Hey guys! We are Heather and Walter Burks, better known on Instagram as @theburksandbeyond. We both grew up in the Charlotte metro area of North Carolina. We will be sharing our recommendations for the wonderful state of North Carolina – what to see, things to do, places to eat, where to stay, a few tips and some of our best stories from our travels!
We met each other in middle school and started dating back then, getting married in our senior year of college. We have both always loved to travel but only started traveling together through our respective careers in wedding photography. This rewarding career took us to half of America’s states to photograph a range of amazing couples around the country.
After 14 years of this career, we retired from wedding photography and started a creative marketing firm. We still love getting to travel and photograph/video the world in the process! Both of us are proud of the fact that we have visited all 50 states by the age of 27 (plus 14 countries)! Now you know a little bit about us, let’s get talking about North Carolina.
Why North Carolina & Charlotte are so Special
To start with, North Carolina is a unique destination because you can experience both the city, coast and mountains all in one state and in a short time. If you travel into Charlotte, you can be in the mountains in less than two hours and at the beach in less than four. There are so many unique parts of the state that you will never get bored finding things to do.
Our hometown, Charlotte, is a very modern city without many historical buildings around. This is largely due to an explosion of population in recent years. The things we hear the most when people visit is how shocked they are to find tons of trees and to see buildings being so shiny and new. We definitely recommend adding Charlotte to your North Carolina itinerary!
The US National Whitewater Center is here if you love the outdoors. It’s a recreation area that offers rafting, kayaking and rock climbing! You also have one of the fastest growing craft beer scenes in the country. Plus Carowinds makes for a fun day, along with everything else the city offers.
Favorite Place in North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway is our favorite place in North Carolina. It’s easy to see why the parkway was the most visited park in the US in 2020! More than 14 million visitors came that year. There are many unique spots in the park. Our favorites are Linn Cove Viaduct, Craggy Gardens, Mount Mitchell and Rough Ridge. Our family has a cabin up there and we visit often.
Top 10 Things To Do in North Carolina
1. Explore the many Attractions on the Outer Banks
The Outer Banks are barrier islands located off the coast of North Carolina and they separate the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland. This is one of the most unique places we have visited in all 50 states. The Outer Banks offer miles of shoreline, cute seaside villages and fascinating history everywhere you look. We love it so much that we got engaged at Nags Head Woods!
For starters, check out where the first flight was taken at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. You can also visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park which has massive sand dunes (this place transports you to the desert)! Plus, there are the lighthouses of the Outer Banks – Ocracoke Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
2. Wander the Bustling Streets of Uptown Charlotte
Charlotte’s downtown area is known as “Uptown”. We love Uptown and it’s such a great place to visit! Grab a drink at Fahrenheit or Merchant & Trade for a fantastic skyline view. You can see a show at Blumenthal Theater and grab a yummy bite to eat at any of the amazing restaurants. This area is also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and many world-class museums.
3. Visit the Best Breweries of North Carolina
4. Discover the Quaint Small Towns of North Carolina
One of the best things about traveling through North Carolina is the fact that you can be in a small town in just a few minutes after leaving a city. If you love a good Hallmark movie, North Carolina has the most incredible small towns for you! Many of these movies get filmed in these small towns.
During Christmas, don’t miss out on visiting McAdenville. It’s called Christmas Town USA for a reason! Some of my other favorite small towns across the state are Belmont, New Bern (this town is the birthplace of Pepsi) and Little Washington (a great place to spend a weekend getaway).
5. Spend a Few Days in Blowing Rock and Boone
Blowing Rock and Boone are two of our favorite towns in the world. If you picture charming little mountain towns – these two are exactly what comes to mind! Blowing Rock has a picturesque park and just off it is a hike to a waterfall. After you explore the park, there are lots of places to grab a good bite to eat and something nice to drink – like the Town Tavern.
This town is also great for shopping, as the streets are lined with boutiques and they have art festivals on the weekends. Be sure to visit Moses Cone Park for a gorgeous view when you leave Blowing Rock. When you head to Boone, you can find some vintage stores and lots to see as well.
Some unique spots in Boone are the Dan’l Boone Inn, Mast General Store, Lost Province Brewing, Appalachian Mountain Brewery and Booneshine Brewery. While you are grabbing a beer at one of the breweries, call the Appalachia Cookie Company to get yummy cookies ready to take home!
6. Check out the Cities of Wilmington and Southport
If you have ever seen Dawson’s Creek or One Tree Hill, you will already know Wilmington. If not, go see it anyway! It’s a coastal town with loads of history. From a gorgeous waterfront to history battleships, there is a lot to see. Visit Wrightsville Beach for a great beach day! If you are looking for a smaller town, head to Southport – especially on the 4th of July for a great festival.
