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Throughout its existence, Lexington has enjoyed multiple claims to fame that include furniture and textiles. But today, barbecue and wine stand out among the most popular (and bucket list-worthy) things to do in Lexington today.
Those two run the show these days, but you’ll find even more beyond delicious smoked pigs and cabernet. That includes local events not dedicated to barbecue (though you know we’ll mention one pig-related festival!), the arts, and more that deserve your attention for at least a weekend in Lexington.
This post is part of our series on Lexington and all the awesome places to visit in Central North Carolina.
A Weekend in Lexington NC
On every second Tuesday of the month from March to October, hundreds of classic cars and hot rods are on display during Que-City Cruise’N. It’s a great time for the entire family to enjoy cars and visit Uptown’s businesses!
Lexington Elvis Festival (September)
In 1956, Elvis Presley, who hadn’t yet reached stardom, got on stage in Lexington and performed. To commemorate that day as well as the musical career and success of Elvis, Lexington will host the first Let it Be “ELVIS” Festival in 2020.
The Barbecue Festival (October)
You can’t go to Lexington without barbecue coming to mind, especially during The Barbecue Festival! Bringing over 200,000 people to the streets of Uptown on a single day in October, this is a must-attend North Carolina event.
It spans over 10 city blocks with music, events, and of course the best legendary barbecue. Over four hundred vendors are also at the festival, showing and selling their hand-made crafts.
If you don’t want to drive, Amtrack makes a special stop in Lexington that day just for the festival!
Christmas Uptown (November-December)
Enjoy the festive holiday season with Christmas Uptown! Their tree lighting ceremony and historic horse and carriage rides make Christmas a truly magical time to be in Lexington!
Don’t forget to come and browse the windows of Uptown businesses that have decorated their storefronts. You can even vote for your favorite!
Things to Do in Lexington EVERY Weekend
Come for Barbecue
With over 20 historic barbecue pits over the years, Lexington has always taken pride in its barbecue. In 2005, fourth-graders from Friedburg Elementary School even spurred a bill to recognize the Lexington Barbecue Festival known as the official State Barbecue Festival.
After some outrage and a change in marketing, it was given a high honor.
But what makes Lexington barbecue different from other styles? Just like champagne, many don’t consider it Lexington-style barbecue unless you’re at one of the town’s 15 barbecue joints.
More specifically, Lexington-style ‘cue is a smoked pork shoulder that is lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s then sauced with a tomato vinegar-based dip after it’s been chopped.
Another marker of Lexington-style barbecue? Red slaw.
Visit the City Hall Pits
History lovers will enjoy knowing that Lexington barbecue all started with Sid Weaver. In 1919, Weaver started selling barbecue out of a tent in the middle of town. Soon after, Jesse Swicegood, Warner Stamey, and Alton Beck learned his techniques and followed suit.
In 2005, when the city was doing renovations on the City Hall, they uncovered a smoky surprise. Behind a wall, they started to find charred and smoky bricks. As it turns out, these were the pits to the city’s first brick-and-mortar store owned by Alton Beck.
Beck opened his restaurant in 1938 on the corner of West Center St behind the courthouse. The strong smoky smells would waft over to those at the courthouse and draw patrons in. Today, you can see these historic pits inside of Lexington City Hall and learn more about the city’s NC Barbecue heritage.
Holy Smoke details the history of barbecue in Lexington and elsewhere in North Carolina. Pick up a copy online or in person at your local bookstore.
Where to Eat Lexington-Style barbecue
Of course, you’re going to want to eat some local ‘cue while you’re in town! But with 15 barbecue restaurants scattered across town, it might be hard to choose.
But what you’ll find is that each barbecue restaurant in Lexington does something a little different worth trying. Whether it’s a family recipe for hushpuppies or a tweak to their slaw, it all comes down to personal preference. That’s why we recommend you try them all!
Interestingly enough, you won’t find any barbecue in Uptown Lexington. Why? Because each barbecue joint started as a way to serve its respective neighborhood.
While we won’t round-up all of the barbecue joints here (stay tuned!), we will give you some to start with and why we think they are delicious!
Lexington Barbecue is an incredibly popular stop for locals and tourists around. Wood-smoking their meat and saucing in the kitchen, we found that Lexington Barbecue has some of the most incredible hush puppies around!
Oh, and in 2003, owner Wayne Monk received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classic Award!
Whether you’re coming for a barbecue salad (yes, you read that right…) or a chopped plate, Bar-B-Q Center is a must-visit. But what many people don’t realize is that this place started as an ice cream shop.
One winter, the Conrad family noticed that less ice cream was being served so they decided to throw a pork shoulder on the pit.
Today, they are equally famous for both their barbecue AND their ice cream. Save room for the ginormous 3.5-pound banana split!
