Bourbon, battles, and balloons. There were many reasons for a road trip to Statesville, but for one weekend, these were my reasons. I learned about the city’s bourbon legacy, visited a reconstructed British frontier fort, and watched a dozen colorful hot air balloons fill the sky. But in between, I explored a few more reasons to visit Statesville because I didn’t want people thinking the only thing I did all weekend was bourbon, battles, and balloons.

Since Statesville’s founding shortly after the Revolutionary War, the city has been a transportation hub. Railroads connected the city – and all of North Carolina’s Piedmont – to the expanding westward frontier. A century later, the interstate highway system joined Statesville to everywhere else.

Driving is the only way to visit Statesville. Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is an hour south, and Amtrak is thirty minutes easy in Salisbury.

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Statesville is a perfect road-tripping destination – especially if you’re on a road trip across North Carolina. The interstate highways will whisk you away to Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and Asheville. The four-lane-divided highways lead to Boone and Asheboro.

But first, explore Statesville. It’s easy to find amazing things to do with a weekend getaway. Local shopping, dining, breweries, history – it’s a melting pot of small-town amenities that offers a little bit of everything.

Take this one day, for example. It’s what I call a perfect day of travel. I started with an enormous serving of chicken and jalapeño waffles and ended with an enormous serving of crab cake penne. In between, I enjoyed a glass of Riesling at a local winery, went for a lakeshore hike at a state park, and watched the Carolina Panthers game at a craft brewery.

Browse through this list of things to do in Statesville and let me know – what would you do with a weekend getaway?

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Bring a set of checkers for these public tables on Broad Street.
Bring a set of checkers for these public tables on Broad Street.

Brief History

In 1753, Scots-Irish and German immigrants from Pennsylvania traveled south on the Great Wagon Road, looking for fertile land to build farms. They found the perfect place for a settlement south of Yadkin Valley in North Carolina’s Piedmont. It was named Fourth Creek Congregation because it was located at the fourth creek west of Salisbury, the westernmost town in the North Carolina colony.

In 1754, the French & Indian War broke out in the American colonies. Although the Fourth Creek Congregation was home to less than one hundred people, Colonial Governor Arthur Dobbs still thought the frontier needed protecting. He authorized the construction of a blockhouse that was completed in 1756. But by 1761, the garrison was redeployed, and the fort abandoned.

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After the Revolutionary War’s conclusion in 1783, North Carolina quickly established counties throughout the state. In 1789, Iredell County was created, and Statesville was founded as the county’s seat.

Throughout the 1800s, Statesville established itself as a central transportation hub in the North Carolina piedmont. Tobacco, herbs, and whiskey were produced nearby and shipped by railroad across the country. After the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956, Statesville again became a hub of transportation as Interstates 77 and 40 intersected northwest of the town.

Today, Statesville is the official “Ballooning Capital of the East.” When Tracy Barnes founded The Balloon Works in 1969, he cemented Statesville’s role in ballooning history. In 1974, the inaugural National Balloon Rally was hosted in Statesville – today, the annual Carolina BalloonFest sees hundreds of hot air balloons fill the sky.

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No. 1

Start the Day at Lake Mountain Coffee

The aroma of roasted coffee beans pulled me like a magnet into the local coffee shop. Inside, high-top tables were spread across a hardwood floor. Light blue built-in bookcases were stuffed with wine bottles, tea, mugs, and shirts. A mezzanine with white balusters wrapped around the entire coffee shop.

Lake Mountain Coffee was the realization of Andy Smith’s dream. After years of traveling through Europe and visiting local coffee shops in historic buildings, Smith built his coffee shop in a 130-year-old commercial building in downtown Statesville.

The folks at LMC roast their own beans, grind them fresh for every coffee served and offer a variety of ways to enjoy your favorite brew. Comfortable seats on the ground floor and mezzanine are the perfect place to enjoy the warm beverage, get some work done, and plan your next adventure. The menu also includes tea, cold drinks, and a few baked goods.

110 West Broad Street, Statesville, NC | 704-252-1886 | https://lakemountaincoffee.com

Did You Know? Parking throughout Statesville is free of charge! Most of the downtown streets feature parallel parking, but you can find a few public parking lots for easier maneuvering.

