Project 543 tells the story of unique spots across North Carolina we hope will become some of your favorite places. Why 543? Because that's the number of miles from Manteo, on the coast, to Murphy, in the mountains, and is traditionally considered to be the width of our state. The entries in this project are in no particular order, and we'll add to them each week. Check in often to find inspiration for your next trip, or start planning today at VisitNC.com.
Experience the high winds and shifting sands of the desert without ever leaving the North Carolina coast. Located at Nags Head on the Outer Banks, Jockey’s Ridge State Park features the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern United States. Comprised of three peaks, shifting winds constantly reshape the 420 acres of dunes making it a new experience for visitors each day. Those same winds make Jockey’s Ridge one of the best places to fly kites on the Outer Banks, and you’ll often see a horizon dotted with kites of all shapes and sizes. Kites aren’t the only things taking flight at Jockey’s Ridge; free permits are available for hang gliders ready to surf the sky. After a full day of flying, gliding, sand-boarding and picnicking, finish your visit by watching a stunner sunset from the top of the ridge.
The Durham Bulls ran the bases at Durham Athletic Park from 1926 to 1994, but the team gained true notoriety in 1988 with the release of box-office hit Bull Durham. Starring Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon, the movie filmed at Durham Athletic Park about minor league glory days ranks fourth among ESPN’s “25 Greatest Sports Movies” and sits on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Laughs” list. While the Bulls now play on a different field across town, visitors can still catch an amateur baseball game and see the famous snorting bull – a parting memento from the Bull Durham crew.
Get up-close and personal with Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge – no snorkel required. Five miles west of Atlantic Beach on the Crystal Coast, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is open daily and houses three shipwreck exhibits that take visitors under the sea without ever leaving dry land. Replicas of a German U-boat, a 251-foot freighter and Blackbeard’s flagship have all come to rest in displays that contain a combined 386,000 gallons of water. Off the coast, sunken vessels like these form the foundation for complex marine communities. Aquarium visitors can catch a glimpse of aquatic life including fearsome-looking sand tiger sharks, colorful queen angelfish, sea turtles and more as they swim around the encrusted anchors and replica cannons that make up their homes.
With a 60-foot trip down a natural rock waterslide to reach the seven-foot deep pool at the bottom, Sliding Rock isn’t your average swimming hole. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, visitors can enjoy the thrill of being whisked down the slide by 11,000 gallons of mountain stream water under the watchful eye of Forest Service lifeguards. Watching can be nearly as much fun as sliding, and you never know who you’ll spot from the two observation platforms – during the summer of 2014, Hollywood star Owen Wilson was seen sliding during a break from filming Loomis Fargo in the Asheville area. Located in Pisgah National Forest just north of Brevard, Sliding Rock is just one of 250 cascades waiting to be explored in Transylvania County.
photo credit: Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority
Since 1970, the Village Craftsmen has offered an extensive selection of handcrafted goods for Ocracoke Island visitors to take back as souvenirs and gifts for family and friends. In addition to the pottery, glass and baskets, Craftsmen patrons can take home a whale of a tale picked up during one of the nightly island ghost tours. Led by Philip Howard – who can trace his ancestry back eight generations to the quartermaster of legendary pirate Blackbeard – walking tours explore either the Creekside or Point area of Ocracoke Village. Both tours are peppered with tales of the infamous scourge of the seas who met his bitter (headless) end at Teach’s Hole, along with other island lore including the “phantom freighter” and the ghost who haunts the Ocracoke Harbor Inn. Each tour includes an introductory island history and is a mile and a half long, taking about 90 minutes.
Since 1907, Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst has been the site of most every major golf championship. In 2014, No. 2 met a new milestone when it hosted the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open Championships in back-to-back weeks – the first time in history both tournaments were played in the same year, on the same course. June 12 through 22 saw intense competition on golf course design legend Donald Ross’ masterpiece course – one he once called, “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.” Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie proved up to the test of the crowned, undulating greens and took home the respective 2014 championships.
photo credit: Pinehurst Resort
There are no sprinkles and no fluff at Carolina Beach Boardwalk staple Britt’s Donuts. Barefoot beachgoers have been lining up to get a no-frills, Britt’s glazed donut delicacy since 1939. The current owner, Bobby Nivens, was a longtime employee who served under the Britt family before buying the business in 1974. The ownership may have changed hands, but the top-secret donut-making process stayed the same (they say the secret is in the glaze). If you’re looking for a Britt’s donut, the family-run business is only open during the summer months. Lines can stretch down the boardwalk, but a five-star Yelp review confirms the donuts are worth the wait.
