Travel to North Carolina – Episode 461

categories: USA Travel

Hear about travel to North Carolina as the Amateur Traveler talks to Karen Dawkins of about the Tar Heel State.


We cover from Mount Mitchell in the west to the Outer Banks in the east.

Karen says, “North Carolina has everything. You can come to North Carolina to ski or water ski. You can come to North Carolina to surf and everything in between. We have it all.”

Karen grew up further north but was lured to North Carolina by the weather and the slower pace of life. “Really we came here for the weather and the opportunity to be outside all whole lot more and the opportunity not to shovel the driveway for seven months every winter.”

“If you want to get a taste for the whole state I would say start in the mountains and work your way to the beach. A lot of people are surprised to learn that North Carolina has the highest point in the Appalachians, the highest point east of the Mississippi (Mount Mitchell). No one seems to think of us as a mountain state but we really are. It’s just beautiful. You’ve got the mountains. You’ve got the waterfalls. There is a ton of hiking and biking trails up there. And it’s a slow quiet way of living. It’s a great place to get away and unplug. My favorite mountain is probably either Grandfather Mountain or Chimney Rock. They both have trails that are either easy or difficult, it depends on what you want. Chimney Rock, if you want to skip the climb altogether, you can take the elevator inside the mountain to the top.”

In Charlotte, if you are interested in racing you can visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Throughout the state, you can go to some of the smaller venues which are like the NASCAR minor leagues. “There are no strangers in the stands, everybody is talking to everybody else. The food is going, The beer is going, the whole 9 yards. And when you see someone come from behind to win you know it. It is loud, it is fast, and it is unlike any other sport on the planet.”

In Durham, you can visit the Durham Bulls and the Durham Performing Arts Center. Nearby Raleigh is the state capital and is called the Smithsonian of the South. The history museum is a Smithsonian affiliated museum. The History Museum and the Nature Research Center next door are both free. Raleigh has more than 100 miles of greenway that connect all the parks through the city.

We talk about state parks, NASCAR, the state fair, food trucks, music festivals, BBQ and more. Come down to North Carolina and experience the hospitality and a pig pickin’.

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Show Notes

Family Travels on a Budget
North Carolina Tourism
NC Mountains
Mount Mitchell
Grandfather Mountain
Chimney Rock
Lake Lure
Home Away
Skinny Dip Falls
Sliding Rock
Hunger Games Movie Locations
Movie Filming Locations
Biltmore Estate
Explore Asheville
Charlotte, NC
Boomerang Bay
Charlotte Motor Speedway
NASCAR Hall of Fame
Billy Graham Library
Durham, NC
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Raleigh, NC
NC Museum of History
NC Museum of Natural Science
Greenway Trail System
Pullen Park
Pullen Park Carousel
SPARKCon Raleigh
Wide Open Bluegrass
Hopscotch Music Festival
Food Truck
NC State Fair
New Burn
Tryon Palace
The Outer Banks
Crystal Coast
Brunswick Islands
Research Triangle Park
Artspace NC
First Friday
Carolina Beach
Britss Donuts
North Carolina Moonshine
Broadslab Distillery
Carolina In My Mind


about Cruising Around Cape Horn in South America – Episode 460 Steve wrote:

Hi Chris,

We did this cruise going the other direction several years back. We were on a smaller ship, the Azamara Journey. Our trip also included Antarctica. We really enjoyed our voyage also. We missed the Falklands entirely due to bad weather. I understand that this is a common occurrence.

You are right about a cruise being the only way to see this part of the world.

Be sure to go back to Brasil, Argentina and Chile and spend time exploring. The people are fabulous as are the sights and the food. The DK guides are a good start, but talking to locals will give you better information. South America is the only part of the World where I find the DK guides needing improvement.

We really enjoy the sea days. It sounds like maybe you don’t. If you ever decide to relax, then I suggest a cruise to Antarctica. The views are fabulous as is the wild life.

You are right about the costs of shore excursions. We check out the Ships tours and costs before we go. We also check out local companies and tours. The ships are usually marked up 100% to 200% for the same trip. We use Cruise Critic to link up with others who want to share the trips. We’ve never had a problem by doing this.

You were right about the crew. The better they feel about other crew members and the leadership, the better the service. We’ve seen this many times. Holland America is known for good service and it sounds like they came through for you.

I’m glad you enjoyed your trip.

Thanks for all the great Podcasts.



Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 461. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about a destination whose scenery you loved in the movie the Hunger Games. We’ll explore it from Mount Mitchell and Skinny Dip Falls to the west to the outer banks in the east, as we go to North Carolina.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 25 of them right here on my bookshelf. Learn more at

Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. We’ll be hearing more from our sponsor later on, but first let’s talk about North Carolina.

I’d like to welcome to the show Karen Dawkins who’s coming to us from, and come to talk to us about North Carolina. Karen, welcome to the show.

Karen: Thanks for having me, I’m excited to tell you about my State.

Chris: And Karen and I ran into each other at an event in Louisiana last year, and I’ve been trying to have her on for a while now. So I’m glad we finally got around to this.

Karen: I am, too.

Chris: I think we can skip where is North Carolina, it’s just north of South Carolina, for those on a map. But why would someone want to go to North Carolina? What should we do there?

