Shelby and its surroundings in Cleveland County are nestled at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area sits in a sweet spot between Charlotte and Asheville and it’s dotted throughout with small towns known for music and livermush.
And as many travelers know, there are tons of things to do in Shelby, small towns like Kings Mountain, and the rest of Cleveland County over a weekend. That’s what we want to share with you here because we think it’s a pretty special place to visit!
This travel guide is part of our series on Cleveland County, our state’s small towns, and more places to visit in North Carolina. We originally created this on April 23, 2019. It has been maintained and updated as of October 16, 2019.
Weekend Things to Do in Shelby and Cleveland County
Special thanks to Cleveland County, Inc. for providing us with complimentary accommodations, admission, and meals throughout our stay. All opinions within this article are our own.
Understand the Area’s History
The Revolutionary War had important impact on Cleveland County, so much so that you might recognize all of the streets in Shelby are named after Revolutionary heroes.
Moving into the 20th century, Cleveland County also hosted a political powerhouse known as the “Shelby Dynasty” which sent two governors to Raleigh, as well as representatives to the House and Senate in Washington. This led way to great economic development and growth for the county and made it into the beautiful historic area it is now.
Take a peek at the area’s past with this book about Shelby and Cleveland County before and during the 20th century.
Stay Somewhere Cozy
Depending on who you’re traveling with and how you want to enjoy all the things to do Shelby and Cleveland County, these places to stay will cover all your needs.
One highly rated place to stay in Shelby is Fairfield Inn and Suites. It’s not far down the road from the Cleveland County Mall and a newer property, so look into that one when researching hotels in Shelby.
The kind folks of Cleveland County set us up at Hampton Inn and Suites which is next to the Cleveland County Mall. Out of all the bigger names, Hampton Inn is our go-to, based on multiple previous experiences.
And for fans of smaller, more intimate settings, check out Morgan and Wells Bed & Breakfast. It’s not far from the Cleveland County Arts Council and other Downtown favorites that we’ll mention shortly.
Earl Scruggs Center
In the center of Uptown Shelby, in a former Cleveland County Courthouse, is the Earl Scruggs Center. Detailing the life and impact of Cleveland County native, Earl Scruggs, visitors learn about the life and history of early American Southern music.
Scruggs-style picking revolutionized bluegrass music and you can learn about it with state-of-the-art hands-on and audio exhibits. Visitors can interact with music and history throughout the building. This museum isn’t just for anyone who likes Earl Scruggs, it’s for anyone that loves music!
We shared more about our experience at the Earl Scruggs Center here!
Don Gibson Theatre
Step back in time to simpler days in the majestic art deco Don Gibson Theatre. The 400-seat venue is small but mighty! Inside, you’ll find a stage that has hosted Grammy Award-winning acts.
Along with a visit to the Earl Scruggs Center, this is among the most popular things to do in Shelby.
You’ll also learn more about Shelby native and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Don Gibson. Gibson wrote over 350 songs in his lifetime and 75 of those hit the charts. As you walk around Uptown Shelby, you’ll see beautiful artwork displays of his LPs.
You can keep tabs on upcoming acts or one of their Throwback Thursday Movies here.
Buy from Local Farmers and Artists
Hang out with the local folks of Shelby at the Foothills Famers Market every Saturday! With local produce, handcrafted pottery and artisanal products, there is something for everyone at the market. We felt like the pulse of Cleveland County was under this pavilion of twinkle lights.
So many people stopped to talk to us. One little girl even grabbed Charlotte’s hand and they ran off together playing! The people of Shelby are reason enough to visit. And you’ll find many of them at the market on Saturdays!
Support Local Restaurants in Shelby and Cleveland County
One of the best weekend things to do in Shelby is to support the local food scene. Come hungry to Cleveland County and you won’t be disappointed!
Don’t Squeal about Livermush
Even though we’re following up mention of politics in Shelby, we think this is going to be the most controversial section, yet. When in Cleveland County, you need an order of livermush, “split and dropped.”
This deliciously seasoned and fried breakfast meat isn’t something you can really describe without it sounding unattractive. “Everything by the squeal” of the pig is one way we’ve heard it.
