Henderson County, North Carolina, cideries are popping up at an incredible pace. Bold Rock Cider is the biggest, but others—like Flat Rock Ciderworks and Appalachian Ridge Artisan Ciders—are making the most of the apple bounty from the orchards around here. (On a side note, Henderson County produces the 7th most apples in the United States, so they have a lot to choose from.) They have an interesting approach at Bold Rock: they make two distinct ciders using only apples from around their cidery. That means at the North Carolina location you get apples from Henderson County, and in Virginia, you get a totally different cider using all Virginian apples, even though they’re from the same recipe.
Can food take you someplace you’ve never been? I think so. Because when I’m in Durham, NC, and I sit at M Sushi’s bar, listening to the sushi-wizards talk and tasting the rolls they produce as if by magic, it’s like I’m in Japan for the first and hundredth time. Super fresh fish, precise knifework, and an artist’s eye for detail make these rolls the best I’ve eaten. Don’t miss the uni. Or the o-toro. Or the ebi. Or any of it. Just go already and order the whole menu. You won’t regret it!
I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: I’m not sorry for what I’m about to say, but North Carolina has the best barbecue around. (Next time I’m in Texas or Memphis or South Carolina or wherever you are, offended and passionate barbecue fan, I’m happy to share a plate with you and discuss.) From one side of the state to the other, you find distinct styles and philosophies for this, the greatest and simplest of foods.
In Eastern North Carolina, Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ approach barbecue in the true Eastern North Carolina style: whole hog, chopped and seasoned with a peppery vinegar that unique to the region. One bite of a barbecue plate or sandwich and you’ll think twice about other sauces.
Moving a few miles west, Southern Smoke Barbecue dishes up some twists on traditional North Carolina ‘cue on Thursday and Friday (get there early and get in line; when they sell out, they close), but throughout the year Pitmaster Matthew Register’s South Supper Series draws inspiration from cuisines and barbecue styles across the southern U.S. to present the most elegant barbecue dinner you’ll find.
Lexington, NC, sits in the middle of the state, and is home to Lexington Barbecue (also called Lexington #1 and Honey Monk’s), serving some of the finest barbecue you’ll ever eat. Order a plate of “the brown”—that’s the bark, that outside portion of the shoulder where the smoke and seasoning meet—and be prepared for a whole new barbecue paradigm.
In the mountain town of Asheville, Elliott Moss has brought whole-hog barbecue to Western North Carolina, a land of shoulders and sweet sauce. His ‘cue is outstanding, but the sides are absolutely out of this world. And I hear he makes a mean chicken sandwich, one that’ll make you want to nominate him to be a Kentucky Colonel. Make your way to Buxton Hall to try it out.
Las Vegas, NV
In a city as decadent as Las Vegas, there’s nothing for it but to eat the most decadent things you can find. Am I right?
Head to CarneVino one night and CUT the next for two steak experiences that may make you cry. CarneVino, from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, serves two dishes that are out of this world: Carne Cruda Alla Piemontese and a dry-aged bone-in ribeye they carve tableside. I don’t know which was better, the cruda—tartare—or that ribeye, but they changed the way I think about steak.
At CUT, Wolfgang Puck and crew take steak to the next level with a Wagyu steak tasting menu. With an array of American and Japanese Wagyu to choose from, you’ll find this steak is unlike anything you’ll ever eat. Prepared simply—a proprietary seasoning and a quick sear—or made like one perfect bite I had—Indian-spiced Japanese Wagyu short rib—it’s fork tender and luscious; absolute steak perfection.
Tracing the ridges and hillsides of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway hosts millions of visitors every year, lured by the hum of tires on the road and the whisper of mountain winds through the trees. In just two weeks, you can drive the 716 miles from Washington DC to Knoxville via one of the greatest scenic roads in the nation. You can also easily reverse this route by beginning in Knoxville and ending in DC.
Day 1: Arrive in Washington DC
Settle in to your hotel, then spend the rest of the day at museums of your choice. The museums of the Smithsonian Institution, including the National Air and Space Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and National Museum of Natural History are fascinating, as are the International Spy Museum and Phillips Collection. Try dinner at We the Pizza or Hill Country Barbecue before taking in a concert at 9:30 Club or the Black Cat or taking a nighttime bicycle tour of the Mall.