Karen: North Carolina has everything. You can come to North Carolina to ski, or water ski. You can come to North Carolina to surf and everything in between. We just. . . we have it all.

Chris: Now, my ear says that you did not grow up in North Carolina.

Karen: I did not, I chose North Carolina.

Chris: So, what brought you to North Carolina?

Karen: The weather, the slower pace of life. . .

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: Really, we came here for the weather and the opportunity to be outside a whole lot more, and the opportunity not to shovel the driveway for seven months every winter.

Chris: I can relate to that. I’m sitting in Boston while we speak.

Karen: Oh, my goodness.

Chris: Well, what kind of itinerary would you recommend for North Carolina, where should we start?

Karen: If you want to get a taste of the whole state, I would say start in the mountains, and work your way to the beach.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: A lot of people are surprised to learn that North Carolina has the highest point in the Appalachians, the highest mountain point east of the Mississippi, and no one seems to think of us as a mountain state, but we really are. At least the people who I talk to never seem to realize how mountainous it is.

Chris: Now, when you say the highest point, I know the Appalachians are not the tallest mountain range that we have. So how tall is that?

Karen: It’s Mount Mitchell, I think its 6,600 feet above sea level.

Chris: Okay, so over a mile. Cool.

Karen: I haven’t actually gone to Mount Mitchell, I’ve been to all of his neighbors. And you got to pick and choose which mountain you visit, and it’s just beautiful. You’ve got the mountains, you’ve got the waterfalls, there’s a ton of hiking and biking trails up there, and it’s a slow, quiet way of living. It’s a great place to get away and really unplug.

Chris: And if we wanted to see that area, where would we home base for that, and do you have a favorite trail? You mentioned there were a number. . .

Karen: My favorite mountain is probably either Grandfather Mountain, or Chimney Rock.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And they both have trails that are easy to difficult, it depends on you want. Like Chimney Rock, if you want to skip the climb altogether, you can take the elevator inside the mountain to the top. So, it’s nice for being able to take grandparents, or whatever. It’s very flexible for exploring. You can take the elevator up and walk down, which is a little bit easier.

Chris: They have an elevator in the mountain? Hang on a second, I’m having a little trouble with this. Most of the mountains I know don’t have that. Okay, well that is very convenient and thoughtful of the North Carolinians to do that. It’s just a regular elevator? They dug a shaft down the middle of the mountain?

Karen: They dug a shaft in the middle of the mountain, and you can ride up to the top. It’s easy.

Chris: Okay, okay.

Karen: And, the views are just amazing. You can see 75 miles out over Lake Lure, which is a huge tourist area with lots of boating and all that kind of stuff. There’s just nothing like it.

Chris: And we’re near Asheville? Is that where we are at that point?

Karen: Yes.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: Just a little bit north of Asheville.

Chris: Okay, so that’s probably a good base for exploring that area.

Karen: Definitely a good base for that. Although North Carolinians tend to rent cabins. If they don’t have a family cabin in the mountains, we tend to just rent a cabin and unplug, and get away from the city and everything.

Chris: Okay and do you have good resourced for renting a cabin if we didn’t inherit one, or. . . ?

Karen: I use either Tripadvisor or VRBO, Airbnb, all of them. I’ve never had a problem.

Chris: Okay, excellent. Where would we go next?

Karen: You definitely need check out the waterfalls while you’re up there. I do have to put in a plug for two of the more fun ones. One is called Skinny Dip Falls. And you do not have to skinny dip. They don’t actually encourage that. It’s one of those waterfalls where the pool at the base of the waterfall is perfect emerald green water. You just want to jump in and be there. It’s just gorgeous, and there’s rocks nearby you can lay out. It’s just beautiful.

Chris: Excellent.

Karen: The other thing you want to try to do is natural amusement park I guess is what I’d call it. But in Brevard County is the Sliding Rock.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: It’s a 60 foot long natural water slide in the Pisgah National Forest.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: You need to wear blue jeans because its a rock water slide.

Chris: I was wondering if that was something that was going to wear down my swimsuit rather quickly.

Karen: Yeah wear your blue jeans. For fun and adventure and something you can’t do everywhere, it’s perfect.

Chris: It’s a water slide, so it’s rock but it has water flowing through it?

Karen: Yes.

Chris: Okay, all right.

Karen: Yes, it’s a natural water slide.

Chris: Got it. Anything else we want to see in the mountain areas?

Karen: Well, if you’re a movie buff, we’ve had lots of movies filmed up in the mountains.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: Including the big hit recently, The Hunger Games.

Chris: The Hunger Games, right.

Karen: Forrest Gump.

Chris: Good things for the tourism in North Carolina I understand.

Karen: Yes from west to east. The whole state has had really benefited from the movies coming in.

Chris: Now Forrest Gump, this was all supposed to be filmed much further south according to the story line, but the scene where he’s running and realizes he’s got company was filmed near Asheville, North Carolina.

Karen: There you go.

Chris: All right, what else?

Karen: The Biltmore House.

Chris: In Asheville.

Karen: Is in Asheville, so, it’s the number one or two, tourist destination in the State every single year. So for fans of Downton Abby a visit to the Biltmore House is a little easier than a visit to a castle in Europe.