But despite the description, livermush is absolutely wonderful. With a crispy outside and a smooth savory inside, livermush is perfect alongside a plate of eggs or even sandwiched between a biscuit.
Celebrate Livermush in October
And there’s a reason we specifically mention eating livermush as a thing to do in Shelby and around. Because every October, Uptown Shelby swells with over 10,000 people to the Mush, Music and Mutts festival. You might even catch a glimpse of the reigning Little Miss Livermush!
Where to Eat Livermush
Livermush isn’t just an odd-sounding word. It’s a way of life in Cleveland County! Split and dropped, you can find this delicious delicacy at The Shelby Café and Ken and Mary’s. Also, Snack Shop Family Restaurant in Boiling Springs serves up some yummy livermush.
We’ve also included Shelby Cafe among our favorite breakfast restaurants in North Carolina, in case you’re still hungry for an early meal!
Eat Barbecue in Shelby and Cleveland County
With four must-eat destinations for smoked barbecue and plenty of love for the county’s famed livermush, there are more places to eat than there are days! Eat at the historic Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge and Alston Bridges and decide for yourself which one is better!
Or head out to Fallston and eat at the farm and table restaurant of The Honey Hog which is always packed and has incredible pork, brisket, and burgers. Uptown Shelby has its own barbecue joint with incredible service at Izzi ‘Que Barbecue!
Explore More Shelby and Cleveland County Eats
For more of a variety of eats, check out J-Bird’s Deli and Ales for fresh-made sandwiches, Lafayette Street Grill & Pub for pub eats or Thai and Pleasant City for wood-fired pizzas with unique flavor combinations. If you’re looking for something upscale, look to Ni Fen Bistro.
We spent most of our time exploring restaurants in Shelby but would love to know your go-to bites throughout Cleveland County!
Looking for more eats in the area? Check out our guide to restaurants in Shelby and beyond in Cleveland County!
Sip a Cup at These Coffee Shops
There are plenty of places to enjoy local beverages in Cleveland County. Whether you’re perking up with a latte at LilyBean Coffee in Uptown Shelby or fueling up before class at KIND in Boiling Springs, the java game is strong!
Get Your Sip on at Area Vineyards!
You can add a visit to area vineyards to your list of things to do in Cleveland County, too!
With two very different yet incredible vineyards, Cleveland County is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of vino. The rustic and beautiful Veronét Vineyards outside of Kings Mountain gives picturesque panoramic views of Crowders Mountain with sips from their 5 acres of vines.
Baker Buffalo Creek Vineyard
Baker Buffalo Creek Vineyard in Fallston has been growing grapes since 2003. With eight different grape varietals, Baker Buffalo has a wide range of wines from sweet muscadine to the peppery cabernet franc. Enjoy the peaceful scenery and keep a lookout for their annual pig pickin’!
Want a place to sip in Uptown Shelby? Dragonfly Wine Market carries local wine, craft beer, and cigars! If you’re looking for something specific, they’ll be able to help you! Or hang around for their live music from local artists.
Farm to table isn’t something you usually think about when it comes to beer. But at Newgrass Brewing, they partner with local farmers to create the flavor profiles they are searching for. Handcrafted in small batches, Newgrass knows that beer and food both need to have quality ingredients to be great.
Go Round and Round
Feel the joy and excitement of childhood at the Shelby City Park Carousel! With thirty-two jumping hand-painted horses and an authentic working Carousel Band Organ, every child should take a ride on this 100-year old piece of art.
Costing only 50 cents to ride, the carousel is one of the few open year-round. In good weather, also go for a ride on the Rotary Special Miniature Train. The 1952 train circles a large and impressive playground, making this park a must stop when traveling with kids!
Things to Do and Places to Go Outside Shelby in Cleveland County
Original known as White Plains due to the amount of mica in the soil, Kings Mountain is named after the famous Revolutionary War battle that took place seven miles away in what is now South Carolina. The town began to grow in 1872 when the Southern Railway was completed and is now known as being the gateway to the parks of Cleveland County.