Day 2: Explore Washington DC
Pay your respects at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, then cross the river to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, or Arlington National Cemetery, or both. For dinner, head to The Oceanaire Seafood Room, which will transform the way you look at fish.
Day 3: Washington DC to Shenandoah National Park
(70 miles; 1.5 hours)
Head to the National Mall, a grand grassy avenue lined with the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the most iconic monuments—Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial—and, of course, views of the United States Capitol and White House. Have lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a DC institution, or one of the many ethnic restaurants like Rasika, or hit the road and dine in Front Royal, at the entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. Along Skyline, 75 overlooks in the park give a sense of the vast wilderness that once blanketed the countryside. Hike to Dark Hollow Falls, and spend the night inside the park at Skyland or Big Meadows Lodge.
Day 4: Shenandoah National Park to Waynesboro and Charlottesville
(160 miles; 4.5 hours)
Head outside the park to the spectacular Luray Caverns, one of the best cave systems in the nation. When you’re finished, drive down to Waynesboro, near the end of Skyline Drive and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and check in at Iris Inn. Then take I-64 east for 24 miles to Charlottesville. Tour Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, only a few miles from downtown, then walk the grounds of the University of Virginia, which was founded by Jefferson and bears his architectural mark. If you have time, a wine tour will take you to some of the region’s best wineries. Try dinner at C&O Restaurant or Peter Chang China Grill, or eat at The Green Leaf Grill in Waynesboro and prepare for the Parkway on the morrow.
Day 5: Waynesboro to Roanoke
(132 miles; 4 hours)
Have breakfast at Iris Inn, then start your journey south along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Make your first stop the Humpback Rocks (MP 5.9) and take the one-mile trail to the namesake rocks. Stop at the James River Visitor Center (MP 63.6), the lowest point on the Parkway, and stretch your legs on one of the short walks that detail the history of the river or the diverse plant life here.
At Milepost 86, detour off the Parkway for lunch in Bedford. You can spend the afternoon in Bedford, taking a docent-led tour of the National D-Day Memorial followed by fruit-picking at a nearby apple orchard, or head to the Peaks of Otter (MP 85.9) for a quick but strenuous hike to the peak of Sharp Top (2.5-3 hours). Afterwards, continue south to Roanoke.
Enter the city via the Mill Mountain Parkway at Milepost 120 and pass by the famous Roanoke Star, then rest up at one of the B&Bs in town before heading to Lucky for dinner.
Day 6: Roanoke to Floyd
(56 miles; 1.5 hours)
It’s a short day today, so you have time to explore Roanoke. Have an egg sandwich at Texas Tavern, then wander over to the Market Square, where the farmers market will be in full swing any day of the week. Look in at the Taubman Museum of Art or shop at the downtown boutiques before heading for Floyd. Have lunch near Floyd at Chateau Morrisette, one of the oldest wineries in Virginia, before checking into Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast. Time your visit to coincide with Floyd’s weekly Friday Night Jamboree, and have dinner at quirky Oddfellas Cantina.
Day 7: Floyd to Stone Mountain State Park
(85 miles; 2.5 hours)
The drive from Floyd to the North Carolina state line is one of the most beautiful on the Parkway. Stop at Mabry Mill (MP 176.1) for legendary buckwheat pancakes and a look at a working waterwheel-powered gristmill and sawmill. At Groundhog Mountain (MP 188.1), enjoy spectacular views from the observation tower. Learn how country and bluegrass music originated in these very hills at the Blue Ridge Music Center at the state line. Camp at Stone Mountain State Park, and squeeze in a quick hike to the top of the namesake bald granite dome. Head into nearby Elkin for dinner and drinks (just be back before the park is locked for the night).
Day 8: Stone Mountain To Blowing Rock
(75 miles; 2.5 hours)
North Carolina’s High Country is no joke. The mountains are steep, and the road grows aggressively curvy, making for unworldly views as you round corners with nothing but space and the Blue Ridge Mountains in front of you. Stretch your legs on the 30 miles of trails in Doughton Park (MP 238.5), which also has a picnic area, or hike the Cascade Falls Trail at E. B. Jeffress Park (MP 272). Stop at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (MP 294.1) for a look at a turn-of-the-century manor house that’s home to the gift shop of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Blowing Rock is just a few miles away, and so are your accommodations as well as dinner at Bistro Roca.
