When we planned our two-month summer sojourn in North Carolina, one of the main objectives of the Winston-Salem leg was to get our fill of urban amenities that are lacking in our very beautiful but very rural home community. I think I can say without reservation that we achieved that goal. After suffering through my pedantic lectures about the history of Winston-Salem, blog readers may be relieved to hear that this post is mostly going to be photos of food and scenes around the city. As I mentioned last week, our 4-week stay has been filled with opportunities to break bread with local friends, and we’ve also been exploring the dining and arts scene on our own. But first, let’s talk about….
Live Sports, Again!
Our visit started and ended with interesting sporting events. We had never seen a professional tennis tournament in person, and our visit coincided with the Winston-Salem Open, a professional event on the men’s ATP Tour held at the Wake Forest tennis complex, so of course we snagged some cheap tickets for early rounds. Did we recognize any of the players we watched? No. Did we enjoy paying as much for beer as we did for the tickets? No. Did we have a good time? Absolutely!
Multiple matches go on simultaneously in the early rounds, and our tickets gave us each a reserved seat in the main stadium as well as the chance to wander around to other courts. The men played shorter games than they do at the majors (just 2 sets to win) and the matches moved along quickly. We saw two full matches in the main stadium in the 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. time slots, and when they finished up we checked out the ends of the simultaneous matches on the other three active courts.
Similar to our experience attending the golf tournament in Greensboro several weeks ago, seeing professional tennis in person gave us a whole new appreciation for the skill of the athletes. The balls are zipping across the court in the blink of an eye, obviously. And while it might look easy to land shots between the lines on the court, a few errant hits sent the balls straight out of the stadium — highlighting just how much velocity the players are attempting to harness and control. The best part of seeing the matches in person was the ability to observe little details that seldom make the TV broadcasts, like the interactions between players and ball kids. It was also really interesting to see the line-calling cameras in action; our matches had only a single umpire and all line calls were made electronically.
Return to Doughton Park
After encountering unexpected rain on our first visit to the Doughton Park Recreation Area along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we made a second attempt on a day that had both a 0% rain forecast and a completely cloudless sky. We were rewarded with fine weather and we hiked a portion of the out-and-back Bluff Mountain Trail, covering the section between Bluff Mountain and the Doughton Park Campground.
The trail offered a nice mix of shady woods, open fields, long-range views, and with lots of private land nearby there are also views (and sounds) of peaceful pasture lands. On the day we visited, the wildflowers were finishing up their summer blooms, much to the delight of local pollinators, and the 360-degree views from the tops of the balds were the showstoppers.
Eating Our Way Across Town
Part of our urban experience in Winston-Salem included a significantly elevated number of restaurant outings. Some of the standout restaurant experiences for us were the Italian fare at Quanto Basta, sushi at Mizu, elevated southern classics at Village Tavern, and pizzas at Mellow Mushroom and Cugino Forno. We hastily snapped some poorly-lit photos of the food before gobbling it down, but even these shadowy pics are enough to remind me how much we enjoyed every meal.
A major attraction of Winston-Salem is the large number of connections I have in town as a result of being a Wake Forest graduate and serving on various boards and councils. Wake Forest is a fairly small liberal arts college, and with small classes comes the opportunity to forge life-long connections with faculty and other members of the university community. Many of my former faculty are retired but still in the Winston-Salem area, so a visit to town affords me the chance to catch up with friends both old and new. Despite the fact that I blog about our daily lives and our travels, I also have a healthy sense of caution about the perils of online exposure. So I generally don’t include photos or other information about our friends and family in the blog unless they are active on social media or their own blogs. To my Winston peeps: y’all know who you are, and I hope you also know how much we appreciated the warm welcome you gave us.
When we weren’t stuffing ourselves with a delicious restaurant meals, we took advantage of the well-appointed kitchen in our rental to make great meals with fresh local ingredients. For this project, the weekly Cobblestone Farmers’ Market — held Saturday mornings within a short walk from our AirBnB — was an outstanding resource for local eggs, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and more. Being two blocks away from the Brookstown location of Camino Bakery meant that we could easily add a baguette or sourdough to any meal, or just stop in for coffee and pastry. I must also mention the sinfully tempting Bobby Boy Bakeshop, which is conveniently located on the way to destinations like Wake Forest, Reynolda House, and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Also, to my very great delight, Winston-Salem has a Whole Foods located across the street from a Publix. The choice is almost paralyzing.
