Photo: Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

Discovering the Best of the Carolina Core

North Carolina Insider Guides
by Adrien Behn Aug 2, 2023

Midsize cities are perfect for weekend getaways. In the Carolina Core, you get three for one. The cities of Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point offer all that you could ask for in a city-centric vacation. In the Carolina Core, everything feels like a 10-minute drive away. You can get a table without a reservation and strangers on the street offer friendly advice when you can’t figure out how to pay for parking (hot tip: it’s free). The high quality of life here is as redolent as the crape myrtle and magnolia trees that line the residential streets.

The Carolina Core is in the middle of it all and distills all that the East Coast is about: great food, high art, technological innovation, world-class furniture, baseball, nature, and all four seasons.

Things to do in the Carolina Core

The arts and crafts scene is vast here, from modern art museums to mural street tours. The Carolina Core built itself up through textiles and tobacco, and the influences of both are still widely seen in the art and culture here. Many institutions that made their fortunes in tobacco are finding philanthropic ways to clean the air.

Explore the Reynolda House Museum of American Art and Gardens

The Reynolda House Museum of American Art and Gardens is a preserved example of old American royalty. This Gilded Age country house of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katherine Smith has been turned into an active museum. In each room hangs a painting from its expansive collection of American art — including works from Frederic Edwin Church, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, and many more — among the antique furnishings and objects.

The home is a piece of art in its own right. You can wander through the 64 rooms and explore the numerous bedrooms and lounges. Keep exploring and you will find the roller skate room, a downstairs bar, an organ room, and a swimming pool. It’s like walking through the expansion pack of a Clue game board.

A ticket to the museum is $19 for non-members. However, the gardens next to the estate are free. The gardens are filled with local fauna and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who also designed Central Park. In the center of the gardens is a beautiful greenhouse styled after the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, thick with humidity and overflowing with rare tropical plants.

Reynolda House Museum of American Art and Gardens: 2250 Reynolda Rd, Winston-Salem, NC 27106

Boutique shopping

There are a number of local boutique shops that offer tons of locally made crafts and arts by North Carolina creators. Just Be and Design Archives Vintage & Handmade Emporium are local chains that have locations in both Greensboro and Winston-Salem. In High Point, there is the charming Blue Hydrangea Boutique and The Mantel Mercantile.

For something a little out of the ordinary, head to Greensboro to explore The Borough Market + Bar, which knows that a good shopping trip is enhanced by the strength of your drink. Built out of an old brewery, the Borough Market + Bar is one part boutique shopping, one part bar, and 100 percent fun. It’s a women-owned business with a ‘70s glitter pink vibe. Head to the bar for one of the signature cocktails and wander around the shop alone or with a crew. Be sure to bring an empty suitcase because nothing loosens your purse strings like a bit of booze.

Enter the home of Home Furnishings and see the world’s largest chest of drawers

36 foot high World's Largest Chest of Drawers.

Photo: Jstengel/Shutterstock

At the turn of the 20th century, High Point was conveniently located on the railroad that lumber and cotton passed through. This made it a point of contact for East Coast textile and furniture artisans. A furniture boom took off, and High Point has kept its reigning title as the home of home furnishings for over 100 years. Every year, High Point hosts the the nation’s largest furniture market where designers and brands congregate to ogle and awe over this year’s latest furniture trends. However, you can take a self-guided furniture tour anytime and explore High Point X Design: a retail collective for furniture designers, including Cohab.Space, SPLASHWORKS, and South + English.

This city’s real high point is visiting its icon: the world’s largest chest of drawers. The chest was built in 1926 to honor the booming furniture industry. It is 36 feet tall, with six-foot-long socks poking out of out of one of the drawers to pay homage to the textile industry.

Greensboro Downtown Greenway

The Downtown Greenway is a park and art initiative connecting Greensboro’s diverse neighborhoods. The City of Greensboro and Action Greensboro have carved out a four-mile pedestrian and biking trail that circles the downtown. There are various art installations that sit on the Greenway like charms on a bracelet. Along the way are murals, sculptures, gardens, children’s parks, and outside event spaces that encourage the community to connect with nature and each other. The art incorporates Greensboro’s storied history with the Civil Rights Movement and paves a path toward a more connected future.

