From food to history to sports to travel, there are so many different ways you can answer the question “What is North Carolina known for?”
There are a lot of things that come to mind when you think about North Carolina – the quiet coastal towns, the Appalachian Mountains, and of course, basketball.
But there are so many other things that make North Carolina unique too. Here is a quick list of just a few of them!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through this link, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for keeping Stuck On The Go going!
What is North Carolina Known For
There are a few broad topics that North Carolina is known for like being the first in flight, the wine & beer scene, and the home of gorgeous beaches and mountains.
Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Mountains are a special part of North Carolina. They run along the border of North Carolina and Virginia, and are known for their beauty and the blue hue that’s seen best at sunrise or sunset.
The Blue Ridge Mountains were formed over millions of years, and at one point were actually taller than the Rocky Mountains. They’ve been eroded away over the years though to what they are now.
Many people flock to the area for amazing hiking, biking, and camping opportunities. There is also plenty of whitewater rafting options. These small towns near Asheville make for some fun getaways.
There really are some amazing places to stay in the NC mountains.
The Smoky Mountains are a mountain range located in eastern Tennessee, and they’re part of the Appalachian Mountains. The Smokies, as they’re often called, run for about 75 miles from east to west.
The mountains are named for the smoky haze that hangs over them most of the time. It’s actually caused by the many trees that cover the mountains – when it rains or snows, the resin from the trees mixes with the water and creates a thick fog.
This is another popular outdoor adventure spot in western North Carolina.
First in Flight
Did you know that North Carolina is known for being the first in flight? Yep! In December 1903, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully flew an airplane they had designed and built themselves.
The Wright Brothers are celebrated as pioneers of flight to this day and their achievement kicked off the boom in aviation.
I didn’t realize just how big of a feat this was until I visited the Wright Brothers Memorial and Museum. The museum does an amazing job of explaining their backstory, obstacles they overcame, and what life was like in Kill Devil Hills at the time.
It’s one of my favorite National Park Sites on the East Coast for sure.
In North Carolina, college basketball is a way of life. From the small towns to the big cities, everyone seems to love cheering on their favorite team. And there are a lot of great teams to choose from!
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the most prestigious and well-known universities in the country. The Carolina Tar Heels have a long history of success in college basketball. They’ve won six NCAA championships and made it to the Final Four another 21 times.
But UNC isn’t the only top school when it comes to basketball – Duke University also has a proud history in the sport. The Blue Devils have won five NCAA championships and reached the Final Four 17 times.
Wake Forest and NC State have also had strong basketball teams in the past. All four teams boast die-hard fans.
Beautiful & Varied Landscapes
From the Appalachian Mountains to the quiet coastal towns, North Carolina is home to some amazing landscapes.
The Blue Ridge Mountains and Smoky Mountains are two of the most popular tourist spots in the state, thanks to their beauty and outdoor activities available. But North Carolina is also home to beaches and lush green forests.
It’s truly a haven for outdoor adventure lovers for all its natural beauty and great hiking and camping areas. Fun fact – we actually have alligators in North Carolina on the coast.
The Biltmore House is a popular tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s known for being the largest privately-owned home in the United States.
The house was built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 and is now open to the public for tours. There are also gardens, a winery, and Antler Hill Village on the property which are open to visitors.
I’ve been the Biltmore a couple of times and it really is something to see. Especially when they do their Christmas at Biltmore Celebration. Make sure this is on your itinerary if you plan on spending a weekend in Asheville.
Wineries & Breweries
The wine and beer scene in North Carolina is really booming right now. Asheville has been named Beer City USA for multiple years in a row before and the Yadkin Valley wine region is competing with the wines of Napa Valley.
If you love local wineries and breweries then NC is the perfect place for a beercation or wine getaway. Check out the Yadkin Valley wineries or visit Raleigh, Charlotte, or Asheville for beer.
Related: I have lots of content on North Carolina wineries like wineries near Lexington or wineries near Elkin. Check out these breweries in Winston-Salem and Black Mountain breweries too.
Did you know that NASCAR has deep roots in North Carolina? Yep, moonshiners would fix up their cars to outrun the sheriff and when they got bored with that, they would race each other.
These days you’ll find the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC which is pretty cool even if you aren’t a race fan. Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts the Coca-Cola 600 each year and they just brought the race track at North Wilkesboro back.
