Summer vacation season is here. 🙂 We’re lucky to live nearly equal distance from the mountains and the coast, with so many interesting sites to visit when you feel like exploring the spaces between. This year, I’m planning a series of day trips to visit NC cities and attractions just an hour or two from the Triangle by car. So come along for a day’s road trip around NC this summer. Our first destination lies about 100 miles east of RTP via Highway 70.
Driving east along a highway dotted with BBQ restaurants and roadside produce stands, I’m anticipating my first visit to Kinston which happens to coincide with the annual BBQ festival in downtown. Finding downtown parking turns out to be quite easy (and free), even with streets blocked off for festival activities. As I walk along North Heritage Street, I explore the Lenoir County Farmers Market, a block of retail shops including (to my delight) Barbaros, a kitchen and gourmet shop, as well as an old timey hardware and garden supply shop displaying the most adorable fuzzy chicks.
Further along North Heritage Street, I stop in a local seafood shop before wandering across the street to peek in the windows of Overland Gallery, an art gallery recently opened in downtown. One of my “must see” spots on this trip, Mother Earth Brewing, lies along the same stretch of Heritage Street. The large LEED certified brewery building, adjoining tap room and beer garden occupy a prominent position on the corner of Heritage and North Streets.
I find a crowd inside the tap room, gathering around the bar sampling Mother Earth beer while eating BBQ plates purchased at the festival. A line of brew fans forms inside the tap room for the hourly brewery tours and I join the queue leading to the cask room where the tour starts and ends. Our group learns about the brewing process as well as the brewery’s commitment to sustainability. There is a bottling operation, but the tour guide emphasizes the expected expansion of beer availability in cans, as a result of changes in equipment and production processes that make canning economically attainable on a smaller scale, as well as being better for the environment and for the beer.
Included in the brewery tour is a peek into the future of Mother Earth Spirits, a distillery room with gleaming copper equipment and an intricate ceiling constructed from the remains of old casks. There’s a whimsical reminiscence found just opposite the distilling room, as our tour guide points out the functional (for employee use only) curving slide leading from an upper level to the ground floor. At the tour’s end, I search out a comfortable seat on the outdoor patio to finish my beer before deciding where to venture next.
Because I had my fill of BBQ as the festival, I decide to pass on exploring places to dine, though there are several from which to choose. Dinner options downtown include the often lauded Chef and the Farmer (about which The Gourmez blogged and heaped much praise). A new Asian fusion restaurant, GInger 108, opened in early May across the street from an urban garden plot very near the Mother Earth brewery. For a more casual breakfast and/or lunch option, I hear Queen Street Deli is an excellent choice.
The Neuse River flows through Kinston and as I cross the bridge over the river I find kid-friendly entertainment (with a side of eduction) at Neuseway Nature Park, less than a mile from downtown. The park facilities include a playground, campground, a planetarium, health & science museum, nature trails, picnic areas and bench swings that face the river, making a perfect spot for a relaxing picnic lunch.
If you prefer to stay downtown to explore evening entertainment options, you’ll find live music at The Red Room (a new venture under the Mother Earth Brewing umbrella). Though the minor league ball club relocated, the historic Grainger Stadium remains and plays host to special events on occasion.
History buffs may enjoy a visit to the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center on Queen Street and the CSS Neuse II, a full-sized facsimile of a Confederate gunboat, providing some insight into a sailor’s life during the Civil War.
The Visit Kinston website covers many more area attractions and events like Sand in the Streets outdoor concerts at Pearson Park, Second Saturdays, as well as accommodations should you’d wish to extend your visit into an overnight stay.
With my day at an end I begin my return home, traveling westward on the same familiar stretch of highway. Not far inside the Johnston County line I spy a sign providing an excuse for a future road trip and proving we have no shortage of interesting places to explore just beyond the Triangle.