21 Things North Carolina is Known and Famous For

An eastern coast U.S. State, North Carolina is famous for both its mountains and its beaches. When visiting the Tar Heel State, you are never more than a few hours from either attraction.

North Carolina is also known for being ‘First in Flight’ in Kitty Hawk, NC. Among other things, North Carolina is famous for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, and a multitude of breweries and vineyards.

Living in North Carolina myself, I can tell you that there is so much to offer and see! Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate its beauty.

Illustrated image of the state of North Carolina with notable landmarks
Illustrated image of the state of North Carolina with notable landmarks.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Let me introduce you to the many things that North Carolina is known for.

North Carolina’s claim to fame

1. ‘First in Flight’

Wright Brothers National Memorial statue
Wright Brothers National Memorial statue commemorating their achievement. The memorial is located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

North Carolina is known as being the ‘First in Flight.’ All around the state, you will find this accomplishment proudly boasted on many North Carolina license plates.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were from Dayton, Ohio, and built their powered and controlled aircraft in Ohio. However, they successfully took the plane to air in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The 1903 flight lasted just 12 seconds but changed air travel forever.

There has been an ongoing rivalry between Ohio and North Carolina regarding who deserves the claim to fame. The compromise was for Ohio’s claim to be the ‘Birthplace of Aviation.’

You can visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devin Hills, North Carolina. At the National Park, you can learn all about the history of the Wright Brothers and their achievement. There are photos and videos to view, along with a monument on the hill where the famous flights took place.

North Carolina’s food-related fames

2. Krispy Kreme Donuts

A box of Krispy Kreme donuts
A box of Krispy Kreme donuts. Editorial credit: TongRoRo / Shutterstock.com

North Carolina is famous for being the birthplace of Krispy Kreme Donuts. Founded in Winston-Salem in 1937, Krispy Kreme is definitely a treat!

If you’ve never had Krispy Kreme, they are known for their ‘Hot’ light, letting their fans know when fresh glazed donuts are hot off the production line.

The donut itself is a light, fluffy yeast-raised donut that almost melts in your mouth. They are delicious, although I must admit that people tend to love them or hate them. You won’t find much in between.

Glazed donuts aren’t all that’s served. Krispy Kreme also offers a wide variety of other donuts and even serves both hot and iced coffee.

If you’re up for a challenge, Krispy Kreme has an annual donut run. Over the course of five miles, you will be served 12 donuts to indulge in. Not only is it a physical challenge, but also a challenge to how strong your stomach is. Proceeds are donated to UNC Children’s Hospital.

3. Pepsi

Old fashioned Pepsi bottles sitting in a wooden crate.
Old fashioned Pepsi bottles sitting in a wooden crate. Editorial credit: Moomusician / Shutterstock.com

Pepsi was born in a pharmacy in New Bern, North Carolina, in 1893. When it was first introduced, it was called ‘ Brad’s Drink.’ In 1898, it was renamed Pepsi-Cola and was bottled and served only in the pharmacy.

But, as word got around, what started out as just a single soda fountain soon spread to nearby drug stores, and bottling was moved from the drugstore to a warehouse.

You can actually visit the birthplace of Pepsi in New Bern, where fountain soda is still served. During your visit, you can see classic soda bottles and old-fashioned signs.

If you’re a Christmas fanatic, a collection of cute Pepsi-themed ornaments is also on display. The ornaments can be purchased, should you want to take a few home with you. All items in the store can also be purchased online if you can’t make it to the shop.

4. Barbecue ribs

Barbecue ribs on a wooden cutting board
Barbecue ribs on a wooden cutting board

North Carolina is famous for its barbecue. Where you are in the state, though, will determine how it is served.

Western Barbecue is seasoned with vinegar, ketchup, pepper, and other spices. Only the pork shoulder is used in Western Style.

Eastern style, on the other hand, uses the whole hog. It has no tomato base and uses vinegar and spices to season the meat after cooking.

If you’re visiting North Carolina and in the mood for great barbecue, you won’t come up short on options. Some places worth checking out are Barbecue Center for Western-style, Bobbee O’s BBQ for ribs, and Mac’s Speed Shop for an all-around delicious meal.

My personal favorite is Midwood Smokehouse. The house barbecue is flavored with the perfect amount of sweet with the tiniest bit of kick, and their burnt ends are to die for! As for sides, you cannot go wrong with the mac and cheese or the broccoli casserole. If you’re in the Charlotte area, it is a must-try!

North Carolina’s well-known tours

5. Southern Grace Distillery Tour

Southern Grace Distillery Tour

Tucked into the smallest town of Carrabus County lies Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina. Mt. Pleasant is home to less than 1800 people as of 2019. Although small, the town of Mt. Pleasant is home to Southern Grace Distillery.

What makes Southern Grace Distillery unique is that it operates out of an old prison. Affectionately known as the ‘Whiskey Prison,’ they are the only distillery of its kind in the entire country.

The location housed prisoners until as late as 2011. However, the site ultimately closed as a prison due to overcrowding and budget cuts.

