A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to be a tourist in my own city with some wonderful travel writers. They flew in from across the country to discover the fun right here in Johnston County.
While I write often about Johnston County, I’ve never really stepped out of my “resident” life to experience it as a tourist in my own city — and I didn’t expect to learn much. It turns out, there’s always more to learn (yeah…. I should have known that.)
If you’re a JoCo local, read along. See if anything surprises you. And for those of you not fortunate enough to call “JoCo” home, welcome to life in my hometown.
The Morning Glory Inn
Home base for our trip was at the Morning Glory Inn, a 6400 square foot Victorian in downtown Clayton built in 1907. I’ve been there many times for meetings and events, and I’ve enjoyed many meals prepared by the Inn’s owner, Betsy.
What I already knew
- Betsy is a fabulous cook and even more fabulous hostess.
- Morning Glory Inn is both spacious and intimate — lots of space to spread out for events, but with a cozy feel that makes you feel right at home.
- It’s convenient to everything in Clayton — a great “home base” for exploring the area.
What I learned
- The rooms are spacious and comfortable — each decorated in its own theme.
- Breakfast is ridiculous — ridiculously good and plentiful! Betsy serves a great lunch, but breakfast for inn guests goes to a whole new level of yumminess with the same great service, of course.
- The rooms are much more affordable than I expected, ranging from $99-$119/night, including breakfast.
- Visitors to Johnston County, consider the Morning Glory Inn for your stay. Rooms are much larger than any hotel in the area, and the breakfast is much better than any free hotel buffet. Sorry, hotels, but you can’t beat home cooked!
- Locals, consider the Morning Glory Inn for out of town friends and family if you don’t have space for guests at home.
- Local husbands — treat your wife to an overnight stay at the Morning Glory Inn. She’ll love you for it. You can join her if you’d like. 😉
Beer, Wine and Shine Trail
Johnston County has long held to its “dry county” status — only allowing sales of liquor by the glass back since 1997. While many communities in the county have passed liquor laws allowing sales of beer and other spirits, much of the county is still “dry.”
When I moved here in 2001, that’s how it was. And I got used to it pretty quickly (I’m not a big drinker anyway). There’s been a lot of change especially in the past five years.
What I already knew
- Hinnant Vineyards and Gregory Vineyards both produce fabulous muscadine wines.
- Both vineyards offer wine tastings and tours.
- Johnston County has local beer breweries — and that’s all I knew about that.
- Broadslab Distillery makes amazingly tasty, legal moonshine (though I had not personally confirmed its tastiness, I knew that everyone who tries it really likes it).
What I learned
- Gregory Vineyards grew grapes for sale long before they got into the wine business — but their debut was such a success (winning double gold in its first competition), they knew they were on to something.
- The local breweries are Double Barley and Deep River. Both offer a variety of craft beers, fabulous atmosphere and participate in community activities big time! They are proud to be part of JoCo.
- I like Deep River’s Cottontown Lager. That may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but it’s the first beer I’ve ever actually liked.
- Broadslab Distillery — WOW! Owner Jeremy Norris is not messing around! His passion for excellent moonshine is evident in everything — and the smooth whiskey is really good. Yep, I like moonshine — especially Broadslab Legacy Appleshine.
Not that I think y’all need much help here, but check out the Beer, Wine and ‘Shine Trail. It’s NC Beer Month across the state and both our breweries are participating with events planned throughout the month — sounds like a great time to visit!
Tour the wineries. Learn the history and process of making GOOD moonshine at Broadslab Distillery — and then enjoy a tasting. Discover what makes these passionate entrepreneurs so successful. Sure, they make beer, wine and ‘shine, but they are as committed to the community as they are to their craft. It was an honor to meet them all.
Interstate 95 runs right through the heart of Johnston County — and our outlet malls are busy thanks to all the travelers heading to New York and Florida. For the longest time, I considered the outlets to be the epicenter of shopping here in JoCo. Since I started blogging, though, I looked at JoCo differently. I shop differently too! Our little group shopped my favorite places — but I was still surprised by what I learned.
What I already knew
- Johnston County Hams is a GREAT PLACE to get North Carolina hams and other food specialties. When I take gifts out of state, I usually shop here. In fact, our very first Christmas in North Carolina, we sent packages to our extended family — all featuring foods from Johnston County Hams!
- DeWayne’s is… well, DeWayne’s! Is there a local who hasn’t shopped there?
What I learned
- I knew that the Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival began as a ham cook-off challenge between Virginia’s Smithfield Ham and our local Johnston County Hams. And I knew that Virginia stopped coming because they kept losing… BUT I LEARNED that Johnston County Hams had a similar effect on ham contests at the NC State Fair! Yep! They won first place so many times, that other ham companies came in knowing they’d be competing for second place. Johnston County was so good that the ham contest doesn’t even exist anymore! Order yours here. They ship throughout the US! (Try the Lady Edison!)
- DeWayne’s is expanding so there’s even more to love! The new Christmas shop is huge! And they’re not done yet.
- Owners DeWayne and Tina Lee are ambitious! They’re hard-working and they really care about the local community.
Shop local. This applies everywhere, not just to Johnston County. Independent businesses are dedicated to the community they live in more than any corporate store could ever be. Take a piece of Johnston County home with you — it’s a friendly place you’ll want to remember.
There is more to do in Johnston County than some might guess. We also had:
- A tour of the Ava Gardner Museum (Budget Tip: Check Groupon for savings!)
- Dinner at Clayton Steakhouse
- A walking tour of downtown Clayton (have you been lately? There are tons of independent shops and restaurants to enjoy!)
- Lunch at Simple Twist (even better because they’re Buckeyes!)
We didn’t have time for these, but we talked about them!
- Atkinson Milling Company
- Red hot dogs — in adorable downtown Four Oaks
- The Neuse River Walk
- A live theater performance at the Neuse Little Theater
Really, there’s so much to do right here in Johnston County! “Playing” tourist in my own city, I was thrilled to discover new things and see it through the eyes of other travel writers.
Local friends, what would you recommend to an out of towner?