Kings Mountain Historical Museum
Kings Mountain Historical Museum is housed in a 1939 Georgian Revival Style Post Office and provides free exhibits and experiences for the public surrounding the city’s history as well as rotating exhibits for all ages.
With exhibits ranging from a collection of books that have shaped America to the Gilded Age, the museum curates through their extensive archival collection.
Annual exhibits include “Trains, Trains, Trains,” which features antique and interactive model trains. Also, you’ll find an “Honor Our Veterans” exhibit that displays Revolutionary War- to Operation Iraqi Freedom-era weapons, uniforms, and personal memorabilia.
The Arts in Kings Mountain
Just outside of town, Kings Mountain’s Southern Arts Society features works from 75 local and regional artists in their gift shop. The Society’s exhibits rotate every six to eight weeks and they also provide affordable classes and programs for the community.
Classes include painting, collage, colored pencil, mixed media and pottery for budding artists of all levels.
Every summer, the Joy Performance Center puts on a riveting rendition of Liberty Mountain. This story captures Kings Mountain’s history and the battle that named it.
Before the performance, head over to Kings Mountain National Military Park to tour the museum and walk the battlefield.
Tip: Arrive early to the show and enjoy the Pre-Show Experience with a live weapons demonstration and a chance to try on Revolutionary period clothing without any extra cost.
Boiling Springs was named after the natural spring that feeds into the small lake on Gardner-Webb’s campus. While in town, explore the quaint downtown across from the university.
Enjoy the laidback and inspiring vibe at KIND coffee, that we mentioned earlier. While driving into Boiling Springs, you’ll see throwback-era general stores and get a sense of neighborly love through the surrounding rolling farmlands.
Gardner Webb University
If you are looking for some rolling hills and historic brick buildings, take a lovely stroll through the campus of Gardner Webb University. Even though it’s a small school of under 3,000 students, Gardner Webb is a fantastic spot to get some exercise and enjoy beautiful campus life.
Hop on the Carolina Thread Trail!
First Broad River Trail
You will first cross a 120-foot-long suspension bridge that is the perfect location for bird watching. My favorite part of this trail is the two historic wooden railroad trestles that might be overgrown but still so magical.
Broad River Greenway
From Boiling Springs, you can hop on the Thread Trail at the Broad River Greenway. It’s one of the most beautiful things to do in Cleveland County. The Broad River Greenway consists of 1500 acres to hike, picnic, and soak up the solitude of nature.
Also, a part of the Carolina Thread Trail is the Cottonwood Trail on the Broad River Greenway. The 2.2 mile Cottonwood Trail is well maintained and has stops along the way including picnic shelters, an all-wooden playground, and even a BYOHammock lounging station!
Kings Mountain Gateway Trail
One more point to access the Thread Trail in Cleveland County includes the Kings Mountain Gateway Trail. Connect to it from Downtown Kings Mountain.
This trail plans to connect Kings Mountain and Crowders Mountain State Park, but for now, hikers and bikers can wander through 8 miles of ADA accessible trails. The trailhead includes parking, a picnic shelter, and a beautifully maintained restroom and office facility.
As you can see, there are always plenty of outdoor things to do in Cleveland County!
Also, The Thread Trail also runs through Charlotte and we included it in our outdoor guide to Queen City!
Crowders Mountain State Park
Just outside of Kings Mountain are the beautiful vistas and trails of Crowders Mountain State Park. Half in Cleveland County and half in Gaston County, the trails and views are stunning from end to end.
On a clear day on the Crowders Trail, you can see Uptown Charlotte! Access the park from Kings Mountain via the Boulders Access Area to hike the Ridgeline Trail or head to the main visitor’s center (which is in Gaston County) at Sparrow Springs Access.
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!
Shelby and Cleveland County captivated us in a way that not many small towns have. It’s clear that this is a community of people who love where they live, and we can see why!
With a rich history in music between Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson, the beat is still pulsing through the streets. Live music can be found in early every restaurant and soft soulful melodies waft through the streets.
With great food, plenty of outdoor trails, and lots of events, we know that we’ll keep coming back to expand on our favorite weekend things to do in Shelby and Cleveland County!