17+ Best Things to do in Statesville NC: 2023
Looking for things to do in Statesville NC?
Statesville is a small city located in Iredell County in central North Carolina. Considered to be part of the greater metropolitan area of Charlotte, it sits some 42 miles due north of the so-called “Queen City.”
While it is not as well known as its larger city to the south, Statesville has a great deal to offer the North Carolina traveler. Below, you’ll find a comprehensive guide on the area’s history, things to do in Statesville NC, and even some tips on where to eat or stay should you decide to make the trip.
This is not a corner of North Carolina that commonly tops lists of places to travel to, but once you get a sense of it, you may just want to make plans to visit Statesville.
History of Statesville NC
The original community in what is now known as Statesville was established in the early 1750s by Pennsylvania settlers of Scots-Irish and German descent. They effectively colonized the area, naming it Fourth Creek Settlement (sometimes referred to as Fourth Creek Congregation).
What began as a typical frontier settlement, however –– sought after for rich farming ground and abundant game –– soon became a key military stronghold in colonial North Carolina.
In 1755, Arthur Dobbs, the seventh governor of North Carolina, commissioned a new fortification just a short distance north of Fourth Creek Settlement. This was to become Fort Dobbs, which would play a crucial role in the British troops’ defense of North Carolina during the French and Indian War.
Fort Dobbs would later factor into North Carolina’s part in the Revolutionary War.
Following these conflicts, in 1788, the North Carolina legislature decided to break up Rowan County, where Fourth Creek Settlement was situated. In doing so, the legislature established the new Iredell County and chose the settlement as the county seat of Iredell County.
By the following year, Fourth Creek Settlement was officially founded as a city, taking the name of States Ville –– later converted to Statesville.
For the first half-century of its existence, Statesville remained a quaint settlement, with a small downtown area emerging to surround Iredell’s primary courthouse. In the mid-1800s, however, it began the process of growing into the city it is today.
Having been founded in 1789, Statesville was incorporated as an official city in 1847. By 1858, it saw its first railroads come through and was soon thereafter connected by rail to Charlotte. These new networks of connectivity led to fresh opportunities for industry and trade.
Before long, Statesville was thriving off its production of tobacco, whiskey, and assorted herbs. This brought in money, which in turn helped the city to grow and modernize –– ultimately into the place we know today.
Things to do in Statesville NC
From historic buildings in downtown Statesville to beautiful outdoor areas to attractions in surrounding Iredell County, you’ll find a wide variety of things to do in this charming town in North Carolina’s Piedmont region.
There’s certainly something to be said for simply getting into town and exploring to see what interests you. To help get you started, though, here’s a look at some of the best things to do in the city of Statesville.
1. Fort Dobbs State Historic Site
438 Fort Dobbs Rd., Statesville NC
Fort Dobbs is the preeminent historical site in the Statesville area and is thus a great place to get a feel for the city’s past. You can visit for a guided tour between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm any day of the week except for Sunday and Monday.
These tours cost only $2 (and $1 for children aged 5-12), and tour guides will take you through a reconstructed replica of the fort as it was when it was initially built. This current reconstruction was completed in 2019.
While the fort tours are the main attractions, the Fort Dobbs historic site also offers a variety of additional activities for visitors. You’ll have the option of enjoying lunch at an outdoor picnic area; exploring a nature trail surrounding the fort complex; watching historical reenactments; or even booking a special event. Finally, be sure to stop by the visitors’ center as well.
This is a log house that was built in the early 1940s by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Today, it doubles as a display area for some of the amazing things that were found on the fort’s original site and a gift shop where you can pick up souvenirs.
2. Iredell Museums
Located near the picturesque South Race Street Historic District (which is something of a museum of preserved old housing in and of itself), Iredell Museums makes for an excellent stop on any visit to Statesville. Run by a local non-profit organization; it’s a multi-faceted facility made for anyone who appreciates history, art, or general education.
Among the top things to see and do at the museums, the Gregory Creek Homesteads stand out. These are essentially recreations of historic neighborhoods comprised of authentic 18th– and 19th-century homes that have been relocated to the museum grounds. Guests are welcome to tour the homesteads and get a sense of what life was like during the time period of Statesville’s founding and early growth.
