I wanted to give you guys a small break from all of the holiday content today, and share one of the coolest experiences I’ve been on in the last couple of months. Back in November, the wonderful folks at Visit North Carolina, Visit Wilmington, Visit Raleigh and Visit Asheville coordinated a cross-state road trip for me to experience the beautiful state. To be perfectly candid, even though I grew up in Virginia, for some reason my family and I never spend an extended amount of time in North Carolina.
Long story short, thanks to this North Carolina road trip, I’m now in love with NC — and I now understand why I have friends who have moved down there in droves! I’ll have separate travel guides launching for each city in January, but in the meantime, I wanted to share some of my highlights of the road trip.
North Carolina Road Trip – The Route
First things first: let’s talk about the route I took for this North Carolina road trip. We stated in the beaches of Wilmington, as well as making a stop in Wrightsville Beach. Then, we mosied over to Raleigh, and after that, we drove to Asheville. If you have 8-14 days and want to explore the entire state, I’d highly recommend planning a road trip throughout the state yourself. If you’re short on time, any one of these cities would make the perfect 3-4 day trip.
North Carolina Road Trip – The Wheels
For this North Carolina road trip, the folks over at Toyota let us test drive the 2017 Toyota Highlander, and I couldn’t ask for a better car to venture out to the beaches, the city and the mountains with.
Between myself and my boyfriend/photographer, we had a lot of gear on us for this 7-day whirlwind trip. The Highlander had an incredibly spacious interior: it has three rows and can comfortably seat eight people, or hold a ton of equipment if you’re heavy packers like us.
The Toyota Highlander was super quiet on the inside — we didn’t hear a lot of road noise on the trip, and it ran very smooth. My boyfriend and I were also very impressed with the active technology. The radar cruise control helped us navigate with the ebbs and flows of traffic, the lane keep assist made it easy to stay in our lane, and the safety sense could even detect when we were a little drowsy — and displayed a coffee cup on the dashboard when it sensed we needed to take a break from driving.
North Carolina Road Trip – The BBQ Pit Stops
Listen: if you’re going on a North Carolina road trip, and you’re going to be in both the Eastern and Western regions of the state, you have to try out barbeque from both regions — they taste completely different!
The best BBQ wasn’t in the major towns that we visited, but it was in the small towns between each of our stops. In between driving from Wilmington to Raleigh, we stopped at Skylight Inn Barbecue to try some super authentic Eastern-style BBQ. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten pulled pork so fast — I had to bring home another container of this BBQ to go, and I bought their vinegar-based sauce to take come with me!
The second stop we visited in between our drive from Raleigh to Asheville was Lexington BBQ. USA Today named it one of the ten best southern barbecue spots, and it did not disappoint. I got the chance to chat with the owner while sitting at the counter, and this is a small family-owned spot that’s been operating since 1962. If you’re looking for good Western-style BBQ, this is your spot!
North Carolina Road Trip – Wilmington Highlights
This was by far the most relaxing part of the trip: Wilmington had pretty incredible weather for November (it was still 80 degrees out!), so it was incredibly pleasant to stroll along the beach even though it was technically their “off-season.” My favorite spots included:
- PinPoint: Hands down, this was our favorite restaurant in Downtown Wilmington. Most of the menu is sourced locally, with the exception of a few delicious imports (like the Octopus that’s flown in from Spain.) Try their baked oysters and catfish. You won’t be disappointed!
- Flytrap Brewing: This was one of my favorite breweries in town! I loved their Sour Squash Ale and the Sour Raspberry Saison. They also have popcorn pairings for a few of their beers available.
- Wrightsville Beach: Just outside of Wilmington was Wrightsville Beach, which is a beach town packed with a ton of character. Go on a boat tour, head downtown to shop, and enjoy the beautiful views and incredibly clear water!
North Carolina Road Trip – Raleigh Highlights
I didn’t know much about Raleigh before the start of the trip, but it reminded me a lot of Richmond, VA — but on a much larger scale. The town is young, eclectic, and has a killer food scene at the moment!
- Poole’s Diner: If I could fly down to Raleigh to go to Poole’s again, I would! Poole’s Diner is a James Beard Foundation award-winning restaurant serving reimagined comfort food. If you get anything, get the mac and cheese: trust me, you won’t be disappointed!
- Art of Style: This boutique had the most beautifully curated selection of on-trend pieces from some of my favorite, hard to find designers. The owner buys a lot of my favorite Australian brands, including Keepsake The Label and Finders Keepers. I bought a jumpsuit here, and the straps were a little long on it, but they were able to alter the piece overnight, and I had the jumpsuit back the very next morning. How cool!
- North Carolina Museum of Art: This museum was massive and incredibly impressive: we had the opportunity to stop in the Ebony Fashion Exhibit during our time here, and it did not disappoint. You could spend hours in the NCMA!
North Carolina Road Trip – Asheville Highlights
What can I say: Asheville was pretty perfect! I only had 36 hours here, but I’m already planning my next trip. This stop was a complete whirlwind, but here are some of my favorites:
- New Belgium Brewing: If you’re going to go to a large brewery, this is it. They offer a 90-minute tour where you learn all about the company’s unique history and culture (there’s an employee slide in the building too — how cool!) If you don’t have that long to spare, their tasting room is the perfect place to relax with friends.
- Chestnut: This was one of my favorite dinner spots in town (and there are *so* many fantastic options!) The offer Chef’s Table dinners and Beer Dinners a few times a month, but their a la carte menu also does the trick.
- AC Hotel Rooftop: This is one of the most stunning hotel rooftops that I’ve ever seen: the AC Hotel is sleek, sophisticated, and their rooftop bar has multiple fire pits to enjoy. I could have spent hours here!