Greensboro Science Center

The Greensboro Science Center is dedicated to conservation and encouraging curiosity. It holds an aquarium, a zoo, a butterfly garden, and the answers to all of your questions about nature. They have a range of sea life that are local to the North Carolina coast, including jellyfish, as well as housing animals on the endangered species list like penguins and pygmy hippos. The staff is so friendly and excited to answer any questions you have about the animals that live there. This is great for kids and the scientifically curious adults.

Greensboro Science Center: 4301 Lawndale Dr, Greensboro, NC 27455

Where to eat

Get your doughnut fix

North Carolina has locally and internationally recognized doughnuts. Winston-Salem is the original home of Krispy Kreme, which can be found anywhere from Sydney to St Petersburg (the cruller and chocolate covered is a staple, no matter your latitude and longitude). For a North Carolina specialty, head to Duck Donuts. Duck Donuts is a smaller chain where you can have your doughnut your way. Choose from a variety of toppings, frostings, and flavor combinations (the blueberry pancake is a favorite). They are cooked fresh and come out warm, which pairs perfectly with a flavored iced coffee (warning: you will walk out covered in confectioners sugar). For a Carolina Core staple, head over to Dough Joe’s. This delightful coffee shop is tucked away in the Reynolds Village. It feels like you’re at your grandmother’s antique home with the freshly made donuts and a quiet ambiance to pair.


For those who want to feel like they are dining in a Chef’s Table episode, Machete cuts through the noise. Located in trendy downtown Greensboro, it was nominated for a James Beard in 2022, won Best in Greensboro in 2021, and made it on Yelp’s Top 20 Restaurants in America in 2022. The menu changes as often as the seasons, yet the brilliant brains behind Machete always offer a mix-match of global flavors. You’ll see side dishes like lemon shoyu butter and main plates like lamb and tomatillo croquettes or carpaccio, roe, and aji amarillo tostadas. One of the only consistent things you’ll find on the menu throughout the year are the duck wings, which should also be ordered every time you go.

Machete: 600 C Battleground Ave, Greensboro, NC 27401


Undercurrent flows with elevated southern cuisine. In an elegant fine dining room, the kitchen pulls from ingredients that run through the bloodstream of North Carolina. From a decked-out brunch to pulled pork, fried chicken, and every other farm animal as an entree for dinner, no meal misses.

Undercurrent: 327 Battleground Ave, Greensboro, NC 27401

Chez Genese

While sitting by the window in Chez Genese, you will sometimes question whether you are in Provence or North Carolina. The ambiance is soft and inviting, and the seating is close enough to strike up a conversation with your neighbor. The food is French inspired with a big American heart. The omelet section is vast (get the asparagus and chevre), and the Southern twist on lemon ricotta pancakes and rosemary biscuits with dollops of whipped butter and raspberry jam are a hit. The restaurant has a no tipping policy and instead has higher prices to pay their staff fairly, but even an indulgent breakfast here won’t break the bank.

Chez Genese: 616 S Elm St, Greensboro, NC 27406

Stock and Grain Assembly Food Hall

For those who want a sampler’s platter of all the Carolina Core offers, head west to the new food hall in High Point. As you walk around the 10 establishments with options ranging from barbecue to poke to pizza to sushi rolls, you’ll hem and haw about which one to support. Bonus for you, every joint is a local small business and independently owned.

It’s conveniently placed right next to the High Point Rocker’s minor league baseball stadium. (Side Note: the Rockers are not rock and roll thrashers but rocking chairs. No mascot has ever been more intimidating than one threatening a splinter.) You can grab your favorite meal and head to the game to watch the Rockers.

Stock and Grain Assembly Food Hall: 275 N Elm St, High Point, NC 27262

Lil’s Coffee Bar at Congdon Yards

Congdon Yards is a great space to gather for coworking, meetings, or relocating from your couch to work someplace a little more social. Right around the corner from Stock and Grain, Congdon Yards is another one of High Point’s city-wide efforts to facilitate more spaces for the local community or out-of-towners who need to check their email in a quiet space. Congdon Yards is intentionally built to support local entrepreneurs and provide tools and spaces for new businesses. It is large enough to hold a 15-person meeting or cozy enough to sneak into one of the dome chairs to read. The space is beautifully decorated with the stylish, cutting-edge furnishings and designs High Point is famous for. And then there is the coffee.

