Words by Jennifer Kornegay
In the lush green hills of North Carolina’s Piedmont, Winston-Salem’s story is founded on duality. It was formed by merging two cities into one in 1913—the history-soaked Salem, originally a Moravian settlement, and Winston, the town that tobacco and textiles built. In the late 1990s, when lawsuits hit the tobacco industry hard, Winston-Salem found itself sliding into decline. The tough times were a blessing in disguise, forcing a reinvention that’s resulted in 2024 Winston-Salem, a city focused on a bright future. And yet, despite this forward-looking frame of mind, It’s past stays present, gilding the modern city with yesteryear charm.
See & Do
Reynolda Estate: No spot in Winston-Salem sums up the city’s past-present spirit as Reynolda Estate. In 1905, Katharine Smith married tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds. A determined visionary not content with the amusements usually afforded women in her day, she began buying parcels of hilled forest and fields. Today’s sprawling 170-acre estate was created almost entirely under her oversight and direction. For years, it was a self-sustaining farm and community for its many employees, with cottage homes, a school, a church, and a dairy. Now open to all, tours of the 34,000-square-foot main house outline Katharine’s emphasis on wellness. The formal gardens and original 1913 greenhouse offer an explosion of varying florals every spring and summer. And Reynolda Village invites shoppers to peruse its collection of stores, cafés, and restaurants. Hit up Dough-Joe’s for coffee and donuts, and pop in the Half Past Three boutique for “right-on-time” ladies’ fashions.
Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies: You might be familiar with paper-thin Moravian cookies, but get a behind-the-scenes look, smell, and taste of one of the most popular brands at the Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies manufacturing facility. Dozens of ladies hand-roll and cut dough before baking and carefully packing the cookies, while the scent whets your appetite for a handful (or two) of the sweet-spiced treats. Munch on the original sugar crisp flavor (or other varieties), as a team member shares how Bertha Holtz went from baking the cookies in her home kitchen to owning a bakery that her daughter Evva Hanes grew into a colossal cookie company. Now, the operation is almost fully staffed by females and ships thousands of cookies each year to all 50 states and more than 30 countries.
Downtown Arts District: Funky metal figures perched on roof edges; massive murals depicting the city’s civil rights stories and the area’s flora and fauna; and colorful, fantastical abstracts and sculpture gardens anchoring greens spaces, are highlights of the abundant public art in Winston-Salem’s Downtown Arts District. In multiple galleries and shops, you’ll find pottery, watercolors, woodworking, textiles, and more. Red Dog Gallery offers rotating exhibits and a wide selection of local works, and Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery features items born from the craft and skill of hundreds of Southern makers.
Art-o-Mat Machines: These innovative nods to Winston-Salem’s past are the brainchild of area artists and an entrepreneur. These re-imagined cigarette vending machines now deliver creative expression instead of a pack of Camels. Just pull the knob and walk away with an original artwork.
Triad Eco Adventure's e-BIKE Tour: The gentle hills make cycling an easy and fun way to explore, especially with a little power assist from an e-BIKE. Book a tour with Eco Adventures and let their friendly guides share area history, local lore, and an inside track on the best breweries, sandwich stops, and more, while you pedal through Old Salem, downtown, the Innovation Quarter, and more.
Old Salem Museums & Gardens: Stroll through this living history experience, where the first Moravians settled in 1766 after fleeing religious persecution in Europe. It’s the heart of the city’s still-thriving Moravian community, and the village’s original structures line wide brick sidewalks, with many remaining in use. Offices are buzzing, houses are homes, and a bakery turns out the prized Moravian cookies as well as other delights from this rich culture, such as Moravian sugar cake.
Eat & Drink
Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro: This spot is on a corner in cozy West End, its chartreuse exterior bringing the neighborhood a bright wash of color and hinting at the bright flavors awaiting diners within. The menu changes, but it’s always serving up innovative takes on Southern standards, such as creamy pimento cheese and grits dip, Southern spring rolls stuffed with pulled pork, mushrooms and collards with sesame-ginger sauce, and caramel-peach shortcake. Enjoy it all alfresco under umbrellas on the sidewalk.
Bernardin's Restaurant: Find classic fine dining in a refined but relaxed atmosphere at this gem tucked in a historic house. Snag a seat on the covered patio with its walls of green formed by the climbing vines and thick shrubbery of the surrounding garden to indulge in Brie-stuffed chicken breast and asparagus, brussels sprouts with soy-bourbon molasses, or maple leaf duck with mascarpone polenta and fig sauce.
The Powder Room: Go glam at this luxe café that’s festooned in floral fringed fabrics, exotic garden-scene murals, and pops of hot pink with disco balls overhead throwing out a confetti glow. Pick a pastry while sipping a café au lait or rich Belgian hot chocolate. Or indulge in a cocktail alongside a light lunch such as the curried egg salad sandwich or cashew chicken salad perfumed with ginger, miso, and mint.
EasyTalk: The clever name of this new cocktail bar is a fun twist on “speakeasy,” and the small space holds two different drinking experiences. Up front, at Easy, walk in and order from a small menu of both classic and specialty cocktails. In the back is Talk, where a few seats surround a more complex setup that serves drinks, but also cocktail-soaked conversations that are entertaining, educational, and driven by the desires of the guests bellied-up to the bar.
Louie and Honey’s Kitchen: Cute and classy describes this coffee and pastry shop owned by a mother-daughter duo who rely on heirloom recipes and organic flours milled locally to whip up rich desserts and baked goods from scratch, such as huge brown-sugar-icing-smothered cinnamon rolls, lemon buttermilk cake layered with citrus curd, and fruit-filled “pop tarts.”
The Graylyn Estate: Across the street from Reynolda, and home to Bowman Gray and his family, this opulent manor completed in 1932 sits on 87 acres and has a castle vibe. The feeling is fitting as the Grays were once Winston-Salem royalty, when Bowman was the right-hand man of tobacco king R.J. Reynolds. In 1972, the property was donated to Wake Forest University. After a fire almost destroyed it in 1980, it was restored to its former glory. Today, it’s a popular getaway, offering 85 rooms and suites, the Grille Room restaurant, an underground bar and billiards room, and an indoor pool. Many of the luxe accommodations are in the home’s original bedrooms; a stay in the Nathalie Gray suite, full of floral bedding and antique furniture, plus the original tile work in the bathroom, is a true treat, as is the free ice cream available for guests. Sign up for the Butler’s Tour and learn the history, including the intriguing story of the opulent and elaborately paneled Persian Card Room.