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2023’s Best of North Carolina Awards Winners

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on April 10, 2024.

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We are excited to reveal the 2023 Best of North Carolina Awards Winners, chosen by NC Tripping‘s readers and social media followers.

In November 2023, NC Tripping launched our third annual Best of NC Awards to feature local businesses and destinations in North Carolina across four major categories, including:

Our readers and social media followers nominated their picks from November 1 to 12 and voted for the Best of NC from November 15 to December 10, 2023.

We’re excited to announce the winners after tallying thousands of individual nominations and votes (no duplicates).

Best of North Carolina Travel 2023 NC Tripping Reader Awards

Here’s the order in which we’ll present winners to you:

  • Getaways Category
    • Most Romantic Destination
    • Best Family-Friendly Attraction
    • Best Mountain Getaway
    • Best Beach Town
    • Most Underrated Getaway
  • Outdoors Category
    • Best Park
    • Best Lake
    • Best Trail
    • Most Beautiful Waterfall
  • Food and Drink Category
    • Best Breakfast Restaurant
    • Best Barbecue Restaurant
    • Best Ice Cream
    • Best Hot Dog
    • Best Burger
    • Best Brewery
    • Best Winery
    • Best Distillery
  • Community Category
    • Best Sports Team
    • Best Downtown
    • Best Dog-Friendly Destination
    • Best Annual Festival
    • Best Museum
    • Best Locally Owned Business

2021 Best of NC Awards Winners
2022 Best of NC Awards Winners

2023 Best of NC Updates and Changes

To continue improving The Best of NC, we made the following updates and changes to the awards for 2023:

  • “Getaways” Category
    • Changed “Romantic Place to Stay” to “Most Romantic Destination”
    • Changed “Most Family-Friendly Place to Stay” to “Best Family-Friendly Attraction”
    • Added “NC’s Best Mountain Getaway”
  • “Outdoors” Category
    • Removed “Most Outdoor-Friendly Destination” and “Best Place to Go Camping”
    • Added “Best Lake” and “Best Trail”
  • “Food and Drink” Category
    • Removed “Best Food City” and “Best Doughnut Restaurant”
  • “Community” Category
    • Added “Best Sports Team”
    • Combined “Friendliest Small Town” and “Most Fun City” into “NC’s Best Downtown”
    • Added “Best Dog-Friendly Destination”

Read More: The North Carolina Bucket List Book

Best of NC “Getaways” Winners

Before we announce the winners, we want to thank everyone who participated, and the local businesses and destinations throughout the state for all they do.

Now, without further ado, here is The Best of NC 2023 as decided by you!

Most Romantic Destination in North Carolina

Winner: The Omni Grove Park Inn (Asheville)
Runner-up: The Beaufort Hotel
Finalists: The Swag (Waynesville) and The Fearrington House Inn (Pittsboro)
NC Tripping’s Pick: The Swag

Omni Grove Park Inn Asheville NC Amazing Views

Despite stiff competition, the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville has established its dominance in this new category. The luxury resort received the second-highest vote in the Best of NC poll.

While we also love the Omni Grove Park Inn, the Swag in Waynesville won NC Tripping’s 2023 pick for the “Most Romantic Destination in NC.”

Read More: 25+ of the Most Romantic Getaways in North Carolina

NC’s Best Family-Friendly Attraction

Winner: NC Zoo (Asheboro)
Runner-up: Tweetsie Railroad (Blowing Rock)
Finalists: Greensboro Science Center and Aurora Fossil Museum
NC Tripping’s Pick: NC Zoo

Things to Do in North Carolina NC Zoo Asheboro

The NC Zoo in Asheboro wins the first-ever award for “Best Family-Friendly Destination.” As the world’s largest zoological park, we agree with you on this one.

For this category and another in our “Community” category, we have to give props to the finalist Aurora Fossil Museum for spreading the word and getting the vote out. If you’ve visited before, let us know what you think about the AFM in the comments section!

