Hey y’all – KB here! Looking back, I should’ve known starting my year jumping into the ocean in Wilmington to refresh and reset in the new year would be a sign of all that was to come – but even I wasn’t prepared for all the incredible moments I experienced in 2023. Here are some of my favorites from a year traversing the Old North State. I hope they spark some inspiration for your own 2024 travels.
Home state highlights
I was born and raised in North Carolina, with family from Morehead City to Bryson City, and I still somehow manage to find new NC experiences that astound me each year. My home state is magical. Here’s proof:
- Wild horses in Corolla: I’ve always known seeing these horses is a quintessential NC experience but witnessing them – including a foal! – in the wild made me realize WHY people love it. Why it’s so special to see nature and history coming together in the present.
- Sunrise kayaking in Washington County: Starting a day watching the sunrise and seeing ospreys nesting among Cypress trees from a sea kayak on the Albemarle Sound was not on my bingo card this year, but I’m so glad I experienced it. The Inner Banks area is one of those locations that makes you question if you’re still in NC with its Cypress swamps, rare wildlife and winding riverways. In the same county exists the densest population of black bears in the world! It’s an area I want to explore more in the future.
- Watching the sun set and the stars rise at The Pisgah Inn: This historic inn and restaurant on the Blue Ridge Parkway is open seasonally, and I snuck in a family dinner near the end of the fall season. At 5,000 feet in elevation, the views of the mountains and clear night sky are impeccable.
- 301 Endless Yard Sale: This event every June stretches for more than 100 miles through multiple counties along Old US Highway 301. You can find vendors set up on the side of the road, in front yards, school parking lots and in the small downtowns you move through on your way. I picked up a Fenton Hobnail vase, cookbooks from NC authors and vintage hats of old NC banks. The journey through areas I’d never been through was honestly the best part of the experience.
- Karaoke at Squidders: I read about this place in a news article, and it immediately jumped to the top of my to-do list. It’s a bait-and-tackle-meets-convenience-shop type of business in Vandemere (population 254), but on Saturdays at 7 p.m., they turn down the lights, pull up YouTube on the TV and bring a microphone out to transform into a karaoke bar. You can grab beers out of a fridge in the back of the store and pay on the honor system at the end of the night by saving your bottle tops. It was a blast and exceeded my expectations in every way (and not just because I got to belt “Blue” by LeAnn Rimes). I’m already planning a trip back.
- Hills of Snow: More than 100 flavors of snow cones are served out of a giant snow cone. Essential during the summer!
- Beefmastor Inn: There are no reservations, no menu and no frills at this restaurant in Wilson. It’s a concrete building, and it only serves steaks, baked potatoes, bread and a salad bar (plus beer and wine). They bring a large cut of meat to your table; you point out how big you want your steak to be and how you want it cooked – that’s it. I don’t eat beef, so I went with the “side meal” of just a baked potato, bread and salad; but my friends said it was one of the best steaks of their lives.
- Ajja: This is chef Cheetie Kumar’s new restaurant, and Esquire named it one of the best new restaurants of the year. It’s Indian-Lebanese-Mediterranean fusion with Cheetie’s signature flare. The vibe also enhances the full experience, with bright colors and impeccable design in each space. Plan ahead for a reservation or try your luck walking into the bar. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Toor whip and the tear ‘n’ eat bread. Lots of it.
- Madre: Another new restaurant in Raleigh this year, I’ve been a few times and have-never-will-never miss ordering the roasted cauliflower, salchipapas and Calabrian chicken.
- Piccione Vineyards in Wilkes County Wine Country : This newer winery carries on the tradition of estate-grown wine in this area of NC, and the views from the terrace make you feel transported to another place entirely. Try the bubbly Rose 2021 Rospira and watch the light turn golden across the grapevines.
My 2024 travel plans
I’m feeling full from a memorable 2023 and ready to find more unique experiences in 2024. These are just a few ideas from my wishlist – but I know I'll inevitably read something else tomorrow and add to it even more.
- Go to a NASCAR race: The rebirth of North Wilkesboro Speedway is such a great story of mountain ethic and ingenuity and caring about your community, and it’s reignited an interest in racing for me.
- Greenville and Pitt County: I already have a trip planned here in March and am excited to explore this growing city. They’re doing so much with their river, and I’ve lowkey deemed 2024 my year of the river. Riverside Recreation Rentals offers services at multiple parks citywide, so you’ll catch me on the water while I’m here. The Town Common has an ADA-accessible canoe and kayak launch so everyone can get out there, too.
- Tubbing: Like I said, year of the river – and I've never floated in a tub down the river. Who has? The answer will be me.
- Explore Seagrove: I have pottery from here but still haven’t been able to make it for a visit.
- Unique festivals: Do not be surprised to find me cheering on sitting skiers at the Great Outhouse Races, making a big deal over dill at the NC Pickle Festival, or reciting “there’s no place like home” at Autumn at Oz.