Settled as early as 1775, Lexington is the Davidson County seat in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Besides being a political and governmental destination, Lexington boomed as a textile and furniture manufacturing city. At the turn of the 21st century, those industries all but disappeared, though the county seat remained.
Today, Lexington is quintessential small-town America, located 20 miles south of Winston-Salem. Its historic and quaint uptown is a charming place to discover yesteryear. Many of the shops in uptown Lexington are a destination all by themselves. You'll find everything from wants -- antiques, furniture, Army Navy store, and pottery -- to needs like a grocery market, hardware store, eateries, and places to grab a drink.
There always seems to be something going on here. Here are just a few incredible things to do in Lexington.
Note: Lexington Tourism Authority hosted my stay and activities in Lexington. All opinions are my own.
1. Eat Delicious Barbecue!
In North Carolina, you've got three kinds of barbecue: east, west, and Lexington-style. And you can be sure that folks in Lexington know their "que." After all, Lexington is known as the "Barbecue Capital of the World." In 2012, U.S. News and World Report ranked Lexington number 4 on its list of the best cities for barbecue.
It all started in 1919 when farmer Sid Weaver set up an open-pit near the courthouse to cook his hogs and sell barbecue to passersby. The rest is history, as they say. Today there are over 15 barbecue establishments in Lexington. All of them are family-owned, and many of them operated by third-generation family members, holding true to age-old Lexington barbecue traditions.
Lexington-style barbecue is pork shoulder only, cooked slowly over hardwood coals in red-brick ovens. It is served chopped fine, course, or sliced. "Dip," not sauce, is made of vinegar and ketchup and a few other secret ingredients that vary from restaurant to restaurant. Lexington barbecue is always served with red slaw (although some places have white) and hushpuppies, holding true to age-old Lexington barbecue traditions. Click here for a complete list.
2. Shop At Conrad And Hinkle Food Market
Conrad and Hinkle Food Market has stood in the same spot for 102 years. Nowadays people would call it an "old-fashioned" market. And it is! Lee Hinkle, grandson of the original store owner, takes pride in serving fresh, local produce, meats, and other items, such as salsas, Moravian chicken pies, and his grandmother's pimento cheese.
The store retains its century-old charm -- tin ceilings, original shelving, and the walk-in freezer that was installed in 1941, the second of its kind in the state. But more than its physical attributes, Conrad and Hinkle retain their personal touches. Employees are friendly, courteous -- and they still make deliveries.
3. Get A Sweet-Tooth Fix At The Candy Factory
If you have a sweet tooth -- and even if you don't -- The Candy Factory is a must-stop. You can't miss the signature red-and-white-striped awning out front on Main Street. Visitors walking through the doors are greeted with the scent of freshly-made popcorn and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. The glass cases are filled with a variety of heavenly chocolates and homemade fudge.
Housed in the old Lexington Hardware building (circa 1890), The Candy Factory still has the original wooden floors, but the walls are now lined with bright red candy bins replacing nut and bolt bins. The floor-to-ceiling shelves that used to hold tools and such are filled with goodies, soda pop, toys, and other novelties from yesteryear.
4. Check Out Lanier's Hardware
What started as a small 1,600-square-foot hardware store has grown into a community landmark. The grandchildren of Ardell Lanier now run the store, and even though they've modernized a few things, the place hasn't changed much since their grandfather first opened in 1940.
Lanier's is more than just a hardware store. Over the years, a home goods section was added, as was sporting goods. A little bit of everything can be found here. One thing that hasn't changed is the personal attention each customer gets when they walk in. Lanier's motto is, "If we don't have it, or we can't get it, you don't need it!"
5. Explore The Davidson County Historical Museum
Lexington could write its own American history book. The Davidson County Historical Museum on Main Street is a great place to spend a couple of hours soaking in that history, plus learn about a few local legends. The museum itself is housed in the Old Courthouse, which has a history of its own. As the county seat, many a trial, as well as other political business, was held there.