Day 9: Blowing Rock to Asheville
(93 miles; 3 hours)
Before heading to Asheville, check out the Blowing Rock, where you’ll have sweeping views of peaks, including Grandfather Mountain. Back on the Parkway, prepare yourself for one of the road’s most striking stretches: the Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304.4). Just past the viaduct, drive to the top of Grandfather Mountain and take the Mile High Swinging Bridge to one of its lower peaks for 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge. Have lunch here, then continue down the road. Just off the Parkway at Milepost 316.3 is the entrance to Linville Falls. This waterfall requires a short hike to see and a slightly longer one for postcard views, but it’s worth the effort. At Milepost 364.6, stop at Craggy Gardens to take in the summertime blooms of rhododendrons and flame azaleas, then continue to the Folk Art Center (MP 382), just outside Asheville.
In Asheville, spend the night in the mountains at the Sourwood Inn or downtown at the swank Aloft Asheville Downtown hotel. Dinner can be fancy or affordable; there’s no shortage of places to eat in this town. Spend a late night downtown checking out the breweries and bars and listening to a little music.
Day 10: Explore Asheville
Start the day in Asheville with breakfast at the Early Girl Eatery downtown, then head over to the Biltmore Estate. Tour the home, walk the gardens, take lunch in the former stable, then head to the estate’s winery and wine-tasting room (it’s the most visited one in the nation). Sample some wine and head back to your accommodations to freshen up before hitting town again for excellent food at The Admiral and interesting beers at the Thirsty Monk.
Day 11: Asheville to Cherokee
(137 miles; 4 hours)
The winding section of the Parkway between Asheville and the southern terminus in Cherokee is quite beautiful. Before you hit the road, down a giant biscuit at Biscuit Head. Continue down the Parkway and take in the view of Mount Pisgah (MP 408.6) and hike to Devil’s Courthouse (MP 422.4)—a short hike that’s not as fearsome as it sounds and has a view you won’t want to leave. Richland Balsam Overlook (MP 431.4) is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so stop here and mark your trip with a selfie. Stop at the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (MP 451.2) for a four-state view and panorama of the Great Smoky Mountains. At Milepost 461.9, you’ll reach Big Witch Overlook, the last overlook before the Parkway terminates at milepost 469.1. Take one last long look before heading into Cherokee for the night. Spend the night at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, where you can gamble, visit the spa, and grab a bite in one of the casino’s restaurants.
Day 12: Cherokee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
(43 miles; 1.5 hours)
Today you’ll drive Newfound Gap Road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Before you start your drive, visit the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in Cherokee. Stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for a park map and to check out Mountain Farm Museum. The twisting Newfound Gap Road is popular for motorcyclists and is stunning in fall; along the way you’ll likely see black bears and white-tailed deer. Stop along the way at any of the overlooks—in a landscape this stunning, there are no bad views. Before you leave the park, drive out to Cades Cove, a onetime mountain community, where you might spy bears lounging in the remnants of an apple orchard. Check into a hotel in Gatlinburg, then take a walk down the main drag of this tourist haven. Grab some moonshine at Sugarlands Distilling Company and dinner at Smoky Mountain Trout House.
Day 13: Gatlinburg to Knoxville
(30 miles; 45 minutes)
Head straight from your Gatlinburg hotel to Dollywood, where mountain music, mountain crafts, mountain food, and mountain folks are interspersed with roller coasters. Spend half the day here, then head to Knoxville (45 minutes away) for lunch at Dead End BBQ before checking in to your downtown hotel. Walk the World’s Fair Park and climb to the top of the Sunsphere for the best view in town. Then, take in a concert at the historic Tennessee Theatre or stop in at the Knoxville Museum of Art and the East Tennessee History Center. Dinner at Stock & Barrel will put you in the heart of downtown, where you can explore to your heart’s content.
Day 14: Knoxville Back to Washington DC
(487 miles; 7 hours)
You’ll definitely want to make better travel time on the return drive to Washington DC. Take I-81 north through Tennessee and Virginia to I-66 east, which will carry you right into DC. This route is doable in a day, rather than two or three at Parkway speeds.