Chris: Okay, but yeah that certainly is a very well-known hotel, and has been for some time.

Karen: Right and it’s just beautiful. I’m going in May.

Chris: Well, are there other things you would recommend we see while we’re in Asheville?

Karen: Asheville is just one of those towns where you don’t want to just see the mansion.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: To walk downtown, there’s, I haven’t been there in a couple of years which is why I’m going back, but there are shops and the restaurants. It’s a very upscale type of area, but it’s also easy to walk and the people are friendly. So it’s really one of those quaint small towns that you just want to get lost in and explore. I can’t give you any specific. I just know I love going there.

Chris: This seems like a good time to take a break and hear from our sponsor DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. As you know, The Amateur Travel Trip to Morocco is coming very quickly and so I’ve been looking at Marrakesh in the Morocco Guide. I’ve learned among other things, it was founded in 1062 by a group of warrior monks that came out of the Sahara. I’ve seen maps of the city, and most of all, one of the reasons that I like the pictoral guides is I’ve seen pictures of the ramparts. Did I mention it has ramparts? And that sort of pictoral nature of the guides is one of the reasons why these have always been my favorite guides. There is a map of the souk that tells me where I can find the metal workers, the basket weavers, the dyers, and the leather makers. So apparently I’m all set in case I need a belt, slippers, or even a saddle, it even tells me the hours and how to get to the souk from other parts of the city. So with its cutaway views of the mosques and things like that, it makes it easier for me to explore the city. Get your own DK Eye Witness Travel Guide at

And where would we go after Asheville?

Karen: If you want to do the more traditional theme park, you can go to Charlotte, and visit Carowinds and Boomerang Bay Waterpark.

Chris: Okay, and Charlotte is going to be one of the easy cities to get to, I would think, with it being a hub for US Air in particular.

Karen: Yes, I hope to retire closer to Charlotte because of the ease of getting in and out. But this is year Carowinds is adding a new roller coaster and it will be the tallest roller coaster in the country.

Chris: Okay, that, that sounds horrifying to me but. . .

Karen: I grew up with Ceder Point in Ohio so–

Chris: Sure.

Karen: . . . the bigger, the badder, the faster the roller coaster the better it is for me.

Chris: Is it an old style wooden roller coaster like Cedar Point?

Karen: This is a new modern metal roller coaster that will go 95 miles per hour, and it is a three and a half minute ride.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And then in Charlotte, it is the home of NASCAR. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is there. For anybody who’s even a little bit interested in racing or all of that fast stuff. It’s worth the visit.

Chris: And the way you say “that fast stuff” didn’t sound exactly like a NASCAR fan. Personally.

Karen: I am not, that’s the one part of North Carolina I haven’t gotten yet. I have yet to appreciate NASCAR.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: I’m trying, I’m really trying.

Chris: Any recommendations that you’ve been trying in terms of approaching the NASCAR culture? I mean it really is a sub-culture.

Karen: Really throughout the State there small are racing venues.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And that’s where people who haven’t made it to NASCAR will race. And I have to admit that there’s one about 20 minutes from our house we went to one time and I really enjoyed the whole thing.

Chris: Okay, so it’s the NASCAR equivalent of the minor leagues.

Karen: Yes, exactly.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And it really is a lot of fun. Everybody is pulling for somebody, and the thing about NASCAR that makes it so popular is not just the racing, but the camaraderie that comes with it.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: There are no strangers in the stands, everybody is talking to everybody else. The food’s going, the beers are going, the whole nine yards. It’s exciting, and when you see somebody coming from behind to win, you know it and it is loud, it is fast, and it is unlike any other sport on the planet.

Chris: I have a friend who his hobby was for years, racing, and he described racing as a way of turning money into noise.

Karen: Yes, I polled my readers to find out what they think is the best in Charlotte, and this wasn’t on my radar, so I’m glad they brought it. . . it got a lot of votes: The Billy Graham Library.

Chris: Oh, interesting, Hm.

Karen: And Billy Graham, is super-huge, in North Carolina as far as what he did for the church and all of that, but the museum is really well done. It’s not just “go to church and be churched,” but it really tells his story and his legacy. It also has a country kitchen, he grew up in the country, not a big city boy.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: But it is– everybody who goes says it’s worthy visit.

Chris: Interesting, I had never heard of it.

Karen: And it’s just a gorgeous piece of property, way out in the country. Well if we head east from Charlotte, Durham would be a logical next stop. And it is the home of the Durham Bulls. It’s great for the city of Durham to have that and then DPAC which is the Durham Performing Arts Center.

Chris: Mm-Hm.

Karen: Between the two of them it is a huge draw for the region.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: Going to a Durham Bulls game is what everybody does, I think at least once a summer. It’s affordable, it’s fun, it’s a small park but it’s a new park that’s high-tech so it’s very comfortable. Especially for a minor league ball park its quite comfortable.

Chris: Well especially for somebody, especially if you’re visiting the US and didn’t know baseball, a minor league game might be a little more accessible where you are a lot closer to the field. It can be more of a show, in some ways.

Karen: Most definitely, the sideline entertainment when Wooly Bull is running around or they pull kids out of the stands to race around the bases. All that kind of stuff, most definitely. It’s family fun, old fashioned, the way baseball probably used to be.