There are also multiple race teams headquartered here in NC. Some of the most well-known include Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, and Hendrick Motorsports.
The Carolina Panthers are an NFL football team based in Charlotte – can you tell that Charlotte has a lot of our professional sports stuff? The team was founded in 1993 and joined the NFL as an expansion team.
The Panthers have had some success over the years, making it to the Super Bowl twice – 2003 and 2015. They play their home games at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Now for our professional basketball team based in Charlotte. The team was founded in 1988 as an expansion team and joined the NBA. The Hornets have made it to the playoffs ten times and reached the Eastern Conference Finals twice.
They play their home games at Spectrum Center in Charlotte. In 2010 Michael Jordon bought a controlling interest in the team.
Popular Destinations NC is Known For
North Carolina is a very popular vacation destination in the southeast US. People come here for the beautiful mountains and beaches but also for our vibrant cities.
There are plenty of fun places to visit in North Carolina!
Asheville is a popular tourist destination for a variety of reasons. The city is known for its beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains (see Craggy Pinnacle above), as well as its vibrant arts scene.
I already mentioned Asheville’s thriving beer scene and there are over 30 breweries in town. They’re also known as a popular wellness retreat in the state with multiple award-winning spas.
We’ve already talked about the sports teams that are headquartered in Charlotte but there’s so much more to this city. It is North Carolina’s largest city, you know?
From amazing restaurants to breweries to museums & art, you won’t run out of things to do in this city. If you’re a big city person then this one should definitely be on your list.
The US Whitewater Center draws lots of tourists and every weekend there’s no shortage of events or concerts here. Oh and there are plenty of great places to stay in Charlotte!
Another fun mountain town to explore is Boone, which is located north of Asheville in the High Country. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s known for its charming downtown area and abundance of outdoor activities.
There are plenty of things to do in Boone, including hiking, biking, fishing, and skiing. It’s known as a college town and home to Appalachian State University. There are also some great wineries near Boone.
Prepare for a crowd if you visit on a weekend when there’s a home football game. If you do then all of the restaurants in Boone will be packed and good luck finding a parking spot. I highly recommend checking the schedule before booking a trip.
As North Carolina’s capital city, Raleigh sees tons of visitors each year. It’s the second largest city in the state so whether you want to visit museums, check out the state capitol building, or visit NC State University there are no shortage of things to do.
Raleigh is a sprawling city but there are lots of parks and green spaces to enjoy. Don’t miss the State Farmer’s Market either.
Winston is one of the smaller and maybe lesser-known cities in North Carolina but it’s one of my favorites. I guess I’m biased though because this is where I grew up.
While its history is in tobacco, these days it’s known as a city of the arts. It’s the home of Wake Forest University and the UNC School of the Arts. Visiting Old Salem is one of the most popular things to do in Winston-Salem to see how the Moravians lived.
If you’re interested in visiting then make sure to check out these restaurants in downtown Winston and cute coffee shops.
If you’re looking for a charming, historic town in North Carolina, then New Bern should be at the top of your list. It was previously the capitol of NC and you can tour Tryon Palace which was the Governor’s Mansion.
Downtown is also incredibly cute and full of shops and restaurants. It’s located on the Neuse River so very picturesque too.
One fun fact about Wilmington is that you’ll occasionally hear it referred to as the “Hollywood of the East” because so many movies have been shot here. Wilmington is a growing city on the coast of NC that’s home to UNC Wilmington.
Most people come here when they want a beach vacation with the convenience and comfort of the city. Access to award-winning restaurants is a plus too. Take a walk along the Riverwalk and go check out the USS North Carolina battleship while you’re here.
If you want to go hiking near Wilmington, that’s an option too.
The Outer Banks
When I’m traveling out of state, most people have either been to the Outer Banks or Asheville. Sometimes Raleigh. The Outer Banks is such an amazing beach destination though so it’s no surprise.
These quiant, small towns fill up in the summer so the best time to visit is shoulder season or even the off-season in my opinion. I’ve been in February and March and love it.
What Food is North Carolina Known For
If someone were to ask me, “what is North Carolina known for?” food would be one of my first answers. There’s not much better than southern cooking.
North Carolinians can get heated over their barbecue. There are two different styles in North Carolina – Lexington and Eastern style but the most well known is Lexington.
Lexington style uses just the pork shoulder and it’s cooked slowly over a span of 6 – 9 hours. Once it’s done, you can either get it chopped, coarse chopped, or sliced. In Lexington, NC it’s served with red slaw but I prefer white slaw with mine.