There are also more traditional exhibits within the Iredell Museums, consisting of traveling and local collections. For instance, past exhibits have included an “Unraveling Ancient Egypt” experience and a look back at the Wallace Brothers, who were an entrepreneurial success story in Statesville during the Civil War era.
Finally, if you’re visiting Statesville with kids, you’ll also want to check out the Iredell Museums Kids facility, which is filled with various artistic and educational displays and programs.
3. Southern Distilling Company
211 Jennings Rd., Statesville NC
When Statesville was establishing itself as a real city in North Carolina, whiskey became one of its crucial products and exports. The city was also a key cog in railway shipping systems delivering spirits to the masses in a growing, young America.
As such, Statesville was known for a time as the “Liquor Capital of the World.”
Southern Distilling Company wasn’t around back then, and in fact, the city’s participation in the liquor industry ebbed during the days of prohibition. This distillery was, however, founded by a Statesville local named Pete Barger to restore the city’s reputation in the world of high-quality spirits.
Today, Southern Distilling Company is a highly regarded facility producing whiskey with local ingredients. Visitors who are of age can partake of the spirits and are also free to book a tour and enjoy tastings.
4. Mac Anderson Park
433 N Race St., Statesville NC
If you want to enjoy some outdoor activities while visiting Statesville, one good option is to explore Mac Anderson Park. It’s a simple area but a beautiful one, surrounded by trees and greenery and crisscrossed by walking and cycling trails. The park is also home to playground equipment and sporting facilities, such as outdoor basketball courts.
Mac Anderson Park is a great place to work up a sweat if you’d like to do so in between the rest of your activities in town. That said, you’re also welcome to take a break from your day and relax beneath outdoor picnic shelters with whatever food and drink you may take along.
5. Lake Norman State Park
759 State Park Rd., Troutman NC
Though not technically located in the city of Statesville, nearby Lake Norman State Park is also a popular outdoor attraction in the area –– and certainly makes for one of the most enjoyable day trips from the city.
Lake Norman is the largest manmade lake in North Carolina, and the surrounding state park is home to all kinds of fun things for visitors to get into. Favorite activities include hiking along gorgeous trails, renting boats to get out on the water, and even camping overnight.
On a clear day, without rain leading to hazardous conditions, visitors can take mountain bikes out on trails, swim in the lake, and enjoy meals at designated picnic areas.
6. Hazy Red Vineyard
375 Jane Sowers Rd., Statesville NC
While Statesville has historically been known for its production of tobacco, whiskey, and herbs, local farmers today are also known to produce some of the state’s most treasured grapes. These grapes, to some extent, help to fuel the expanding wine industry in central and western North Carolina.
However, they have also proven to be a pleasant attraction for visitors even before turning them into wine! This is because there are some vineyards in the Statesville area that now allow visitors to walk about and pick their own grapes.
Hazy Red Vineyard is just such an attraction. Located just three miles from the Fort Dobbs State Historic Site, it’s a family-run operation where guests can pick their own muscadine and scuppernong grapes (the latter being the official fruit of North Carolina!).
7. Bigleaf Slopes Park
341 Twin Oaks Rd., Statesville NC
Another excellent place to enjoy Statesville outdoors, Bigleaf Slopes Park, is a particularly lush area. Whereas Mac Anderson Park seems very much like a city park, and Lake Norman State Park revolves largely around the body of water, Bigleaf Slopes Park is a dense, tall forest on the eastern edge of town.
If you’re the active sort, you’ll have a great time exploring its hiking and mountain biking trails in the peace, quiet, and beauty of central North Carolinian nature.
Notably, Bigleaf Slopes Park is also adjacent to the Twin Oaks Golf Course for those who like a bit more competition to their outdoor recreation.
8. Historic Sharpe House
402 S Center St., Statesville NC
The Historic Sharpe House is another glimpse of Statesville’s past, and one that is conveniently located right in the center of town.
This site was once the home of Colonel Silas Alexander Sharpe, who fought for North Carolina in the Civil War and became the first official mayor of Statesville.