We also didn’t forget about breweries while we were in town. While Winston-Salem doesn’t have nearly as many breweries as Asheville, where the variety is overwhelming, the local options are quite solid. The most established local craft beer maker is Foothills Brewing, which has been around since 2005 and has significant regional distribution. The downtown Foothills brewpub has excellent beer and food, and there’s also a tasting room at the large production facility on the southwest side of the city. Wise Man Brewing is a smaller operation, but their Old Brigade Irish Stout was one of the best we’ve ever had. Plus the thoughtful renovation of a formerly derelict industrial building into a comfortable and airy production facility and taproom makes for a great visit. Finally, we made sure to visit the downtown location of Incendiary Brewing Company. The beer is good, and the location in the repurposed Bailey Power Plant building is a hub of activity.
If I had to briefly describe Winston-Salem, I’d say it’s an appealing post-industrial college town. The city is filled with buildings that plainly demonstrate its industrial past, but for the most part they have been creatively renovated to meet the needs of a modern economy. Old industrial buildings now contain loft apartments, breweries, and art spaces. The most transformational change is in the Innovation Quarter located a few blocks east of the downtown area. A partnership of Wake Forest University (particularly the School of Medicine), private developer Wexford Science + Technology, the city, and the county worked together to redevelop former R.J. Reynolds manufacturing facilities into a state-of-the-art mixed use district focused on biotech. The massive project covers over 300 acres and includes 1.7 million square feet of space, with another 2.4 million square feet planned. Large, boxy factory and warehouse buildings have been transformed into classroom, office, and laboratory space for research-focused segments of Wake Forest School of Medicine, such as biomedical engineering, pharmacology, microbiology, nanotechnology, and regenerative medicine (growing replacement organs!) as well as some undergraduate departments including engineering, chemistry, and biology. There are also lab spaces designed to be occupied by biotech start-ups, as well as regular office spaces leased by professional services firms.
Interspersed among the high tech commercial buildings are apartments and condos, many with a cool loft style, and lifestyle services like fitness and yoga studios. The social center of the district is the old Bailey Power Plant building, which used to be the power station for the Reynolds factories but now has multiple levels of restaurants / coffee shops / breweries and a music performance venue in the former coal pit. The power plant faces Bailey Park, a beautifully landscaped greenspace that hosts events like the Gears and Guitars bike races and music festival we attended a few weeks ago. The evolution of a formerly decrepit, sketchy section of town into a major center of innovation and activity is just short of miraculous.
The influence of the many colleges on the town extends beyond physical revitalization, creating an ambiance that embraces new and interesting ideas and events. Like a lot of college towns, Winston-Salem is surprisingly bike- and pedestrian-friendly for a city environment. With so many meal dates, the only thing that (sort of) saved our waistlines was our easy access to the city’s extensive Greenway system. Winston-Salem State, School of the Arts, Salem College, and the Innovation Quarter all border sections of these paved multiuse paths surrounded by greenspace, and so does Old Salem and a number of residential neighborhoods. It’s no surprise that we were never alone when taking our 4-5 mile walks several times each week. Add in pleasant pedestrian routes to the downtown area, and we found Winston-Salem to be quite suitable for walking. Don’t get me wrong; it’s fundamentally a car-centric 20th century city. It would be very difficult to live (or even visit) here without a vehicle. But I was pleasantly surprised by just how many things we were able to access without climbing into the truck.
The feel of the city is definitely of a place that is moving forward confidently from its industrial past. A brand new children’s museum is under construction in the downtown area, which promises to complement the excellent array of existing art and history museums. Parks, roads, and other public places feature interesting murals and sculptures, while in the designated arts district on the north side of downtown (around Trade and 6th Streets) galleries, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs make for a lively scene. We visited during one of the quietest times of the year, with students away for the summer and full-time residents taking summer vacations, yet there was plenty going on to hold our attention. And thus we conclude our very rewarding 8-week summer stint in North Carolina.
Next: Surprise! We’re going to California for a week for a long-overdue family visit.