Chris: Excellent. Anything else we should see in the Durham area or are we moving on to Raleigh or. . .?

Karen: Raleigh is my stomping grounds, Raleigh is actually the State Capitol. People don’t know that either. Lot of people think that Charlotte’s the capitol but Raleigh is the capitol of North Carolina. And it’s also called the Smithsonian of the South.

Chris: Because of the number of free museums, I’m going to guess.

Karen: Exactly, and actually the History Museum is a Smithsonian affiliated museum.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: I don’t know if the Science Museum is Smithsonian affiliated or not, but the History Museum definitely is.

Chris: I find that Smithsonian affiliated museums are few and far between in the country, so it would be surprising if you had two, it’s possible.

Karen: They’re right next door to each other and they’re both world-class museums. Every time we have friends, in we end up at one or the other or at the Art Museum. They’re just phenomenal. To have them right here in our back yard, and have access to the history, the culture, the science, it’s hands on, it’s free, it’s just hard to beat.

Chris: What else would you recommend we see in the Raleigh area?

Karen: In Raleigh, I would say, enjoy the outdoors.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: Raleigh has a huge green way trail system. Its more than 100 miles, I think its 110, 115, somewhere in there. The green way system connects all the parks throughout the city, and it’s easy to get from one place to the other whether you’re walking, biking, whatever. And then we have Pullen Park which is one of my favorite places in the whole city. It’s the oldest public park in the state of North Carolina, and it’s, believe it or not, the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the United States, although it’s a very small amusement park.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: And it is the 16th oldest amusement part in the world.

Chris: Hm, interesting.

Karen: The highlight of the amusement park, of Pullen Park, is the Dentzel Carousel which was built back around 1900, and there are only 23 of them remaining in the world.

Chris: Hm.

Karen: Pullen Park also has a train ride, they have a peddle boats. When you think turn of the century, 1900 amusement parks like they had along Lake Erie, and in New York, it’s the same kind of thing, except Raleigh still has it.

Chris: Interesting. Now, at the same time, if I’m not mistaken, Raleigh is also one of the points of the research triangle area? So it’s also the center for high tech in North Carolina. So it’s not just all quaint and old.

Karen: No, and it’s also a very arts intense as well. We have downtown arts space, there are art festivals throughout the year, there are music festivals. Two huge music festivals in the fall. One is Wide Open Blue Grass, its the world Blue Grass festival where all the Blue Grass professionals come in and it runs for three days in October. We have a Hopscotch festival which is more rock band type music earlier in September. So in Raleigh, you’ve got the arts, you’ve got lots of tech, we have food trucks galore.

Chris: Oh okay, I didn’t know that.

Karen: It’s a great downtown. We have tons of food trucks in Raleigh, it’s just a fun place to be because there’s so much always up and coming and a lot of people moving here, so the area keeps expanding and growing.

Chris: And do you have a favorite food truck we should keep an eye out for?

Karen: There’s a Korean food truck that I love, it’s black.

Chris: And what should I order?

Karen: Anything you want, it always tastes good, but be sure to get a bubble tea with it.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: I just look for my truck and I go.

Chris: And is there one particular day of the year that you would say is the best day, because of a festival or a holiday that is just the quintessential day to be in North Carolina?

Karen: I would say fall is the time to be in North Carolina. To give you a day, I don’t know, but in the fall you’ve either got the trees showing off in the mountains, or the festivals going on in Raleigh, or the State Fair going on in October, and that’s just huge for all of us.

Chris: Also in Raleigh, or. . . ?

Karen: Yes, the State Fair is in Raleigh.

Chris: And I’m assuming that’s the usual carnival rides as well as musical performances and maybe some livestock auctions?

Karen: And art and very heavy involvement. It’s the 5th largest State Fair in the Country.

Chris: Oh, okay.

Karen: It’s huge.

Chris: Is there anything– now when we talked about Minnesota, for instance, they had the unusual thing of the butter heads. Is there anything unusual that I wouldn’t expect at a state fair that I would find in North Carolina?

Karen: You’re going to get Carolina barbecue.

Chris: Okay. Now I’ve had South Carolina barbecue. Is that the same as North Carolina barbecue? A mustardy, tangy sauce?

Karen: No it’s not.

Chris: Okay, so what is North Carolina barbecue?

Karen: North Carolina barbecue is vinegar based.

Chris: But no mustard, okay.

Karen: And no tomato.

Chris: Okay, interesting.

Karen: It’s vinegar based, and we know how to cook a pig in North Carolina. You can’t go anywhere without a pig pickin’ and certainly that’s a big hit at the State Fair as well.

Chris: Okay we can’t just gloss over that, without a “pig picking?”

Karen: No, its “pig pickin’,” without the ‘g.’

Chris: Sorry, sorry, without the ‘g.’ What is a pig pickin’?

Karen: That’s when they put the whole pig on this big smoker, that’s usually homemade, not usually, but a lot of them are homemade. It starts at 4:00 in the morning, the pig cooks til 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, and everybody comes together and you enjoy your pig pickin’ with cornbread and lots of dessert. We do dessert well here, and sweet tea.

Chris: Okay of course sweet tea, sure.