You’ll learn a lot here. For instance, did you know that a young, new singing sensation, Elvis Presley, performed before a sold-out audience at the YMCA Auditorium in March 1956? Moving picture comedy actor Charlie Chaplin also visited Lexington in 1918 to sell WWI bonds. And a host of other performers have spent time in Lexington. Many up-and-coming stars got their start (or at least partly) at the annual Lexington Barbecue Festival.
6. Enjoy Wine Tasting
The Yadkin Valley is often referred to as the Napa Valley of North Carolina. The six award-winning Davidson County wineries, or vineyards, are on the southern end of Yadkin Valley, known as the Southern Gateway Wine Trail.
Junius Lindsay Vineyard grows its French varietal grapes on land that has been in the family since 1896. Michael Zimmerman spent much of his life in Southern France's Rhone Valley, where he learned his craft. Native Vines Winery is “the first American Indian-owned winery in the country.” The Gabbard family are proud members of the Lumbee tribe, the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River.
Once a tobacco farm, Old Homeplace Vineyard sits on 48 acres that have been in the family for 70 years. The winery has an expansive outdoor deck, overlooking a 1,200-acre lake. Curran Alexander Vineyards has been growing European vinifera wine grapes since 2001 on a farm that's been in the family since the late 1800s. Having recently opened up for tastings, they offer ample outdoor seating overlooking the vineyards including cozy Adirondack chairs around a large rock fire pit.
Weathervane Winery is so much more than a winery! They offer indoor and outdoor seating, an outside fireplace, an amphitheater, a gazebo, and overnight cottages. And Childress Vineyards is one of the most prominent wineries in North Carolina. More famous in the NASCAR world, Richard Childress grew up near Lexington.
7. Hunt For The Pigs In The City
Fun and fancy life-sized pigs dressed in various costumes adorn the city street corners and greet visitors as they enter buildings. What started as a public arts initiative and a way to bring attention to the revitalized uptown area has grown into a fun and lovable addition to the city.
Folks like the pigs so much they started buying them, and more are continually being made. No one knows for sure how many still line the streets, but it's always fun when you spot one. How many can you find? And which one will become your favorite?
8. Come Back For The Barbecue Festival
Since 1984, the city has hosted the Lexington Barbecue Festival, one of the largest street festivals in North Carolina. It has become one of the nation's most popular food festivals. Several city blocks on Main Street are closed off, and up to 400 street vendors line up to sell their art, crafts, and other wares.
Music is played throughout the day on several stages, including the main event, which in the past has included stars like Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, and Taylor Swift. Of course, the main star of the event is local Lexington barbecue, but there are dozens of other food vendors as well.
The annual festival, held in October, has been recognized nationally, regionally, and statewide for its excellence. It has been recognized as one of the "Top Ten Food Festival in America" by Travel + Leisure and was named "One of Ten Great Places to Celebrate Food" by USA Today.
9. Meet The Locals
Do you honestly want to know what the absolute most incredible thing about Lexington is? Its people. There is more "family" and more "community" in this small town than anywhere I can think of. In two days, I’ve heard countless stories of family, community, and about the community being family.
Businesses that began 100 years ago are now being run by third-generation family members. If they've been sold to someone else, you can bet on that person having grown up in Lexington and spent their youth in that particular establishment. Local youth graduating high school, who wanted to "get out" of the small-town environment, have now returned with an education and a work ethic. Coupled with their ties to Lexington, they have now started businesses of their own, catering to a new generation of locals and visitors alike.
Extra Tips: Where To Eat, Stay, And Play
You'll find dozens of places to eat, drink, or just relax in uptown. Perfect Blend Coffee Shop next to Mission Pottery is a perfect place to spend the morning. Sophie's Cork and Ale is housed in an old book shop. Stop in at Red Donut Shop for fresh donuts all day. Enjoy a craft beer or a glass of fine wine at The Brewer's Kettle.
There are plenty of activities for the outdoor enthusiast in Lexington, too. The second largest lake in North Carolina is just 15 miles away. High Rock Lake has paddling, kayaking, boating, and some of the best fishing in North Carolina. Hit the links at Lexington Golf Club. Discover NASCAR at RCR Museum minutes from uptown.
While you're in North Carolina: