Being within an hour’s drive from each makes it a particularly popular hotspot in the area. Hickory is known as the birthplace of NASCAR stars and is famous for having some of the best furniture in the state.
The downtown has recently been revitalized while much of the alluring historic architecture has been carefully preserved. There’s an abundance of cultural attractions to explore from museums and art institutions, to specialty shops and outdoor adventures. Get to know the coolest hidden gem of NC with these best things to do in Hickory!
The Best Things to Do in Hickory, NC
Hickory Museum of Art
One of the best things to do in Hickory, NC is visit a few of the wonderful museums. The Hickory Museum of Art is a beloved bastion of the arts, and one of the most well-known spaces of its kind in the entire state. It first opened way back in 1944 and continues to display iconic works spanning from the 19th century to today.
Exhibits are from both permanent and rotating collections which feature pieces of everything from local folk art and world-renowned installations by the likes of Andy Warhol. Art classes are often held here on a varied range of topics, such as ceramics and abstract painting.
- Address: 243 3rd Ave NE, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10:00 am- 4:00 pm, Thursday : 10:00 am -8:00 pm, Sunday: 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: Suggested donation per person is $5, actual operating cost per visit is $12 per person.
Catawba Science Center
Catawba Science Center is a family-friendly space that has entertaining and engaging exhibits for all ages. It’s got a bit of everything here, including an impressive planetarium that hosts laser light shows and constellation lectures and a massive marine life environment with an array of species from stingrays to sharks.
It’s set inside an old victorian building and has been around for over half a century. It’s such a fun way to immerse yourself in learning more about the scientific realm with dramatic displays on energy, space, weather, plants, and the famous Gross Labs.
- Address: 243 3rd Ave NE, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Wednesday – Sunday : 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, Closed : Monday & Tuesday
- Cost of Admission: Check ticket price here.
Hickory Aviation Museum
The Hickory Aviation Museum displays an impressive collection of significant artifacts spanning from World War II to the modern-day. It’s actually located at the Hickory Regional Airport itself and serves to honor the golden age of aircraft.
The collection is incredibly well maintained, with some famous specimens of flight like the Wright Flyer and the F-18 Hornet. Take a peek inside seriously old engines and learn the mechanics behind how these beautiful steel birds made it up into the sky in the first place.
- Address: 3101 9th Ave Dr NW, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday- Friday: 10:00 am-3:00 pm, Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, Sunday: 1:00 pm-4:00 pm
Henry Fork River Park
Henry Ford River Park is a lovely outdoor oasis in the city for spending a day soaking up some fresh air. Wander the paved nature trail to stretch your legs in the warm Carolina sunshine. The spacious landscape features plenty of amenities for all to enjoy.
There are also several sports fields and playgrounds. It’s one of the best places around to pack up some snacks and enjoy a picnic under their 8,000 square foot shelter equipped with barbecue grills, tables, and restrooms.
For fun, games, and action-packed pastimes there are also horseshoe pits, a canoe launch, and the Alpine Ropes Course. If you work up an appetite you’ll even find a concession stand on-site.
- Address: 5655 Sweet Bay Ln, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 7:00 am-9:00 pm
The Harper House
This iconic facade serves as the Hickory History Center and was once the abode of a prominent family of the same name. It’s heralded as an incredible example of Queen Anne style architecture, a classic facade design of the Victorian era.
Take a guided tour and step back into the 1800s to see what life looked like back then. There are a few exhibits of vintage treasures from the time and many facets of the space have been well preserved like stunning stained glass and twirling staircases.
- Address: 310 N Center St, Hickory (GPS)
Bakers Mountain Park
Bakers Mountain has the highest elevation in all of Catawba county at 1780 feet. As such, the sweeping panoramas from the prominent peak are picturesque, to say the least. A large wooden platform stretches up high above the breathtaking terrain.
The park itself spans over 180 acres and has an enchanting network of nature trails to trek and traverse over six miles. Hike or bike through the local flora and fauna-filled scenery featuring lush mountain laurel and hardwood forest.
- Address: 6680 Bakers Mountain Rd, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday : 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Downtown Hickory Farmers Market
For all the freshest produce grown locally in the region, stop by the Downtown Hickory Farmers Market where vendors gather to display their gorgeous seasonal goods. Whether you’re browsing or buying, the sea of specialty stalls is a fun scene to stroll through and support and is one of the best things to do in Hickory!
All the wholesome favorites like fruits, veggies, eggs, cheese, meats, and flowers are readily available, but that’s not all! There are handmade baked treats, preserves, and teas to taste test, as well as artisan crafts like ceramics, cosmetics, and jewelry.
- Address: Union Square NW, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Saturday : 8:00 am – 1:00 pm, Wednesday: 10:00 am -2:00 pm
The Carolina Theater in Hickory is absolutely packed with personality and character. It was originally constructed in 1934 and maintains oodles of its original charm. The space has been renovated to highlight its historic nature with classic touches like hardwood floors and some spiffy versions of its famous rocking chair seats.
They show second-run films at a discounted price, for a cheap and cheerful way to spend an afternoon or evening in the city.
- Address: 222 1st Ave NW, Hickory (GPS)
Taproot Coffee Bus
The Taproot Coffee Bus has become a legendary fixture of the Hickory java scene. Tourists and locals alike always make stopping in here a priority during any jaunt around town. It’s one of the cooler, more unique places in the city as it’s more than just your average cafe. It’s actually set inside of a renovated bus!
The space is adorably kitschy and the coffee here happens to be perfectly curated as well. They roast their own beans and offer an array of brewing methods like french press, aeropress, chemex, melta pot and more.