With just five days, you can explore Knoxville, traipse into Dollywood, log some quality trail time, explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park, catch an amazing firefly display, ride a steam train…and drive a short, but beautiful, section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Day 1: Knoxville to Dollywood (43 miles; 1 hour)
Grab a tasty breakfast at Pete’s Coffee Shop in Knoxville, then head over to the Sunsphere for a selfie in front of the city’s golden-crowned monument. Get a feel for the people and culture of East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains at the East Tennessee History Center downtown, then hit the road, following US-441 south toward the mountain towns (and tourist meccas) of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Have lunch and check into a hotel in Gatlinburg, then backtrack to Pigeon Forge and spend the rest of the day at Dollywood.
Day 2: Dollywood to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (44 miles; 2 hours)
Have breakfast at the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg, then follow US-441 south two miles into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, stopping at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to pick up maps and park tips. Set up camp in the Elkmont Campground. Here, for a two-week window in the summer, one of only four colonies of synchronous fireflies in the United States puts on a dazzling show, so reserve your site early. Drive a loop around Cades Cove, which was once home to a mountain community. At the various buildings throughout the community, you can stop and hike, so pick up a map at the visitor center, select a couple of hikes, and hit the trail. Wildlife viewing is awesome here, with massive herds of deer and black bears playing in the boughs of apple trees. Good dinner options are located in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Day 3: Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Cherokee (47 miles; 1.5 hours)
After breakfast, begin your cross-park drive via Newfound Gap Road. You’ll find trailheads all along this twisting mountain road, but for a hike with impressive views, save yourself for Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in Tennessee and GSMNP. You’ll see signs for Clingmans Dome as Newfound Gap Road crests the Smokies. Head down this spur road to “climb” to the top (the summit is accessible via a walkway and concrete observation platform, not much of a climb) for jaw-dropping views. From here, a 1.75-mile trail leads to Andrews Bald, the highest such meadow in the park. In summer, the trail is bombarded with flame azalea and rhododendron.
After hiking to Andrews Bald, get back to Newfound Gap Road and descend into North Carolina and the town of Cherokee. Browse the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, then stop in at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian across the street or Oconaluftee Indian Village just up the hill. Spend the night at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino or opt for a campground or nearby chain hotel.
Day 4: Cherokee to Bryson City and Cataloochee (69 miles; 2 hours)
Try your hand at the nickel slots on your way out of Harrah’s (you never know) before stopping at Granny’s Kitchen for a country breakfast buffet. Your next stop is the nearby town of Bryson City for a mountainside ride aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. You can pair your train ride with a little white-water rafting or zip-lining, or you can keep it tame and simply enjoy the scenery.
Backtrack to Cherokee and hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Today, you’ll traverse 25 miles of the Parkway, including some of the road’s most rugged mountains and impressive overlooks. After following the Parkway for a short ways, exit onto the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway (US-441) and head north toward Waynesville, where you can grab lunch before connecting with I-40 and making your way to the beautiful Cataloochee Campground on the North Carolina side of GSMNP. Cataloochee is another former mountain community, but this one has a few residents: elk. Cataloochee is a prime spot to see them. Be sure to bring in something to cook; it’s a bit of a drive back out for dinner.
Day 5: Cataloochee to Knoxville (96 miles; 2 hours)
If you missed the elk last night, get up early and watch the tree line at the edge of the fields. You’ll see them eating their way around the perimeter. Take a little time this morning to check out the haunting and picturesque old church and hike among the other structures in Cataloochee.
When it’s time to leave, I-40 will carry you right back into Knoxville in time to get lunch at Stock & Barrel, The Tomato Head, or any other restaurant on Knoxville’s Market Square.
Both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive are organized by mileposts. Markers, signs, and pillars note each mile, and waypoints include directions like “Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 52.6.” This system makes it easy to anticipate where the next sight, visitor center, or hike may be. On Skyline Drive, you’ll travel from mile 0 in Front Royal, Va., to mile 105.5 at Rockfish Gap, near Waynesboro, Va. At Rockfish Gap, the Blue Ridge Parkway begins with mile 0, then carries on down the mountain chain to Cherokee, N.C., and mile 469.
