Lenoir, Where the High country Begins, is the county seat for Caldwell County, a charming mélange of small towns including perennial favorite Blowing Rock, parts of Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Wilson Creek (a federally designated “Wild and Scenic River,”) and mountains cradling the rolling hills of the Piedmont.
As a Certified NC Retirement Community, Lenoir offers music and the arts, natural resources, lifelong learning, an historic downtown and a friendly, welcoming community. Hi-tech giant Google took notice and opened a data center there, joining some of furniture’s biggest names in calling the Lenoir area home. Join us as we take note of accommodations, restaurants and attractions to suit every taste and pocketbook, but first, relative newcomers and retirees Helen and Roger Spacht shared their experiences.
The Spachts originally planned to retire from Delaware to the mountains of Colorado, close to family. He was a professor at the University of Delaware and she was an elementary school principal. They looked for three years, but eventually realized that although they were mountain people, they didn’t want to commit to that much snow. Roger Spacht was tasked with finding a more suitable mountain home area and four seasons. He narrowed the search to the Western North Carolina Mountains and the couple made a visit and scheduled three tours. “The first community was fine but then we visited The Coves Mountain River Club, in Lenoir, and canceled the third visit elsewhere,” Helen Spacht said. “We looked around and loved the area and the people. It was charming, with enough to do, but not too crowded. Perfect for us.”
They bought, built, and moved in 2014. During that first visit, The Coves Mountain River Club residents would open their doors and invite them in. “Now, we do the same thing,” Mrs. Spacht laughed. “It isn’t a retirement community because we have families with children. Lots of us are from somewhere else and it’s been such fun getting to know everyone.”
Pisgah Mountain Lodge is a great gathering area by the pool, with forever views. “It’s our crowning joy,” she explained. “We all love meeting and hanging out there.” The Spachts love to kayak and use the five miles of frontage on the Johns River to access the crystal-clear water. They go hiking and thoroughly enjoy Isabel’s Community Garden as well as Evelyn’s Vineyard, where grapes are grown and Mr. Spacht draws from his childhood family vineyard and helps out with nurturing the vines. There is a thriving equestrian community which welcomes horse owners.
“I took up golf when we moved here, and now I usually play twice a week, once with the ladies and on Sunday with couples (and lunch after). We call it nine and dine.” A recent visit by her son and his wife found the younger generation biking on the roads and trails and loving every minute of it.
Mrs. Spacht volunteers as a Guardian Ad Litem and helps the social and welcoming committee arrange events to keep everyone connected. (In addition to many opportunities for meaningful volunteering, there is lifelong learning at nearby Caldwell Community College.) They enjoy Loe’s Brewery in Lenoir, where Mr. Spacht loves the craft brews and Mrs. Spacht favors their pub burger. “It’s really good food and drink and the people are so friendly.” They wander around the area, from Lenoir, to Boone, Blowing Rock and Morganton, but there’s plenty to keep them busy at The Coves Mountain River Club.
With more friends than ever, their children approve of their retirement choice. “We are busy, happy and active here, and that’s going to help keep us young,” she shared.
Many retirees and empty-nesters are attracted to the community for similar reasons. The views are breathtaking, and the community is surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, which protects those views for future generations. Wilson Creek offers 49,000 acres of protected forest with more great hiking trails, kayaking through rapids, tubing along slow-moving streams, splashing in shallow waters, and some of the best trout fishing in North Carolina.
The Coves Mountain River Club is a Polaris-friendly community, making it easy to navigate. And folks can choose from mountain cottages, private estates and tiny houses. It’s all part of the package that compelled the Spachts to move here.
Where will you stay when you visit? We found several good options.
Where to Stay
Irish Rose B&B is a lovely brick colonial revival home built in 1925 by one of the furniture industry’s early magnates. It’s furnished beautifully, and owner/proprietor Rose Noakes welcomes visitors from everywhere to enjoy the cozy rooms and modern amenities.
Brown Mountain Beach Resort is perfectly positioned along Wilson Creek and offers inviting cabins with views and beautifully furnished cabins. There are also three yurts available for rent, providing a more rustic and open sleeping experience.
There are also a number of top quality national chains in the area, as well as B&Bs in nearby Blowing Rock.
Dining Delights, Endearing Eateries & Wine and Brew Adventures
The area in and around Lenoir offers plenty of unique restaurants that locals love and visitors seek out. Here are a few to mark as possibilities.
Buffalo Mercantile Co and Café has earned its Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence by attention to detail and fresh ingredients. The pizzas are praised again and again. One happy diner called it the “Little Italy of Lenoir.” It’s family-friendly, a tiny bit off the beaten track, and worth the short drive for the mountain milkshakes alone.
1841 Café offers signature sauces and build your own burgers, plus southern fare in downtown Lenoir. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu is eclectic and when there’s live music, it’s a great atmosphere. If they have tomato basil soup, make sure you order.
Dos Amigos features Mexican-American fare including fabulous chiles poblanos. And California Burritos. All the usual favorites are present, with a killer strawberry margarita for those in the mood for an adult beverage.
Taco Bout it is a food truck with a very loyal following. Authentic Mexican is their signature, with lots of options. Try the freshly made roasted tomatillo salsa with the little piggy or Mother Clucker taco, burrito or bowl. Raves all ‘round.
Carolina Burger is a casual eatery with top-of-the-line burgers. All your favorites, with homemade chili and slaw, and two signature sauces for dipping, if you like. Not a meat eater? The three-cheese grilled cheese is scrumptious!
Sims Country BBQ is just outside Lenoir in Granite Falls. It’s got live music on many weekends and opens at 5pm so earmark it for authentically delicious BBQ and a welcoming family friendly feeling. You might even learn a bit of square dancing when you go.
