Esurance now provides car insurance in North Carolina! And to celebrate our arrival in the Tar Heel State, we’ve put together a tribute to North Carolina’s 3 regions. Check out our favorite spots.
From the Great Smoky Mountains to the Blue Ridges, North Carolina is truly a mountain state.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of those uniquely American road trip destinations that people drive to to drive on. Winding 469 miles through the highest elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains (part of the much larger Appalachian mountain range), the Blue Ridge Parkway is a place to see the seasons change in a tranquil environment.
Being a native Californian, I’d say the Blue Ridge Parkway is North Carolina’s equivalent of the Pacific Coast Highway — people don’t take it because it’s the fastest route but because it’s the most gorgeous route. And it certainly ranks on the short list of American autumn destinations. But you can enjoy the plentiful scenic overlooks year-round. Just pick a Blue Ridge destination and your favorite time of year (though winter can be a bit icy) to hit the road.
The Biltmore Estate, Asheville
North Carolina is awash with the history of a developing America. And there’s no better place to experience one of the more glamorous outputs of America’s industrial revolution than the Biltmore Estate. A lavish mansion built on 125,000 acres (of which 8,000 still remain) of Asheville’s finest land, the Biltmore Estate was completed in 1895 as a summer home for George Washington Vanderbilt, the ne’er-do-well grandson of railroad tycoon and legendary hard worker Cornelius Vanderbilt.
The display of opulence in the once-private residence, which has since been converted into a museum, is absurdly satisfying. Among my favorite details: Napoleon’s chess set in the library and a Renoir painting hung (on the back of a door!) in the lavish breakfast room. And, to see how the other half lived, take a gander at the labyrinthine kitchen and scullery. The real thing is definitely a step-up from streaming Downton Abbey.
Plus, the Biltmore (and Asheville) is accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, making it a great road-trip destination.
While you’re in Asheville, get a DD or take a taxi to one of the local breweries. Asheville is known for its fantastic beer and is largely considered the microbrewing capital of the Southeast.
Piedmont is a French word for “foot of the mountain,” and that’s just what it is — a mostly flat, central plain that works its way up toward the mountains in the west.
It’s not a trip to North Carolina if you don’t have barbecue. And in North Carolina, it isn’t barbecue unless it’s pork. Pulled or chopped, sweet or tangy, North Carolina barbecue varies significantly from region to region, with the vinegary variety in the east and its ketchup-y cousin in the west.
Among perennial barbecue destinations, the town of Lexington is king. While you can swing by any time of the year (it’s right off I-40), the best time to go is October — the official “Barbecue Month,” culminating in the annual Lexington Barbecue Festival. (Though, in this writer’s opinion, the best barbecue comes twice a year from a fire station in Burnsville.)
The Research Triangle
North Carolina is a state of higher education, with 3 top-ranking universities — Duke, NC State, and UNC Chapel Hill — nestled into the tri-city region of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. The Triangle makes North Carolina a prime location for college students all around the country and feeds the growing tech industry in Raleigh and Charlotte.
The Triangle is also a major hub for North Carolina’s most important sport: basketball. It has provided, among other things, the Duke-UNC rivalry, one of the most vicious in sports, as well as a number of NBA greats, not the least of which is Michael Jordan, who made it as far as junior year at UNC before going pro in 1984.
But the Triangle isn’t just books and basketball. The nearby community of Carrboro is also home to thriving art, food, and music scenes. Check out the local farmers market or swing by any of the bars, restaurants, and music venues in downtown Carrboro for a taste of “The Paris of the Piedmont.”
North Carolina’s coast, from the sounds to the Outer Banks, is filled with beautiful nature and early American history.
If you like long, narrow chains of barrier islands (and I know you do), the Outer Banks should be number one on your list. And if you like hanging out on the most isolated island of said chains, accessible only by ferry, Ocracoke Island is the place to go. Ocracoke is a tiny resort town with amazing seafood, great fishing, and cool spots like the Ocracoke Coffee Company (the best coffee you’ll ever have on a remote island).
Ocracoke is also known for its shipwrecks. Blackbeard the pirate was finally sunk by colonial forces in the waters near Ocracoke. Additionally, the island is home to 2 British cemeteries that mark the final resting place for the WWII sailors who fell victim to German U-Boats off the coast of the Carolinas.
The island is also great for off-roading … as long as you don’t get stuck in the sand like I did. (Long story short: take air out of the tires before you hit the dunes.)
Roanoke Island (home of the Lost Colony)
So you like history. But what about mystery? The story of the Lost Colony is one of the spookiest entries from early colonial America. Here’s what happened: Roanoke Island, which was home to one of the Civil War’s most decisive battles, was also the location of England’s first attempt at North American settlement near the end of the sixteenth century. Though this colony failed and returned to England, a second colony, founded in 1587, seemed to have more staying power.
When a small faction made a round-trip to England to gather supplies, however, they returned to Roanoke to find all of the colony’s inhabitants inexplicably missing, with no trace of their disappearance except for a single word carved in a tree: “Croatoan.” The meaning of the word is enigmatic to this day, and theories about the colony’s disappearance abound. Though a visit to Roanoke isn’t likely to clear up the mystery, it can certainly give you insight into this unique chapter of American history.
What did we miss?
North Carolinians, we picked out a few of our favorite spots, but a blog post can’t come close to covering it all. Now that we’re going to be neighbors, we’d love to hear from you!
Let us know what we missed in the comments section, or give us a shout out on our Facebook page.