The complex history of North Carolina, mixed with its clash of many different cultures and scenes has opened it a raising level of interest in the recent years. Being a coastal state, it is a both a blessing and curse to have it be host of the Outer Banks – more popularly known as “OBX.”
While the beaches and summer scenes of OBX is a massive driver of tourism to North Carolina, many out-of-staters tend to forget the cities that exist more inland that deliver a wide variety of scenes and activity. As a resident of the state, I feel the need to share a brief profile of some of these cities, so that the familiarity can raise. Starting from West to East of the state, you can get a taste of each of these cities that you might have briefly heard about in the past, but never really got to learn much about.
It should be said that the cities listed are not so much about size, but what they deliver to interested visitors.
North Carolina Cities
The city of Asheville is nearly surrounded by areas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which already delivers a scene that few other cities can match up to. The mountains are a big part of the city, and when someone in North Carolina mentions that they are “going to the mountains, this weekend”, they probably mean Asheville.
The thing about Asheville is that it undoes any presupposition of what a “Southern city” might entail. If you hang around for a day, you might completely forget that you’re even in the South at all. Asheville is a leading cultural hub of progressive thinkers, arts, music and plenty more. The city often ranks in the top 10 or 25 cities for arts and cultural destination. Rolling Stone even went so far to call it the “Freak Capital of the United States.”
So yeah, it is a little different here. But really, if you come to Asheville, you’re going to notice that music plays one of the biggest roles of the city. So many groups have rolled through the city as either part of their tours, recording. Many large festival happen here as well, including MoogFest (a personal favorite of mine.) The festivals of all types are plenty, and if you pick any weekend to come to Asheville, there will more than likely something happen.
Charlotte may not need as much mention as the others, but it worth talking about anyway. The city of Charlotte is North Carolina’s largest establishment that lies in the Southwest of the state bordering South Carolina. The city got some recognition recently for being host of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
I always compared Charlotte to a midwest city such as Indianapolis. The amount of sports teams are plenty, which could mean an invite to a whole bunch of games for the interested visitor.
The museums and venues range all over the place. If I had to make some suggestions, I would go with the Carolina Aviation Museum, which has a whole series of both standard transport and military aircraft in full size. You don’t really get the opportunity to stand next to some of these beasts of machines. For the art fan, the Mint Museum would be my suggestion. It’s a mixture of both contemporary and classical era works. To my knowledge, the exhibitions rotate pretty quickly as well.
3. Chapel Hill/Carrboro
Now we are entering what is popularly known as the Triangle of North Carolina, which makes up Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, but we’ll get to those other cities later. Chapel Hill doesn’t exactly have a skyline, and it is rather small to be called a city. This area include the only towns that I’ll mention in the list, but I find it worthy to do so.
Similar to that of Asheville, Chapel Hill is another hub of new thought and culture. This might be attributed to the presence of UNC Chapel Hill, which hosts about 30,000 students. Due to the younger population, and overall history, Chapel Hill is also home to a vibrant music scene. One of my favorite venues, Cat’s Cradle resides in Carrboro (the next town over). This place hosts a large amount of events each month.
You’ll also be greeted by a very prevalent and conscious food scene in the area. Carrboro especially hosts a rather lauded farmer’s market that has been well-known even outside of North Carolina. With more progressive towns like Chapel Hill and Carrboro, you’re going to come across a conscious scene that involves local activism. A lot of what you consume in terms of food and other goods will be locally encouraged. This has a lot to do with why the Carrboro Farmer’s Market has gotten as big as it has.
Last but not least is my place of personal residence, which is Raleigh. Raleigh and Durham are two separate cities, but due to their extremely close proximity to one another (about thirty minutes), they are often named alongside one another. Raleigh is the capital city of North Carolina, a mixed with a lot of financial headquarters being down here, things can get pretty busy during the days.
The Raleigh/Durham area (alongside Chapel Hill) is home to Research Triangle Park (RTP). RTP hosts a massive amount of businesses, many of which are startups, with an emphasis on bio-engineering. The area is absolutely huge, and there really is no centralized part to RTP. The towns of Morrisville and Cary are often closely associated with RTP however.
For the visitor, certain people with certain interests will get a big kick out of the area. For one, central North Carolina is gaining more and more attention lately for the growing amount of craft beer breweries that are opening up. I haven’t been living here for even a year, and I’m pretty sure I’ve learned about three to four new breweries open up already. Many of the bars and eateries around Raleigh and Durham have a huge emphasis on craft beer which would attract any beer geek to come and hang out.
With the other places mentioned, Raleigh/Durham has been gaining more reputation of progressivism as well (see a pattern happening here?). It apparently hasn’t always been like this, especially being in the South, but changes are definitely happening quickly. Even if you aren’t coming as a visitor to the area, it’s a massive hub of job market growth, so considering a residency isn’t too far to consider.
All four areas are actually great places to live, so see for yourself.
Sophia Lirendo is a travel enthusiast who lives in North Carolina. She also provides content and markets for the Rocky Fork Ranch Campground. Have any stories to share in North Carolina? Leave a comment below!