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(Top) The reconstructed blockhouse is an impressive structure to explore. (Bottom) Historian Jason Melius demonstrates firing a musket.

No. 2

Take a Tour of Fort Dobbs State Historic Site

The formidable Fort Dobbs was not something easy to miss. Straight sides of thick square cut logs stood twenty, thirty, maybe even fifty feet high. Gun ports encircled the building’s first, second, and third floors. A trench surrounded the building.

It was not a place I would ever want to attack. Fortunately, I didn’t have to – the next guided tour was just about to start.

Fort Dobbs State Historic Site preserves the location of colonial North Carolina’s only frontier fort. The original fort, authorized by colonial Governor Arthur Dobbs, was built from 1755-1756 during the bitter French and Indian War. The fort was garrisoned by as many as fifty soldiers for a decade, but by 1766 the fort was abandoned, and by the 1800s, all remnants were gone.

In 2019, the state historic site completed the reconstruction of the original blockhouse. Take a guided tour of the first two floors and see the fully furnished sleeping quarters, powder room, and equipment. Stop by the visitor center in a log house built by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Go for a walk through the woods on the 0.75-mile nature trail.

438 Fort Dobbs Road, Statesville, NC | 704-873-5882 | www.fortdobbs.org

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No. 3

Explore History at the Statesville Historical Collection

In a large commercial building at the edge of downtown, the Statesville Historical Collection displays thousands of photographs, artifacts, and interpretive panels from throughout Statesville’s history. Operated by Preservation Statesville, the museum is a fascinating place to visit.

Learn about the professional baseball players born in Statesville. Check out the movie posters of motion pictures filmed in the city. Take a dive into the local liquor history. And a peek at hundreds of historical artifacts.

212 North Center Street, Statesville, NC | 704-450-9828 | www.preservationstatesville.org

No. 4

Visit the Iredell Museums

The most well-known piece in the Iredell Museums’ collection is the 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy, lovingly called Margaret the Mummy by local school children. When the museum was founded by a group of locals in the mid-1900s, the goal was to bring the outside world to Statesville and foster a worldwide learning experience.

The museum is a great place to visit for any age. Children enjoy the hands-on exhibits while adults can dive deeper into history. Some of the exhibits rotate a few times each year. Plan to spend about an hour exploring the renovated building in downtown Statesville.

134 Court Street, Statesville, NC | 704-873-7347 | www.iredellmuseums.org

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No. 5

Take a Guided Tour at the Historic Sharpe House

After spending a few years in the South Carolina Lowcountry training in the tannery business, Silas Sharpe returned to Statesville and built the grandest house anyone in the town had ever seen. Completed in 1866, the two-story frame house features a Classical Revival style like the elegant plantation homes of the south.

Today, the Historic Sharpe House is a popular event venue frequently rented for weddings and special occasions. Visitors can tour the house and see later owners’ changes to the interior design.

402 South Center Street, Statesville, NC | 704-871-2085 | http://thesharpehouse.org

No. 6

Go Shopping in Downtown Statesville

Downtown Statesville has an abundance of spaciousness. Wide brick and concrete sidewalks are separated from the two-lane roads with barriers of trees and flower gardens. Wooden rocking chairs and metal bistro tables appear randomly, invitingly, and pleasantly.

It’s one of the most gorgeous downtowns in North Carolina and a perfect place to do some shopping.

GG’s is the defacto gift shop for the city. Located at Center and Broad Streets in the middle of downtown, the retail shop has offered local artwork, home décor, clothing, and handmade pottery since 1969. It’s the best place in town for a souvenir to remember your visit to Statesville.

When Jeff Archer discovered a passion for building bicycles, he didn’t know that it would lead to opening First Flight Bikes in Statesville. Operated by his longtime business partner Wes Davidson, the bicycle shop sells road, mountain, and electric bikes, accessories, and everything you need to secure the bike to your car and take it home.

After entering a duathlon, David Carleton discovered a passion for bicycling. Along with his wife, Angela, he opened Crossroads Cycling Company to help others discover a love for the activity. Through the small shop on Broad Street, they sell road, mountain, and electric bicycles and everything you need to get started.

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Nick Martin discovered a passion for the outdoors after spending eight years in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Partnering with Adam and Kaley Dykstra, Nick and Amy moved to Statesville and opened Roots Outdoor. The retail shop offers outdoor clothing, gear, and accessories for any type of adventure in North Carolina.

