Just over half a decade ago, as someone who initially went to school in the Midwest, I could not imagine a life in the East Coast. If you asked me any time before 2015 what I think I would find in Southern United States, I would have given you a blank stare. However, as fate would have it, my studies as an international student and later my job as a freelance Indonesian-English interpreter/translator dictated that I stay in North Carolina for good with my partner and I couldn’t be more grateful.
NC is a beautiful state with mild weather and agreeable climate all year round, very different from what I was used to in Ohio. Many North Carolinians would tell you about the wonders of NC’s Research Triangle Area, which is comprised of the state capital Raleigh, the cultural hub Chapel Hill, and the picturesque Durham where Duke University is located. Personally, however, I am drawn to the smaller cities and towns, so in this article I’m going to share my reviews of the places I have been and my impression of them. The only place in NC I’ve still yet to visit is the Outer Banks Area (I would love to take a trip to Wilmington and see the beaches one day). Feel free to use this as a guide if you ever want to add visiting NC to your bucket list!
1) Asheville and Western NC Area
This is the area I am most familiar with as I resided here for almost three years. Asheville is known for its mountains, its liberal and hippie vibe, its Appalachian roots, its bustling downtown where musicians roam the streets, as well as its myriad of fancy restaurants offering culinary adventures. There is always something for everyone, from the gorgeous Biltmore Estate (largest privately owned home in the US), the luxurious Grove Park Inn, and the historical Montford neighborhood to the galleries and shops of the River Arts district.
My favorite space to hang out at in Asheville was a tiny and peaceful café called Dobra Tea, which offers the best bubble tea I have ever had, as well as hundreds of home-brewed varieties of tea from all over the world, including tea from India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The atmosphere is relaxing and it is a great place to learn about how tea is grown, cultivated, and harvested.
If you have a car, you can venture out to a neighboring town called Weaverville, famous for Lake Louise Park. The lake has a large water fountain in the middle and a playground for children, but the main attractions are the flocking ducks and geese swimming freely in the summer months.
If you like hiking and camping or just running down a trail in the woods, you should go to Pisgah National Forest. I went rock climbing there once and it was an unforgettable experience. The serenity of the mountains make you feel as if you have entered a different world. Also located in this forest is Lake Powhatan, which is a manmade swimming hole and a coveted fishing spot—you can find trout, catfish, crappie, bass, carp, and bluegill if you go to the pier.
2) Charlotte and the Piedmont Region
In 2018, I moved from Asheville to the Charlotte metropolitan area to pursue better job opportunities in the translation/language service industry. This proved to be the right decision since this vibrant urban area and its sprawling suburbs has become home to many different cultural groups—immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and countless other countries mingle with the locals and liven up everything from the dining options to the types of grocery stores cropping up across the city. Living in the heart of NC is far from boring and I am always entertained. If you delight in partying, Charlotte has decent night clubs and bars too.
Charlotte has a lot of public green spaces but if you are more of an indoor person the city does not disappoint either. If you like science and enjoy playful and experiential learning, you should visit Discovery Place. Located on North Tryon Street in the Uptown area, this is a museum with interactive exhibitions, educational programs, and a theater playing documentaries related to science, technology, and engineering. Discovery Place welcomes visitors of all ages but mostly caters to young children in elementary and middle school.
If you are a lover of the outdoors, head to the neighboring town Huntersville and see Lake Norman, the largest man-made body of water in NC. When it’s warm, you can go boating and paddling or simply enjoy having a picnic with your friends or family by the shoreline.
Coincidentally, Huntersville is also the site of the annual Renaissance Festival, a celebration of everything related to this era of Europe’s history. Every October through November, just in time for Halloween and autumn, people from all over NC wear their best costumes and enjoy a weekend of musical performances (you should listen to the harp players), good food (the roasted turkey legs are popular!), and good drinks (if you like alcohol, they serve honey mead). It is definitely not to be missed!
3) The Triad Area
If you want to explore something more low-key but nonetheless still pleasant and enjoyable, you should consider packing your bags for Greensboro and its neighboring city Winston-Salem. The former is a wonderful choice if you like botanical gardens and arboretums while the latter is also amazing if you like a good balance of both indoor and outdoor activities.
It is difficult to recommend just one tourist attraction in this area, but if you only have 24 hours to spare, definitely go to Kaleideum (also known as SciWork) and learn all you can about the native animals of North Carolina, such as black bears and coyotes. Kaleideum also boasts a collection of trees native to the South, such as witch hazel, red cedar, holly, and sugar maple. NC has an abundance of unique flora and fauna. If you are easily fascinated by ecology and the environment, or even if you simply appreciate nature, Kaleideum has you covered.
In conclusion, North Carolina is a state where natural beauty and diversity of cultures thrive. I am very fortunate to be able to spend the last five years of my life in this part of North America, and I look forward to continuing to explore this absolutely charming state.