Maintained now by The Silas Alexander Sharpe Foundation, the historic house is described on the Visit NC website as a place that “reflects the hopes and hard work of a post-Civil War generation committed to rebuilding their community as a thriving center for trade while never losing touch with the tradition of gracious Southern hospitality.”
That might not be readily apparent to visitors, but the house embodies the Old South and conveys a resilient quality. It’s worth a stop for anyone who wants to soak up the region’s history.
9. Red Buffalo Brewing Co.
108 N Center St., Statesville NC
Statesville’s main claim to fame in the drinking department may be its history with whiskey. Still, today it’s also home to Red Buffalo Brewing Co., located in the heart of the revitalized downtown Statesville.
Originally started in the owners’ garages, Red Buffalo Brewing Co. is now a thriving venue with indoor and outdoor seating, a beloved collection of in-house beers, and even regular live shows by local musicians.
If you’re the sort to enjoy an authentic brewery scene, you’ll surely have a fun time at this accessible downtown beer hall.
10. Academy Hill Historic District
600-698 S Mulberry St., Statesville NC
The Academy Hill Historic District is less of a single attraction or activity and more of an area to explore –– either in your car or on foot. Designated as a national historic district, it is effectively a protected old neighborhood consisting of Late Victorian homes, notable buildings, and quaint, tree-lined streets.
While the area as a whole is the main attraction, you’ll also see specific highlights, including the J.C. Steele House; the J.C. Steele & Sons Brick Machinery Plant; the former Statesville Male Academy; the O.W. Slane Glass Company; the Ash Tobacco Factory; and assorted homes from the 19th and 20th centuries.
All in all, it’s a small, walkable district but one that displays Statesville’s history wonderfully.
11. Rescue Ranch
1424 Turnersburg Hwy, Statesville NC
Rescue Ranch is a non-profit organization founded by NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and his ex-wife, Krissie. It takes up nearly 90 acres of space in Statesville to promote animal welfare, wildlife conservation, and responsible animal care.
Crucially, visitors should recognize that this facility is not a zoo or a petting zoo. It is rather a charitable and educational wildlife reserve.
With that said, children in the area are welcomed to Rescue Ranch for visits during which they’ll learn about the animals and how to humanely and thoughtfully co-exist with them. Many of the animals at Rescue Ranch are traditional livestock and rodents. However, there are some more exotic animals, such as snakes, parrots, and turtles.
12. Statesville Historical Collection
212 N Center St., Statesville NC
Located near Fourth Creek Cemetery, the aforementioned Red Buffalo Brewing Co., and Statesville’s small amateur theater, the Statesville Historical Collection is right in the heart of the downtown area. It doesn’t look like too much from the outside, but on the inside, it’s a treat for visitors who want to soak up as much history as possible.
Effectively a small museum, the Statesville Historical Collection showcases a treasure trove of historical objects and documents gathered by the owner, Steve Hill, over more than five decades.
There are old photographs, books, trinkets that belonged to famous citizens of the area, baseball cards, tobacco- and liquor-related objects, and more. Many of these items are worth a great deal of money to Mr. Hill. On display, however, they provide a priceless look back through the centuries.
13. Key to Escape
150 E Sharpe St., Statesville NC
If you’re looking for a more modern activity in Statesville, you might consider some of the area’s escape rooms. There are actually a few to choose from, though the most highly regarded is Key to Escape –– a delightful facility just off Front Street.
Pointedly blending history and escape room thrills, Key to Escape challenges its visitors to solve puzzles and work their way out of several themed rooms and experiences.
These experiences include “Redemption,” in which teams must uncover secrets in the home of a mysterious pastor; “Under Pressure,” in which guests endeavor to prevent the devastating explosion and subsequent fire that took place in Statesville in the 1920s; and “A Twist of Oz,” wherein a tornado and the Wicked Witch of Oz befall your party all at once, forcing you to solve unexpected problems.
Plenty of places have fun escape rooms, but these experiences in Statesville are among the best.
14. Hot Air Balloon Rides
Last but certainly not least, you can take a hot air balloon ride when visiting Statesville! Over the years, this has become an activity commonly associated with the area.
Several companies at assorted locations around town offer regular hot air balloon tours over Statesville and the surrounding areas all week and throughout the year.
