A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Peeking out onto Union Square from her storefront, Lou Lou’s Corner, Tyler Mills has a prime spot to view the energy buzzing throughout downtown Hickory. She describes the perfect day

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Peeking out onto Union Square from her storefront, Lou Lou’s Corner, Tyler Mills has a prime spot to view the energy buzzing throughout downtown Hickory. She describes the perfect day

Hickory Reimagined

Peeking out onto Union Square from her storefront, Lou Lou’s Corner, Tyler Mills has a prime spot to view the energy buzzing throughout downtown Hickory. She describes the perfect day downtown: “You grab a cup of coffee, stop for lunch or dinner, enjoy a glass of wine, and stroll through unique shops housed in historic buildings.”

Located along Interstate 40 at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hickory has grown to have a thriving social district. Mills opened Lou Lou’s Corner in 2006 and has seen firsthand the dynamic growth downtown, much of which she credits to the creation of the City Walk located along Main Avenue. The City Walk, part of The Hickory Trail’s 10 miles of pedestrian and bike paths, spans across Hickory, running from Lenoir-Rhyne University across downtown to 11th Street Northwest and up to Old Lenoir Road.

The City Walk connects restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops, and other vibrant destinations. It’s all thanks to a community that’s committed to renewing Hickory, bringing in new inspired spaces where locals and visitors can come together to explore.

Whether you’re up for a day of shopping, a meal or a drink, or an evening filled with live music, use our guide to discover what you’re looking for in Hickory’s revitalized downtown.



 

Dig into a burger and fries at Olde Hickory Station. Photography courtesy of Hickory Metro CVB

One-of-a-Kind Shops

The Olde Hickory Station, constructed by the Western North Carolina Railroad in 1860, is now home to Olde Hickory Station and Market. Located across Union Square in the center of downtown, you can enjoy the restaurant’s seasonal and regional specialties, sip Olde Hickory Brewery beers, and learn about the station’s role in the growth of Hickory.

Just down the street, you’ll find Carolina Crafted, your stop for handmade candles, bath products, and ice cream. Carolina Crafted began as a candle shop — owner Anthony Gaglia recommends their top-selling mahogany coconut candle — but has transformed into more of a general store over the last five years. Gaglia is excited about the changes happening in Hickory. “It’s taken time and effort,” he says, “but we’ve become a special destination.”

Shop for toys and gifts for little ones (and their parents) at Lou Lou’s Corner. Photography courtesy of Hickory Metro CVB

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a little one, Lou Lou’s Corner, a local staple, is the spot for hand-picked children’s toys and unique gifts. Moms-to-be can stock up, too, with a selection of Barefoot Dreams blankets and Magnetic Me clothing. You can also find items from North Carolina brands, like Fish Hippie Co. and Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn. “We have a little bit of everything,” says manager Jordan Towery. “No matter the age, we have something for everyone.”

Head to Ella Blu for a unique selection of women’s apparel, jewelry, shoes, and accessories. And drop by Far Out Vinyl Records and Retro to search through their impressive collection of vinyl records.

Pick a perfect plant — or several succulents — at Life Doesn’t Succ. Photography courtesy of Hickory Metro CVB

Continue exploring downtown, and in the historic two-story Harris Arcade Specialty Shops, you’ll stumble upon Life Doesn’t Succ, a shop overflowing with succulents and plants. They offer positive vibes and creative ideas for bringing more green into your space. After shopping at Harris Arcade’s shops and art galleries, walk through the building’s tunnel, handcrafted in rich stonework.

When you’re ready for fun, look no further than Dive Bar on Government Avenue. With four billiards tables, three basketball hoops, Pac-Man, pinball, and other arcade games, you can take a break and enjoy great bar food like their Dive Dog and Walking Tacos.

 

Hickory’s Best Bites

There may be no better way to start your day along the City Walk than with a cup of coffee or tea at Taste Full Beans — and if you’re hungry, don’t pass up the avocado toast or a breakfast burrito.

For lunch, Plant Based Boss has plant-based smoothies, tacos, sandwiches, and pastries. Or, for something decidedly less plant-based, try Hickory Cafe and Arcade, a delicious burger dive. If it’s a nice day, enjoy the patio at Hatch Sandwich Bar; offerings include daily specials (listed on their Facebook page and the chalkboard inside), the favorite pulled pork grilled cheese, Brussels sprouts, and pimento cheese.

A favorite dinner choice is Cowa Saké, a Japanese-style restaurant near Union Square that serves signature burgers, creative sushi — like the Blue Ridge sushi roll — and a one-of-a-kind sake selection.

Indulge in Mexican street corn at Mas Amor Cantina. Photography courtesy of Hickory Metro CVB

Sip handcrafted cocktails before dinner at Vintage House. Photography courtesy of Hickory Metro CVB

Seafood lovers who want to wander a bit further can pull up a bar stool at Standard Oyster Co., where they offer an array of fresh oysters, seafood, and North Carolina craft beer in a laid-back atmosphere. Or choose to unwind at Mas Amor Cantina, the neighborhood Tex-Mex cantina where you can enjoy homemade tortillas and from-scratch sauces — plus delicious margaritas and an amazing tequila selection.

Charolais Steakhouse, a Hickory original since 1969, invites you to choose delectable “from the cart” char-grilled steaks that are hand-cut tableside and select a bottle of wine from their custom wine cellar.

For a romantic and elegant date night, try Vintage House, located in the Historic Abernathy House since 1983 and featuring original mantels and gorgeous stained glass. You’ll enjoy the atmosphere — and the American bistro classics like homemade yeast rolls and North Carolina trout grilled with lump crab.

 

Enjoy live music with a summer breeze at The Hum near downtown. Photography courtesy of Hickory Metro CVB

Listen to Music

When live music calls, head to The Hum, an outdoor amphitheater in the heart of downtown now entering its second season. This family-friendly venue was born from collaboration. “The community worked together to bring an energy back to Hickory that was waiting to be unearthed,” co-owner Andrew Moose says. And energy is what you’ll find when taking in any of the stellar performances drawn to this new destination.

Just off Main Avenue, The Premier, an indoor live music venue, welcomes music lovers to their 8,000-square-foot space. Check their calendar for shows or stop by every Wednesday for jukebox bingo and karaoke and every Sunday for pickleball, cornhole, and yard games.

 

After a long day of exploring, relax at the 2nd Street Inn. Photography courtesy of Hickory Metro CVB

Plan to Stay

It’s impossible to experience all that Hickory has to offer in one day. If you visit for the weekend, consider spending the night at the 2nd Street Inn, minutes away from restaurants and shops. The inn, housed in a restored box factory with exposed brick and original wooden features, offers 14 guest rooms and a shared common area.

“There is a collective community spirit that has made Hickory a location where locals want to stay, and visitors want to come to spend a weekend or even just an afternoon,” Moose says. “My heart skips a beat when thinking of Hickory as the place to be.”

This story was published on Jul 19, 2023

Lane Russell

Lane Russell is a writer based in Raleigh.