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A weekend in Waynesville means a few days refreshed by mountain breezes, cooled by creek water, and rejuvenated by the many arts and culinary offerings this vibrant town has to

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

A weekend in Waynesville means a few days refreshed by mountain breezes, cooled by creek water, and rejuvenated by the many arts and culinary offerings this vibrant town has to

From Theater to Table: Exploring Waynesville’s Arts

A weekend in Waynesville means a few days refreshed by mountain breezes, cooled by creek water, and rejuvenated by the many arts and culinary offerings this vibrant town has to offer. Once known as the “Gateway to the Smokies,” Waynesville is where team square dancing was invented, and is just 15 miles from Cold Mountain, made famous by Charles Frazier’s bestselling novel.

Jo Gilley recognized Waynesville’s strong cultural identity 14 years ago when she bought the independent bookshop Blue Ridge Books, which regularly hosts local writers like Ron Rash and Wiley Cash who pack the house. “Everybody is inspired here,” says Gilley. “Maybe it’s the beauty of the mountains or the people here, who make everybody feel welcome, but it’s just a good getaway.”

Take a stroll through Waynesville’s vibrant Hazelwood shopping district, pop into a few galleries on Main Street, and grab a meal made with fresh ingredients from the region’s growers. Or pick up a few locally made goods, catch the Church Street festival that draws attendees from a dozen countries, and draw a deep breath in the Great Balsam Mountains just south of town. However you spend your time in this historic, yet modern community, it’ll be rich with the best the mountain region has to offer.


First up, the goods

Along a mile-long stretch of Main Street, the backbone of Waynesville’s brick downtown, you’ll find shops and galleries filled with arts, crafts, and goods made by those who call the town and the mountains their home. Start at The Jeweler’s Workbench, led by fourth-generation jeweler Pat Bauman. It’s billed as a “hardware store for women,” but the only hammers you’ll see are on Bauman’s workbench. Instead, you’ll find an elegant selection of everyday and special occasion jewelry; custom orders are taken, and the store stocks baubles made by Ginger Meek Allen of Wake Forest and other North Carolina jewelers.

Downtown, you’ll find shops and galleries with an assortment of goods, from artisan handiworks to vintage decor. photograph by Visit NC Smokies

Then wander over to Twigs and Leaves Gallery for more of North Carolina’s visual art offerings. The gallery offers a deeply sourced selection of arts and crafts, including bright watercolors, wooden bowls and lamps, and clay works by mountain artists.

If you’re looking to pamper yourself, stop in to the Green Orchid Soap Company for locally hand-milled soaps, sugar scrubs, and other bath products. Pleasant Places offers garden-inspired home decor, as well as squirrel-proof bird feeders, all-natural bug repellent, and gift baskets. And for the little ones in your life, Georgia Colt sells lovies, sassy onesies, and wooden toys.

A vibrant performing arts scene, on stage and street

The Hart Theater has been a mainstay of Waynesville’s art scene since 1985. A semi-professional theater group led by artistic director Steven Lloyd, the theater itself sits on a National Historic site owned by the Shelton Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts and has three performance spaces. It uses them all to serve its community with children’s education and performances, and full-scale productions that reflect the depth of talent in the area.

Current season offerings include Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Harvey, and for children, The Little Mermaid Jr. After the pandemic swept across the state, the theater offered virtual events; one, called In Our Solitude was an intimate collection of Shakespeare’s work meant to remind viewers that we were all, after all, in this together.

Waynesville is rich with festivals and outdoor events that draw crowds across the seasons. When the air turns crisp, head to town on October 9 for the 38th annual Church Street Arts and Crafts show, an outdoor event that showcases local potters, jewelry makers, and other artists. Performers, including Scottish bagpipers and clog dancers, get two stages. A week later, on October 16, is the Apple Harvest Festival, a downtown event featuring 200 booths of soap makers, herbalists, artists, furniture makers, food, and, of course, the mountain apple harvest from area growers.

For much of Waynesville, the year of festivities peaks in July with Folkmoot, the state’s landmark international folk festival that has drawn thousands of attendees and dancers from around the world for almost 40 years. Performances take place across the mountains, including nearby Maggie Valley, Asheville, and Lake Junaluska. The focal point is International Day, a street festival in Waynesville that showcases performers on three stages. In 2021, the lineup included Native American hoop dancers, Irish dancers, mountain cloggers, Suah African Dance Theater members, and Tex-Mex rock and roll.

Waynesville’s tablescape

There’s nothing new about the farm-to-table concept, but Waynesville has a secret ingredient: an abundance of local farmers. “Our chef, Josh Monroe, has his own farm, and we partner with a handful of other farms for meat and cheese and vegetables,” says Joey Militti, front-of-house manager and part owner of The Chef’s Table on Church Street. “We have customers who call and let us know if they have ramps when ramp season is in. And we partner with local wild mushroom foragers who bring us fresh mushrooms to work with. Using only local ingredients keeps our menu fresh, as we only cook with fruits and vegetables that are truly in season.”

Dine at a variety of downtown restaurants. photograph by Visit NC Smokies

Meanwhile, if it’s breakfast time in North Carolina, it’s biscuit time. Settle in for a morning feast, including a freshly baked biscuit the size of your hand, at The Buttered Biscuit. If you tend to rise with the sun, Kornerstone Kafe downtown starts slinging omelets and sausage biscuits at 6 a.m. Or grab an Ultimate Mocha and some house-roasted beans to go at Panacea Coffee.

Lunchtime? Head over to Hazelwood, once Haywood County’s manufacturing center and now home to a bustling retail district. The Beach Mountain Diner just opened its doors this spring and offers a true mountains-to-sea menu for breakfast and lunch, with items like Eggs Benedict elevated with crab meat, and chicken and waffles. Housed in the old Hazelwood Pharmacy building, the restaurant is owned by Barry Adeeb, a Florida restaurateur with roots in Waynesville.

Then pop into Hazelwood Soap Co., a family-owned business that sells hand-made skincare products, essential oils, and soy wax candles featuring exclusive scents like the light-and-airy White Tea. Just down the street, Robin Blu sells thoughtfully curated gifts ranging from jewelry to books and stationery.

Shop at local shops like Logan’s Gifts and Home Decor. Photography courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Take a beer break at Frog Level Brewing, Panacea’s sister operation just a few doors down in the Frog Level neighborhood — aptly named when Richland Creek used to flood. Today, you can catch a breeze off the creek as you savor smoked trout dip made from fish sourced from nearby Sunburst Trout Farms and one of the rotating brews on tap, from dark espresso stouts to cream ales. (Kids are welcome, and dogs, too — your canine friend might like their own snack bowl with a choice of shredded chicken or brisket.)

Over on North Main Street, right across from the Mast General Store, is Boojum Brewing (look for the bright blue awning). Inside you’ll find at least nine brews on tap and a laid-back menu that leads off with The Boojum, a burger piled with hickory-smoked bacon, onion rings, Cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce. Eat your veggies with some green bean fries. And in the evening, stop by The Gem at Boojum Brewing Company for pool, trivia, foosball, and grownup libations.

Fall is on its way, and Waynesville, with its many outdoor offerings and its perfect perch for foliage scouting, offers the best of both worlds for a true weekend getaway that combines arts and culture with outdoor excursions. From the sculptures that dot the town to the Blue Ridge Mountains backdrop, there’s something for everyone in this mighty town.

This story was published on Sep 14, 2021

Cate Doty

Cate Doty is a journalist in Raleigh. She’s writing a book about her tenure as a weddings writer for The New York Times.