Diners can choose any three ice cream flavors topped with chocolate syrup, wet walnuts, whipped cream, and of course a cherry! They make approximately 800 of these bad boys a month. And believe it or not, not many people can finish one!
Smiley’s Lexington Barbecue
If you’re looking for some barbecue on a Sunday, it’s going to be a tall order. But Smiley’s Lexington BBQ is open and worth writing home about!
This small wood-fired joint has been smoking pork since the 1950s. Interestingly enough, they also serve multiple sauces on the side!
I pulled up to Speedy’s Barbecue after three days of eating barbecue totally unaware of what was going on. I look down at my phone and suddenly I hear a tap tap tap on my window followed by a young man asking me, “Has someone gotten your order, ma’am?”
I’m calling this curbside service “toot and ‘cue,” (patent pending) which is something that not many Lexington restaurants offer anymore. As much as I’d love to chow down on a barbecue sandwich in my car, I figured I needed to go inside for a sit-down meal.
The portions at Speedy’s are huge, quick, and absolutely delicious. There is a vibe inside (a buzz, perhaps?) that hints you’re about to eat a good meal.
Shop and Eat Local in Lexington
Perfect Blend Coffee Shop
1 N Main St
You may already know this about us, but we love coffee shops, especially you can get some work done in them. And finding an adorable coffee shop where we can mix a delicious coffee and productivity is always on our travel itinerary!
That’s exactly what Uptown’s Perfect Blend Coffee Shop offers. With a wide selection of hot and cold caffeinated drinks, sandwiches and pastries, and friendly customer service, it’s a relaxing little coffee shop!
As he roasted a new batch, owner Tyler Prevatte explained to me that they source their beans directly from suppliers. This eliminates the middle man and also ensures that they know the farmers and communities that they are supporting when purchasing.
I like to think of that as a step above fair-trade coffee!
3 N Main St
Interestingly, all of Tommy’s pieces have holes in them where the tag is threaded. And no, it’s not a defect or a mistake. Each hole represents a spiritual void that everyone is looking to fill, serving as a reminder to keep searching for that meaning in your life.
Each piece is hand-made and serves a higher purpose, supporting the community and beyond. Pottery throwing classes are also available if you’d like to make an experience out of your visit to Missions Pottery!
Profits from Missions Pottery go to support Christian missions everywhere, from Lexington to places around the world.
Conrad & Hinkle
6 North Main St
Conrad & Hinkle is a local food market that has been providing friendly hometown service to the Lexington community since 1919. This family-run business offers a real experience that takes you back in time, selling things you won’t typically find in big box stores.
You can also buy local produce and meat that’s cut the way you want it, furthering Conrad & Hinkle’s distinction as a one-stop-shop for nearly everything.
But above all, Conrad & Hinkle is known for its legendary pimento cheese. The folks here make more than 300 pounds of this family secret cheese a day, and they have a following.
This delicious delicacy gets shipped all over the state, but if you’re in the area, you should grab at least one fresh tub straight from the source.
The Candy Factory
15 N Main St
The Candy Factory is an Uptown favorite that’s filled with sweet sugary memories, perfect for kids and kids at heart. Large glass jars of confections line the walls, filled with candy, chocolate, and old-fashioned favorites.
The business sits inside the Lexington Hardware building and there’s a nice nostalgic vibe inside. It could also be the fresh smells of root beer barrels and house-made fudge. The Candy Factory is the perfect place to empty your piggy bank and browse candies from another time.
Going on a trip soon? Make sure to ask about The Candy Factory Travel Bag! Submit a picture of you and your travel bag while traveling and compete for a chance at a gift certificate. Inside the store, you’ll see photos of people across the world sharing their love for this Lexington business.
Sophie’s Cork & Ale
23 W 2nd Ave
In a town of historic barbecue and slaw, Sophie’s Cork & Ale is where you go for delicious and elevated cuisine. The former bookstore space encourages diners to intimately share plates, whether at a table or while catching up over a great conversation on a couch.
For craft beer and wine pairings, the menu is filled with items like Waygu sliders, wild mushrooms, and goat cheese tartlets. Of course, I couldn’t leave out the most delicious seared scallops I’ve found in Central North Carolina.
218 S. Main St
A hardware store is not something that you would usually find in a guide to must-see attractions. But in fact, Lanier’s Hardware has become a local legend that even earns a look from tour buses!
Family owned and operated since 1940, Lanier’s has expanded from smaller spaces to over 85,000 square feet. And with a motto of, “If we don’t have it, and we can’t get it, you don’t need it,” this is definitely a place where you’ll find everything you need.
They offer sporting goods, an extensive model section, housewares, and of course, hardware. Honestly, you’ll be hard-pressed to not complete any DIY project after a trip to Lanier’s!
Bob Timberlake Gallery and Museum
1714 E Center St
The internationally-acclaimed painter and furniture designer Bob Timberlake is a Lexington native, and the area has long served as his source of inspiration. And after visiting, I think it’s an understatement to say that you’ll enjoy walking through this realist painter’s 15,000 square foot Lexington gallery.
