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The Best of North Carolina 2021 Award Winners

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on April 10, 2024.

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In 2021, we at NC Tripping launched our first-ever Best of North Carolina Awards to feature 20 specific categories across four major themes. Our readers nominated and voted for their Best of North Carolina over a four-week period.

After tallying thousands of nominations and votes, we’re excited to announce the winners. Here’s the order in which we’ll present them to you:

  • Getaways (Best Places to Stay, Most Family-Friendly Vacation Spot, Best Beach, Most Romantic Getaway, and Most Underrated Getaway)
  • Outdoors (Most Outdoor-Friendly Destination, Best NC State Park, Best Camping, and Most Beautiful Waterfall)
  • Food and Drink (Best Food City, Best Breakfast Spot, Best Barbecue Restaurant, Best Brewery, Best Winery, and Best Distillery)
  • Community (Friendliest Small Town, Most Fun City, Best Annual Festival, Best Museum, and Best Locally Owned Business)

Before we announce the winners, we first want to thank you everyone who participated, including the local businesses and destinations throughout the state.

Now, without further ado, here is The Best of North Carolina 2021 as decided by our readers!

Read More: Unique Things to Do in North Carolina

Best of North Carolina (Getaways)

Best Place to Stay

Winner: The Inn on Front Street in Statesville
Runner-up: Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock
Finalists: Atlantis Lodge in Atlantic Beach and Proximity Hotel in Greensboro

The enthusiasm for the Inn on Front Street was pretty unreal in our first Best of North Carolina category “Best Place to Stay.” The Inn is a historic and charming bed and breakfast located in historic downtown Statesville.

Only two blocks away from the shops and breweries, the Inn is a restored 1917 Edwardian-style home listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Guests rave about the hospitality and the beautifully manicured grounds. 

Read More: Day Trips from Greensboro

Most Family-Friendly Vacation Spot

Winner: The Outer Banks
Runner-up: Topsail Island
Finalists: Emerald Isle and Wrightsville Beach

Best of North Carolina

It’s no surprise that one of our favorite beach destinations was chosen as this year’s winner for the most family-friendly vacation spot!

The Outer Banks is known for its pristine beaches but plenty of other things to do beyond the water.

Enjoy the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge, climbing lighthouses, or even catching a glimpse of the wild horses in Corolla. The Outer Banks is an annual family vacation spot for many including us!

Read more: The Best Restaurants in the Outer Banks

Best Beach

Winner: Topsail Island
Runner-up: Emerald Isle
Finalists: Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach

The best of NC Topsail beach

The 26-mile barrier island was voted the Best Beach in North Carolina by our readers and we can affirm their choice!

With incredible ocean views, crystal clear and sometimes green water, and plenty of space, Topsail Island is the perfect North Carolina Beach vacation spot. Read more to find out the other Topsail Island business that also made our list of winners!

Read more: Beaches near Wilmington

Most Romantic Getaway

Winner: Yellow Bow Tie BnB in Statesville
Runner-up: Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville
Finalists: Biltmore Estate in Asheville and Graylyn Estate in Winston-Salem

The Yellow Bow Tie Bed and Breakfast is a luxury accommodation in Statesville. This romantic getaway mixes a small-town historic charm with old-world Victorian elegance. Enjoy a gourmet breakfast and after sleeping in with your sweetie.

Chose from one of three quaint guest rooms making your experience unique and personal. Make your weekend extra special by booking a romantic balloon ride!

Read more: Carolina Balloonfest in Statesville

Most Underrated Getaway 

Winner: Little Switzerland
Runner-up: Hendersonville 
Finalists: Swansboro and Washington

The best of NC little switzerland

Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, we definitely agree with Little Switzerland being an underrated getaway in North Carolina!

The little mountain town is open seasonally but offers incredible views from the Switzerland Inn as well as mouthwatering barbecue from the Switzerland Cafe and an adorable little bookstore. 

Read More: 45+ Stunning Blue Ridge Parkway Stops

The Best of North Carolina (Outdoors)

Most Outdoor-Friendly Destination

Winner: Boone 
Runner-up: Wilkesboro
Finalists: Asheville and Brevard

The best of NC Rough Ridge

Oh, Boone. How we love thee! And the outdoor recreational possibilities is just one of the reasons we aren’t surprised to see this winner.

Whether it’s hiking Rough Ridge, hitting the slopes for snow tubing or skiing in the winter, or rocking the bike trails at Rocky Knob, Boone is an all-year outdoor haven.

Many of our favorite hikes and waterfalls are near Boone, so lace up your boots and start logging some miles!

Read more: Hikes near Boone

Best NC State Park 

Winner: Grandfather Mountain State Park
Runner-up: Stone Mountain State Park
Finalists: Hanging Rock State Park and Eno River State Park

Grandfather Mountain State Park is home to some of the most rugged and stunning views in North Carolina. With 2,457 acres of backcountry hiking, there are 12 miles of trails.