[pullquote align=”right”]You’ll need to fuel up at the towns, cities, and waysides off the parkway.[/pullquote]You can drive your own car the 740-mile length of the Skyline Drive-Blue Ridge Parkway-Great Smoky Mountains National Park route, or you can pick up a rental car at or near the airport or train station where you begin your journey. Do check that you will have a place to turn in the car at the other end if you plan on taking a one-way trip, and note that some companies levy hefty fees for this service.
Gasoline is available at only one place along Skyline Drive and nowhere on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll need to fuel up at the towns, cities, and waysides off the parkway. As a rule, you’ll find a gas station near any town or major route that crosses the Parkway.
The speed limit on the Parkway is 45 mph, though it slows to 35 or even 25 in certain areas. Along Skyline Drive, the speed limit is 35 mph. You’ll encounter a great deal of wildlife along the drive. At any faster than the speed limit, you pose a threat to animals and yourself, as you may not have adequate time to stop if you encounter an animal. The National Park Service can pull you over and issue tickets, so keep your speed appropriate to the traffic and weather. Traffic slows considerably during peak seasons. During autumn, you may never reach the speed limit.
Many locals choose to travel a segment of the Parkway then return home via Interstates to reduce travel time. If you fly into one of the travel hubs covered in Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip, you’ll likely travel one way, north or south, along the route and depart from an airport on the other end. Otherwise, you may do like the locals, traveling the Parkway one direction and a faster route on the return trip.
In the friendly little mountain town of Floyd, Friday nights mean three generations of locals including cloggers, mountain dancers, farmers, artists, and musicians blowing off workweek steam by playing, listening to, or dancing along with live bluegrass while imbibing a little ‘shine in the mountain tradition.
[pullquote align=”right”]Every season here is gorgeous, from scarlet-leaf-filled fall to summer, when the heady scent of honeysuckle coaxes you out of your car.[/pullquote]Floyd was my first stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469-mile ridge-riding ribbon that runs from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But it certainly wasn’t my last. Every season here is gorgeous, from scarlet-leaf-filled fall to summer, when the heady scent of honeysuckle coaxes you out of your car. In winter, snow dusts the highest passes and the mountains grow a charming beard of icicles; spring is when wildflowers bloom and fawns peer out of the brush.
For these reasons, and at least 469 others—figure there’s at least one for every mile marker—the Blue Ridge Parkway is known as “America’s favorite scenic drive.” But it’s more than just a drive. It’s fields and balds filled to capacity with fireflies blinking in the summer twilight, mountains aflame with fall color as far as the eye can see, more wildflowers and spring peepers croaking than you could count in a lifetime, and the stillness of snow falling from a white winter sky to cover the blacktop highway. It’s cultured cities like Asheville and Roanoke, hiking trails to waterfalls, and sights that celebrate our national heritage, from Oconaluftee Indian Village to the National D-Day Memorial in small-town Bedford. It’s quiet moments on a mountainside overlook, gazing out over Virginia’s vast plains and the folded hills of North Carolina and realizing that the road that led you here will take you home…but you’ll be different for having driven its miles and drunk in its beauty.
Magical realist novel about a man who hears a voice telling him to “build it and they will come” and constructs a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield. Later adapted into the hit film Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner and—with a totally out-of-place New York accent—Ray Liotta as Greenville, South Carolina, native “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
Ready to take a literary road trip? This week-plus driving tour takes you from the Appalachians to the ocean in the footsteps of the region’s most legendary authors.
Your first stop is in Asheville, North Carolina. Enjoy a relaxing walk through the vibrant downtown, capped by a visit at the centrally located Thomas Wolfe home. A short drive away in Flat Rock is the home of poet Carl Sandburg. Retire to your swank room at the Grove Park Inn.
Get up bright and early for a drive down to Nantahala Outdoor Center on the Georgia-South Carolina border for some white-water rafting on the scenic Chattooga River, setting of the 1972 film adapted from James Dickey’s novel Deliverance. Tonight, enjoy a hearty dinner at the nearby Dillard House in Dillard, Georgia, also a B&B where you’ll stay the night.
Make the short drive to Atlanta and a visit to the Margaret Mitchell House, a.k.a. “The Dump,” where the former newspaper reporter wrote the novel Gone with the Wind over a 10-year period. After a Southern comfort food lunch at nearby Mary Mac’s Tea Room, venture into west Atlanta for a visit at the Wren’s Nest, home of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the tales of Uncle Remus. Enjoy your night’s stay at the Georgian Terrace hotel, where Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh stayed while in town for the Gone with the Wind premiere.