Karen: Of course, sweet tea, and that’s a pig pickin’.

Chris: And dessert is going to be key lime pie, or what’s the right dessert to have with your pig pickin’?

Karen: Probably, banana puddin’.

Chris: Banana puddin’? No ‘g.’

Karen: No we don’t do ‘g’s in North Carolina.

Chris: You send those down to Georgia, they need all the ‘g’s they can get. Okay, excellent where to next?

Karen: I would say the next stop would be New Bern. New Bern is the first capitol of North Carolina.

Chris: Okay, closer to the coast then, I’m assuming.

Karen: Yes, closer to the coast. It’s the second oldest city in the state. It has 150 homes or buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. So it’s well preserved. Oh, and it’s important to note that it is also the birthplace of Pepsi Cola.

Chris: Ah, okay. So when we go to Georgia we have to drink Coke, and when we go to North Carolina, Pepsi is more the flavor of the locale.

Karen: Sweet tea is really the flavor, but if you’re gonna pick a soda, you pick Pepsi.

Chris: Good to know, important safety tip there.

Karen: They do offer Coke, we’re not gonna send you away. We’re friendly. New Bern, it’s the second oldest city, and it’s the first capitol, again there’s a lot of history but it’s also on the waterfront so there’s a lot to do. They have a huge Christmas Festival where the boats come up the river and they’re all decorated in lights and everything. So you have the boat parade. And it’s a friendly town. I don’t know what else to say about North Carolina, We’re friendly.

Chris: Now you see it’s the second oldest city, what is the oldest city?

Karen: You want to know the oldest city?

Chris: I do, now you’ve got me on pins and needles.

Karen: It’s Bath.

Chris: Okay, named after Bath in England, I’m assuming.

Karen: I would assume so, and it was established in 1705.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And it’s on the Pamlico River.

Chris: So a little further north from New Bern.

Karen: Yes.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And then New Bern was formed in 1710.

Chris: Okay, interesting.

Karen: And you’ll see New Bern’s all about Black Bears, so there’s a lot of Black Bear love in New Bern.

Chris: Are there a lot of black bears in New Bern?

Karen: I’m don’t know for sure if there still are.

Chris: Okay, it seems like hard to believe that there would be as long as it’s been settled. But this shows what little I know about North Carolina.

Karen: New Bern is pretty rural so I don’t know how many black bears, I’ve never run into one.

Chris: Okay, fair enough.

Karen: I was trying to tell you about Tryon Palace which is in New Bern.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And Tryon Palace was the home of the first governor of the state. And it was one of the, it really was a palace at the time. It put all the buildings in Savannah on notice.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And then it burnt down and they rebuilt it, but it’s a gorgeous building, and the grounds are beautiful and it’s again, lots of history, but not stuffy, not boring, it’s an exciting place to be because there’s just so much to do.

Chris: Now I’m going to guess if I go to New Bern in the heat of the summer, it’s going to be a little warm. Is that true of all of North Carolina except for the hills?

Karen: Except for the mountains.

Chris: Except for the mountains. Okay, which is one of the reasons you’re recommending fall being the nicest time to come to North Carolina.

Karen: Yes, it does get a little bit hot in July and August.

Chris: Okay, excellent.

Karen: But that’s okay because we have the beach, too.

Chris: That’s true, we haven’t quite gotten to the eastern edge there.

Karen: We’re close.

Chris: Although the the one place we have talked about in North Carolina as Karen knows, is we have done a show on the outer banks. We have done a show on Kitty Hawk and the outer banks, but it has been quite a while so why don’t we mention them anyway.

Karen: Well, the North Carolina coast is very long. and because you have from Virginia straight down is the outer banks, the, you’ve talked about before. And then the state actually kinda curves in and you have the Crystal Coast and then at the very south end of the State are the Brunswick Islands. So you have three distinct regions on the North Carolina coast.

Chris: And the Brunswick Islands is that also like the outer banks in Outer Island in the same fashion?

Karen: Not the same fashion.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: Like the outer, the true outer banks where Kitty Hawk is, those are barrier islands.

Chris: That’s the word I was looking for.

Karen: Every time we have a hurricane something, there, if it hits there is gonna gets washed out and they have to rebuild roads.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: Down further south, partly because its protected, by the shape of the State, but they really aren’t the barrier islands where they’re further out. We still have the intra-coastal waterway but it’s a lot tighter.

Chris: Okay, what is going to surprise me about North Carolina? I haven’t been. This is one of the few states I have not been to. When I go there and I think I’ve been in the U.S. and I think I know the way things work, what is going to surprise me?

Karen: I think the most surprising thing about North Carolina is how diverse it is.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: Because we’re a southern state, but there are a lot of northerners who have moved here with the Research Triangle Park–

Chris: Right.

Karen: . . . in Raleigh Durham and Chapel Hill there’s a lot of technology. We’re not a sleepy southern state.

Chris: Right, sure. Actually my best friend from high school lives there now.

Karen: Oh okay, well then you’re gonna have to come soon.

Chris: I have been meaning to for decades at this point.

Karen: And then you have all the cultural differences. It’s laid back super slow in the mountains. The whole state is fairly laid back, but you have the culture, you have the arts, festivals galore. It’s a very active, very upbeat, very young state.