Essie and Olive is a must try, wherever you find them. Their shop is on Main Street in downtown Lenoir, but they are often available at local farmers markets and other locations. The company (named after maternal influences in the founders’ lives) specializes in gourmet frozen pops made from whole fruit and natural ingredients. The ingredients are picked at the peak of freshness and sourced locally wherever possible. Yum!
Highland Coffee House is great for coffee drinkers, but if a cuppa Joe isn’t your thing, try one of their smoothies with a homemade pastry. There’s an art gallery upstairs, and a comfy area in the back room.
Side Street Pour House and Grill is a friendly downtown bar and grill that serves lunch and dinner. Expect your pub food favorites here and it’s a bit of a locals’ favorite. Try the BBQ, and homemade desserts when available. If you’re a beer lover, you’ll have a wonderful experience sampling.
Fercott Fermentables – half home brew supply shop and half bottle shop, with great events to introduce you to barrel-aged ciders, or perhaps peanut butter beers. Fun, with knowledgeable owners and a family friendly atmosphere. Think of it as a fermentable school, with OJT.
Loe’s Brewing Company, an artisanal microbrewery and gastropub, enjoys a very loyal band of fans who sing the praises of their burgers and parmesan garlic fries. They offer more traditional entrees as well as beer on tap. Open for dinner and a favorite of Helen and Roger Spacht.
Granite Falls Brewery, near Lenoir, is a must-visit when in the area. Their slogan is “Craft Brewery + Foodie Joint” and it fits the mood. Try their Hoppalachia India Pale Ale, as well as their seasonal offerings. They give back to the community and offer a dog-friendly patio and kid-friendly staff, plus a killer hamburger.
Twisted Vine Winery is a family operation with a devoted following. Enjoy tastings in their red barn and on the patio. The best-seller is Bodacious, a blend of chardonnay and peaches. The menu ranges from dry to sweet, and for the adventurous, try their award-winning Southern Heat, a spicy jalapeno wine that’s great for cooking.
Six Waterpots Vineyard and Winery offers hand-crafted wines from homegrown muscadine varietals. They produce favorites such as sauvignon Blanc and cabernet savignon, as well as wines from fresh local fruits including strawberry, green apple, blackberry, blueberry and peach.
Outdoor enthusiasts love this area, with its walking trails, boating, camping and fishing, but for those just as passionate about shopping or the arts, they’ve got you covered as well. In fact, it’s the variety that makes Lenoir and environs such a perfect destination for visitors, new residents and retirees. Take a look.
20 Miles of Furniture is found on a stretch of Highway 321 between Lenoir and Hickory that features miles of fine furniture shops, outlets, and all kinds of unique shopping experiences. Thousands visit each year in search of the perfect item and they are never disappointed. This area is known for its craftsmanship and excellent prices. So much fun to shop here.
Fort Defiance is a historic 1792 home built by General William Lenoir, a Revolutionary War leader. Garnering great reviews on Trip Advisor, visitors love the warm, friendly atmosphere and living history all around. Make sure you take a tour, given by folks who know everything about the house and its restoration.
T.H. Broyhill Walking Park is a favorite of locals and visitors who find its peaceful pond and walking paths very appealing. Its 20 acres in downtown Lenoir include a paved loop around a lovely lake with trees and flowers. There’s a sanctuary for waterfowl and botanical gardens. Don’t be surprised to see a photo shoot somewhere on the grounds.
Arts & Antiques
Caldwell Arts Council provides great current information on the arts in Caldwell County. Among their most loved event is their yearly sculpture celebration, held in T.H. Broyhill Walking Park and including more than 70 sculptors and 200+ sculptures. Held September 18, 2018. Lenoir is known for its sculpture, as well as arts events for the public.
Broyhill Civic Center presents events from local to international. Check their website for what’s playing during your visit.
Caldwell Heritage Museum offers historic treasures including Native American artifacts, early maps, grants and deeds, old photographs, and stories of the area’s development into a furniture manufacturing center. Special collections are featured at various times. A perfect afternoon for history enthusiasts!
Harmon’s Antiques, on Main Street in Lenoir, isn’t a cavernous junk shop, and that’s a good thing. Lovely items for sale and so much more than you’d think in a relatively small shop space.
Artists are drawn to the rolling hills and beautiful scenery of Lenoir. Be sure to stop in at Frye Art Studio, and stroll downtown and admire the sculptures in planters that are scattered about in what’s called Tucker’s Gallery. Chances are, you can purchase one – if somebody else doesn’t get there first. It’s a really fun addition to Lenoir. Across the Grain, by Thomas Sayre, is a great outdoor sculpture that begs for a selfie or a family portrait. In Blowing Rock and just outside the town you’ll find Bolick Family Pottery and Traditions, another pottery studio with family connections. These potters have avid fans, and we’ve been told that a cup of coffee in one of their mugs is a delight every morning.
Pisgah National Forest is a treasure that offers magnificent views, hiking, mountain biking and walking trails, streams, camping, and the amazing Sliding Rock. Visitors Centers have detailed information on the Forest, which many say is one of the most appealing in the United States. For those with limited mobility, there are many attractions with easy access and simply driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway and through the Forest will provide a lifetime of memories.
Wilson Creek, a wild and scenic river is a must-visit in the Lenoir and Caldwell County area. Simply beautiful and with a road next to it, very accessible. Make sure you stop at Brown Mountain Beach. There are cabins and yurts available for rent and don’t be surprised if you see a wedding in progress. Mountains, waterfront, accessibility? What could be better?
With so much to enjoy around Lenoir, you’ll want to plan for several days. While there, be sure to visit The Coves and discover why, for folks like Helen and Roger Spracht, a weekend just isn’t enough time.
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