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North Carolina Travel Guide
Winston-Salem

Introduction to Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem, North CarolinaDriving into Winston-Salem, it looks like a real serious city and, with a population around 230,000, I guess it is. Among North Carolina cities it was recently edged out of fourth place by once-Downtrodden Durham. But whereas Durham has a low and somewhat gritty profile, Winston's widespread skyline has a stately, service-industry gleam to it.

The Twin City's downtown is dominated by the enormously well-endowed Wells Fargo Center building, which, with 34 floors, is now the tallest skyscraper in town (and the only one with a domed roof). But from 1929 to 1966, when tobacco was king, the tallest building in Winston-Salem was the 21-floor Reynolds building, headquarters for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. (In 1929 it was the tallest office building in the country south of Baltimore.) It closed three years ago, and it's on the market; you can buy it for around $12 million. Worth a stop in the lobby to see the awesome deco murals, if you can get in.

Winston-Salem is sometimes called "Camel City" due to its historic role in the tobacco industry and Reynold's legendary "Camel" cigarette. R.J.Reynolds built the second tobacco factory here in 1875 (shortly after the first one was built by Pleasant Hanes, another big player in the tobacco boom; Hanes later went into underwear in a big way), and by 1914 Camels were the most popular cigarette in the world. This helped make Winston-Salem the largest city in North Carolina for several decades before cigarette became a dirty word.

Winston-Salem, NC SkylineWinston-Salem is the blending of two cities that grew up together like siblings: Salem, from the Hebrew word for "peace", was established in 1766 as a Moravian religious community. Then in 1849 the Moravian congregation sold some land north of Salem to Forsyth County for use as a county seat. This was later named Winston after local Revolutionary War hero, Joseph Winston.

By the 1880s there were more than 40 tobacco plants in Winston-Salem. RJR owned 121 buildings at the time of his death in 1918. Now many of the RJR warehouse and factory buildings have been repurposed to form the Piedmont Research Triad Park. But during the last half of the 20th century, many more of them stood vacant.

From the mid 1970s to the early 2000s, downtown Winston-Salem was a sad little place. Like many urban areas, most industry business had developed away from Main Street, and malls with easy, free parking sent all shoppers skedaddling to the suburbs. Soon nobody remained at the center except those too poor to move away, and other than a few bodegas, pawn shops and McDonald’s, commerce fled.

Then, as usual, artists moved in and began turning urban ruins into affordable studios, which made the area automatically hip. Soon Commerce followed Art, tip-toeing back on red stiletto heels.

Accolades

Old Salem and Winston-Salem skylineForbes magazine listed Winston-Salem as one of the top 25 places in America to retire. CNN-Money had them at #6. The Old Salem Cobblestone Farmers Market was named one of the best farmer's markets in America. Livability.com named Winston-Salem's downtown as the second most live-able in the USA. Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate listed it as the #10 most affordable and liveable city in America. MSNBC put it on their top 10 list of inexpensive cities to live in.

Art and History

In the 1980s, most of the buildings on Trade Street stood abandoned when Artworks Gallery Co-operative first established itself as the anchor for the arts district that eventually emerged. Original founding members say that, back then, the neighborhood was so dodgy that the public was afraid to come downtown for the art openings.

But the artists soldiered on, as artists will, and led the worn-out ghetto up out of that funk to become the vibrant arts and shopping neighborhood it is today.

The first Art-o-mat was created here by Clark Whittington in 1997. Since then they have popped up all over the globe (some say there are 900 worldwide). You can see one of these Art-dispensing re-purposed cigarette machines up close at Delurk Gallery on Sixth Street. A true roots art form from the town R.J.Reynolds built.

Twinsters are rightfully proud of their Downtown Arts District (DADA) which runs mostly along or near Trade Street, and conveniently close to the Fourth Street restaurant row. There are sidewalk cafes, twinkling strings of light by evening, and a generally festive atmosphere -- especially in warm weather. This is where the nightlife happens too. And baby, it HAPPENS.

Go down for the First Friday Gallery Hops, which include those tiny-wine-cup receptions, join-the-fun creative events and extended gallery hours --- on the first Friday of each month.

But truth be told, every North Carolina town with more than three stoplights has an arts district these days.

For my money, the best reason to visit Winston-Salem is for the well-preserved history -- starting with Old Salem.

The Moravian church originated in Bohemia and Moravia (what is now the Czech Republic) in 1415, before the reformation. These "first protestant" missionaries sailed over to Pennsylvania in 1741 and later a small group migrated south to the Carolina Piedmont. They started out in Bethebara and then built Salem, which is now a few miles away across town. They lived communally, with a closed economy in which everything was owned by the church. Freed slaves were taught to read and women had big roles in the community.

Salem Historic District -- just south of 40 in south Winston-Salem. Historic Salem is really really old, but so well restored and maintained that it feels like you have walked into a town at its peak. Old Salem is a "living museum", and everybody who works there is dressed just as they would have been in the 18th century...if they were Moravians, that is. Sixty-four acre Salem College, the first women's college in America was established here in 1772 as a primary school, then a college, and continues as one of the few chicks-only schools today.

