Margaret Hester photo
Named for Daniel Boone, the American pioneer, explorer, and frontiersman born in 1734, Boone is tucked into a mountain valley in Watagua County, so named for the Watauga River, which takes its name from an Indian word meaning “beautiful water.” For years, the area around Boone was a seasonal hunting spot with few established settlers, but after the Civil War the community began to grow. By 1899, Boone supported 150 residents. This same year saw the Watauga Academy established.
Today, Boone is a bustling college town and the tiny Watauga Academy is Appalachian State University, where 17,000 students root on the Mountaineers in black and gold. The school is known for both its commitment to environmental education and its championship football team—a juxtaposition that defines Boone’s unique sense of place and the people who live there.
Boone’s central district is essentially part of the Appalachian State University campus where visitors will find unique restaurants, late-night bars, and eclectic shopping. Be sure to head to King Street to peruse and people watch.
A King Street staple is Mast General Store, which provides outdoorsy clothing, shoes, adventure equipment, and housewares. Meanwhile, Footsloggers is the premier outfitter for the area with a paddle shop, climbing gear, camping supplies, knowledgeable guides, and more. Footsloggers partners with Rock Dimensions, an in-house rock climbing guide service that welcomes novices and experienced climbers.
Funky tie-dyes, incense, and posters are all the rage at Indo and Boone Rock-N-Roll Emporium located next door to Anna Banana’s, a youthful but tasteful consignment store. Such shops represent a large portion of what’s to be found in King Street and add to the town’s unique vibe. Remember this is a place with a hookah bar. For more of a boutique experience, look to Gladiola Girls or Lucky Penny.
Glug Beverages has made a nice addition to the wine and beer scene with an emphasis on regional brews and owners have created their own red and white wines. Stop in to the tiny store for a chat and to pick up a local libation—though note that Boone’s only local brewery, Cottonwood, was started in 1992 then acquired by Carolina Beer, which brews Carolina Blonde. Carolina has in turn sold to Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewing. Cottonwood’s slogan—Brewed with Altitude—came from its High Country origins. Of particular note is Cottonwood’s award-winning fall seasonal, Pumpkin Spiced Ale.
Outside of downtown on Highways 321 and 105 are the town’s larger retailers and chain stores. Head here for family-friendly dining, grocery shopping, and more. A visit to the only two-story, free standing Wendy’s in the country, and one of the busiest in the world, is obligatory. Find it located at the intersection of 321 and 105.
The ASU Mountaineers play their rivals, the Western Carolina University Catamounts, in Boone on Nov. 12. Known as the Battle for The Old Mountain Jug, the rivalry has been—and will continue to be—one of the finest and most enduring in NCAA Division I-AA football, the State of North Carolina, and the South. In the mid-1980s, Sports Illustrated called it “the best football rivalry you’ve never heard of.” The jug— a representation of an old moonshine jug commonly used by bootleggers in the mountains of western North Carolina—came about in 1976. It bares the logo of the winning school in the rivals’ annual match. The Mountaineers have maintained possession of the Old Mountain Jug since 2004.
A Boone for families
Families will find lots to do in Boone. The area is ripe for adventure and activities.
For a reasonable price, one can explore the mountains’ mining history by panning for gems at Foggy Mountain Gem Mine, located outside of town on Highway 105. A small bucket of rocks, dust, and gems runs about $35. It’s a distinctly different experience than most other gem panning in the mountains where sticky red clay bogs down the process.
Foggy Mountain enriches their mining buckets with local and non-local stones so that forty different minerals are among those found. The mine guarantees that each bucket includes cutting-quality stones. Cutting is available on premises with prices varying based on the stone. Fashion your finds into keepsake jewelry, or pick something already made from among the sparkling display case selections.
Boone Drug, located downtown, is a must for any fan of the old time soda counter. Take a seat at one of the counter stools or in a mustard colored booth and order up a float, a Parsons Choice—two hamburger patties layer with cheese and your favorite toppings—a homemade pimento cheese or egg salad sandwich, or a hotdog with chili and slaw, plus some onion rings. The staff is super friendly bedecked in their white paper hats and black aprons.
Not too far around the corner is The Custard Depot. Frozen custard is like ice cream but smoother and containing eggs. Fresh custard is made daily in a variety of flavors, though chocolate and vanilla are standard. The shop is open even in cold months but only on Friday and Saturday.
In the summer season, the outdoor drama Horn in the West, the nation’s oldest Revolutionary War drama, which brings to life the famous frontiersman for which the town is named, Daniel Boone. On the grounds of the drama’s theater space is the Hickory Ridge Homestead, an eighteenth-century living history museum. Interpreters in period clothing explain pioneer life and culture, and demonstrations often are offered.
