Unexpected sites in Carolinas make National Geographic list of best small US cities

One of the attractions in Hickory is Maple Grove, an elaborate, Italian style farm house built in 1883. It is restored as house museum.
One of the attractions in Hickory is Maple Grove, an elaborate, Italian style farm house built in 1883. It is restored as house museum.

Five Carolinas towns are on National Geographic’s list of the “30 best small US cities” worth visiting in 2018. Most are obvious, but two are unexpected: Hickory and Greenville, S.C.

Charlotte didn’t make the list, nor did Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill or Winston-Salem... possibly because they’re not small enough.

The biggest surprise on the list – at least for Carolinians – is Hickory, an hour northwest of Charlotte.

National Geographic said: “A thriving 20th Century manufacturing hub for furniture and textiles, Hickory now finds itself heading our list for its hipster-friendly offerings, from tattoo parlors to vintage clothing boutiques. Craft-beer enthusiasts gather at the popular annual Hickory Hops festival featuring more than 50 microbreweries and live music.”

The other surprise is Greenville, S.C., about two hours southwest of Charlotte.

The Hickory Furniture Mart JEFF WILLHELM Charlotte Observer

National Geographic said Greenville is known for its “start-up spirit” and urbane downtown.

“Greenville makes our hot list for its number of butchers, delis, and steakhouses. Savor a steak at Halls Chophouse, then head to Falls Park, where a nearly 40-foot natural waterfall churns just off Main Street, and a pedestrian-only bridge curves gracefully overhead,” said National Geographic.

Three other Carolina towns appear on the list and they are obvious inclusions, because of their popularity with tourists: Asheville, Charleston and Columbia.

In selecting Asheville, National Geographic noted it hosts more than three dozen craft breweries and brewpubs, the most per capita of any U.S. city. Columbia made the list for being the “meatiest city per capita in its population group,” thanks to barbeque restaurants. Charleston was lauded for its arts scene, public spaces and schools.

National Geographic said the judging was based on “unconventional metrics that we think lead to happiness: green spaces, galleries, coffee shops, breweries, music venues, Instagrammable moments, and more.”

Here’s the full list:

  • Pittsburgh
  • Boulder, Col.
  • Greenville, S.C.
  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • Annapolis, Md.
  • New Orleans
  • Madison, Wis.
  • Reno, Nev.
  • Healdsburg, Calif.
  • Santa Cruz, Calif.
  • Charleston
  • Olympia, Wash.
  • Charlottesville, Va.
  • Spokane, Wash.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Rapid City, S.D.
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Asheville
  • Baton Rouge, La.
  • Honolulu
  • Kansas City, Mo.
  • Lakeland, Fla.
  • Newport, R.I.
  • Portland, Maine
  • Louisville, Ky.
  • Hagerstown, Md.
  • Pensacola, Fla.
  • Omaha, Neb.
  • Columbia
  • Hickory