For those from more populous areas, the Carolina Heartlands present a unique dichotomy. Major universities and research parks percolate just a few miles from verdant, unbounded countryside. You can live in a city townhome and visit your horse farm within minutes. Go canoeing in the afternoon and catch an SEC game that night. What a way to live!
If you like to be in the middle of the action, this is the place for you.
The Carolina Heartlands are at the center of an easy-going way of life.
THE HEARTLANDS LIFESTYLE
Found between mountains and coast, the Carolina heartlands encompass rolling meadows, abundant rivers and lakes, miles of verdant farm country, and about 100 communities, large and small.
Ask Carolina heartlands residents what they like most and many will say it's the flexibility of living close to the mountains, or ocean. You have choices, and that's important. Then again, you may not want to leave this beautiful region filled with cool lakes, fast-moving rivers, history, government, colleges, sports and more.
There's plenty to keep you busy and happy – here at home!
A CAPITAL LOCATION
Both state capital cities reside in the heartlands. North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh, is part of the region known as the Triangle – an area famed for attracting some of the world’s finest high-tech companies.
The Triangle includes Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, three towns not coincidentally known for their high-caliber universities, respectively, NC State, Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Durham was recently named The Tastiest Town in the South, by Southern Living. The town is abuzz with local farm-to-table foodie delights, as well as craft beers, regional wine, and a superb stable of innovative chefs. Plus, their food truck scene is legendary!
Hop on Interstate 85 and head for Charlotte, international in flavor, and beloved by many. Arguably the capital city of both Carolinas, the Queen City perennially rates #1 on Carolina Living readers’ “Most Preferred” Carolina towns. Charlotte has been largely responsible for the renaissance of a number of satellite communities that surround it, affording families the opportunity to experience the charm of small-town Southern hospitality, with big-city amenities such as shopping, arts and culture, and Douglass International Airport.
Travel a short 90 minutes further south on I-77 and you find Columbia, South Carolina’s capital city. Excellent restaurants abound, and the cultural scene is second to none, with independent theatres, the magnificent Columbia Museum of Art, orchestras and Broadway productions.
Founded in 1803, the University of South Carolina campus retains its 19th Century charm, even as the University sets its sites on hydrogen fuel cell research, and 21st Century technology. Its Moore School of International Business garners accolades as well.
In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranked the Moore School's graduate program in international business in the top three nationwide public universities for more than 20 consecutive years. The Darla Moore Business School has ranked #1nationally in undergraduate international business education for 16 consecutive years.
A JUG OF WINE
Northwest of Raleigh is Winston-Salem, a gateway to the Yadkin Valley and dozens of wineries. One venerable Italian family searched for the perfect location in the United States to replicate their award-winning Italian wines. They chose the Yadkin Valley as most closely matching the terroir of their Italian home.
North Carolina is home to more than 100 wineries, and growing. Old tobacco fields have morphed into vineyards, drawing from North Carolina’s history of producing wines from a variety of grapes, most prominently muscadines and European-style vinifers.
There are muscadines growing on the coast and a variety of grapes in the foothills, but the Yadkin Valley and its environs can lay claim to the vast majority of families and companies producing award-winning libations. (Enjoy in moderation, always.)
SADDLE UP AND RIDE
Horses thrive in the heartlands. The soil is kind to horses’ hooves, and the climate is favorable to riding and training almost year-round. A strong equestrian culture has been built around horses and their human families, starting with Pinehurst, NC, and traveling south and east to Whiteville, south to Camden, Elloree, and Aiken and west to Tryon, at the edge of the foothills.
The NC Sandhills are favorites for equestrian activities, and throughout the heartlands, you’ll find steeplechases, fox hunting (no foxes harmed, of course) and polo. You’ll also find parties galore, where folks trot out (pun intended) their best finery and grandmother’s silver trays for sandwiches as they watch fabulous steeds show the results of training, breeding and TLC.
About 900 golf courses can be found in every part of the Carolinas, and the courses range from award-winning to home-grown three-par clubs. Pinehurst is, without a doubt, the most famous golf environment, holding national tournaments and attracting vacationing families.
LAKES AND RIVERS
Lakes Norman and Wylie beckon Charlotte residents to live and play, and further south, Lake Murray offers its 600+ miles of shoreline for similar frolics to Midlands residents.
Still further south and a bit east, lakes Marion and Moultrie offer world-class fishing and lazy days exploring deep coves and hidden beaches.
Along the rivers, communities give families a waterside lifestyle – within easy driving to urban centers.
Crops flourish in the heartlands, with more sweet potatoes grown in NC than any other state in the nation. Cucumbers, strawberries, corn, wheat, peanuts, blueberries and tomatoes are prevalent in both Carolinas, and peaches, melons and snap beans are plentiful in SC.
There are also specialty crops including exotic mushrooms, gingko and pecans. (NC ranks second nationally in the production of Christmas trees, but they are mostly grown in the mountains.) You-pick-em farms can be found in a variety of locations. And there’s nothing like a just-picked strawberry or blueberry to make a believer in farm-to-table cuisine.
The outdoors lifestyle reigns supreme in the Carolina heartlands, from walking to tennis and spectator sports. Easy to find and difficult to leave, these towns have history, charm, friendly people, and so many ways to play, learn and work. Check out 31 heartlands towns and cities online and on the following pages. We’ll see you in the heartlands.