Visit Milledgeville, former state capital and stately town where Flannery O’Connor wrote all her most important works. Visit her family farm at Andalusia and see the room where she worked, then head downtown to see the O’Connor collection of memorabilia at her alma mater, Georgia College & State University.
On the way out of town head to nearby Eatonton and visit the recreated boyhood home of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus stories. Take the Alice Walker Driving Trail, highlighting important local sites in the life of the great African American author who also called Eatonton home. Tonight, you spend the night in Savannah, at the Hamilton-Turner Inn, once owned by “Mandy,” a character in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Tour the squares of downtown Savannah, including a stop at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home and the nearby, ornate Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, where she and her family attended mass. Enjoy lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, mentioned prominently in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
An hour away, walk around charming little Beaufort, South Carolina, which inspired so much of the work of novelist Pat Conroy. The grave of his father, James, a.k.a. “The Great Santini,” is in the National Cemetery near downtown. Stay the night in the historic Cuthbert House Inn, which hosted cast members such as Barbra Streisand during the filming of Prince of Tides.
For an optional additional day, head to the “Holy City” of Charleston for a visit to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, where a young Edgar Allan Poe was stationed as a U.S. Army officer and inspired to write The Gold Bug. Eat a pub lunch at nearby Poe’s Tavern. Spend the rest of the day and evening in downtown Charleston, soaking up the atmosphere that inspired the tale Porgy and Bess, first novelized by native son DuBose Heyward and then popularized by George Gershwin’s opera.
The first time I heard of Raleigh was on The Andy Griffith Show. Any time trouble found Mayberry, it either came from “up North” or from Raleigh. Even though many of Andy’s observations of life in North Carolina are accurate, his assertion that Raleigh is a hive of citified depravity is just wrong. It is a great city, home to a number of universities and the state government (granted, many would agree that involves its own kind of depravity). Raleigh is one of the sparks that helps power the cultural engine of North Carolina.
North Carolina State University is here, along with two historically African American universities, Shaw and Saint Augustine’s, and two small but well-known women’s colleges, Peace and Meredith. The North Carolina Museum of History is excellent, as are the Natural Sciences Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art. There are a number of music and art festivals as well as the must-see event of the year, the State Fair.
Sights in Raleigh
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (Bicentennial Plaza, 11 W. Jones St., 919/707-9800, 9am-5pm Mon.-Wed. and Fri.-Sat., noon- 5pm Sun., 9am-9pm Thurs. and the 1st Fri. of the month, free) hosts national traveling exhibitions and is home to excellent permanent exhibits. “Mountains to the Sea” is a re-creation of the regional environments of the state, populated with live and mounted animals and plants. Stars of “Prehistoric North Carolina” include the world’s only publicly displayed skeleton of an Acrocanthosaurus, a 38-foot, 4.5-ton predatory dinosaur, and the remains of “Willo,” a 66-million-year-old small vegetarian dinosaur whose fossilized heart is a rare boon to paleontology. The whales whose skeletons hang in the Coastal Carolina exhibit are celebrities, each with its own interesting story, including “Trouble,” a sperm whale who washed up at Wrightsville Beach in 1928, and “Mayflower,” a right whale killed in a legendary 1874 struggle with Carolina whalers off Shackleford Banks.
In 2012 an 80,000-square-foot expansion called the Nature Research Center opened. Here visitors can watch scientists conduct research and experiments in the “Window on Research” areas. A three-story multimedia space provides plenty of room to show films, clips, and presentations. Other exhibits in this wing include displays on aquatics, astronomy, microbiology, and genetics.
North Carolina Museum of History
Also on Bicentennial Plaza is the North Carolina Museum of History (5 E. Edenton St., 919/807-7900, 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat., noon-5pm Sun., free), where visitors learn about the history of the state’s contributions to the military, from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War; about the musicians and genres that make this state one of the wellsprings of American music; about the handicrafts, including pottery, textiles, and furniture, created by centuries of renowned artisans; and about medicine in North Carolina, from traditional African American root medicine and Native American herbal treatments to the pharmaceutical and medical technology businesses that draw patients and researchers from around the world. You can also see a uniform worn by Harlem Globetrotter and Wilmington native Meadowlark Lemon and a stock car driven by Carolina legend Richard Petty. The Museum of History hosts concerts and many educational events throughout the year.