The Last of the Mohicans last graced the big screen in 1992, but you can relive the beauty of its dramatic scenery by visiting Chimney Rock State Park located just 45 minutes outside of Asheville. Based on the James Fenimore Cooper novel of the same name, the Academy Award-winning film paints a portrait of life during the French and Indian War in 1757. The final 17 minutes of the historical epic feature sweeping views of the towering cliffs and 404-foot waterfall that hundreds of visitors travel to Rutherford County to marvel at each year. Stand at the top of Hickory Nut Falls and walk the winding Skyline Trail where stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe filmed the intense final scenes. Can’t get enough of The Last of the Mohicans? Chimney Rock Park holds an annual summer screening of the film on a 35-foot screen at the base of the mountain.
Have you ever wondered what happened to that button you lost in the wash? Maybe it ended up in Mary Eva Blount Way’s collection of over 30,000 buttons. Affectionately known as Miss Eva, the Beaufort County native began her collection with a humble box of buttons given to her by her mother-in-law. As time passed, friends and neighbors contributed trinkets and treasures until Miss Eva’s collection grew too large for her family barn. After her death in 1962, citizens of the coastal town of Belhaven purchased her collection to create Belhaven Memorial Museum and allow visitors to step back in time. Today, you can view more than 30,000 buttons from around the world, pickled tumors given to Miss Eva by the town doctor, a flea bride and groom and more from her world on the second floor of historic Belhaven Town Hall.
Standing at the entrance to the Cape Fear River for almost 200 years, Old Baldy has been used to safely guide maritime soldiers, as a Coast Guard radio beacon in World War II and now is a destination for Brunswick Islands visitors. Built in 1817, the 110-foot body of the lighthouse is made of soft red bricks and covered with stucco. While originally a gleaming white, different versions of stucco have been used in repairs during the years to create the patchwork surface you see today. Old Baldy was kept as an active light station until 1935 and was officially relit in 1988, although it no longer serves as an official navigational aid. Today, visitors can view Bald Head Island from six windows as they climb the 108 steps leading to the ladder that marks the final ascent to the lantern room. Located next to Old Baldy, the Keeper’s Cottage museum offers more information about the lighthouse, as well as pirates, surfmen of the United States Lifesaving Service and other island history.
When Mandara Spa created a spa in the heart of the ancestral home of the Cherokee in the mountains of North Carolina, it took elements and inspiration from the Cherokee to create a one-of-a-kind fusion between its Balinese treatments and traditional native herbs and healing methods. In partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee, the Mandara Spa is now part of the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in the town of Cherokee on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 18,000-square-foot spa features unique face and body treatments that infuse herbs from the Native American medicinal traditions to highlight and celebrate the native heritage of the resort. Exclusive services at Cherokee include the Lavender Healing Repair Facial and the Juniper Berry and Algae Detox. Lavender and Juniper were key healing herbs used in Native American ceremonies to soothe and restore as well as to take away negative energy and purify the environment. Couples also can share the experience through the Sacred Feather Ritual for Two, which includes a bathing ritual in a large hydrotherapy bath. These combinations of Native American culture and Mandara’s time-honored, Balinese-inspired treatments bring guests the best in therapeutic luxury.
Winston-Salem is best known for the Moravian culture on display in its historic Old Salem community. But visitors passing through downtown often look at one of the city’s skyscrapers and have a feeling they’ve seen it somewhere before. Winston-Salem’s Reynolds Building was the model for the Empire State Building, one of the world’s most iconic skyscrapers. The connection is so strong that executives from the Empire State Building sent the Reynolds Building a thank-you card on its 50th birthday. The Reynolds Building was constructed in 1929 by Shreve and Lamb, who would design the Empire State Building a few years later based on the same plans. The iconic shape of the two buildings is the same, though the Empire State Building has 102 floors whereas the Reynolds Building has 22. For nearly a century, the Reynolds Building was the home office for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The Reynolds Building was named “Building of the Year” by the National Association of Architects, won the 1984 Art Deco Society of New York award for best restoration and was the tallest building in the South for 35 years. The building’s future is undecided and it may take on a new role as a luxury hotel.
