Look up “charm” in the dictionary and you could just as likely see the small mountain town of Waynesville, North Carolina. Its Main Street Historic District is on the National Registry of Historic Places due to more than 35 of its architectural buildings. And its population – all 10,000-plus – don’t seem to mind a bit when non-natives stop in to browse for local crafts or peruse its folksy shops that specialize in everything from nostalgia to fine art.
Situated near the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains in Haywood County, the county seat Waynesville is less than an hour’s drive from Asheville, another favorite western North Carolina tourist destination. Asheville was ranked among the Top 3 places to visit in 2015. But with less traffic and an easy-to-stroll downtown district, Waynesville is a nearby daytrip that should not be overlooked.
Start at the small but friendly Visitor Center on Main Street (look for the big blue awning) and have a chat with the helpful folks who distribute maps, answer questions and love to share their fondness for the surrounding beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Walking tours, or “Volksporting,” designed to improve health, cover the 6.2 miles that comprise the downtown are encouraged, as are scenic drives.
Just across the street from the Visitor Center is Mast General Store, circa 1883 (the original still stands in Valle Crucis, near Boone, North Carolina). The two-level replicated store, one of eight in North and South Carolina, is an old-fashioned hub for all things nostalgic, including 500 ole-time candy favorites, Victorian toys, oil lamps, cast iron cookware, clothing and footwear. The initial owner, W.W. Mast, called it a place for “Quality Goods for the Living, Coffins and Caskets for the Dead” in 1923.
But the quaint little independent shops can hold their own when it comes to local treasures. Don’t miss Cat in the Attic Treasure & Treats, Affairs of the Heart, the Moose Crossing Burl Wood Gallery, the Olde Brick House (teas and spices), the Cheddar Box Country Store, Pleasant Places, Mountain Favors, and Ellie May’s Fine Resale Store, among others. A stuffed Santa greets you year-round outside the Christmas is Everyday Shop. Inside, German cuckoo clocks and ginger cottages will make you smile.
Pet-lovers frequent the no-nonsense-named Dog Bakery for special canine treats, or bring their furry friends inside to visit. In fact, Waynesville is the kind of town in which you are just as likely to hear neighbors swapping stories of their pets as you are to hear them talk about the weather.
At the south end of Main Street is the stop-in for sweet lovers at the City Bakery, where flaky cinnamon buns are super-sized and both breakfast and lunch is served. Artisan breads, pastries and organic coffees are local and tourist favorites alike.
Waynesville, like many small towns across America, loves it local heritage and culture. Folkmoot U.S.A., an international dance festival, is held here each year in July. Special events and performances take place May through December in downtown, ranging from the Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration to the Apple Harvest Festival to “Treats on the Street” on Halloween.
The Twelve Days of Christmas run December 13-24, with caroling, music, luminaries, parades and more to create magical moments for resident families and winter tourists.
If you appreciate the art of quilting, the Haywood County Quilt Trails, a regional project launched in 2009, celebrates rural heritage using colorful blocks on barns and buildings, each with its own unique story. The first quilt block was installed on the historic Shelton House in Waynesville, now home to the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts.
Any mountain town worth its salt is chock full of talented artisans. Waynesville is no exception. Take “A Walk through Art,” along Main Street and the nearby Historic Frog Level to see the best of the best in handcrafted pottery, furnishings, jewelry, framing and fine art at several studios and galleries.
Just a few blocks away from downtown you’ll find the celebrated Hart Theatre, where local talent is showcased through plays and musicals that have garnered national attention.
It’s always good to know where the locals eat, but in Waynesville, it’s difficult to choose. Bogart’s, at the south end of Main Street, is a fine bet, with its popular ribeye sandwich, country-sized portions and Southern-style iced tea. For something unique, try Renee’s chicken salad made with fresh cut celery, onions, mayo, pecans, raisins and a dash of cinnamon that gives it a sweet flavor.
I went quasi-healthy with the Spinach Fajita-style Chicken Wrap and steamed veggies.
But there are no shortages of incomparable places to eat in Waynesville. The Sweet Onion comes highly recommended (don’t miss the Wild Mushroom Ravioli or Blue Crab Tuna Nachos) as did Blossom on Main (Thai), the farm-fresh Chef’s Table, and the Frog’s Leap Public House, which offers a unique farm-to-fork experience.
Craft beer breweries are gaining traction throughout western North Carolina, including Waynesville, so for a casual meal and a local beer, stop in at Boojum Tap Room on Main Street, at Pub 319 with 12 tap microbrews and burgers, or at the award-winning Tipping Point Brewing, with eight crafted brews and pub fare served during lunch and dinner.
If you’re an out-of-towner looking for a place to stay, begin with the Downtown Waynesville Association that provides a full list of B&B lodgings, and mountain inns. Choices range from log cabins to the Waynesville Resort and Spa.
Call 800-334-9036 for lodging in the area.
Waynesville, North Carolina: as an Appalachian resident and lifelong mountain lover myself, I like to think of it as pure mountain charm at its best.
Waynesville, North Carolina, a Main Street City since 1986.
The Waynesville Visitor Center, 828-456-3517