Opened in 1998, Carolina Mountain Sports offers outdoor clothing and gear specifically for backpacking, paddling, and fly fishing. The staff knows the region throughout the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia, making them a great source for planning your next outdoor adventure.

Lee Dellinger Fine Art is an art gallery featuring original paintings and sculptures from artists throughout the country. The one-room gallery with white walls is bright and invigorating, a great place to browse the local artwork.

Selvin Giron is the third generation of his family to own Flor de America Cigar Factory. In 1965, his grandmother, Flor Diaz, learned the fine craft of making cigars and brought it to America. The cigars are still handmade in the small shop on Broad Street in Statesville.

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No. 7

Enjoy the Outdoors at Lake Norman State Park

When Duke Energy impounded the Catawba River in 1964, it created Lake Norman – the largest artificial lake in North Carolina. Just a twenty-minute drive from Statesville whisks visitors away to Lake Norman State Park and a profound stillness beneath a canopy of greenery.

The state park includes 17 miles of shoreline for scenic views of the lake, fishing from a wooden pier, and swimming at the beach. The Lake Shore Trail is one of three hiking trails in the park with little elevation change. The 30.5-mile Itusi Trail is perfect for mountain biking. The 33-acre Lake Park is separated from Lake Normal by a dam – it’s the perfect place for kayaking or paddleboating.

759 State Park Road, Troutman, NC | 704-528-6350 | www.ncparks.gov/lake-norman-state-park

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No. 8

Visit the Rescue Ranch

In 2012, NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and his wife, Krissie, founded Rescue Ranch on 87 acres in Statesville. The non-profit animal welfare organization provides sanctuary to animals rescued from neglect.

Visitors can schedule a 90-minute guided tour of the property. The tours include hands-on experiences with the rescued animals and a chance to feed some of them. The 10,000-square-foot Earnhardt Family Playground is the region’s only all-inclusive playground for children of all abilities. Call to schedule the tours and plan to spend an afternoon with barnyard animals and playground equipment.

1424 Turnersburg Highway, Statesville, NC | 704-768-0909 | www.rescueranch.com

No. 9

Go for a Hot Air Balloon Ride

In a room full of residents, business leaders, and balloon pilots, Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh proclaimed, “Statesville is now the ‘Ballooning Capital of the East’.” A cacophony of clapping echoed through the room as cheer spread as fast as an inflating balloon.

Balloonists live throughout North Carolina’s Piedmont. They don’t fly from airports or helipads or balloonpads. Instead, they plan with owners of large, open fields and take off from dozens of locations. Statesville just happens to be the central hub for their launch sites and a great place to stay if you want to go for a hot air balloon ride.

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Pro Travel Tip What goes up does not come down again in the same place. The thrill of a hot air balloon ride is the gentle flow with the airstream several hundred feet above the ground. But don’t worry about where you land – the balloonists’ teams have a plan for that. A chaser vehicle follows the balloon to the landing site. After unloading, the chaser returns the passengers to their car at the launch site.

Air-Olina Aviation takes up to three passengers for sightseeing, champagne, and adventure rides. Sky Candy Balloons flies twice every day on weekends throughout the year. Tree Top Flyer Ballooning has a spectacular pumpkin-themed balloon. David Litton is a first-grade teacher during the week, but on the weekends, he takes to the skies with Almost Heaven Balloon. Big Oh! Balloons is the passion of pilots Charles Page and Kristie Darling.

The best way to find a balloon flight is to contact the Statesville tourism folks – they will have all the updated information about balloonists operating in the area.

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No. 10

Attend the Carolina BalloonFest

In 1974, Statesville native Bill Meadows hosted the first National Balloon Rally at Balloon Ascensions, a balloon flight training facility. Over the next forty years, the venue would change – but always kept in Statesville – and the rally’s name changed to Carolina BalloonFest, the country’s second-oldest annual balloon festival.

The three-day festival is typically held during the third weekend of October. The brisk fall air tickles your skin while ballooning above a landscape of reds, oranges, and yellows during the autumn foliage. On the ground, spectators watch the gargantuan balloons come to life with heated gases from pressurized canisters attached to wicker baskets.