- Address: 2475 N Center St Suite B, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday : 7:00 am – 4:00 pm
Set in the neighboring hamlet of Newton nearby lies the scenic Catawba Farms. It’s home to a vast 34 acres of lush landscape and is such a stunning spot to visit for some North Carolina wine. Perfect for nature lovers and wine connoisseurs, verdant vineyards cover much of the terrain.
They have a quaint tasting room where you can take a tour and then try all their high-quality varietals and you can even pair them with freshly made plates of fantastic fares.
- Address: 1670 Southwest Blvd, Newton (GPS)
- Hours: Friday – Sunday : 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Enjoy the Festivals
Hickory is home to many elaborate events held all throughout the year. The Catawba Valley Pottery and Antiques Festival draws in all kinds of vintage lovers seeking out memorabilia and ornate folk-style ceramics. Next is the Hickory Hops Festival, the perfect event for craft beer aficionados. Footcandle Film Festival brings the cinephiles to the city.
The annual Oktoberfest can be quite a draw here as well, not just to see the foliage, but for the authentic German eats and entertainment as well.
Hart Square is certainly the coolest ghost town that you’ve never heard of. It’s set up basically as an open air museum and holds the title of the world’s largest collection of historic log structures set on a 200 acre nature preserve.
The cabins were rescued from all over the state, including 30 homes, two churches, and many trade shops. Each cabin is furnished with authentic artifacts from the pioneer days. They host a lot of events like carving classes and special dinners and it’s a great way to unplug and be transported back to a much, much simpler time.
- Address: 5055 Hope Rd, Vale (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Friday : 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Explore Downtown Hickory
The downtown district of Hickory is the beating heart of the city and a hub for the community. It’s home to some of the best eateries and boutiques in the area. First, hit the hidden gem Harris Arcade, a little alley with a curated collection of specialty shops.
When wandering the charming streets, check out the Natural Olive for gourmet goodies and Life Doesn’t Succ, a punny spot supplying the town with pretty plant life. Carolina Crafted offers the cutest locally made home furnishings.
Bottega is a funky artistic space selling original wares like jewelry and clothing. If you’re into beauty and bath products, the Artisan Soapery is likely your dream destination.
Hickory Motor Speedway
Hickory is well known for churning out future stars of the NASCAR world, and a visit to the Hickory Motor Speedway is a fun way to experience this part of Carolina culture. It was constructed in 1953 and today is part museum, part speedway. It’s home to the world’s most famous short track and many races throughout the year are held at this prominent venue.
- Address: 3130 US-70, Newton (GPS)
Hickory Furniture Mart
Hickory Furniture Mart is a famous and long-standing fixture of the city. In many ways, it put the town on the map as far as a delightful destination for anyone seeking quality home furnishings. Today people flock from all over the state to shop in this massive mecca of decor. While furniture shopping may not be on your typical things to do in Hickory list, we can assure you the furniture mart is a fun time!
It boasts four stories in total, filled with an eclectic mix of independent retailers, outlets, showrooms, and custom shops to explore. There really is something for every preference and price point here, and it’s even fun just to wander through the rooms and play house.
- Address: 2220 US Hwy 70 SE, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Saturday : 9:00 am -6:00 pm
AR Workshop is a craft studio in Hickory that makes for a fun and unique thing to do while in town. More specifically billed as a wine and painting wood sign studio, there is a full schedule of classes, workshops, and events to check out or try your hand at.
Fun for any skill level, it’s a great way to get creative and have a new experience. Knit your own chunky blanket or carve your own set of cornhole boards. It really runs the gambit so you’re sure to find a skill session that piques your interest here while in Hickory.
- Address: 264 Union Square NW Suite 101, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Friday : 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, Saturday :10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Hickory Community Theater
Hickory Community Theater is a beloved venue providing a plethora of performing arts for all to attend and enjoy. It’s housed in the historic building dubbed the city’s Old Town Hall and several productions are showcased throughout the year. It’s been around since 1948 and today is an inclusive space that aims to unite, inspire, and entertain the local community.
Some plays that have graced this stage in the past have included The Color Purple: A Musical and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
- Address: 30 3rd St NW, Hickory (GPS)
- Cost of Admission: $12
A claim to fame of Hickory is that it’s home to the charismatic minor league baseball team, the Crawdads. Games are played in the beloved L.P. Frans Stadium, which has over 4,000 seats and hosts many tournaments over the course of the year.
There are a handful of cafes and eateries to go and chow down at as well, which, let’s be honest, is half the fun of any sporting event. The other entertainment comes from all the local support and team spirit played out with adorable antics from the crowd and mascot during the games.
- Address: 2500 Clement Blvd NW, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Friday : 9:00 am -5:00 pm, Closed: Saturday & Sunday
Also called Shuford House, Maple Grove is a Southern abode in Hickory dating back to 1883. It’s widely considered to be one of the oldest homes in the area. It was built in a classic Italianate style which has since been restored complete with authentic Victorian furnishings. Some of the decor belonged to the original family who helped to found the town of Hickory.
You can explore it on a tour that takes you through the impressive estate and all its period room exhibits. You can go for a self guided experience or with a trained docent to learn more about the rich history of the home.
- Address: 534 3rd Ave NW, Hickory (GPS)
For a relaxing day surrounded by the natural wonders of Hickory, head to Geitner Park. The scenery here is stunning and it’s a popular pick for hiking. There are several trails that are easy to navigate for any skill level that traverse the idyllic terrain.
It’s a tranquil environment to explore, and many go to get out on the water from the beautiful boat launch ramp, whether it’s for fishing or simply paddling away. There’s a quaint pier where anglers adore casting a reel from as well, waiting in a verdant oasis for that big catch.
- Address: 2035 12th St Dr NW, Hickory (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday : 7:00 am- 9:00 pm