Situated on a mountain plateau in western North Carolina, some 4,000 feet above sea level, the four-stoplight town of Highlands is no secluded hamlet. Dubbed the Aspen of the East, it attracts 200,000 visitors a year. They come for its mild weather, labyrinth of hiking trails, and manicured golf courses. They also come for its Main Street. Straight out of a postcard, its four wide blocks are lined with canopied restaurants and boutiques, dog bowls filled with water, and charming inns—including one of only two Relais & Châteaux properties in North Carolina. In the fall, restaurants host sold-out dinners during the town’s signature food and wine festival; come winter, shops compete in holiday window-display contests. Still, this is not a place built for tourists in search of a small-town feel; it’s made for the people who actually live here. The thoroughfare is home to Highlands’s only hardware store, a barber shop, a post office, and four churches. It is both a gathering place for locals and a sweet escape for visitors—a Main Street in every sense of the word.
Highlands Wine Shoppe
This charming shop, housed in Main Street’s first residence (built in 1883), carries more than 650 wines, from $800 cabs to $10 Rieslings. Take your bottle home, or pop the cork and enjoy it with an antipasto plate on the sprawling front lawn.
This upscale women’s boutique was started by the three Orrico sisters: Kathie, Casey, and Colleen. Decorated with straw baskets and nautical pillows, the bright shop sells Lilly Pulitzer face masks, Sail to Sable dresses, and Trina Turk tunics.
Old Edwards Inn & Spa
One of only two Relais & Châteaux inns in North Carolina, this Old World–style property is known for elegant accommodations and top-notch service. Request a suite in the historic main inn with a terrace overlooking Main Street for prime people watching.
Open since May, this sleek gourmet pizza joint features an open kitchen showcasing its giant wood-fired brick ovens. Order the Kentucky Fig cocktail (made with bourbon, fig-flavored vodka, lemon, blueberry, and ginger ale) and the crowd-pleasing brussels-and-bacon pizza.
Highlands Mountain Paws
Between the creaky wooden floors and the menagerie of dogs milling about, this popular pet boutique is as cozy as they come. Browse for a range of gifts for cats and dogs, from cheeky Pets Rock artwork to all-natural treats made in nearby Waynesville.
S’more Kids Klothes
Small and tidy, with cork floors covered by colorful rugs, this new shop for babies and children carries everything from wooden toys to holiday outfits. As cheerful eighties music plays over the speakers, shop for Joules lunch boxes and color-changing Holly & Beau raincoats.
Local designers Jay and Lisa Calloway transformed a former pharmacy into a Southwest-inspired furniture store, complete with leather chairs and copper firepits spilling onto the sidewalk. Shop for cowhide bags and feather wreaths, a reclaimed metalwork table, and even turquoise jewelry.
SweeTreats Ice Cream & Deli
This retro shop custom-blends vanilla and chocolate ice cream with candies, fruits, nuts, and sauces, drawing after-dinner crowds since its opening in the eighties. The adjoining deli is beloved for the Highlands Hill sandwich, made with turkey, bacon, Havarti, mayo, and slices of fresh avocado.
Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bistro
Chef Wolfgang Green has drawn from his German heritage and New Orleans influences (he was once a chef for the famed Brennan family) to create a German-Creole menu with items such as veal medallions served with sauteed crawfish and potato. Now in its twenty-sixth season, this white-tablecloth restaurant is a Highlands institution.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Southbound.