Read More: 20+ Amazing Children’s Museums in North Carolina for All

NC’s Best Mountain Getaway

Winner: Blowing Rock
Runner-up: Boone
Finalists: Maggie Valley and Bryson City
NC Tripping’s Pick: Boone

Blowing Rock downtown

With a wonderful assortment of restaurants, shops, and some of our favorite places to stay (including Chetola Resort), Blowing Rock wins the inaugural “Best Mountain Getaway” award.

Boone was the runner-up, but we expected them to split the vote and allow Bryson City or Maggie Valley to win.

Christina and I intensely discussed this pick before deciding on Boone as NCTripping’s go-to mountain getaway.

Read More: 41 North Carolina State Parks Sites and How to Enjoy them All!

NC’s Best Beach Town

2023 Winner: Emerald Isle
Runner-up: Oak Island
Finalists: Wrightsville Beach and Surf City
NC Tripping’s Pick: Surf City

Emerald Isle Drone

Emerald Isle picks up its first “Best Beach Town” award after a strong start by Oak Island.

The Crystal Coast destination also dethroned 2-time champ Topsail Island with this win. We’re still stuck on Topsail and picked Surf City, though Emerald Isle is high on our “favorites” list.

Read More: 20+ of the Best Beaches in North Carolina (+ Our Personal Tips)

NC’s Most Underrated Destination (Town or City)

Winner: Wilkesboro
Runner-up: Asheboro
Finalists: Washington and Swansboro
NC Tripping’s Pick: Wilkesboro

Things to Do in Wilkesboro Downtown Doc Watson Mural

We loved seeing Wilkesboro in this category and have to agree with our readers.

With an up-and-coming downtown and awesome surroundings in North Wilkesboro and Wilkes County, we think Wilkesboro deserves this award for the “Most Underrated Getaway in North Carolina.”

Washington and Swansboro were also finalists in 2021, and we can see both coastal towns returning next year.

Read More: 25 Wonderful Weekend Getaways in North Carolina (For Families, Couples, or Just Yourself!)

The Best of NC “Outdoors” Category

If you know us, then you know that the “Outdoors” category is one that we keep a close eye on.

NC’s Best Park

Winner: Grandfather Mountain
Runner-up: Fort Macon State Park
Finalists: DuPont State Recreational Forest and Jockeys Ridge State Park
NC Tripping’s Pick: Cape Lookout National Seashore

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain took home “Best Park” and received the most votes in the Best of NC poll.

Fort Macon and Jockeys Ridge represented our state parks well, as did DuPont State Recreational Forest, which is technically not a park. Of all our parks, we enjoyed some amazing experiences at Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Read More: 12 Wonderful National Parks Sites in North Carolina

NC’s Best Lake

Winner: Lake Lure
Runner-up: Lake Norman
Finalists: Lake James and Jordan Lake
NC Tripping’s Pick: Lake Lure

Lake Lure near Chimney Rock

Lake Lure won the inaugural “Best Lake,” and we agree with you. Of course, we love all of our lakes in NC and can see this category as a competitive one in 2024.

Read More: The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge (and Why You’ll Love It!)

NC’s Best Trail

Winner: Linville Falls (Erwin’s View and the Plunge Basin Trail)
Runner-up: Triple Waterfall Hike (DuPont)
Finalists: Table Rock Mountain Trail and Rough Ridge Overlook Trail
NC Tripping’s Pick: Table Rock Mountain Trail

Linville Falls NC Waterfall Plunge Basin Trail View at the Base

Linville Falls dominated this vote and the next one, thanks to the many ways you can see it. Also, come on! It’s beautiful, no matter which viewpoint you see it from!

We picked the nearby Table Rock Mountain Trail because of the epic views of Linville Gorge that await at the top, especially during the sunset. Next year, we look forward to hiking these places and more trails throughout this beautiful state!

What’s your “Best Trail in North Carolina?”