Lawn chairs and blankets are welcome. Live music plays on the main stage. Children can enjoy the Kids Zone, and adults can browse through the North Carolina Wine and Craft Beer Garden.

Tethered balloon rides are offered throughout the day. It’s the perfect opportunity to go for your first balloon ride – and maybe discover something new to love.

Did You Know? Established in 1972, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the oldest annual balloon festival in the world. And, with over 500 participating balloonists, it’s the largest balloon festival in the world. The annual event is held in October, the best time to visit New Mexico.

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No. 11

Spend an Evening at Davesté Vineyards

Puffy white clouds dotted across a deep blue sky while a stringed instrument lullaby echoed from the main stage. The glass of Riesling was perfectly paired with the relaxing autumn afternoon. Comfortable tables and chairs were sprinkled beneath a thinning canopy of leaves – and my perfect afternoon activity was set.

In 2005, Dave and Ester DeFehr bought a peaceful 60 acres of land in Troutman and planted their first grape vines. The following year, after building the white barn for winemaking, they harvested the first grapes and bottled the first wine ever produced in Iredell County.

The tasting room and art gallery are the hub of activities at Davesté Vineyards. Sommeliers explain the variety of wines produced through several tastings, helping novice visitors and professional vinophiles discover their favorite. Curated artwork adorns the walls of the tasting room.

Outside, tables and chairs are spread across the landscape and connected by paths. A small pond with a miniature waterfall churning beneath a footbridge. Bring your own blanket and stake out a patch of grass for a romantic getaway just twenty minutes from Statesville.

155 Lytton Farm Road, Troutman, NC | 704-528-3882 | www.davestevineyards.com

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No. 12

Get a Drink at Red Buffalo Brewing Co.

I sat at the dark oak bar at Red Buffalo Brewing Co. and immediately noticed red light was cast everywhere. Red accent lights were strung beneath the bar. Overhead lamps were fitted with red lightbulbs. The silhouette of a buffalo blazed in vibrant red on the glasses.

I asked owner Joe Bondi about it. “When I opened this bar, I chose the buffalo because I wanted a big, iconic animal. And then I added the color red to make it an easily identifiable brand.”

The craft beer menu features ales and stouts like many local breweries. The Blueberry Ale had an interesting flavor, and the Chillbillie Ale was my favorite. But the most interesting drink on the menu was called Black & Blue, and I was about to try it.

After spending eight years stationed in Japan with the Army, Bondi developed a fondness for sake – an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting rice. He prepared the Black & Blue on the bar top in front of me. He started with 4 ounces of sake, then a coconut Red Bull, and topped it off with Val’s Chocolate Stout.

It was the best tasting, most disgusting-sounding drink I’ve ever tried. I asked for another.

108 North Center Street, Statesville, NC | 704-380-2219 | https://redbuffalobrewing.com

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No. 13

Take a Guided Tour at Southern Distilling Company

When Pete and Vienna Barger founded Southern Distilling Company in 2013, they didn’t know Statesville was once known as the “Liquor Capital of the World.” Pete explained, “We put the business in Statesville because Statesville was the right place for the business.” It was also the first licensed distillery in the city since 1903.

Visitors to the locally owned distillery can tour the impressive 25,000-square-foot facility. The guided tour heads to the top of gargantuan stainless-steel fermenters to see the process in action, continues past the brass still, and through the stacks of oak barrels.

 At the tour’s conclusion, saddle up to the comfortable leather-clad barstools at the impeccable wooden bar for a chance to taste their rye and wheated bourbon whiskeys. Before leaving, try their Double Shot Coffee Bourbon Cream Liqueur – and decide how many bottles you want to take home.

211 Jennings Road, Statesville, NC | 704-978-7175 | www.southerndistillingcompany.com

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(Top) The jalapeno bacon chicken and waffle at The Bristol Cafe. (Bottom) Shrimp and girts – served with deep fried grit cakes – at Twisted Oak Bar and Grill.

No. 14

Enjoy the Local Cuisine

You could be forgiven for thinking Statesville’s food comes from chain restaurants and fast-food joints clustered around the interstate highway exits. But ten minutes away from the corridor of screaming engines, downtown is a bastion of local shopping and dining connected by wide sidewalks and quiet streets.