Toward Blowing Rock is the historic Tweetsie Railroad. The area’s railroad, the ET&WNC Railroad, began operating in 1882 with service from Johnson City, Tenn. to the iron mines at Cranberry, N.C. Some joked that the initial based name stood for Eat Taters and Wear No Clothes. Over the years floods and track degradation lead to the discontinuation of rail service in 1950. Three railroad buffs purchased Engine No. 12—Tweetsie—and moved it to Harrisonburg, Va. as a tourist attraction, but in 1956 the 80-ton locomotive was returned to North Carolina for refurbishing. The following year Tweetsie made its first run near Hickory on a one-mile track carrying passengers from the train station to a picnic area and back; the engine then was moved by truck to its new home near Blowing Rock, not far from its old stop in Boone. The engine became the center of a Wild West theme park with a three-mile train loop. Today, the family attraction is still wildly popular.
Boone and the arts
The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts is the largest facility of its kind in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. Exhibitions focus on a blend of new and historically important artwork and feature works of nationally and internationally renowned artists, as well as many of the finest artists of the region. The center is featured on the Downtown Boone First Friday Art Crawl, held from 7 to 9 p.m. the first Friday of each month through December.
Guided docent tours are held every second Saturday at 2 p.m. Upcoming exhibitions include R. Martin Stamat’s “Northmost,” focusing on the role of nature, microcosms, and found objects that took hold of his imagination as a child and Val Lyle’s “Sanctuary,” a traveling body of work that continues the artist’s exploration about what it means to be a human being in Appalachia.
The Turchin is a great starting point for a self-guided tour of the Rosen Outdoor Sculpture Competition and Exhibition. This national, juried competition continues a long-held tradition of showcasing the best of large-scale, contemporary American sculpture. Each year, ten sculptures are selected for exhibition, and are situated across campus. Works are on display through Feb. 29.
Music lovers will want to check out the school’s Performing Arts Series, which will feature the band KANSAS performing with The Appalachian Symphony Orchestra, the Soweto Gospel Choir, and the Punch Brothers with Christ Thile in coming months. Live music often can be found in the bars and restaurants close to campus, including Galileo’s Bar and Café, which typically hosts shows on Thursday and Saturday nights—though note that Friday brings Jager Bombs, Jello shots, and karaoke.
Downtown is where shoppers will find a handful of galleries and art co-ops with a wide-range of works. Don’t miss ArtWalk, located in the remodeled the H. W. Horton Building built in 1924, where the works are funky and affordable, and seek out Hands Gallery, where members’ fine works include basketry, jewelry, woodwork, pottery, and more. Also visit Doe Ridge Pottery to find functional and decorative stoneware handmade by potter Bob Meier on site.
Those with an artistic bent also will want to visit Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, which sells supplies and offers professional quality workshops including October’s West Meets the East-watercolor and Chinese painting.
Boone: A confluence of High Country cuisine
Dining in and around Boone is what one wants to make it—from elegantly casual gourmet to barefoot-friendly vegan.
The Gamekeeper, winner of OpenTable’s 2011 Diners’ Choice award, holds true to its name with menu selections including buffalo, duck, ostrich and pheasant, each served with seasonal flair. On lovely evenings aim for a table outdoors to dine under rustling tree leaves and watch the sun set over the far mountain range.
Begin with the tender pork belly, accompanied by sautéed greens and a simple but inspired sauce incorporating raisins. The duck breast is perfectly seasoned with a crisp outer skin, and bacon-wrapped venison medallions served with acorn squash are at once gourmet and distinctly Southern comfort food. The Gamekeeper is also vegetarian friendly.
Save room for dessert. Sorbets reflect the chef Wendy’s whims and may include flavors such as Thai tea or strawberries and Chambord. For more Southern goodness, order up the bourbon and caramel bread pudding, which wins rave reviews.
Closer to town, Casa Rustica is a family-owned Italian restaurant where fresh pasta is the order of the day. Look to the spinach lasagna or six cheese pasta purses for an entrée, or top traditional noodles such as spaghetti or tortellini with homemade meatballs, carbonara, or pesto cream sauce. Non-pasta entrees include chicken or veal picatta with fresh capers in a white wine and lemon sauce, eggplant parmesan, New York strip, and filet mignon.
On King Street, HobNob Farm Café is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Wednesday through Sunday. The giant menu features local chicken, sausage, and grass-fed beef, organic tofu and tempeh, fresh breads, and local desserts while spanning several cultures. Look for the jerk chicken plate; Thai burger with red curry sauce and pineapple; Port Obella Tofu Divinewhich that features blackened tofu, avocado, and red chili aioli; Tamale de Bayamo with spinach, squash, yams, black beans, plantains and more.
Melanie’s Food Fantasy is an equally hip place with long lines for brunch in particular. Again the menu is decidedly vegetarian and vegan friendly, but the Eggs Florentine with local eggs poached to perfection and served on a bed of fresh spinach with homemade hollandaise are tempting for anyone. Lunch brings burgers, BLTs, and curried chicken salad. Try a glass of organic fresh squeezed carrot juice, which can be mixed with apple or orange juice.
Several restaurants in the area make a point to serve Stick Boy Bread Company’s delicious products. Those looking for a quick pastry bite and a cup of coffee will find it at Stick Boy’s beginning at 7 a.m. Be sure to get a Magic Cookie—a chewy concoction with coconut, chocolate, and marshmallows.