Em’s Marvelous North Carolina Bucket List

11 March 2020

North Carolina gained an estimable new resident when my friend Madeline moved here last year. When she mentioned she was hoping to explore more of her adopted state in the coming months, I immediately volunteered my services as informal tour guide. We have gained much from her presence, and now it’s time for NC to give a little something back to her through new experiences, memories, stories, and delicious tastes!

John and I put our heads together and came up with this list of our absolute favorite North Carolina places, foods, sights, and experiences. It goes without saying, but even this lengthy list hardly scratches the surface of all the wonderful things the Old North State has to offer — but it’s a place to start! (And, it must be said, it’s Triangle-heavy, since that’s where we both reside.)

Though many of you live places other than North Carolina, I hope this serves as a helpful guide if you take a trip to our state! From the mountains to the sea, from barbecue to Laotian dim sum, it’s truly a wonderful place.

In no particular order and without further ado…

1. Attend a service at Duke Chapel.
2. While you’re there, stroll through Duke Gardens (we love to bring a picnic from nearby Foster’s Market).
3. And, if you can finagle it, watch a men’s basketball game in Cameron.
4. See an outdoor summer movie at the North Carolina Art Museum Art Park (go early to wander the grounds and see the outdoor art installations).
5. See an outdoor movie or concert at Koka Booth Ampitheatre.
6. Take the ferry to Bald Head Island for the day (or a week). Rent a bike and ride all over.
7. Stay at the European-feeling Old Edwards Inn in Highlands.
8. Swim in the Eno River (we prefer the Few’s Ford access, and like to pack a picnic from nearby Picnic!).
9. Eat a BLT at Merritt’s.
10. Plunge into the icy waters of Sliding Rock, a natural water slide on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
11. Catch the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra at an outdoor concert (often in September).
12. Order a chocolate souffle to-go from the Fearrington House Inn and eat it in the Adirondack chairs facing the cow pasture.
13. Visit the quaint coastal town of Beaufort — eat at Beaufort Grocery, see the wild ponies on Shackleford Banks, and stroll the charming streets.
14. Walk the beautiful neighborhoods of Raleigh: Oakwood, Mordecai, and – my personal favorite – Hayes Barton.
15. Cheer at a Durham Bulls game (best ballpark snacks you’ll ever have!). Park in the parking deck and walk through the beautiful American Tobacco Campus to get to the game.
16. Sip a farm-inspired beverage on the edge of the growing field at the Honeysuckle Tea House.
17. Hike a Southern bald. We’ve done Black Balsam Knob, and have our sights on Grassy Ridge.
18. Experience the magic that is Brewery Bhavana: flower shop, brewery, bookstore, and dim sum restaurant in one.
19. Experience the magic that is the NC State Fair: goats, biscuits, giant watermelons, and more.
20. Check off at least one of James Beard Outstanding Chef award winner Ashley Christensen’s restaurants. (You can’t go wrong with any of them, but we especially love Chuck’s and Death and Taxes. Okay, and Poole’s.)
21. Walk the paths of the WRAL Azalea Garden. It usually blooms right around Palm Sunday and Easter!
22. Climb the fire tower at Hanging Rock State Park.
23. Pick apples in the mountains (try Altapass or Justus Orchards).
24. See a show at DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center (it’s where we saw Hamilton!).
25. Get an ice cream sandwich at Parlour.
26. And a cone at Maple View, complete with view of the generous cows who provided the milk.
27. Visit the Saxapahaw General Store (get a BLT there, too!).
28. Eat at Vin Rouge, a French restaurant transplanted into Durham and a vanguard of the Triangle’s impressive restaurant scene.
29. Drive the NC peach trail, including a stop at Kalawi Farm Market for a basketful.
30. Feed the giraffes lettuce at the NC Zoo.
31. Grab a bagel sandwich at Benchwarmers in Transfer Co Food Hall.
32. Last but certainly not least, spend at least a weekend in Asheville. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, tour the Biltmore (it’s so worth it!), hike at Crabtree Falls, white water raft, and for the love of everything good, eat at White Duck Taco.

And now, a few things still on our bucket list: Jolie and Poole’side Pies, the Front Porch Artwalk in Mordecai, a Snap Pea adventure dinner, the Lost Colony performance in Manteo, Chef and the Farmer, Joyce Kilmer forest, the Oakwood Lantern Light tour, and the Fried Turkey Sandwich Shop :)

Now, friends, I know you’ve got them, so let’s hear your additions in the comments! What would be on your North Carolina bucket list?

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Zoe T
March 11, 2020 7:13 am

This makes me want to really implement a house-swap!

March 11, 2020 8:10 am

Yes please to numbers 4, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 18, 25, 26, and 31. There’s the next year of visit activities right there :).
Also, enthusiastic seconding of your last point on #32.

March 11, 2020 9:33 am

Absolutely love this lists! 1 and 7 are still on my list, and 16 is such a magical spot to hang out!

Other favorites: see all the wonderful artists at Festival in the Park in Charlotte, grab a milkshake from the delicious Howling Cow Creamery, and stop in for a tour of Old Salem and taste a Moravian cookie!

Sarah Elizabeth
March 11, 2020 2:08 pm

Loved this post! We’re moving to Boone this summer and looking forward to exploring across the state. Grateful for these ideas!

March 11, 2020 3:01 pm

Making me homesick! I’d add a dinner at Elodie Farns, a goat farm in Rougemont. We went to one last year and loved seeing the behind-the-scenes of a working farm … and the food was delicious!

March 11, 2020 3:04 pm

I am reading this right now from Greensboro and wish I had more time here in town to enjoy some of these places and things! What a special culmination of local delights that will bless many.

March 11, 2020 3:40 pm

Such a good list!!! We have done 19/32 (20 if you count going to the NC zoo without feeding the giraffes, though that sounds delightful) and would add touring the Biltmore Estate, having coffee at Heirloom Brewshop, eating all the things at Layered, and picnicking at Dorothea Dix :)

March 11, 2020 4:00 pm

We love Sunni Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream in Angier! It’s the best ice cream and they have so many delicious flavors to choose from! An extra bonus is getting to enjoy this ice cream in one of their rocking chairs.

March 12, 2020 6:42 am

We saw the Lost Colony play a few years ago! My favorite part was that, since we don’t know what happened to the historical Lost Colony, the ending of the play changes from year to year.
I’d add a visit to the Biltmore Estate to this list. I hope to get back there at Christmas someday! Also a visit to the Outer Banks – I particularly loved climbing to the top of the Currituck and Bodie Island lighthouses.

March 13, 2020 8:00 am

I love this! Our family is toying with the idea of moving to NC and this makes it seem so idyllic…

July 22, 2022 4:33 pm
Reply to  Em

Oh goodness. Two years later and my family JUST moved to the Triangle. We were in TX for ages, went to CA briefly, and just bought a house here and plan to stay for good. You linked to this bucket list in a recent post and lo & behold, my old comment. What a funny world. Thanks for the inspiration, Em. Now I’m actually taking note of some of these things for our real life!

March 15, 2020 5:16 am

This list makes me want to move to NC right now! Or at least plan a long trip to this beautiful state ;-)