The most revered in the park is the Profile Trailhead, which requires ladders and ropes to conquer. 

Not ready for that much adventure? The Grandfather Mountain Attraction includes the mile-high swinging bridge and more attractions.

Note that this portion is not part of the state park and requires and fee for admittance, but you can also access these backcountry trails via this side of the mountain. 

Read more: All North Carolina State Parks Sites (and Things to Do in Each!)

Best Camping 

Winner: Lake James State Park 
Runner-up: Black Mountain Campground in Burnsville
Finalists: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground in Asheboro and Raven Rock State Park

Lake James State Park, shared by Burke and McDowell counties, has won for this year’s “Best Camping!”

With three access areas for camping, many with lakefront views, there are 20 walk-in spots at the Catawba River Area and 33 drive-in sites at Paddy’s Creek.

If you are looking for even more seclusion, there are 30 paddle-in campsites on the Long Arm Peninsula. You can rent canoes or kayaks to access these camping sites too! 

Read more: Things to Do in Morganton and Burke County

Most Beautiful Waterfall

Winner: Linville Falls 
Runner-up: Crabtree Falls
Finalists: Dry Falls and Triple Falls, Both in DuPont State Forest

Linville Falls is a gorgeous waterfall in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area portion of Pisgah National Forest. Known to have the highest volume of water, Linville Falls drops 90 feet into the Linville Gorge and has several viewing options.

The most popular hike is 1.6 miles round trip and includes views from the top of the falls, as well as two panoramic views from Erwin’s View and Chimney View.

Hikers can also do the moderate 1.4-mile Plunge Basin Trail which gives a closer view from the opposite side of the river. 

Read More: The Most Beautiful Waterfalls in North Carolina

The Best of North Carolina (Food and Drink)

Best Food City 

Winner: Asheville 
Runner-up: Wilmington
Finalists: Raleigh and Durham

Asheville is often dubbed as “Foodtopia” and we couldn’t agree more! Every trip to Asheville includes a brand new foodie-driven restaurant, and each time is more spectacular than the last.

Whether it’s the duck taco from White Duck Taco, the fluffy donuts from Hole, or the carefully curated tapas from Curate, come to Asheville hungry and ready to experience something new.

Read more: Our Favorite Asheville Restaurants

Best Breakfast Spot

Winner: Biscuit Head in Asheville 
Runner-up: Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie Valley
Finalists: Elmo’s Diner in Durham and Scrambled Southern Diner in Greensboro

Speaking of Foodtopia, it is no surprise that the cathead biscuits from Biscuit Head made the top of the list for the best breakfast spot in North Carolina in this year’s contest.

Prepare yourself for some of the largest and fluffiest biscuits you’ll ever have. Whether it’s oozing from a poached egg or topped with one of their many homemade jams, you simply cannot go wrong at this popular Asheville restaurant.

Read More: Visiting the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley (+ 10 Things We Love!)

Best Barbecue Restaurant

Winner: Lexington Barbecue in Lexington
Runner-up: Redneck BBQ Lab in Benson
Finalists: Skylight Inn in Ayden and B’s Barbecue in Greenville

We know this category was a tough one! With a state divided on which barbecue is best, it’s clear that this year’s winner went to Lexington Barbecue!

These historic pits in Lexington have been smoking pork shoulder and then dipped with a peppery tomato sauce for 60 years. While locals call it “the Honeymonk” or “the Monk,” we call it delicious!

Read more: North Carolina Barbecue Restaurants

Best Brewery 

Winner: Salty Turtle Beer Company 
Runner-up: Highland Brewing in Asheville
Finalists: Booneshine in Boone and Flying Machine Brewing in Wilmington

This category was one of the most voted on in our Best of North Carolina Awards, and we can see why! Coming out on top as “Best Brewery” was Surf City’s Salty Beer Company!

Veteran-owned and operated, Salty Turtle Beer Company brews up fresh and delicious beer. Starting up in a garage, they’ve grown to make their passion about connecting the community with their amazing brews.

But they also craft beer with a purpose. Donations are made to the Karen Beasley Turtle Rescue as well as more community organizations from vets to pets.

When you go, make sure to order the Betio—their delicious cold brew blonde ale! 

Read more: 80+ North Carolina Breweries that we love!

Best Winery 

Winner: Grandfather Vineyard & Winery in Banner Elk
Runner-up: Duplin Winery in Rose Hill
Finalists: Burntshirt Vineyards in Hendersonville and Kefi Vineyards & Winery in Monroe

Grandfather Vineyards has one of the most beautiful settings, so it is no surprise to us that they took home this year’s award for the best winery!

