When you think of the state of North Carolina, you probably think about the big cities like Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro. And although those are all fun and exciting places to visit, the Tarheel State also has a lot of small towns that you may never have heard of, but that you’re going to want to visit. From sleepy college towns to eclectic art meccas, these are just intriguing enough to warrant a trip all their own.
Davidson (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Unless you’re familiar with Davidson College, you have probably never heard of Davidson – a small college town about 30 minutes north of Charlotte. But you don’t have to be a college student to enjoy this town. This quaint locale is the kind of place where people smile at you when you walk by them on Main Street and the same kind that looks like a ghost town after 8 p.m. because everyone is at home with their families. There are several unique restaurants located along the town’s small downtown strip, including The Famous Toastery – a breakfast and lunch spot that is a massive favorite for locals and Kindred – an upscale restaurant that serves unique dishes influenced by the married owners’ travels around the world. You’ll also find a local coffee shop and book shop (no chain stores here), an old time soda shop and the Davidson Village Store, an eclectic gift shop that sells everything from jewelry and bath products to shoes and glassware. Across the street from all the shops and restaurants is the Village Green – a wide, green space stretching in front of the town library, that in addition to being great for sunbathing or reading a book, is also home to the town’s many cultural events like Art on the Green and Christmas in Davidson.
Carrboro (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Located just outside of Chapel Hill, Carrboro is a separate community all its own. What started as a small mill town has progressively grown over the years and is now considered to be one of the most progressive communities in the South. Because of this, the town has grown into a vibrant and eclectic community of over 20,000 people and home to many cultural events like the Carrboro Music Festival, the Carrboro Film Festival and the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival. It is also home to the DSI Community Theatre and two music venues that host national acts – the ArtsCenter and Cat’s Cradle. The town also hosts a farmer’s market and art walk, and offers a self-guided tour of the many historic homes in downtown Carrboro. You’ll also find a plethora of delicious restaurants along Main Street, including Carrburritos – a Mexican restaurant that serves up fresh and authentic cuisine, and Acme Food and Beverage Company – a fine dining establishment that features Southern American dishes, fine wines, craft beers and signature cocktails.
Saluda (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Although Saluda is just 35 miles from downtown Asheville, you will want to make a trip here all on its own. This picturesque, tiny town is home to only 700 residents and has only one street in its historic downtown. Most of the buildings downtown have been added to the National Register of Historic Places and include gems like Thompson’s Store and Ward’s Grill – a tiny grocery store and deli, and Pace’s General Store – an old fashioned general store from 1899 that sells hardware and garden items to foods and candies. You’ll also find many arts and crafts galleries downtown, as well as several restaurants including the Saluda Grade Café, Green River BBQ and The Purple Onion, where you can enjoy outdoor seating and live music. Since Saluda is located close to the Green River, you can also get in some outdoor fun by going for a kayak trip, renting a paddleboard or going fishing.
Manteo (Hotel Prices & Photos)
You may have never heard of the beautiful coastal NC town of Manteo, but once you visit, you will want to come back over and over again. Located in the Outer Banks, this small town looks like something out of a Nicholas Sparks movie with its picturesque scenery and beautiful marinas. But the waterfront isn’t all this town has to offer. There are numerous attractions for visitors to check out like the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum, the Elizabethan Gardens and the Pea Island Cookhouse – a historic lifesaving station that was the only one in the US to be manned by an all African-American crew. The town also hosts a variety of community events including a farmers market, weekly craft fair and First Friday – a fun, family-friendly street festival held in downtown Manteo on the first Friday of each month. While you’re downtown, you’ll also want to check out the numerous shops, art galleries and restaurants, many of which feature waterfront dining.