Chris: Hm. Now, how long have you lived in North Carolina?

Karen: I’ve been here since 2001, so almost 14 years.

Chris: Okay. Is there any particular moment where you realized North Carolina was home?

Karen: It was actually on a trip back to Ohio.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: We went back to Ohio.

Chris: Where you’re from, I assume.

Karen: Yes, where I’m from. And we sat down at a friend’s house for dinner and my children looked to the lady that was hosting us and said “Thank you, Miss Barb” and the whole table cracked up because they used “Miss Barb.”

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: And I think that was the moment I realized, oh my goodness, we’ve adopted this Southern-ness that is North Carolina–

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: . . . where people are respectful of each other, not saying that Ohio is not respectful.

Chris: I’m from Ohio, I wasn’t casting aspersions on Ohio either, so.

Karen: In North Carolina children address elders by Mr. or Miss. There’s that type of old school respect that still happens here. Things truly are slower here. When I first got here, it drove me crazy.

Chris: Give me an example, What does that mean? The DMV line is just horrendous, or. . . ?I don’t know what that means exactly.

Karen: We go to the grocery store and the clerk asks you how you’re doing she really wants to know.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: Or she’s really willing to talk about it. She may not really want to know, but she’s really willing to talk about it. We got our car stuck on a dirt road near the beach and four guys in a pick-up truck stopped their truck, they jumped out of their truck, they got our car out of the ditch and then they went on their way. They weren’t in such a hurry that they had to do their thing without helping us first.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: And that’s how it is a lot around the state of North Carolina. At least for me.

Chris: Can you think of a local, who you’ve met since you’ve been there, who you wish everybody could meet?

Karen: I have two friends who are from North Carolina, one is from Goldsboro and the other one is from here where I live and their names are Brandy and Tammy. So they’re forever famous. And when you get together with Brandy and Tammy, its all about connecting with people for real.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: Like you have a real conversation where you look each other in the eye, you take the time to talk about things and listen.

Chris: I don’t understand. What was I doing with my smartphone while all that was going on?

Karen: Yeah and they sound like North Carolinians.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: If you want to hear a North Carolina accent Tammy and Brandy have it. People here greet each other with “Hon” or “Shug” and it’s not offensive, it’s a term of endearment, like friend. They’re those kind of friends were they’re not necessarily going to use that word because they’re in the professional world now, but I wouldn’t put it past them to use it if they were home with family.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: It would be neat for anybody to sit down with any old farmer–

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: . . . who has lived here his whole life, who remembers what it was like when it was tobacco country. And to hear how growing up in North Carolina used to be, when groups came together to harvest the tobacco, and then after one farm was done, they went to their neighbor’s farm and harvested their tobacco. And after all the tobacco was harvested, they would come together in the biggest barn and have a barn dance.

Chris: Do they still do anything to remember that culture? Are there still the barn dances without the tobacco harvests, or . . . ?

Karen: Not as much, and that’s kind of sad. Maybe in super southeast, the most rural part of North Carolina might still have that. I’m not sure, but I would have loved to have seen that part of the state. Because I think that history, even though people don’t live it anymore, I think that’s the kindness that goes forward. Because, you have to work with each other to survive. Not in the Research Triangle Park anymore because it’s all about tech.

Chris: Right.

Karen: But, you see it in the arts community in Raleigh. That same “come together to make something happen” is what you can see in the arts community in Raleigh where all the people have come together to make it happen. And to bring art– to even survive as artists, and go beyond surviving and actually flourish. There’s a whole– you can walk through this art loft space, where they’re working and they’re selling their art. It’s just vibrant, and alive, and it’s exciting to be in a place like that. And I think that’s a part of North Carolina history that lives on in the fiber of the way we live.

Chris: Okay, and you mentioned the art loft space, but we haven’t talked about it very much, so maybe we can a little more explanation about that.

Karen: The art space is an old warehouse that has been converted into these artist work spaces. There’s just studio space everywhere, and the artists have their work for sale. But, they’re also there working on it. You can literally walk into their studio space and talk with them while they’re creating things and learn how they got into it and what they do, and it’s every kind of art you can imagine. And they’re just very friendly. But they have an art walk the first Friday of every month, and the space is open and people come through and it’s a big draw for the city. It brings people out of their homes to do things together. And they play live music, and it’s just not in that space, it’s throughout. There’s a lot to it.

Chris: As you’ve picked out the things that you wanted to highlight in North Carolina, what are the things that the guidebooks might recommend that you’ve skipped because you don’t think they’re worth the time?

Karen: I guess if I was going to choose a mountain, I would not choose Grandfather mountain, for me personally.

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: But Grandfather Mountain is amazing because it’s got this huge bridge that’s a mile above the ground that you can walk across.

Chris: Oh okay, doesn’t lead to an elevator does it?

Karen: It does not lead to an elevator.

Chris: Well, there you go. . . lets talk about the beach.

Karen: The southern part of the beaches, its much different than the outer banks–

Chris: Mm-hm.

Karen: . . . because it’s more populated and I would say if you really want to get the flavor for local North Carolina Summer vacation, the hot spot would be Carolina Beach.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And you can go to surf school while you’re down there, which is in nearby Wrightsville Beach. But the big thing to know is Britt’s Donuts on the Carolina Beach boardwalk. The best food in the whole state is Britt’s Donuts.

