If you’ve ever stumbled upon quaint Kinston, you may not have thought to check into a hotel for a weekend getaway. But this small town is causing a stir, with acclaimed restaurants and breweries. Kinston also boasts a fascinating history as a prominent Civil War battle site.
More than 20,000 people call Kinston, a town in Lenoir County along U.S. Route 70, home. The state’s General Assembly officially created the town of Kingston, in honor of King George III who had recently ascended to the British throne, in 1762. Before, the area was inhabited by the Neusiok tribe, and was formerly known as Atkins Bank, a reference to a bluff above the Neuse River. During the Revolutionary War, the “g” was dropped from the town’s name.
Richard Caswell served as Kinston’s governor and the first governor of North Carolina from 1776 to 1780. Caswell, who also served as a military leader during the Revolution, earned the title “Father of Our State” due to his many contributions and accomplishments, including establishing a free school in each North Carolina county.
Kinston played a notable role in the Civil War, with Camp Campbell and Camp Johnston training camps located nearby. The Battle of Wyse Fork occurred near Kinston in 1865, wherein the famous Confederate gunboat, the Neuse, was sunk deliberately to avoid Union capture; the ship’s preserved remnants are on display in Kinston’s downtown.
Recently, this small Coastal Plain town has evolved drastically into a bustling destination, flourishing with exceptional eats and drinks, historical and cultural centers, unique hotels and other businesses. For all of its modern attractions, however, Kinston retains its reputation as a place to relax and savor its natural beauty and superior southern hospitality.
Mother Earth Motor Lodge
Enjoy a blast from the past with a night’s stay at the Mother Earth Motor Lodge, a revival of Kinston’s Mid-Town Motor Lodge from 1963. The motel is updated with modern amenities but still exudes a fun, 70s Miami vibe. Located in downtown Kinston, you’ll be right in the center of all the food, shopping and events the town has to offer. motherearthmotorlodge.com
This boutique hotel is all you need for a night of luxury. As part of the renewal of downtown Kinston, seven modernly elegant rooms exude comfort and charm, featuring original doors from the building’s previous life. It’s the perfect combination of antique and contemporary. the-oneil.com
Chef & the Farmer
Chef Vivian Howard’s acclaimed restaurant is Kinston’s crown jewel. Its charming brick exterior houses an array of creative dishes with regionally sourced ingredients, including fennel pizza, rabbit and dumplings, NC shrimp and grits, sweet potato and peanut green curry and ricotta doughnuts. Make a reservation in advance, as its popularity has spiked thanks to features on PBS and awards from the James Beard Foundation. vivianhoward.com/chef-the-farmer
Martha Stewart herself has been to Kings, named a must-visit destination for North Carolina BBQ by the New York Times and Budget Travel Magazine. Since 1936, the family restaurant has served up barbecue classics like fried chicken, ribs, BBQ pork, hamburger steak and a fresh banana pudding. kingsbbq.com
Sugar Hill Pizzeria
Nicknamed a “slice of heaven,” the pizza at Sugar Hill Pizzeria is sure to satisfy even the pickiest of pizza lovers. The New York-style pizzas are served by the slice, as a small, or at a monstrous 18 inches, big enough for a crowd to devour. Enjoy specialities like the Sugar Hill Supreme, BBQ Chicken, Greek or Margherita before heading off on a tour of downtown Kinston. sugarhillpizzeria.com
Mother Earth Spirits
A sister company to Mother Earth Brewing, this distillery pours out solar-made, LEED-certified artisanal gin, whiskey and rum. Each bottle is carefully crafted with signature flavors, the perfect base for all of your favorite cocktails. Tours of the distillery are offered Monday through Friday, with a complimentary spirit sample to top it off. motherearthspirits.com
Middle Ground’s Coffee House
A quaint, comfortable setting lends the perfect atmosphere to relax with a cup of coffee at this homey downtown cafe. The menu features unique frappés and lattes such as the Flat Pancake with toffee and maple syrups, the Hometown with peanut butter and caramel, and the Green Gypsy, a frappé made with green tea and peppermint. facebook.com/middlegroundscoffeehouse
Mother Earth Brewing
Kinston’s Mother Earth brewery encapsulates its two founding family members’ love of beer—and nature. Mother Earth’s artfully crafted brews incorporate U.S.-grown hops, and sustainable brewing practices produce a range of lip-smacking IPAs, porters, pilsners and pale ales, as well as the signature Homegrown beer, made with tomatoes. motherearthbrewing.com
Kinston Drag Strip
If you’re a fan of fast cars and the smell of burning rubber, Kinston Drag Strip is a destination you’ll surely want to visit. Take a seat in the stands to witness locals battling it out on the track in in a medley of decorated, colorful cars. It’s all you need for an afternoon of excitement and competition. kdsmotorsports.com
Neuseway Nature Park
Enjoy the outdoors and the beautiful Neuse River with a trip to the Neuseway Nature Park, 55 acres brimming with activities. Enjoy a hike along the river, a ride on a miniature replica of a coal mining train, a canoe trip and a visit to the Ellis Planetarium and Health & Science Museum. For those fully committed to an adventure, sleep under the North Carolina stars at the full-service campground. neusewaypark.com
Kinston Community Council for the Arts
This vibrant community center offers events and opportunities for artists and art lovers alike, including unique galleries featuring local artists, classes, workshops and seasonal shows on various subjects. kinstoncca.com
CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center
Learn more about Kinston’s Civil War history through the story of the CSS Neuse. The museum features remains of the Confederate navy’s ironclad gunboat as well as artifacts from the ship and other state-of-the-art exhibits. visitnc.com/listing/css-neuse-civil-war-interpretive-center