Read More: 75+ Great Hikes Near Asheville (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

NC’s Most Beautiful Waterfall

Winner: Linville Falls
Runner-up: Looking Glass Falls
Finalists: Dry Falls and Soco Falls
NC Tripping’s Pick: Crabtree Falls

Things to do in Marion NC Linville Falls

Withstanding a late charge from Looking Glass Falls, Linville Falls repeated for the third time as champion of “NC’s Most Beautiful Waterfall.”

This victory has us wondering if our shop should feature a shirt that says “Three Peat” with a picture of this waterfall.

Crabtree Falls wins our pick again and will remain the NC Tripping Champ until another NC waterfall can sway us. Do you have any in mind?

Read More: 50+ Beautiful Waterfalls Near Asheville (Within 2 Hours)

The Best of NC “Food and Drink” Category

This category had the closest votes, and we expected that. Restaurants remain the most passionate topic on our website and social media pages.

Does anyone remember Ketchupgate on NC Tripping’s Tiktok?

NC’s Best Breakfast Restaurant

Winner: Gogo’s Cinnamon Rolls (Old Fort)
Runner-up: Melanie’s Food Fantasy (Boone)
Finalists: Joey’s Pancake House (Maggie Valley) and Scrambled (Greensboro)
NC Tripping’s Pick: Gogo’s Cinnamon Rolls

Gogos Cinnamon Rolls

Gogo’s Cinnamon Rolls in Old Fort is another reason we considered picking the McDowell County town for “Most Underrated Destination.”

Melanie’s Food Fantasy in Boone took the lead at the beginning of this vote (it’s fun to watch the results), but Gogo’s won with a stunning comeback.

This is the second year that Melanie’s placed in the top 4 for the “Best Breakfast,” so we think this Boone Restaurant’s time is coming!

Read More: Breakfast in NC (40+ of the Best Places to Eat!)

NC’s Best Barbecue Restaurant

Winner: Stamey’s (Greensboro)
Runner-up: The Smoke Pit (Concord)
Finalists: B’s Barbecue (Greenville) and Haywood Smokehouse (Dillsboro, Franklin, and Waynesville)
NC Tripping’s Pick: The Smoke Pit

Best Greensboro NC Restaurants Stameys Image

This “Best Barbecue” vote was the tightest in 2023’s Best of NC. It was decided by one vote, and fourth place only finished 13 votes behind the winner.

We know this is one of the most hotly debated topics in the state, and we went with the runner-up for our pick. Who makes your favorite barbecue in NC?

Read More: 18 Famous Foods from North Carolina That You Probably Don’t Know Started Here!

NC’s Best Ice Cream Shop

Winner: Howling Cow Dairy (Raleigh)
Runner-up: Boombalatti’s (Wilmington and Hampstead)
Finalists: Homeland Creamery (Julian) and Sunni Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream (Angier)
NC Tripping’s Pick: Boombalatti’s (Wilmington and Hampstead)

Howling Cow Dairy Raleigh NC Restaurants

Howling Cow Dairy in Raleigh dethroned last year’s winner Boombalatti’s, but the former champ is still our number-one pick.

We’re always hunting for great ice cream, though, so who makes your favorite in North Carolina?

Read More: Summer in North Carolina (and 50+ Great Events!)

NC’s Best Hot Dog

Winner: Snoopy’s Hot Dogs & More (Raleigh)
Runner-up: Yum Yum Better Ice Cream (Greensboro)
Finalists: Bill’s Hot Dogs (Washington) and Paul’s Place (Rocky Point)
NC Tripping’s Pick: Snoopy’s Hot Dogs & More

Snoopys Hot Dogs Raleigh

Snoopy’s in Raleigh retains its “Best Hot Dog” title, and we remain big fans of this place. Again, the Roast Grill deserves a shot, but don’t even think about bringing ketchup.