If you want to look into this, consider reaching out to Almost Heaven Hot Air Balloon Rides, Air-Olina Aviation, or the Airtime Balloon Company in neighboring Troutman, NC.
Annual Events in Statesville NC
In addition to year-round attractions and activities, Statesville is also home to some of the most enjoyable annual festivals and events in North Carolina. Featuring a combination of live music, local crafts (and craft brews!), and assorted exhibitions, these events account for much of the present-day culture of the historic city.
Depending on when you’re visiting, it’s worth your time to head to Statesville’s website to browse upcoming events. That said, the following are some of the top local events you may consider planning your trip around. These are fantastic options for things to do in Statesville NC.
✅ Statesville Pumpkin Festival
Date: November 4, 2023, from 10 am – 5 pm
Spread out across historic downtown Statesville and held every fall, the Statesville Pumpkin Festival is a major event in town. Essentially a full-fledged autumnal festival, it features a little something for everyone.
There’s a community stage where dance, theater, and even martial arts groups perform; there’s a “main” stage for musical entertainment. There’s a classic car drive-in, a designated “kids’ zone,” and plenty of space for local vendors selling beer, wine, spirits, and food.
The festival doesn’t take place at a single location, but you can generally look to the area on and in between Front Street, Court Street, Center Street, and Broad Street.
✅ Carolina BalloonFest
Dates: October 20-22, 2023
The annual Carolina BalloonFest is another defining event on Statesville’s calendar. Taking place on the third weekend of October at an outdoor venue at 260 Hangar Dr. in Statesville, it’s an awe-inspiring spectacle. Guests will enjoy live music, local food, beer, and wine vendors throughout the event.
While enjoying this traditional festival environment, however, they will also be treated to the sight of “mass ascensions” of balloons, “evening balloon glows,” and even what the festival website refers to as “aerialist circus performances and skydiving exhibitions.” There are also opportunities to ride in hot air balloons.
This festival has a tried-and-true format, billing itself as the second-oldest event of its kind in the United States.
✅ Hops and Harmony Craft Brew Fest
Date: May 20, 2023 from 1-5pm
Location: Downtown Statesville
Those who spend time traveling around North Carolina know that the state is home to a non-stop calendar of craft beer and music festivals. The Hops and Harmony Craft Brew Fest that takes place each May is Statesville’s contribution to this aspect of North Carolina culture.
Taking place in the heart of downtown Statesville, it’s a festival at which visitors can sample a wide range of beers from the region and then meander off to partake of local shopping or restaurants at their leisure.
✅ Art Crawl
Dates for the 2023 Fall Art Crawl:
March 31 from 5:30-8:30pm & September 15 from 5:30-8:30 pm
The bi-annual Art Crawl in town takes place in the spring and fall and takes the form of a loosely organized public tour. Artists from around the region showcase and sell their work at various locations scattered around downtown Statesville.
As a visitor, you get to walk about as you please, taking it all in and perhaps purchasing some goods from artists whose work speaks to you.
Restaurants in Statesville NC
Rest assured, there’s plenty of good food and drink to enjoy in Statesville! On the restaurant front, you can look forward to local and international fare; for more casual food and drink, there are excellent local coffee shops and breweries to look forward to.
Here’s a closer look at some of the best places to eat in and around town when you are looking for a break from things to do in Statesville NC.
🥣 Twisted Oak American Bar & Grill
121 N Center St., Statesville NC
Twisted Oak American Bar & Grill will check all the boxes for many visitors. It’s a welcoming, cozy tavern offering a menu full of comfort food, North Carolinian craft beer, a thorough whiskey and bourbon menu, and indoor/outdoor seating options. Locals feel at home at this popular spot, and visitors will get an authentic taste of central North Carolina.
Main course meals cover a range of tastes and preferences, but you may want to try the Pimento Cheese & Chips starters if you want to get your meal off to a southern start.
🥣 Mezzaluna II
115 S Center St., Statesville NC
It’s hard to go wrong in seeking out good Italian food, which you’ll find at Mezzaluna II. Effectively next door to Twisted Oak, this lovely eatery has been satisfying Statesville locals for decades.
