Eighty miles east of Raleigh, North Carolina, lies Kinston. Once a huge tobacco town, the city has started to undergo a bit of a renaissance in recent years. The area is now home to a large art collection, a craft brewery, outstanding restaurants, and a lot of history. Whether you’re on your way to North Carolina’s coast, or just looking for an affordable afternoon trip, there’s a little something in Kinston for everyone. Here’s how to spend an afternoon (or weekend) in this thriving North Carolina town.
Start your day off with a walk through Kinston’s Public Art Trail. You can pick up a trail map at the city’s Community Council For The Arts, which displays works from both local and national artists. Kinston has one of the largest collections of public art in North Carolina, with pieces located throughout most of downtown. Amongst other things, the public collection includes quite a few interesting sculptures, several mosaics and murals, and a number of benches that have been transformed into works of art. A unique sculpture featuring a small globe marks where a time capsule was placed there in 2011, the 100-year anniversary of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Art buffs will also love The Overland Gallery, where they can see local artists at work.
During the Civil War, Kinston was the staging ground for several battles. Today you can visit those historic battlegrounds, including The Battle of Kinston fought in December 1862 and The Battle of Wyse Fork in 1865. Self-guided driving tours of each are available, highlighting the key moments. The city is also home to the CSS Neuse Ironclad, a gunboat used by the Confederacy during the way. For $5, you can see what remains of the original boat in person downtown, as well as memorabilia saved from its wreckage. Also downtown is the CSS Neuse II, the world’s only full-sized facsimile of a Confederate gunboat.
When it’s time for lunch, stop by the Queen Street Deli and Bakery. The local favorite offers a number of delicious and unique sandwiches for $8 or less, and has a juice and coffee bar where you can snag up a liquid pick-me-up. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure grab a few handmade cookies from the counter before you leave.
As the afternoon rolls around, stop by Mother Earth Brewing. Located in what was once a drive-through pharmacy, the brewery is one of the fastest-growing in the state and also has its own small distillery. Relax on its outdoor patio while sipping on an Endless River, the brewery’s Kolsch-style beer, or something a little darker like its Munich-style Dunkel Lager, Dark Cloud. Free brewery tours are available at the top of every hour, Tuesday though Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Finish the day off at the Chef & The Farmer. Chef Vivian Howard is a James Beard semifinalist, and has her own television show on PBS, “A Chef’s Life.” A native of the area, Howard sources the majority of the produce she uses in the restaurant locally. One must-have on the menu: dirty grits, with sage sausage, sweet onion, crispy chicken livers, celery, and apple ($14). If you plan on making a trip, be sure to secure a reservation a month ahead of time.
If you’re not quite ready to leave town after dinner, check in at The O’Neal. The recently opened boutique hotel is built inside of an old bank and the original safe is still intact in the hotel’s beautifully decorated lobby. Instead of money, inside you’ll now find a small fridge packed with Mother Earth brews as well as bottles of Mother Earth’s Whiskey and award-winning gin. Rooms start at $189 per night.