It would not be surprising to see Kelli Simko Walker smiling. In 2015, five years after 220 Café opened, she bought the restaurant with the help of business partners Bill and Lisa McBane. Everything in the small restaurant is sourced locally – the artwork on the walls, meats and vegetables, and ingredients. The menu changes seasonally but typically includes salads, wraps, sandwiches, and burgers.

On any given morning, the line outside The Bristol Café starts half an hour before the door opens. That’s because owners Jeff and Joanie Hustead created one of the most interesting culinary experiences in North Carolina’s Piedmont. Their grilled cheese features a six-cheese blend. The Krispy Kreme Burger is a ½-pound chargrilled burger on a warm doughnut. And their brunch menu is heralded for the bacon jalapeno waffle topped with a sweet tea marinated crispy chicken breast.

Broad Street Burger Co. was the third restaurant opened by the dynamic development duo of Jason Cole and Andrea Chadwick. The two-story restaurant inside a historic building features hardwood floors, brick walls, and a red tin ceiling. Over two dozen burger creations populate the menu, but you can also create your own from scratch using any of their ingredients. Wash it all down with a broad selection of 24 beers on tap, many of them North Carolina craft beers.

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Caesar Mesias learned everything he knows about cooking while working for 19 years at an Italian restaurant in New York City. When he left the Big Apple in 2019, he moved to Statesville and opened his first restaurant – Pasta Amore. Peruvian by birth, Mesias knows Italian food and makes everything from scratch – including the Italian cheesecake made with ricotta cheese.

You can’t miss Randy’s BBQ with the bright red sloped roof reminiscent of a 1950s drive-in. Randy and Robin Pittman opened their first location in nearby Troutman in 1985 – the same year they married. Then, in 2019, the Pittman’s brought their tender pulled pork to Statesville.  Step inside the historic restaurant building and sample their menu of barbecue, burgers, and all the best sides.

After opening two other restaurants and a wine bar, local developers Jason Cole and Andrea Chadwick treated Statesville to another culinary staple – Smokin’ Southern Cantina. It’s the closest you can get to the beach in Statesville. But not just one beach – all of them. The menu is filled with Mexican, Hawaiian, Jamaican, and Caribbean-inspired dishes like nachos, tacos, and burritos.

In 2013, Jason Cole and Andrea Chadwick changed the course of Statesville’s downtown redevelopment when they opened their first restaurant, Twisted Oak American Bar & Grill. You wouldn’t know the impeccably renovated restaurant was once the horse stables – stuccoed walls paired with brick walls, wooden beams supported a black ceiling, and the walls were covered with interesting portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their menu of salads, entrees, sandwiches, and burgers is all about options – many items include a list of additional add-ons for a fully customized meal.

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Where to Stay

Since the early 1800s, when the first railroads were built through Statesville, the city has been a hub of transportation through the region. And for that reason, there are a few great places to stay for a few nights.

Budget

Red Roof Inn PLUS+ is a great budget-friendly option. The motel features the classic architectural style with solid rails on the upper floors and an iconic pitched roof. But the property is barebones with few other amenities – they put everything into the renovated guest rooms. Choose from rooms with one king bed or two full beds.

Microtel Inn & Suites is an interesting place to stay. The hotel is like a cruise ship with small rooms and cramped quarters – but still comfortable with all the best amenities. Choose from rooms with one queen bed or two queen beds.

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Moderate

Fairfield Inn & Suites is a comfortable place to spend a long weekend in Statesville. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, spacious lobby, and complimentary breakfast. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or a suite with one king bed and a sleeper sofa.

Hampton Inn features the best complimentary hot breakfast of any hotel chain in the country. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, spacious guest rooms, and business amenities. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or one king bed.

Premium

Hilton Garden Inn is the top-recommended hotel in Statesville. The hotel features a spectacular indoor swimming pool, an on-site bar, and a spacious lobby. The comfortable guest rooms include two queen beds or one king bed.

The Inn on Front Street is Statesville’s only bed and breakfast. Built in 1917, the Edwardian-style home was renovated in 2004 by innkeepers Mike and Jerilyn Davidson. The inn is within walking distance of all the downtown shopping and dining. The four bedrooms in the main house feature private bathrooms. Two additional bedrooms, each with private bathrooms, are located in the historic carriage house.