Max Woody is a sixth generation chair maker and a living tribute to North Carolina’s rich furniture-making heritage. Born and raised in McDowell County, Max also inherited a love for the music of his home, the Appalachian Mountains, and has found a way to share both of these arts with visitors. You can check out his old-fashioned chair shop during the day, and then head across the street to experience Woody’s Original Mountain Music Friday nights. In his shop, Max produces custom-made chairs – and though he’s never run a paid advertisement, he has a waiting list that stretches about four years. He welcomes visitors to come in and hear a story or two, even if they can’t wait that long to purchase a chair. His chairs are handmade in styles and designs that have been passed down through his family. Friday evenings, Max can often be found working on a different piece of wood – as a part-time fiddler. His Mountain Music jams are free to the public and run from 7 p.m. until everyone gets tired.
As host to the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open Championships, North Carolina is often associated with golf’s biggest game – but it’s also home to the sport’s smallest. Putt-Putt golf was created in Fayetteville in 1954 when businessman Don Clayton opened the first course. Putt-Putt is a specific type of miniature golf that Clayton patented to focus on putting skills rather than gimmicks such as windmills and scenery. Putt-Putt became immensely popular, and though the corporation remained in North Carolina, more than 200 courses now exist throughout the nation. Clayton’s original course no longer exists, but nearby Hope Mills is now home to the prototype Putt-Putt Fun Center featuring batting cages, electric go-carts, indoor bumper cars, games and 36 holes of Putt-Putt. North Carolina also was the birthplace of the nation’s first miniature golf course, built in 1919 in the Village of Pinehurst. Pinehurst Resort now offers a miniature golf course called Thistle Dhu that pays homage to the original. Covering 15,000 square feet of green, Thistle Dhu features 18 holes of mind-bending putts created to challenge and entertain everyone from the youngest family member to the most experienced golfer. Play is free to Pinehurst Resort guests.
Asheville may have only 75,000 residents, but with more craft breweries per capita than any other city in the nation, it’s a big town when it comes to beer. Home to more than a dozen craft beer makers, Asheville reigned as Beer City USA from 2009 to 2012. The city has five beer festivals – including the Best Firkin Beer Festival – and even boasts a Brews Cruise, which takes guests on guided tours of the city’s microbreweries. Brewing took root in the city in 2004 when Highland Brewing Company opened its doors. Others soon followed and now beer has gone beyond being just a drink. Beer lovers can find local beers incorporated into everything from condiments to ice cream to dog biscuits for man’s best friend. The region has even attracted larger beer makers such as Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Oskar Blues, which are setting up East Coast operations in western North Carolina. But North Carolina’s craft beer scene isn’t just limited to the mountains: You can savor the taste of local beers at more than 100 breweries statewide.
Lexington is so barbecue crazed it has some 19 barbecue restaurants in a town of less than 19,000 people, giving it the most per capita of any city in the world. The city has a well-established spot on the Historic Barbecue Trail created by the North Carolina Barbecue Society, and is often called the Barbecue Capital of the World. The town also is home to North Carolina’s largest barbecue celebration, known simply as The Barbecue Festival. Held in late October, the event draws more than 100,000 people to Lexington’s Main Street for food and fun. Lexington and Davidson County declare October as Barbecue Month, so events are held throughout the weeks leading up to the festival. Lexington is so popular for barbecue, it’s the namesake for the style of cooking used in the entire western part of North Carolina. Lexington-style means cooking only the pork shoulder (in other parts of the state, the entire pig is cooked), which is served finely chopped, coarsely chopped or sliced, but definitely not pulled. The pork often has a crunchy crust called “outside” or “brown.” Lexington also is known for barbecue slaw, which is red and made with ketchup and vinegar. Make sure to speak up if you want it on the side – otherwise it’s served on all sandwiches.