7. Have a Fun Day at Carowinds Amusement Park
This theme park is unique because it’s half in North Carolina and half in South Carolina. Carowinds has the tallest, fastest and longest giga coaster in the world called Fury 325. This coaster is worth a couple of rides but the rest of the theme park is fun as well. Your ticket includes entry to the waterpark which is a fantastic way to cool down and have fun in summer.
8. Tour the Spectacular Biltmore Estate in Asheville
You can’t miss out on heading to the largest private residence in the United States! Biltmore Estate is located in Asheville and is one of the most extraordinary places you will ever visit. After you tour the house, check out the stunning gardens and then grab a free wine tasting at the winery.
You can then head to the Omni Grove Park Inn (less than 15 minutes drive) for a glass of wine on the terrace as the sun sets. Many US presidents have stayed in this hotel and it has a lot of history attached to it. You can even visit the hotel for free if you don’t want to grab a glass of wine.
9. Get Lost in the Amazing Museums of Raleigh
If you love museums, Raleigh is the place for you! All of the state museums like the Science Museum, Art Museum and other museums are completely free. It really gives you Smithsonian vibes like in DC. Raleigh is a fun city to explore as well, with its own unique culture. Head to Sarah P. Duke Gardens or JC Raulston Arboretum for some wonderful free gardens to explore.
10. Hike a Beautiful Nature Trail in North Carolina
You can find some incredible hikes throughout the entire state of North Carolina. Whether you are in the mountains, foothills or beach – you can find a great way to get lost in nature! In the mountains our favorite hikes are in Craggy Gardens, Rough Ridge and Emerald Outback trails.
In the foothills our favorite trails are in Crowders Mountain State Park. At the beach we love Goose Creek State Park – right outside of Washington, NC. When you leave Goose Creek you can visit the oldest town in the state called Bath. It’s the birthplace of Blackbeard – a notorious pirate!
Best Memories Traveling around North Carolina
Our favorite moments in North Carolina were our college days when we would hop in a car with friends and see where we would end up. We might have ended up in the Outer Banks or at some small town we had never heard of before. It might have meant heading out to sit on the car and watching the stars or grabbing a beer at our favorite local brewery.
There is so much to see in North Carolina – from the towns to the cities, it’s fun to hit the road and see what you can find. Don’t be scared to explore and get lost, the state is welcoming! It’s crazy to think we have some of the smallest southern towns and at the same time two of the biggest cities in the US. And the fact that you find them so close together!
People, Culture & Food of North Carolina
Southern Hospitality is very real in North Carolina. Be ready to wave, smile and say hi to everyone. If you don’t it will be seen as rude. However, if you are in Charlotte or Raleigh it’s not quite as much of the southern charm. If you head 10 minutes outside though, it will be exactly like the movies!
People across the state are friendly, so don’t be afraid of talking to them or asking for help wherever you may be going. Everyone will want to help you and give recommendations of their favorite things to do. North Carolina is undoubtedly a welcoming place and we love that aspect about it.
When it comes to food, BBQ is a big deal! We do great pork BBQ but don’t expect it all to be the same. You have your eastern vinegar based BBQ, your Lexington BBQ, your western BBQ and some people even serve the South Carolina variety. Just don’t bring it up either – you might start a fight! Everyone is super passionate about their favorite flavors and styles.
Just like Duke and Carolina, everyone has a side and an opinion. It will start a long discussion. Our favorite BBQ places in the state are Kyle Fletcher’s BBQ in Gastonia, Red Bridges BBQ in Shelby, Macs Speed Shop in Charlotte and B’s Barbecue in Greenville. Walter prefers the eastern vinegar based BBQ and Heather prefers the mustard one that is common near Charlotte.
Accommodation Options in North Carolina
If you are staying in Charlotte, we highly recommend splurging and staying in one of the nicer hotels. The Omni Charlotte Hotel is super popular with visitors and it has an awesome rooftop pool. We also love the Westin Charlotte for convenience and its incredible view. If you want to experience some history then we definitely recommend staying at the Dunhill Hotel.
In eastern North Carolina, the bed & breakfast scene is amazing. There are so many places and they are all so unique and beautiful. In western North Carolina, find an Airbnb/cabin in the mountains or bring a tent to pitch for a unique camping experience. Book in advance as they all fill up quickly!
Need to Know Before you Go
Don’t get overwhelmed when traveling through North Carolina! There is a lot of diversity to take in and lots of things to see – and you can’t see it all! We have lived here our whole lives and we still haven’t seen everything. Our biggest suggestion is to plan for at least a couple of weeks if you want to cover many places, or plan multiple trips to see each section of the state.
It’s easy to overdo your travels when you plan to see every little area. However, if you want to see the city, mountains and beach – you can do it all but you will miss out on the details. For example: from Asheville to the Outer Banks, it’s an eight hour drive alone. You can definitely travel that distance in one go but you might miss some things along the way.