Chris: Okay, the best food in the, the whole state?

Karen: In the whole state.

Chris: And surprisingly enough, it’s deep fried.

Karen: They only make one kind of donut though, it’s super easy, you stand in line for up to 20 minutes, probably in the busiest time in the summer longer, but it’s totally worth it.

Chris: You stand in line and they make only one type of doughnut so what is taking so long? Oh you said it moves slower, I forgot that.

Karen: Uh, you order one doughnut, you order a dozen or a half a dozen, whatever it is, I never walk away without a dozen doughnuts, they crank out, you get ’em hot because they can’t keep up.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: It’s very old fashioned, very cool.

Chris: Excellent, as we go to wind this down, anything else we should know before we go into North Carolina before I get to my last three questions?

Karen: We have a legal moonshine place.

Chris: Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Moonshine by definition is something that is illegal liquor?

Karen: It used to be.

Chris: Ah, okay.

Karen: But we now have, its brand new, it’s only been here for a year and a half.

Chris: So it’s a moonshine bar?

Karen: Distillery.

Chris: Distillery. Okay.

Karen: It’s where they make the moonshine. It’s called Broad Slab Distillery, and its in Benson North Carolina.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: It’s regulated and all that kind of stuff, you can’t buy moonshine there, you have to buy it at an ABC store.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: Which is kind of weird, but you can go to the distillery if you want to and learn how moonshine is made.

Chris: Is it one of those things where it’s made in a dry county, or. . .?

Karen: No, it’s not a dry county.

Chris: It’s just the regulations in that county.

Karen: No, it’s the regulations in the whole state.

Chris: In the whole state. Okay. One thing that makes you laugh and say “only in North Carolina?”

Karen: Only in North Carolina is a white pick-up truck a status symbol.

Chris: Because it’s been washed? What, I don’t understand, I don’t get it at all. Why is a white pick-up a status symbol?

Karen: Everybody down here, – not everybody I don’t have one – but if you have a white pick-up truck, then you have the really long antennas that’s a big deal. And then you have the gun rack, and you have the big tires.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And the loud engine, all those things, the bigger, the badder, the louder, the better.

Chris: All right then, I’ll have to remember that when I’m picking out a rental car next time I’m in North Carolina. Finish this sentence for me, “You really know you’re in North Carolina when . . . ” what?

Karen: Probably when you eat our barbecue. Because you can’t find it anywhere else.

Chris: Okay, excellent, and if you had to summarize the entire state in just three words which three words would you choose?

Karen: Diverse.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: Friendly.

Chris: Okay.

Karen: And “Flip flops.”

Chris: Flip flops for the beach or. . . ?

Karen: For everywhere.

Chris: For everywhere, okay. The appropriate fashion of choice.

Karen: Yes, year round.

Chris: Excellent. Our guest again, has been Karen Dawkins, and Karen where can people read about your travels?

Karen: You can read about my travels at

Chris: Excellent, do you have a favorite North Carolina story that you have covered in

Karen: Probably the State Fair, when I wrote about the State Fair last year.

Chris: Excellent, we will put a link to that. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your love for your adopted home state of North Carolina.

Karen: Thank you very much.

Chris: In news of the community I heard from Steve who wrote about the episode we did about cruising around Cape Horn.

“We did this cruise going in the other direction several years back. We were on a smaller ship the Amazar Journey our trip also included Antarctica. We really enjoyed our voyage also. We missed the Falklands entirely due to bad weather. I understand this is a common occurrence. You were right about the cruise being the only way to see this part of the world. Be sure to go back to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, and spend time exploring. The people are fabulous as are the sights and the food. The DK guides are a good start but talking to locals would give you better information. South America is the only part of the world where I find the DK guides needing improving.

We really enjoyed the sea days is it sounds like maybe you don’t, if you ever decide to relax that I suggest a cruise to Antarctica, the views are fabulous as is the wildlife. You were right about the cost of shore excursions. We checked out the ships tours and costs before we go. We also check out local companies and tours. The trips are usually marked up 100% to 200% for the same trip. We use Cruisecritic to link up with others who want to share the trips. We’ve never had a problem by doing this. You were right about the crew. The better they feel about the crew members and the leadership the better the service. We’ve seen this many times.

Holland America is known for good service and it sounds like they came through for you. I’m glad you enjoyed the trip. Thanks for all the great podcasts. Steve”

So Steve, first of all I didn’t want to make it sound like I didn’t enjoy the days at sea. It was actually my wife and some of my traveling companions who were more concerned about things to do. I had plenty of things to do so that really wasn’t a problem for me. Actually, I got some good work done and some good relaxing done as well. The Cruisecritic suggestion is a good one in terms of shore excursions though one thing to keep in mind though if you have a tight connection, the one advantage that booking through the cruise line will give you is they are much more likely to wait the ship for you, if you are on their shore excursion than if you were on a third party excursion.

But if you’ve got plenty of time in port we’ve certainly used other resources. You might check out and as well. I’ve got some ideas for an online course on how to travel. If there are questions you would like to see answered in that, please let me know as that would be very helpful.

