You already know Lexington is on the list for the barbecue.
Since moving to North Carolina (many moons ago), I’ve roamed the state’s cities and small towns—finding culture, food, and history, almost all unfamiliar to me.
The most memorable experiences are marked by the people I’ve met and the spaces I’ve discovered along the way. They haven’t been the flashy events or most sought-after vacation spots. The details behind the making of a sculpture, a meal with someone special, and the personal story I wrote in a notebook on the beach are what I reflect on when I think of North Carolina.
Those connections are what I need to feel part of a state where I didn’t spend my childhood.
If you’ve just moved to North Carolina—or know someone who needs a good list to get better acquainted with all that the state has to offer—check out these nine destinations. Use them as starting points to find your special moments.
“Boundless,” a life-size bronze statue of 11 “United States Colored Troops”—Black men who marched through Wilmington during the Civil War’s Battle of Forks Road—stands outside the Cameron Art Museum as a permanent exhibit. “Boundless” will be the focal point of the state’s first park to honor the USCT. The park and sculpture are located where the Battle of Forks Road occurred. USCT Sculpture Park will be unveiled on Nov. 13.
Durham-resident and artist Stephen Hayes created “Boundless” and is an assistant professor of the Practice of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University. Cameron Art Museum, 3201 South 17th St., Wilmington
Charlotte Motor Speedway
You’re in NASCAR country —why fight it? It’s more than racing around in a circle; the backstory about how racing legends like Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt got started can be found at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte or other local museums in Cabarrus County. Newbies to racing may want to start with a zMax Dragway, fast action on a four-lane quarter-mile long drag strip.
Look for NASCAR’s annual events such as the Bank of America Roval 400 in October and the Coca-Cola 600 in May. You can also sign up for one of the daily behind-the-scenes tours at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. 5555 Concord Parkway, Concord
Choose a couple to visit, based on your interests and what you like to drink because many offer tours, tastings, live music and special events on the weekends. Outdoor patios with views of vineyards and the Blue Ridge Mountains make for great weekend adventures or day trips. If you want a designated driver, consider using The Regal Ride or Van in Black.
DuPont State Recreational Forest
Nothing like hiking to a waterfall to clear your mind and fill your spirit—and DuPont has six.
Hooker Falls is a quick six-minute walk from the parking lot. Longer, more moderate hikes lead you to Triple Falls and High Falls. Bring a picnic to enjoy on a nearby rock; then enjoy the cool water at Cascade Lake, adjacent to Hooker Falls. High Falls Parking Lot, 1300 Staton Rd., Cedar Mountain
Kindred Spirit Mailbox
For more than 40 years, people have been visiting a mailbox set in the dunes of Bird Island, a one-mile walk on the beach. Read the dreams, love notes, and personal stories filling the notebooks sitting inside the mailbox. Add your own tale—anything you want to send into the universe. Nicholas Spark fans will appreciate the mailbox’s connection to his novel, “Every Breath.” Park at the far end of Sunset Beach and take the beach entrance to Kindred Mailbox, about a mile walk.
Land of Oz
Follow the yellow brick road to Autumn at Oz Festival, an immersive theatrical experience, with a chance to meet Dorothy and all your favorite characters from the “Wizard of Oz.”
Guests encounter a tornado, (note the 1970s special effects) while walking through a Kansas Homestead and get dumped in Oz. Continue on for live performances and shopping for movie souvenirs. For three weekends in September, it’s a perfect time to wear those glittery red shoes you’ve been waiting to show off. 2669 Beech Mountain Parkway, Beech Mountain
If you’re sticking around NC, you’re bound to run into barbecue.
Start with one of 10 barbecue joints serving it Lexington-style: Whole pork shoulder cooked over hardwood coals served with a thin sweet and tangy vinegar and ketchup sauce called “dip.” Add hush puppies, slaw, and fries and you have a barbecue plate. Plan your visit around the town’s annual Barbecue Festival in October.
North Carolina Zoo
Winding paths through the park’s Africa and North America sections give a glimpse into how elephants, giraffes, zebras, and more live in natural habitats. Plan for a full day to see both continents or spread it out over two days. Check out the zoo’s conservation efforts around the world and green practices on site. A 10-acre Asia Continent opens in 2026. 4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro
More than 80 potters live and work in Seagrove, a small town in the heart of North Carolina and known as the pottery capital of the U.S.
Meet the potters and see them in action at special events such as the twice-annual Tea with Seagrove Potters in March and August, Potters’ Pumpkin Patch on Saturdays this October and The Seagrove Pottery Festival and Celebration of Seagrove Potters Show and Driving Tour in November. For a history lesson, stop at the NC Pottery Center.