Historic Bethebara Park, northwest of Winston-Salem. The original Moravian settlement which fell into into ruin and cornfield over the course of the 19th century, is now a park, with a history and archeology museum. Some of the old buildings have been reconstructed.

Korner's Folly -- built by artist Jule Gilmer Korner in nearby Kernersville, just east of Winston-Salem off I-40. Started in the late 1870s, Korner continued to work on his 22-room home throughout his life, and when he died in 1924, he still considered it unfinished. "The strangest house in the world" (thus dubbed by Preservation Magazine) includes trap doors, murals, spiral staircases, 15 fireplaces and a theater!

OTHER THINGS TO DO AND SEE

Tanglewood Park -- In nearby Clemmons. Includes mountain bike trails, fishing and boating lakes, an arboretum, and a children's garden.

Children's Museum of Winston Salem, 390 South Liberty Street: Just what it sounds like. A great place to bring your kids, this museum has all sorts of events for children and serves as an excellent carrot for getting your child enthused about your trip to Winston-Salem. More so than the tour of the RJ Reynalds Cigarette factory.

Wake Forest University: A private, coeducational university in Winston-Salem, founded in 1834, originally located in the town of Wake Forest, near Raleigh, is located north of downtown after moving here in 1956. U.S. News America's Best Colleges report, Wake Forest ranked 13th for "Best Undergraduate Teaching" and 27th overall among national universities in 2013. The Calloway School of Business and Accountancy was ranked 14th overall, and #1 in terms of Academic Quality by Businessweek. The Reynolda Campus is the main campus for Wake Forest University, housing the undergraduate colleges, three of the four graduate schools, and half the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and is a lovely place to walk. Their football and basketball teams, called the Demon Deacons are to Winston Salem as the Duke Bluedevils are to Durham.

Winston-Salem Dash: Class A Farm team of the Chicago White Socks in the Carolina Baseball League, their beautiful downtown stadium opened in 2010 and was named Ballpark of the Year. In 2012 they had the best record in Minor League Baseball.

ART MUSEUMS

Reynolda House Museum of American Art (and Reynolda Gardens): Originally the estate of R.J. Reynolds, tobacco magnate

SECCA Southern Center for Contemporary Arts

MUSIC

The Db'sThe North Carolina Anglo-pop movement of the eighties had its roots in Winston-Salem in the sixties and seventies. Robert Kirkland of Arrogance came to Chapel Hill from Winston, as did Chris Stamey, Gene Holder, Will Rigby and Peter Holsapple of the DBs, Mitch Easter of Let's Active, Chris Chamis, Robert Keeley and Bob Northcott of Secret Service and numerous others. Chapel Hill's H-Bombs and Sneakers were all composed of band mates who grew up in WS. Though most of these musicians left their hometown for the greener musical pastures of Chapel Hill, Raleigh and NYC, Mitch Easter returned to open his well known recording studio in his parents garage where he and Don Dixon produced and engineered the first REM album. Mitch's Drive-in Studio would go on to become the place to record for young power-poppers. Later Mitch opened a bigger and better equipped studio called Fidelatorium where he still records his own music as well as other bands and solo artists including Pylon, The Smithereens, Son Volt, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Suzanne Vega, Alejandro Escovedo, Ben Folds Five, Wilco, Yusuf Islam(Cat Stevens), Marshall Crenshaw, Mountain Goats, Pavement, Pipe, Polvo, Joe Walsh, John Brown and many more.

Ziggy's in Winston-SalemZiggy's has been the premier rock club in Winston-Salem for the last twenty or thirty years, located on the corner of 9th and Trade Streets in the historic art center of town. The Main Music Hall is located on the ground level, and has a 1000 capacity room.  The Rockhouse Tavern is located upstairs, and is open 7 days a week whether there is music or not. Artists who have performed at Ziggy's include 30 Seconds to Mars, Dave Matthews Band, Keller Williams, Slipknot, The Wailers, Andrew W.K., Perpetual Groove, Steel Pulse, Rusted Root, Jump Little Children, Ben Folds Five, Vertical Horizon, Hawthorne Heights, Emery, Anberlin, Mutemath, Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid, Lamb of God, Axe Murder Boyz, Blaze Ya Dead Homie, Mat Kearney, Turbonegro and Saliva. Basically what the Cat's Cradle is to Chapel Hill, Ziggy's is to Winston-Salem and if somebody you want to hear is on tour chances are this is where they will be playing.

FOOD AND DRINK in Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem restaurantsMozelle's Southern Bistro -- Southern-inspired and comprised of the finest and freshest ingredientsFamously cozy and romantic. Half-price bottle wine on Mondays. And check out one of their five-course French WIne Dinners

The Screaming Rooster -- A favorite for BRUNCH. Fresh, local, comfort food...So charming and trendy, may have to wait for a table. TRY THE YOGURT PANCAKES and AMAZING CHOCOLATE GINGERBREAD CAKE

Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration: Held every year in early June this festival in downtown Winston Salem brings over 30 North Carolina wineries to showcase their products, and attracts thousands of wine lovers to sample and buy. With live entertainment and block parties as well as a number of restaurants hosting special wine dinners in the days leading up to the event, this festival has been named one of the top 20 events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society. The event is held rain or shine and you can find more information and this year's dates by clicking on the above link.