With that we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions you can send it to host at or better yet leave a comment on this episode at Transcript of this episode will go up in about a month and it’s sponsored by Jay Way Travel who are experts in Eastern European travel. You could also follow me on Twitter @chris2x if you’re on Instagram I’m Chris2x there as well. And as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

7 Responses to “Travel to North Carolina – Episode 461”

Holly Lofgren


I listened to your show on N. Carolina today and, as someone, who lived in N Carolina for two years, I wanted to add a few comments. First, your host suggested that people might not want to visit the state in July and August as it gets a bit hot. I found this to be slightly understated! As I recall, from May to September my clothes were sticking to me before I left the house in the morning! Another piece of information you often ask guests to talk about are the distances between travel stops they recommend and how itineraries might be planned. The traffic in the triangle area and Ashville is horrendous, as are the mountain and beach areas. And, routes between these locations take much longer than might expect to go say, 100 miles. We spent many a weekend getaway in our car. The one thing I would solidly agree on is the N. Carolina BBQ. It would have been great if your speaker had mentioned a place where you can still get good N. Carolina BBQ as its getting harder to find. The pig pickins are still abundant.

Karen Dawkins


In reply to Holly Lofgren’s comment:
Last year (2014) was incredibly delightful in NC. We never reached 100 degrees and the summer temps were positively pleasant! It was a rare treat. The year we moved here (2001), I questioned the decision it was so very hot and humid! Every summer is its own treat.

There’s so much to do in NC, that covering it all in one podcast is impossible! I felt bad leaving out Mt. Airy (and Andy Griffith), Winston-Salem area, Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston to name a few. As to the best BBQ in NC, here’s a link to the BBQ trail: I hope that helps!

Jeremy Ashton


As someone who grew up in North Carolina, I was really happy to see the Amateur Traveler devote an entire episode to the state. Karen did a wonderful job of highlighting many of the places and things that make the state so special. In particular, her descriptions of the State Fair, Durham Bulls games and the Raleigh museums brought back some great memories for me from high school and college.

I do, however, have one major correction: There are two distinct types of barbecue in North Carolina. The vinegar-based barbecue that Karen described is associated with the eastern half of the state. The West/Piedmont is known for a barbecue style that includes tomatoes or ketchup in the sauce and uses only the pork shoulder. The regional rivalry over the two styles is so intense that an argument broke out in the Legislature a few years ago when someone introduced a bill to try to make the Lexington Barbecue Festival (in the west) North Carolina’s official barbecue festival. If you’re traveling anywhere in the state and want to find a good barbecue spot (especially in the east), I’d recommend checking out as a resource.

I also want to give a plug for my hometown of Edenton, which would be a good stop on the way to the Outer Banks from Raleigh. It’s been recognized by a few magazines as one of the prettiest small towns in the country, and it was hugely important in colonial North Carolina. Edenton is the third-oldest town in the state and was once the colonial capital. The town contributed a signatory to the Declaration of Independence (Joseph Hewes), a signatory to the Constitution (Hugh Williamson) and one of the first Supreme Court justices (James Iredell). Edenton’s biggest claim to fame, though, is the Edenton Tea Party in which 51 women pledged to boycott English tea. It was the first known organized political action by women in U.S. history.

Thanks again for a great episode!



I wasn’t born in NC, but I’ve lived here since the mid-70s, so i was particularly interested in this episode. Admittedly, there is only so much time per episode, I was surprised by what was left out.

First and worst, I was stunned to hear no mention of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, far and away the most visited National Park in the country. See: Then there’s the wonderful Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs all the way from the Cherokee Indian Reservation (also not mentioned) up into Virgina, where it meets Skyline Drive. That’s hundreds of miles of wonderful mountain scenery, and if you’d rather walk, there is a long stretch of the Appalachian Trail in the state. Not to mention the new Mountains to the Sea trail. See: and

I would also rate Old Salem – – well above Billy Graham and NASCAR, and Winston-Salem is on I-40, which gives you a straight shot from Asheville through to Raleigh and on to Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach.

Then there’s the zoo, deliberately located in the middle of the state, and according to wikipedia the largest walk-through zoo in the world, the famous potteries around Seagrove (notably Jugtown), and the golf courses around Pinehurst. I guess the real problem was that there is a lot more in NC than you can cover in one program. and

BTW, while you can stay on the estate at Biltmore House, the house itself is not a hotel – you were probably thinking of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida. The grande dame of Asheville hotels is the Grove Park Inn.

Also, the best eastern-style BBQ is at Allen and Son’s just outside Chapel Hill (somewhere else that should have been covered), and the desert of choice would be pecan or pumpkin pie.

Alexandra Wiggins


For those that want to get into racing, I recommend attending live smaller tracks, rather than large races or trying to get into it on TV. Small tracks are the heart of the sport, and allow you to hear your conversation! Haha… Also, Hatteras Island is the remote section of Outer Banks, and Ocracoke Island a hidden Key-Westy gem!



Thanks Alexandra!

David Norriss


I like how you mentioned that not shoveling your driveway for seven months was one of the reasons why you moved to North Carolina. People who love the outside but are not big fans of the winter should go to North Carolina and enjoy tourism. Thank you for talking about the benefits of going to North Carolina whether you’re living there or just visiting.

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