Read More: 15 Hop-Tastic Raleigh Breweries for Your Next Flight, Pint, or Growler

NC’s Best Burger

Winner: Nick’s Old Fashioned Hamburger (Lexington)
Runner-up: Hop’s Burger Bar (Greensboro)
Finalists: Mess Hall (Wilmington) and King’s Sandwich Shop (Durham)
NC Tripping’s Pick: Nick’s Old Fashioned Hamburger

Nicks Old Fashioned Hamburgers Lexington NC Restaurants

The inaugural vote for “Best Burger” was a toss-up, with Nick’s in Lexington and Hop’s in Greensboro going back and forth. We approve of both (including the finalists), but Nick’s made-to-order smashburgers won this time.

2024 could bring us a new set of winners, and we’d love to hear from you in the meantime. Who’s your pick for the Best Burger in NC?

Read More: 58 Excellent Day Trips from Greensboro (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

NC’s Best Brewery

Winner: Flying Machine Brewing Company (Wilmington)
Runner-up: Four Saints Brewing Co. (Asheboro)
Finalists: Fonta Flora Brewery (Morganton and Whipoowill) and Pitt Street Brewing Company (Greenville and Washington)
NC Tripping’s Pick: Fullsteam Brewery (Durham)

North Carolina Breweries Flying Machine Wilmington

Breweries are not as contentious as barbecue, but the vote was relatively close this year. Four Saints in Asheboro took the early lead, but Flying Machine in Wilmington came out on top.

All these breweries were new to the contest, except for Flying Machine, a finalist in 2021.

Fullsteam in Durham remains our pick here, in grocery stores, and bottle shops. I recently enjoyed a “Coffee is for Closers” and am always ready for Porter Season!

Read More: 25+ of the Best Breweries in Asheville (South Slope, Downtown, and Nearby Towns!)

NC’s Best Winery

Winner: Grandfather Mountain Vineyard (Banner Elk)
Runner-up: Duplin Winery (Rose Hill)
Finalists: Childress Vineyards (Lexington) and Dynamis Estate Wines (Jonesville)
NC Tripping’s Pick: Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery (Ronda)

North Carolina Mountain Towns Banner Elk Grandfather Vineyard

Grandfather Mountain Winery is another three-peat Best of NC winner, and it’s hard to argue with this High Country powerhouse.

We debated this and eventually decided on Yadkin Valley heavyweight Raffaldini as our pick for the “Best Winery.” Next year, we look forward to sipping, I mean seeing, more contenders in this vote.

Read More: 25 of the Best North Carolina Wineries and Vineyards

NC’s Best Distillery

Winner: Fainting Goat Spirits (Greensboro)
Runner-up: End of Days Distillery (Wilmington)
Finalists: Call Family Distillers (Wilkesboro) and Bogue Sound Distillery (Bogue)
NC Tripping’s Pick: End of Days Distillery

Things to Do in Greensboro NC Fainting Goat Spirits

Fainting Goat in Greensboro won “Best Distillery” for the first time, but they have long been worthy of this title. We highly recommend venturing to their distillery for a tasting (drink responsibly) and a bottle of Emulsion to take home.

End of Days Distillery in Wilmington won runner-up by one vote, but we’ve picked them thanks to many samples in cocktails throughout NC.

Read More: 20 Spirit-Filled North Carolina Distilleries, Liquor History, and What to Sip!


The last of our four categories is “Community,” but it’s also closest to our hearts. This is where we give shoutouts to local business-led destinations and a little team spirit.

NC’s Best Sports Team

Winner: UNC-Chapel Hill Tar Heels
Runner-up: Appalachian State Mountaineers
Finalists: NC State and Duke
NC Tripping’s Pick: Carolina Hurricanes

UNC Chapel Hill Tarheels Basketball

We thought App State might win this one after jumping out to an early lead, but Carolina came back to claim the first-ever “Best Sports Team” award. Maybe next year?

NC Tripping wanted no part of the school debate. The Carolina Hurricanes were the safe pick, considering the Carolina Panthers are so bad in 2023. We also had an awesome time watching the Canes, so double win!

Read More: Minor League Baseball in NC (15+ Interesting Teams to Watch)

NC’s Best Downtown

Winner: Blowing Rock
Runner-up: Asheville
Finalists: Wilmington and New Bern
NC Tripping’s Pick: Sylva

Blowing Rock NC Local Businesses

What’s the best downtown in North Carolina? Our readers say it’s Blowing Rock, with downtown Asheville in second place.