Southern Grace Distillery offers tours Tuesday through Saturday. Some of the tours offered include a 45-minute Behind the Bars Tour, a Convicted Spirits Tour, an After Hours tour, and a variety of different tasting options.

Each tour starts in the gift shop, where you can enjoy a cocktail, and ends in the gift shop with samples of the bourbons made at the distillery.

*Note: With the exception of the Behind the Bars Tour, the distillery does require tour participants to be 21 years of age or older.

6. Vineyard Tours

Vineyards in North Carolina
North Carolina is known for its scenic vineyards.

One thing about North Carolina that might come as surprising is that they are known for their vineyards.

As soon as you cross the state border coming in from Virginia, you’ll start seeing signs for various vineyards that offer tours. In fact, North Carolina has over 500 vineyards.

North Carolina’s favorable features for vineyards are its foothills, the surrounding mountains, and the mild climate. In addition, because much of North Carolina doesn’t get extremely cold, it makes for a longer growing season.

If you love wine and visiting vineyards, stop by a few in North Carolina. Many of them offer tours, and you can enjoy wine flights to find your perfect bottle (or two) to take home with you.

North Carolina’s famous sports scene

7. Carolina Panthers

Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers.
Outside of Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. Editorial credit: f11photo / Shutterstock.com

The Carolina Panthers are North Carolina’s professional football team and they compete in the NFL. Their home games are played at Bank of America Stadium in Uptown Charlotte.

The Panthers were selected into the NFL franchise on 26 October 1993 but didn’t play their first game until 1995. The Panthers have been to the Super Bowl twice, in 2003 and 2016. Although making it to the Super Bowl is quite an accomplishment, they didn’t win either time.

During their 2021 season opener, the Panthers debuted a mixed-reality panther. The panther could be seen wreaking havoc while leaping around the stadium.

8. Charlotte Hornets

Basketball player
Basketball player about to make a basket during a game.

The Charlotte Hornets are North Carolina’s professional basketball team that competes in the NBA. The Hornets are owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan.

You can catch a home game in Uptown Charlotte at the Spectrum Center.

The team itself has quite the history. Initially founded in 1988, they relocated to New Orleans in 2002. Between 2004 and 2013, the Charlotte Bobcats were North Carolina’s team. But, in 2013, the New Orleans Hornets rebranded, bringing the Hornets name back home to Charlotte for the 2014 season.

North Carolina’s awe-inspiring outdoors

9. Crowders Mountain

Crowders Mountain

If you’re in the Charlotte area, Crowders Mountain is a beautiful place for a day trip away.

Crowders Mountain State Park has 11 trails that range from a leisurely stroll to a strenuous hike. If you’re up to the challenge, the views from the top are absolutely gorgeous.

Two main trails take you to the views making all of the efforts worth it. The Pinnacle Trail is a two-mile hike each way and is rated as a strenuous hike. But fear not, as there are benches along the way to stop and catch your breath.

The Crowders Trail is rated a moderate hike and is 2.8 miles each way. If you want to make things interesting, though, the trail branches off at one point where you have the option of taking the Rocktop Trail.

The Rocktop Trail is exactly what it sounds like; lots of rocks. It is rated as a strenuous hike, and good trail shoes are definitely recommended. You will be doing some climbing of giant boulders in between hiking the trails. Because of this, be sure to stay extra aware of the trail blazes on the trees to ensure you are still on the path.

I’ve been to Crowders Mountain at least six times and have taken the mentioned trails. My personal favorite view is from the Rocktop Trail, but you can’t go wrong no matter which route you take.

10. U.S. National Whitewater Center

U.S. National Whitewater Center during the annual Tuck Fest.
People enjoying a day of whitewater rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center during the annual Tuck Fest. Tuck Fest features both competitions and musical entertainment. Editorial credit: MattManaged / Shutterstock.com

A popular outdoor destination in North Carolina is the U.S. National Whitewater Center. If you enjoy outdoor recreational activities, the Center definitely needs to be on your list of places to check out.

The Whitewater center offers 30 activities over its 1300-acres, meaning that your day will be packed full of fun. You can enjoy hiking the trails, rock climbing, or ziplining. Water adventures include kayaking, whitewater rafting, and deep water solo. As you can see, you won’t ever have a dull moment.

While there is a small parking fee, you can roam the park and explore the trails for free. Additional single-activity passes can be purchased. If you feel you want to fit in as much as possible, a day pass can be purchased.

A fun fact about the Whitewater Center is that it’s where the U.S. Olympic Trials for kayaking and canoeing were held.

11. Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville

A stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina at sunset
A stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina at sunset

North Carolina is known for its gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, located in Asheville.

With over 300 miles of hiking trails, you’ll always have something to see when visiting the mountains. The highest point is from Mt. Mitchell at 6,684 feet, leaving you with nothing but breathtaking views.

Be sure to plan your trip accordingly, as the area is prone to snow depending on the time of year. I don’t know about you, but I would be so sad planning a hike only to find snow!

Asheville is also known for its art scene and remarkable architecture. There are multiple art galleries and museums in the art district that you can tour during your visit.