Tucked in between the community tables, avant-garde paintings, and swivel chairs is Lil’s Coffee Bar. The only lil’ thing about it is the name. It offers great liquid inspiration when you are slogging through emails or need to schedule Zoom calls. The ice oat milk coffee is ideal on those muggy southern days.

Lil’s Coffee Bar: 410 W English Rd, High Point, NC 27262


If you’re craving someplace laidback with delicious food, you won’t find a bone to pick with Fishbones. This dive spot offers affordable, high-quality meals and free local gossip when you sit at the bar. This joint is always busy and the beer selection is a community staple. There is a range of seafood or barbeque dishes, with farm-fresh vegetables grilled to your liking (get the grilled shrimp with garlic spinach). It’s bar food that hits the spot that never makes you feel greasy on the inside.

Fishbones: 2119 Walker Ave, Greensboro, NC 27403

Village Tavern

The Village Tavern is an institution in Winston-Salem. Bring a big appetite to match the large and storied menu. People come for the crab dip and stay for the rest of the menu. This scratch kitchen whips up classic American meals with an Asian flair and excels at salmon, fish tacos, and mountainous salads. It is part of the larger Reynolda Village, a collection of restaurants, shops, and coffeehouses on the outskirts of the estate. Meaning it’s a great place to carbo-load before you explore the property.

Village Tavern: 221 Reynolda Village, Winston-Salem, NC 27106

The Katherine

The Katherine Brasserie & Bar is as lovely as the woman it is named after (Katherine Reynolds, of the famed Reynolda House). Katherine had great taste, and this restaurant mirrors her elegance and cosmopolitan nature. The restaurant is located in the old R.J. Reynolds building that has been turned into a hotel and is a mini version of the Empire State Building. The Katherine combines southern culinary ingredients, cosmopolitan flair, and French inspiration (a country Katherine loved visiting). Do not leave until you have had the Le Grand charcuterie board with a massive spread of local meats, cheeses, jams, pickles, and crackers. Pair that with any one of the hearty mains with a side of fried brussel sprouts)and top it off with the chocolate mousse cake for dessert.

The Katherine: 401 N Main St, Winston-Salem, NC 27101

Where to stay: The Proximity

proximity hotel lobby greensboro north carolina

Photo: Expedia

We hope you love the spaces we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

The Proximity Hotel is true to its name and a touch outside downtown Greensboro. This modern hotel is stunning and elegant with tall windows, spiral staircases, lofty rooms, and a London cabbie outside, happy to take you around town. The rooms are spacious and even offer a window from the bathroom into the bedroom, because why not? The hotel is employee-owned and is LEED Platinum certified as a green building. There is a 24/7 gym, a pool, and a beautiful courtyard lined with ivy and magnolia trees with plenty of places to sit.

Attached to the Proximity is Print Works Bistro. Down an elegant spiral staircase, through the glass tunnel, you are welcomed by a bright pale yellow room with tall billowing white curtains and elegant furniture. Imagine if Marie Antoinette had Southern heritage. It’s a place where men wear tuxedos to breakfast (true story). But the cuisine, while delicious and fresh, is not intimidating or pretentious. The breakfast selection is classic, with options like omelets, pancakes, and French toast. No matter the meal, always get the biscuits. If you are staying at the Proximity, you must visit Print Works Bistro; there is no luxury like being able to roll out of bed and have an exquisite meal in front of you before you get all of the sleep out of your eyes.

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How to get to the Carolina Core

Many major American cities connect with the Piedmont Triad International Airport. Greyhound and Amtrak also stop in Greensboro and Winston-Salem. If you’re driving in, it’s about a 5 hour drive from either DC or Atlanta.

Once there, you will want to rent a car if you don’t drive in so that you can dance along the four-lane highways connecting the cities. If you don’t rent a car, you can use a rideshare app like Uber or take the PART bus system connecting all three cities. There are buses in each city, like the Greensboro Transit Agency, the High Point Transit, or the Winston-Salem Transit Authority. Once you are in the downtown area of any of these cities, it is easy to walk around.

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