There are still quite a few restaurants in Lexington serving this style of BBQ.
Growing up, I didn’t realize there were any other kind of donuts.
Krispy Kreme started in Winston-Salem and is known for their light and fluffy yeast donuts. They have ones with sprinkles, filled doughnuts, and seasonal creations but you can’t beat one of their originals when the “Hot Now” sign is on.
Another product created in Winston-Salem, Texas Pete, is one of the most well-known hot sauces in the country. It was created in 1929 and has been the flagship product for TW Garner Food Company which is still located in Winston.
Yes, Pepsi was created right here in NC! A pharmacist named Caleb Bradham invented the drink and you can still visit the building in New Bern where his pharmacy was located. He originally called it “Brad’s Drink.”
If you’re looking for some of the best seafood in the country, then head to Calabash, North Carolina. Though, these days this popular way to fix seafood has spread all over.
Calabash style is where shrimp or other seafood is lightly breaded with cornmeal and then deep fried to golden brown perfection. Generally, it’s served buffet style and always with hushpuppies.
Mt. Olive Pickles
Mt. Olive Pickle Company began in 1926 in Mount Olive, NC as a response to wasted cucumbers from local farmers. Originally they planned to just brine the cucumbers and then sell those to other pickling companies but that didn’t exactly work.
Now they sell pickles, relish, and peppers to millions of customers all across the US. Don’t miss the annual Mt. Olive Pickle Festival!
This cherry soda was created back in 1917 in Salisbury, NC where they have a Cheerwine Festival each year. While researching for this article I found that the company shares fun Cheerwine recipes on their website so I’ll have to try those.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes are a southern dish that is made by coating green tomatoes – so ones that have been picked a bit early – and then pan frying them. They are typically served as a side dish or appetizer.
These can be pretty tart so they aren’t a favorite of mine. I’ve only visited a couple of restaurants where I absolutely loved them and those were in Gulf Shores, AL and Port Arthur, TX.
Around here you either love livermush or you hate it. My dad loves it. I hate it.
It’s made by grinding up the pig liver and other parts of the pig with cornmeal and spices. That is sold in rectangular chunks and then you cut off a slice and cook it in a pan like bacon.
Bojangles & Cookout
These two popular fast food chains got their start right here in NC! If you haven’t had Bojangles’ chicken supremes or a cajun filet sandwich then you are absolutely missing out.
And a midnight Cookout run cures all problems. Always order the milkshake. Bojangles got its start in Charlotte and Cookout in Greensboro.
Famous People From North Carolina
There are tons of famous people from North Carolina but here is a list of just a few that you may know. We’ve got tons of country music stars, athletes, historical figures, and more.
Andy Griffith was born in Mount Airy, NC and is best known for his roles in The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock. Mount Airy is now affectionately known as Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show.
He went to college at UNC Chapel Hill and then taught high school music. He actually began his performing career as a comedian.
Most people will know Zach Galifianakis from the comedy The Hangover – it was probably one of the most popular movies of 2009. He’s done tons of comedies since then though.
He grew up in Wilkesboro, NC and went to NC State University.
Dale Earnhardt Sr.
I’ve already mentioned how popular NASCAR is in NC so it’s no wonder that one of the most well known drivers in NASCAR history was from here. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was born in Kannapolis and raced from 1975 to 2001 when he died at Daytona Speedway.
Randy Travis is a country music singer who was born and raised in Marshville, North Carolina. He began his singing career in the 1980s, and has since released numerous albums and won several Grammy Awards.
He had a severe stroke that put an end to his performing career but his music is still popular with 80’s and 90’s country music fans.
One of the most popular country music stars these days, Luke Combs grew up in the Asheville area. He went to Appalachian State in Boone for a couple of years before leaving to go to Nashville and pursue music.
He’s been nominated for Entertainer of the Year and Male Artist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards for two years in a row.
Another country star – can you tell what my favorite genre is? Church grew up in Granite Falls, NC and also went to App State.
Growing up he actually worked in his dad’s furniture company which was one of the biggest industries in NC.
Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the Americas. She was born on August 18, 1587, on Roanoke Island off of the coast of North Carolina.
Her parents were part of a group of settlers that had arrived that year. However, the colonists disappeared and it’s still a mystery what happened to them.