With so much to see and do in Asheville, it really is a weekend trip away worth taking.

12. The Outer Banks

Bodie Island Lighthouse

North Carolina is known for the cluster of barrier islands knows as the Outer Banks. Depending on which island you are visiting, there are several options for reaching your destination.

There is only one way to get to Ocracoke, which is by ferry. You simply drive your own vehicle onto the ferry, then enjoy a relaxing 2.5 hours at sea.

You can also drive just over 5 miles across the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge to Roanoke Island. From there, a scenic coastal drive will take you to many of the Outer Bank’s beautiful attractions.

Among these attractions is the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Built in the late 1800s, the lighthouse stands 156 feet tall. If you choose, there are opportunities to climb the lighthouse, although tickets are required. Tickets to climb are available from late April through Columbus Day.

While visiting the Outer Banks, you can also do a Coastal Helicopter Tour, horseback ride along the beach, surf, go dolphin watching, or just lay out by the ocean. No matter who you are, there is something for everyone at this beautiful beach destination.

North Carolina’s well-known attractions

13. Carowinds

Fury 325 at Carowinds.
Fury 325 at Carowinds. This giga-coaster is known for currently being a North American record-holder. Editorial credit: Andrii Vodolazhskyi / Shutterstock.com

If you love amusement parks and roller coasters, then Carowinds is for you! Even though it has a Charlotte address, Carowinds is partly located in South Carolina.

Carowinds does not fall short when it comes to there being something for everybody. From roller coasters to a waterpark and even live entertainment, your day will fly by without you knowing what happened.

If you’re a thrillseeker, Carowinds is home to Fury 325, the fastest, longest, and tallest North American giga-coaster. Its peak height is 325 feet and crosses state borders into South Carolina. At top speed, Fury 325 reaches 95 mph.

Should you be a fan of Halloween, Carowinds has SCarowinds from mid-September through October. During the spooky season, there are mazes, frightening attractions, and live shows. Most are family-oriented, but there are a couple that is for adults only.

14. NASCAR Hall of Fame

Outside view of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina
Outside view of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. Editorial credit: JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock.com

North Carolina is known for being the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which opened in 2010. Located in Charlotte, the Hall of Fame pays tribute to drivers that have exceeded in their skill of NASCAR driving.

The interactive museum honors everything past, present, and future of NASCAR. Every year, there are three inductees into the Hall of Fame.

To name a few, some of the drivers inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame are Dale Earnhardt Sr., Bill Elliott, and Jeff Gordon.

15. Biltmore Estate

An outside view of Biltmore Estate with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background
An outside view of Biltmore Estate with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. Editorial credit: Konstantin L / Shutterstock.com

Located in Asheville is Biltmore Estate. Built in the late 1800s, the Estate is the largest privately-owned house in the United States. With over 178,926 square feet of floor space, the Gilded Age mansion is still owned by the descendants of George Washington Vanderbilt II.

Tours of Biltmore Estate are available, and you can even book a room to spend a romantic evening. Included in the admission are guided hikes across its 8,000 acres, a winery, and stunning gardens.

The Estate always has something going on. If you plan your trip accordingly, you can catch one of the special limited-time events. There are music events year-round, and during the holidays, there are Candlelight Christmas Evenings.

North Carolina’s famous people

Women walking down the red carpet
Walking the red carpet is seen as a symbol of fame. North Carolina has their share of famous people who come from the state.

16. Randy Travis

Randy Travis is an American country singer who was born in Marshville, North Carolina. On top of being known for singing, he is also famous for acting, songwriting, and playing guitar.

17. Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack was born in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She is a singer and songwriter most famously known for her soft, soulful vocals. Her genres are R&B, Folk, Jazz, and Soul.

18. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Most famously known for NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a professional stock car racing driver. He was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and is also a team owner and author. Earnhardt Jr. is also an inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for 2021.

19. Jaime Pressly

Actress Jaime Pressly was born in Kinston, North Carolina. You might recognize her from some of her most notable roles in the sitcoms My Name is Earl and Mom and from the movie Mortal Kombat.

20. Virginia Dare

Born 18 August 1587, Virginia Dare is the first English-born child in the New World. She was born in the Roanoke Colony, which is now part of North Carolina.

Bonus!

21. Dog-friendliness

Dogs having fun running and playing at the dog park.
Dogs having fun running and playing at the dog park.

While visiting North Carolina, you may notice that people are out and about with their furry friends everywhere you go. From hiking trails to restaurant patios and even outdoor shopping areas, North Carolina is just dog-friendly.

It’s not uncommon to see pups at their owner’s feet inside breweries. On a hot day, restaurant servers will bring out a bowl of water for your pup. In fact, North Carolina even has bars that double as dog parks. Simply let your dog off its leash to play while you grab a drink at the end of a long day.

There are even some upscale hotels that are pet-friendly. So, if you’re concerned about leaving your dog behind, you don’t have to worry. Bring that rascal with you! There’s plenty around to do where your best friend will be welcome.

Conclusion

There you go! A big list of things that North Carolina is known for. If you can think of something more to add, share it with me in the comment box below.

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