North Carolina Museum of Art
The North Carolina Museum of Art (2110 Blue Ridge Rd., 919/839-6262, 10am-5pm Tues.-Thurs. and Sat.-Sun., 10am-9pm Fri., free) is just outside the Beltline. Its collections include masterpieces from many eras and regions of the world, including ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and pre-Columbian American art and the work of Botticelli, Giotto, Raphael, Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Hart Benton, and many more. The gallery is also home to one of the nation’s two Jewish ceremonial art collections and to collections of 19th- and 20th-century African art. Perhaps most impressive is the collection of sculptures by the French master Auguste Rodin.
A 160-acre outdoor gallery has miles of trails looping through it from one enormous outdoor art installation to the next. These include a metal tree that’s so organic that many visitors ask if the artist painted a real tree or wrapped one in foil. Throughout the park are opportunities to interact with the art pieces and the environment. A couple of the trails lead to the large outdoor amphitheater, which hosts concerts and film screenings during summer and fall.
The 1770s Joel Lane Museum House (St. Mary’s St. and W. Hargett St., 919/833-3431, 10am-2pm Wed.-Fri., 1pm- 4pm Sat. Mar.-mid-Dec., $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students) is Wake County’s oldest extant home. Costumed docents lead tours of the house and period gardens. The 1799 Haywood Hall (211 New Bern Place, 919/832-8357, call for hours, free) is another of Raleigh’s oldest buildings. Built for the state’s first elected treasurer and his family, it features a historic doll collection. A fee is charged for tours of the house and gardens.
Mordecai Historic Park (Mimosa St. and Wake Forest Rd., 919/857-4364, grounds dawn-dusk daily, hourly house tours 9am-4pm Tues.-Sat., 1pm-4pm Sun., 1-hour tours $5 adults, $3 seniors and ages 7-17, 30-minute tours $3 adults, $2 seniors and ages 7-17) includes a plantation house dating from the late-18th and early-19th centuries. It has restored dependencies and other buildings, including the birthplace of President Andrew Johnson.
More historic homes can be seen in Raleigh’s historic Oakwood Neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Structures mostly date from the late-19th century in this neighborhood, bounded by Franklin, Watauga, Linden, Jones, and Person Streets, and self-guided walking- and driving-tour brochures can be picked up at the Capital Area Visitor Information center inside the Museum of History on Bicentennial Plaza.
The North Carolina State Capitol (1 E. Edenton St., 919/733-4994, 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat., tours 11am and 2pm Sat., free), built in the 1830s, is a Greek Revival structure that has been restored to its antebellum appearance. Be alert when you visit the library; this is where the capitol’s many reported ghosts are allegedly most active. Guided tours last approximately 45 minutes.
The Executive Mansion (200 N. Blount St., 919/807-7950), built in the 1890s, is a lovely example of Victorian architecture, once described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as possessing “the most beautiful governor’s residence interior in America.” Tours are available, but the hours vary according to state functions—it is still the home of the governor. It’s necessary to be with an official tour group; phone for more information.
The J. C. Raulston Arboretum (4415 Beryl Rd., across from Capitol City Lumber Company, 919/515-3132, 8am- 8pm daily Apr.-Oct., 8am-5pm daily Nov.- Mar., free) is a public garden focused on the development of ornamental plants suitable to the Southern climate. You can visit highly specialized areas devoted to white flowers, roses, and border plants; the 300- by 18-foot perennial border may cause some serious yard envy. The Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden (301 Pogue St., near North Carolina State University, 919/821-4579) is home to over 1,000 roses of 60 varieties. Carolina roses are blessed with an extra-long growing season, and the Municipal Rose Garden also features bulbs and other ornamental plants, so a visit to the garden is special any time of year. Another place for a scenic walk is Historic Yates Mill County Park (4620 Lake Wheeler Rd., 919/856-6675, 8am-sunset daily), a few miles south of downtown. The gristmill that presides over the millrace is nearly 200 years old. Hiking trails encircle the millpond.