The menu is authentic Italian through and through, with all the favorites you’d expect –– all prepared well and at reasonable prices.
🥣 Broad Street Burger Co.
111 E Broad St., Statesville NC
If you’re looking for casual but delicious fare, look no further than Broad Street Burger Co. Unofficially the preeminent burger joint in Statesville, it’s a warm and welcoming venue where you can enjoy just about any burger you can imagine in your mind.
Throw in decadent savory sides and another menu full of regional craft beers, making for a thoroughly satisfying stop for visitors.
🥣 Katana Kitchen
132 Beechnut Ln., Statesville NC
At a glance, Katana Kitchen may strike you as a traditional hibachi restaurant. While this establishment serves delicious hibachi, it doubles as a fusion restaurant with some pretty unique things on the menu.
For instance, you might consider ordering a sushi rice and shrimp burrito with crispy fries and cheese. Or you might explore street food, including tuna nachos or popcorn chicken with sweet chili sauce.
🥣 The Coffee Lodge
1623 Buffalo Shoals Rd., Statesville NC
The Coffee Lodge isn’t exactly another restaurant, but it is worth mentioning in a section on food and drink. Designed almost like an old general store of sorts, this is a rustic spot where visitors can get arguably the best coffee in town.
This place will make you resent your everyday coffee chain from the signature dark roast to sweet frappes.
Best Places to Stay in Statesville NC
Statesville is not where you’ll find many independent hotels (though you might find luck seeking an Airbnb in a historic house). That said, there is one notable exception, and some of the chain hotels in the area are quite nice.
🛏️ The Inn on Front Street
317 W Front Street, Statesville NC
The Inn on Front Street is the one independent, local lodging of note. Essentially a homey bed and breakfast, it provides cozy public quarters, outdoor garden space, and rooms that feel at once elegant and antique-like. If you want to stay in a place that truly fits into the surrounding area (that being historic downtown Statesville, look no further.
🛏️ Hilton Garden Inn Statesville
1017 Gateway Crossing Dr., Statesville NC
Hilton Garden Inn tends to be a reliable establishment, and the location in Statesville is no exception. The location may not be ideal in that it’s closer to the interstate highways outside of town than to the downtown area.
Then again, the distance into Statesville proper will be no challenge, the prices are excellent, and it’s a comfortable hotel. You’ll enjoy clean, modern rooms and relaxing pool access if you want to take a load off after exploring the town.
🛏️ Hampton Inn Statesville
1508 Cinema Dr., Statesville NC
Located close to the Hilton Garden Inn, the Hampton Inn is a direct alternative. Rooms, rates, and locations are comparable, so if you choose between these two hotels, your decision will come down to personal preference (or availability). This is another perfectly fine place to stay when visiting Statesville, though.
🛏️ Fairfield by Marriott Inn & Suites Statesville
1243 Tonewood St., Statesville NC
Fairfield by Marriott Inn & Suites Statesville is a little farther still from the downtown area. However, it’s a well-regarded, distinctly modern hotel that many will appreciate simply as a comfortable place to relax after a day of exploring. It also offers two perks.
The first, for those interested in Statesville history, is that it’s situated alongside the same Fourth Creek for which the original settlement was named. The second, at least for those visiting from outside North Carolina, is that there’s a Cookout nearby! This is basically a fast-food joint, but it’s one very dear to North Carolinians and, thus, fun for visitors to check out.
What is Statesville NC Known For?
In a word, the city of Statesville is best known for its history. From its agricultural and whiskey lore to its place in early American conflicts to its significance in early-frontier railroad expansion, it’s a city with a deep, rich past. Today, it’s known for displaying much of this history visibly without sacrificing modern charms.
Final Thoughts on Statesville NC
Whether you’re a history buff intent on exploring the town’s past or simply touring North Carolina and looking for an authentic mid-sized town to enjoy, Statesville makes for a perfect road-tripping destination in a teeming state with them.
You’ll be able to tour museums and parks, enjoy outdoor activities, indulge in excellent food and drink, and potentially participate in some of North Carolina’s best festivals. It’s a fantastic place to visit and one you should add to your list.