Carolina Vineyards and Hops Tasting Lounge: At The Summit at the Gateway, serves North Carolina wines and beers along with local cheeses and cured meats.
----"Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops also has a regulated, craft beer wall, where customers can serve themselves straight from the tap. Megginson said his beer wall is the first of its kind in the state. The maximum amount of beer customers can put on their “beer button” — a magnetic strip that activates the beer wall — at one time is two glasses, or 32 ounces. The average price of a pint is $5. “When that button reaches its two-pint maximum, then the wall shuts off, so customers would have to go back to the bartender and the bartender would determine if they can still be served,” ---from the CV&H website

Hoppyum IPA by Foothills BreweryFoothills Brewing -- Winston-Salem's only micro-brewery and one of the best in North Carolina, a state known for its excellent craft beers. Foothills, besides having great beer also has the best labels of any micro-brewery in America. Fifteen craft-brewed pilsners, starring "Seeing double IPA" and "Sexual Chocolate Stout." and the very popular "Hoppyum IPA" which smells and tastes like liquid hemp buds(delicious actually-if you like IPAs). "People's Porter" is excellent and their barrel aged porter is even better. Good food by chef Shane Moore. Although the Cuban sandwich is rarely dissed, the fish is better; side dishes get the raves: crispy fries, Moravian (mayo-free) slaw, awesome mac and cheese. You can also attend Beer School, which includes a class on the brewing process, a tour of the facility and you can sample all the brews. Call ahead. $15. Located at 638 West 4th Street. By the way... April is Beer Month in Winston-Salem with lots going on for beer lovers at Foothills and at other restaurants around town.

GREEK RESTAURANTS

Athena Greek Taverna -- Really big menu of Authentic Greek dishes-- Mondays: Kids eat FREE! ---Tuesdays: Live Greek music. If you are Greek or love all things Greek and looking for somewhere to eat Greek food that you don't have to fly to then this is your best bet.

Mooney's Mediterranean Cafe: Popular Middle-eastern restaurant in downtown Winston-Salem that offers high quality ingredients for reasobale prices.

George's Grecian Corner -- “A Winston-Salem landmark since 1970” --- Serves Souvlaki and Gyro; also hamburgers, and pizza. A huge menu of mostly non-Greek dishes.

Hotels and B&Bs

Brookstown Inn, Winston SalemBrookstown Inn: 200 Brookstown Avenue, Winston-Salem
Guests of this Victorian North Carolina inn can enjoy the continental breakfast and evenings with wine and cheese. The inn is a 9 minute walk from picturesque Old Salem Museum and Gardens. A cable TV, small refrigerator, and microwave are included in all rooms. Decorations include warm colors and antique wood furnishings. Select rooms at Brookstown Inn feature hardwood floors and rustic walls of exposed brick. Brookstown Inn guests can stay active in the fitness center and then relax before bed with cookies and milk. Free Wi-Fi, on-site parking, and laundromat are available as well. Downtown Winston-Salem is a 4 minute walk away.

For Photos, Guest Reviews and Booking information Click Here

Wingate by Wyndham Hotel, Winston SalemWingate by Wyndham: 125 South Main Street, Winston-Salem
In downtown Winston-Salem, this hotel is a 10 minute walk from Salem College and Old Salem Museums and Gardens. It offers an indoor hot tub and free in-room Wi-Fi. The contemporary guest rooms at Wingate by Wyndham Winston-Salem include a microwave and refrigerator. Guests can watch cable TV or on-demand movies. The on-site fitness center of this Winston-Salem hotel has cardio machines and a mounted TV. There is a 24-hour business center just off of the lobby and a hot continental breakfast is served every morning.
For Photos, Guest Reviews and Booking information Click Here

Embassy Suites, Winston Salem, NCEmbassy Suites: 460 North Cherry Street
This all-suite hotel features spacious accommodations with sofa beds and free Wi-Fi. Located next to Benton Convention Center, Embassy Suites Winston-Salem offers an on-site restaurant, indoor pool and gym. The one-bedroom suites provide microwaves, refrigerators and coffee makers. They also have desks and cable TV with pay-per-view movies. Room service is available. Guests can enjoy breakfast or lunch at Grille Restaurant and Bar. They can also purchase snacks at the 24-hour Pavilion Pantry Market. On-site facilities include a business center and meeting rooms. The hotel also offers a jacuzzi, beauty salon and barber shop. Winston-Salem Embassy Suites is one mile from Old Salem Museum & Gardens and Salem College.
For Photos, Guest Reviews and Booking information Click Here

For more hotels in and around Winston-Salem see Booking.com's Winston-Salem Page

Thank you to Visit Winston Salem for use of their photos. Check out their website for all sorts of up-to-date information and events.

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