The Village of Portsmouth was once one of the most thriving communities on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast but it was destroyed by a hurricane that didn’t land anywhere near the island. Portsmouth’s buildings, sandy streets and docks appear to remain ready to welcome ships passing through Ocracoke Inlet today, but all of its residents deserted long ago. The town was victim to the natural forces that shape North Carolina’s barrier islands, known as banks. Portsmouth was a “lightering” town, providing warehouses and transfers for goods that deep-draft ships could not carry through the shallow inlet, which was the best ocean passageway to the interior of North Carolina. Portsmouth was doomed by a hurricane, but not by damage from the storm itself. The hurricane of 1846 opened up a better passage through the Outer Banks near Hatteras Island and shipping transferred to the new channel. The growth of railroads, the Civil War and additional hurricanes dealt the final blows until the last remaining residents left in 1971. Portsmouth Island is now part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The 250-acre historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and preserved to allow visitors to step back in time to experience the bones of a typical Outer Banks village of the last century. Several of the town’s buildings contain exhibits, and guided walking tours are available seasonally. Ferry service is offered from neighboring Ocracoke Island to tour the structures, and visitors can also bring their own boats to enjoy the island’s desolate beach as part of a vacation to the North Carolina coast. A Portsmouth Homecoming takes place every other year in the even-numbered years.
The color most frequently associated with North Carolina’s mountains is blue – as in Blue Ridge. But in the Ashe County community of West Jefferson, the color residents most identify with is yellow – as in cheese. West Jefferson is home to Ashe County Cheese, the South’s oldest cheese factory. In 1930, the Kraft Company consolidated several small community cheese plants in the Blue Ridge Mountains to form Ashe County Cheese. Today the factory produces an average of 30,000 pounds of cheese each week and is operated by Newburg Corners Cheese Inc. and its Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Tom Torkelson. The milk used comes from dairy farms within 70 miles and is stored in three tanks shaped and painted to look like cows. Visitors can take a free look at the operations from a viewing room open year-round, though the cheese-making schedule varies each week. Ashe County Cheese sells more than 20 varieties of original Ashe County cheese as well as its own butter, homemade fudge and fresh cheese curd.
When visitors enjoy the “new local Southern cuisine’’ at King’s Kitchen in Charlotte, those in need get fed as well. Noble Restaurants, which manages King’s, donates 100 percent of the profits from sales at King’s Kitchen to feed the hungry. When people dine at King’s, they enjoy a fantastic North Carolina dining experience and the entire community thrives. King’s also partners with area ministries to provide jobs for those in need of a new beginning. Patrons feel good about what they’re doing and even better about what they’re eating. King’s dishes feature premium local and organic produce along with favorites such as Aunt Beaut’s Pan Fried Chicken. These Southern favorites are prepared in a healthy, updated way using natural meats and organic, local vegetables. King’s also features an onsite bakery, offering breads and desserts as well as sandwiches and breakfast items on weekdays.
The Black River in eastern North Carolina is one of the few waterways left that hasn’t been cut by man. Nestled deep in this pristine river is Three Sisters Swamp, home to hundreds of ancient bald cypress trees, many more than 1,000 years old. A tree called Methuselah, or BLK69 by its official name, dates back to at least 364 AD and has been verified to be the oldest tree in eastern America. Scientists believe it isn’t even the oldest tree in Three Sisters, it’s just one of the few that has a solid core that allows for accurate age analysis. The trees here are so old that many are flat-topped from storms and hollow from rot. They have survived because of the undisturbed nature of the river system and the pristine water conditions. The Black River has been designated as Outstanding Resource Waters by the North Carolina Division of Water Quality, and the Nature Conservancy has been protecting important tracts along the Black River since the ancient trees were discovered some two decades ago. The river flows nearly 70 miles through Sampson, Pender and Bladen counties before emptying into the Cape Fear River near Wilmington. The area is remote and water levels provide a challenge for kayakers. Guided trips are offered by Watersmyth Kayaking based in Wilmington and also through Sampson County.