We chose Sylva based on multiple visits, including a recent one Christina took to cover the area during Christmas. It’s a fun mountain town with plenty of local shops, breweries, and restaurants.

Read More: 15 Amazing Cities in North Carolina (to Live In and Visit!)

NC’s Best Dog-Friendly Destination

Winner: Asheville
Runner-up: Southport
Finalists: Blowing Rock and Emerald Isle
NC Tripping’s Pick: We Don’t Have a Dog

Asheville won the first-ever “Best Dog-Friendly Destination,” and this is the only category where we didn’t make a pick. With no dog in the fight, we’ll let the experts who have dogs decide.

If you have a good boy (or girl), what’s your pick for NC’s best dog-friendly destination?

NC’s Best Annual Festival

Winner: Merlefest (Wilkesboro)
Runner-up: NC Seafood Festival (Morehead City)
Finalists: Azalea Festival (Wilmington) and the Lexington Barbecue Festival
NC Tripping’s Pick: NC Mountain State Fair (Fletcher)

Merlefest stages

After watching the Avett Brothers close out Saturday night at Merlefest, we are okay with our readers picking that iconic music festival. This was the second year Merlefest took home “Best Annual Festival” after winning in 2021.

Christina and our oldest had such a blast at the NC Mountain State Fair that NC Tripping’s pick is Western NC’s biggest agricultural extravaganza.

Read More: Carolina Renaissance Festival in Huntersville (Things to Do + 7 Important Tips!)

NC’s Best Museum

Winner: Greensboro Science Center
Runner-up: NC Museum of Art (Raleigh)
Finalists: Museum of Life and Science (Durham) and Aurora Fossil Museum
NC Tripping’s Pick: Wheels Through Time Museum (Maggie Valley)

Greensboro Science Center Greensboro NC Museums

Two-time finalist Greensboro Science Center finally broke through and won “Best Museum” in 2023. It seems like every time we visit, there’s something new added.

NC Tripping’s pick is the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley. What’s yours?

Read More: 40+ of the Most Amazing Museums in North Carolina (for ALL Ages!)

NC’s Best Locally Owned Business

Winner: Shark Shack (Atlantic Beach)
Runner-up: Merle’s (Wilkesboro)
Finalists: Axe & Awl Leatherworks (Waynesville) and The Valcarol Missions Escape Room and Game Show Arena (Concord)
NC Tripping’s Pick: Burnette’s Country Store (Spruce Pine)

Shark Shack Atlantic Beach

Shark Shack in Atlantic Beach is usually responsible for our first meal during a beach getaway.

Merle’s is a worthy runner-up and one of our favorite cocktail bars in North Carolina.

NC Tripping’s pick for the “Best Locally Owned Business” is Burnette’s in Spruce Pine. They deserve a shoutout for running a wonderful store and all the hard work done to make the Mitchell County town a better place.

Read More: 40+ North Carolina Gifts from Amazing Local Businesses

Ready for the Best of North Carolina in 2024?

Again, we want to thank you and everyone who participated in this Best of NC Awards. We love sharing our passion for this wonderful state we call North Carolina with you.

While we wait to launch 2024’s Best of North Carolina, stay tuned for more articles and social media posts from us. You can also subscribe to receive our weekly email newsletter.

In the meantime, what do you think of these winners? Also, what categories would you like to see next year? Please let us know here in the comments.

Don’t forget to share your picks for the Best of NC in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

More of The Best of NC

We have featured these Best of North Carolina award winners and finalists in many NC Travel Guides. Here are some guides to help you explore this amazing state.

1 thought on “2023’s Best of North Carolina Awards Winners”

  1. I want to add a festival for consideration next year. The NC Brewers & Music Festival in Huntersville was amazing this year. Lots of good beer and fantastic music acts. No idea who will be playing in 2024 but I’m looking forward to finding out.


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