Located in Banner Elk, Grandfather Vineyards sits tucked along the Watauga River. With the vines climbing the mountainside behind you, enjoy a crisp sweet Watauga White or a bold Syrah.

There is something for every kind of wine drinker at Grandfather Vineyards, enjoy the beautiful scenery at this family-owned North Carolina winery

Read more: 40+ Wonderful Places to Visit in the High Country

Best Distillery 

Winner: Southern Distilling in Statesville
Runner-up: Call Family Distillers in Wilkesboro
Finalists: Copper Barrel Distillery and TOPO Distillery

In the 1800s, Statesville was known as the “liquor capital of the world”, but then prohibition caused the stills to close and today there only remains one.

Southern Distilling Company makes up for it though, and is one of the Southeast’s largest craft distillers. Using locally sourced grain, Southern Distilling makes bourbon, rye whiskey, and brandy. 

Read more: North Carolina Distilleries to Sip On

The Best of North Carolina (Community)

Friendliest Small Town 

Winner: Statesville 
Runner-up: Wilkesboro
Finalists: Morganton and Waynesville

The best of NC Statesville

Statesville racked up in our awards this year, and it is no surprise why!

Not only is Statesville known for being the balloon capital of the East, but they are also a tight-knit community that is welcoming to any and all visitors!

Downtown is filled with locally owned businesses that work together, making it easy to spend a weekend in this adorable North Carolina small town.

Read more: The Best Small Towns in North Carolina

Most Fun City 

Winner: Asheville
Runner-up: Wilmington
Finalists: Charlotte and Raleigh

Whether you’re in Asheville for a brewery tour, a walk around Biltmore Estate (especially during Christmas), or a tube down the French Broad, there are endless things to do!

We always find something new when exploring Western NC‘s largest city. We always love visiting the galleries in the River Arts District, relaxing in a salt cave, and wishing for more time in Asheville.

Read More: 25 of the Most Amazing Winter Hikes in North Carolina

Best Annual Festival 

Winner: MerleFest in Wilkesboro
Runner-up: NC Seafood Festival in Morehead City
Finalists: Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk and NC Blueberry Festival in Burgaw

Where else in North Carolina can you see Willie Nelson, The Avett Brothers, and Tyler Childers on any given year?

MerleFest started as a fundraiser for the Wilkes Community College Horticultural program in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson, and today it is one of the best festivals in North Carolina.

Held on the campus of Wilkesboro Community College, the four-day family-friendly music festival hosts numerous artists across 13 stages ranging from bluegrass to “traditional plus.” The festival relies heavily on volunteer support, so consider volunteering in exchange for free admission to the show! 

Read more: Bands from North Carolina

Best Museum 

Winner: NC Museum of Art in Raleigh
Runner-up: Museum of Life and Science in Durham
Finalists: Greensboro Science Center and Museum of the Cherokee People in Cherokee

The Best of NC NC Art Museum

The NC Art Museum is one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh, especially with kids! The outdoor park and most of the exhibits are free, making it an excellent place to enjoy all year round.

Not only that, but NCMA also has incredible traveling exhibits. We’ve been lucky enough to see one on Ansel Adams, Frida Kahlo, and the annual art in bloom.

Read More: 15+ Important Tips to Enjoy the NC State Fair

Best Locally-Owned Business 

Winner: A Bit of Carolina in Fayetteville
Runner-up: Adventure Bound Books in Morganton
Finalists: Sandy Toes Boutique in Surf City and Hummingbird Candle Co in Fayetteville

The best of NC a bit of Carolina

Last but not least in the Best of North Carolina Awards is our winner for “Best Locally Owned Business.”

A Bit of Carolina in Fayetteville makes carefully curated gift baskets filled with North Carolina products. We actually found A Bit of Carolina because so many of our Facebook Group members recommended them!

Not only are the baskets adorable, but the owner, Robin Matthews, is the kindest and most sincere person you could meet. We are honored to highlight her and hope you’ll check out A Bit of Carolina for your next gift.

Read more: North Carolina Gifts for Every Occasion

Ready for the Next Best of North Carolina?

Again, we want to thank everyone who participated in this first Best of North Carolina Awards. This is a reflection of how passionate you are for this wonderful state we call North Carolina.

Considering the response we received during the nominations and voting, I think this could become an annual tradition.

While we wait to launch the next Best of North Carolina, stay tuned for more contests.

In the meantime, what do you think of these winners? Also, what categories would you like to see going forward? Please let us know here in the comments or by email.

More of The Best of North Carolina

1 thought on “The Best of North Carolina 2021 Award Winners”

  1. This was fun and informative. While I may be partial to my hometown, this made me want to venture out and see what other towns are doing. Statesville must be onto something. Congratulations.


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