Inside the gallery and museum, there are prints as well as original artwork not found anywhere else. In addition, the gallery also holds special items of Timberlake’s, from his personal decoy duck collection to the first furniture design award he won.
Yadkin Valley Vineyards
1000 Childress Vineyards Rd
Racing legend Richard Childress opened Childress Vineyards in 2004 to combine his passion for world-class wines and his love for North Carolina. With 72 acres of 11 varieties of grapes, Childress Vineyards is the perfect spot for deliciously smooth wines.
Here, you’ll find a broad range of wines that appeal to all palates, from sweet muscadine to classic house blends. A tasting will get you access to a variety of their wines, which have won more than 500 medals.
And not only is Childress the third-largest producing winery in North Carolina, but they also have an Italian style Bistro that is open for lunch. Add in events happening throughout the year, and you’ll see that it’s easy to spend an entire day among the grapes at Childress.
Junius Lindsay Vineyard
385 Dr. Zimmerman Rd
A visit to Junius Lindsay Vineyard gives one a taste of Southern France in the Yadkin Valley! It sits on family-owned land (dating back to 1894) that today grows grape varietals from France’s Northern Rhône River region. The first grapes planted here were Viognier with Syrah, Petite Sirah, Roussanne, and Grenache to follow later.
Their open-air tasting room offers the perfect setting to take a deep breath and enjoy a glass of wine among rows of vines. With 11 acres under vine, the sights from the tasting room are absolutely breathtaking.
Junius Lindsay is open from Thursday to Sunday and tastings are incredibly affordable, making this an absolutely relaxing part of your weekend in Lexington.
Owner Sid started Weathervane Winery as a hobby in 2003 and the public quickly caught on. In 2005, their wine sold out at the North Carolina Wine Festival at Tanglewood, which told them it was time to grow.
Their five acres of vines opened to the public in 2008, known for sweet wines and a welcoming community vibe. Come for the wine, but also don’t skip out on the events at Weathervane.
With a beautiful outdoor area and an event space that hosts dinner theaters, there is always a reason to sip wine at Weathervane. Also, if you are looking for a romantic getaway while in Lexington, Weathervane has adorable honeymoon cabins within walking distance of the winery.
Cider and Beer
Bull City Ciderworks
599 S Salisbury St
It is kind of an unusual story, but one that makes a lot of sense after you hear it. Bull City Ciderworks started in Durham (hence the name) by a couple of guys from Lexington. Due to the City of Durham construction of a new police station, the building that Bull City Ciderworks was leasing was set for demolition.
Searching for new options, Lexington-raised owners John Clowny and Ryan Bogard launched a Kickstarter to help them raise the funds to relocate. The result? They now occupy a giant warehouse space in Lexington’s Depot District.
As Bull City Ciderworks started to grow and there was more demand, they also returned to Durham to open another smaller cidery, one of our favorite spots to grab a drink.
And today, approximately 95 percent of all of Bull City Ciderworks’s production comes from the Lexington location. 16 of their clean, no-sugar-added, preservative-free ciders are on tap to go along with a selection of canned NC craft beers.
There are plenty of games, events, and space to enjoy! Be on the lookout for more news from Bull City Ciderworks expansion!
Goose and the Monkey
401 S Railroad St
Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine.
The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line.
Goose and the Monkey is the latest addition to the Lexington scene. With a gorgeous space looking out to the train tracks in the Depot District, G&M is a family-friendly brewery that is ready to pour incredible pints!
In addition to amazing offerings, their story isn’t one you typically hear. From refurbishing an abandoned warehouse to fighting off a fire that halted their business for over a year, G&M’s pertinacity is worth noting and admiring.
And the name? It’s derived from the nursery rhyme is a reminder to be whimsical and not take things too seriously.
The one thing to be serious about is G&M’s beer. Their 10 barrel system allows for pushing the limits with interesting flavors. The folks at Goose and the Monkey are able to experiment and tailor their taps to the season, the clientele, and even special events.
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too
Put simply, Lexington is a small town that is proud of who they are and where they are going. Dig into it through at least a weekend visit, and you’ll find iconic eats, delicious drinks to pair, and more fun things to do in Lexington.
I can’t leave you without giving one more shoutout to the awesome people of Lexington, including its community members and local business owners. They’re the ones who refused to let this town become another story of a failed town after its main industries (textiles and furniture) left. Luckily, many are still here with us today.
They’re one of the reasons we think you should visit, even though you’ll likely come for the barbecue and wine. But that’s one of the wonderful things about traveling through North Carolina (and anywhere in this world).
You may come for one or two specific things but you’ll always come away with much more.
Special thanks to Lexington Visitor Center & Tourism Authority for hosting us during our stay. All opinions within this article are our own.