A favorite place to visit in Raleigh is the State Farmers Market (1201 Agricultural St., 919/733-7417, 5am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 8am-6pm Sun., free), where you’ll find the best produce, finest meats, and all sorts of arts, crafts, candies, baked goods, bedding plants, garden plants, pots, and pretty things. A 30,000-square foot-pavilion where most of the farmers set up to sell their wares is the central focal point, but the Market Shoppes, at around half the size, are where you’ll find candy, baked goods, and other assorted North Carolina gifts, notions, soaps, and lotions.
North of the city, about halfway between Wilmington and Topsail Island, is Poplar Grove Plantation (10200 U.S. 17 N., 910/686-9518, 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat., noon-5pm Sun., $10 adults, $9 seniors and military, $5 ages 6-15, $7 self-guided tour). This antebellum peanut plantation preserves the homestead of a successful farming family, including the beautiful main house, a restored tenant farmer’s cabin, a blacksmith’s shop, and a barn. A 67-acre nature preserve with an extensive network of hiking trails winds through coastal forests and wetlands, and a Farmers Market (8am-1pm Wed. Apr.-Nov.) shows off the bounty of the area’s agriculture.
In Wilmington and the surrounding area are a number of significant military sites, most dating to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. About 20 miles northwest of Wilmington, outside the town of Currie, near Burgaw, is the Moore’s Creek National Battlefield (40 Patriots Hall Dr., Currie, 910/283-5591, 9am-5pm daily, closed Thanksgiving, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1). The site commemorates the brief but bloody battle of February 1776 between Loyalist Scottish highlanders, kilted and piping and brandishing broadswords, and Patriot colonists. The Patriots fired on the Scotsmen with cannons and muskets as they crossed a bridge over Moore’s Creek. Some 30 Loyalists died in the attack, and the remainder scattered into the surrounding swamps and woods. The battle marked an important moment in the Revolutionary War, as the Scottish Loyalists were unable to join General Cornwallis’s army in Southport and mount an attack on Patriots nearby. It also marks an important moment in Scottish military history, as the battle was the last major broadsword charge in Scottish history, led by the last Scottish clan army.
Don’t be alarmed if you notice a battleship across the Cape Fear River from Wilmington; it’s the USS North Carolina (1 Battleship Rd., Eagles Island, 910/251-5797, 8am-8pm daily late May-early Sept., 8am-5pm daily early Sept.-late May, $12 adults, $10 seniors and active or retired military, $6 ages 6-11, free under 5), a decommissioned World War II warship that now serves as a museum and memorial to North Carolinians who died in World War II. This hulking gray colossus participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific, earning 15 battle stars, and was falsely reported to have sunk six times.
Tours are self-guided and start with a short film providing an overview of the museum, then proceed onto the one-acre deck of the battleship. Nine levels of the battleship are open to explore, including the 16-inch gun turrets on the deck, the bridge, crew quarters, ship’s hospital, kitchens, and the magazine, where munitions were stored. It gets tight belowdecks and stairways are quite steep, so visitors prone to claustrophobia and those unable to traverse steep steps may want to stay topside.
The hallways and quarters below are dark, narrow, and surprisingly deep; from the heart of the ship, it takes more than a few minutes to find your way back to the deck. Crowds can make this more constricting, but nothing like it would have been in the balmy Pacific with 2,000 sailors aboard.
The USS North Carolina is also one of North Carolina’s most famous haunted houses—reputedly home to several ghosts, seen and heard by staff and visitors alike. The SyFy Channel has featured the ship on various ghost-hunting and paranormal shows, and it has been the subject of extensive investigations. Check out Haunted NC to hear some chilling and unexplained voices recorded by investigators.
By the mid-19th century, Wilmington was experiencing growing pains as the bustling shipping and railroad center of North Carolina. The city’s old cemeteries were becoming overcrowded with former residents, and Oakdale Cemetery (520 N. 15th St., 910/762-5682, 8am-5pm daily year-round) was founded some distance from downtown to ease the graveyard congestion. Designed in the parklike style of graveyards popular at the time, it was soon filled with superb examples of funerary art—weeping angels, obelisks, willow trees—set off against the natural beauty of the place. Separate sections were reserved for Jewish burials and for victims of the 1862 yellow fever epidemic. Oakdale’s website has an interesting guide to Victorian grave art symbolism.