The historic town of Morganton is located in Burke County, about 63 miles east of downtown Asheville. It's location along I-40 makes it very convenient to stop for the visit in the Catawba River valley in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains. Little known fact: This area is the oldest known European inland settlement in the United States, with Spanish explorers settling in the village of Joara in 1567!
We love to explore the charming downtown, centered around the stately historic courthouse. For a small town, you'll be impressed with the number of artists, performing arts, shopping and outdoors activities. The City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium (CoMMA) hosts plays, musicals, graduations, and other cultural and public events. Stop by to see their fresco anytime! Don't miss the interesting down-home History Museum that transports you through the rich history of Burke County.
Take a walking tour with Table Rock Food Tours to sample culinary delights of downtown Morganton while learning about the fascinating history.
Go to the Burke County Web site for a full list of attractions and great places to stay.
Hamilton Williams Gallery (403 East Union) is home to the studio of Hamilton's clayworks, and his gallery features impressive pottery, ironwork and jewelry from area artists.
Here are 10 great reasons to visit downtown Morganton:
- Great coffee and exceptional dining
- Live music with jazz, rock & more
- Gallery crawls and fun art studios
- Free concerts for all ages
- Plenty of free parking
- Variety of clothing stores
- Two craft beer breweries
- Movies for all ages
- Cycling-friendly with bike lanes
Fonta Flora Brewery (317 N. Green Street) owner Todd Boera is receiving national attention for his emphasis on seasonal flora. Sample his brews of English tradition and Belgian inspiration using an amazing variety of local ingredients.
June 10, 2017: The State of Origin Beer Festival on Morganton’s courthouse square features approximately two dozen breweries. organized by Fonta Flora Brewery, to spotlight NC breweries making ales from local ingredients. Beer is paired with live music and food by local vendors. Festival hours are 5-9 PM. Basic tickets are $50. Read more & get tickets.
The "Sales Cell" in the Jailhouse Gallery (115 E. Meeting) in the former jailhouse promotes and sells the art and crafts of local artists with a wonderful selection of unique handcrafted items including fine artwork, prints, hand crafted jewelry, pottery, glass, woodcraft and more. Home to the Burke Arts Council, it's open M-F, 10-4. It's across the street from the Visitor's Center and two blocks from the History Museum.
June 24, 2017: Field Day at the Joara Site
The site of the first European inland settlement in the United States will be open to the public during the annual Field Day. This summer marks the 450th anniversary of Spanish explorers establishing Fort San Juan alongside Joara, a Native American village. The Spanish settlement, which predates Jamestown by 40 years, co-existed with the village of Joara for 18 months before being destroyed by the natives. See the ongoing archaeological site excavation, see demos including blacksmithing, primitive skills and Catawba Indian crafters. Open 10 AM-2 PM. Admission free, parking $5/car. 1700 Henderson Mill Road, Morganton. Go to their website.
2017 Special Exhibit
See a fascinating exhibit at the History Museum of Burke County to honor the 450th anniversary of the founding of Fort San Juan. It's the first professional exhibit to tell the story of this amazing and little-known piece of American history. Learn about the lives of the Native American people and Spanish explorers, and includes pieces of Spanish pottery, chain links from Spanish armor and nails that were used in the 1567 fort. It tells the story of houses constructed in the native style, but built by Spanish tools. Open Tuesday-Saturday.
Places to Stay & Things to Do
Downtown Morganton Things to Do
- The Burke County Visitor Center (110 E. Meeting Street) should be your first stop to get plenty of info on area attractions, events and dining.
- See the giant fresco on the ceiling inside the town auditorium. Read more.
- Root & Vine (139 W. Union Street) uses locally-sourced ingredients for scratch-made cuisine for lunch and dinner.
- Wisteria Southern Gastropub (108 E. Meeting Street) features locally-grown, sustainable and fresh food based on traditional Southern dishes.
- Grind Cafe (136 W. Union Street) is a cool coffee shop with great java and great breakfast and lunch selections.
- Yianni's Family Restaurant (112 W. Union Street) is a local's favorite with Greek and Italian family recipes.
- Treat (100 W. Union Street) has a wide variety of menu offerings served with a “layered eating” tapas-style flare. The restaurant and bar features hand-crafted seasonal specials. And don't miss their gift shop!
- Catawba Brewing (212 S. Green Street) is a family owned, 15-year old craft beer maker with a great location for live music while sampling brews. Open Wednesday-Saturday.
- Libba's Ladies Boutique & Benjamin's Men's (100 North Sterling Street) has been a must stop for high-end apparel, shoes and accessories for 34 years. .
- Farmers Market (300 Beach Street) is a great open air market of local food on Saturday from mid April through October, 8 AM-12 Noon.
- Patterson's Amish Furniture (150 S. Sterling Street) has handcrafted furniture made in the USA.
- Awakenings Spa (115 Queen) is a “shoes off” sanctuary designed to be cozy and comfortable.
- Old Burke County Courthouse (102 East Union) was built in 1837 and is the focal point of downtown on the town square. Inside, the Heritage Museum has a representation of an attorney’s office around the turn of the twentieth century. The furniture and related items were donated by the family and friends of the late Senator Sam J. Ervin.
Things to Do Near Downtown Morganton
- The Kitchen Connection & Wine Shop (309 Sanford Drive) carries cookware, gifts baskets, gourmet foods and a huge selection of fine wine.
- CBS Sports (911 N. Green St) is the place for sports apparel, athletic shoes, kayaks, canoes. and outdoor gear from Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, NorthFace and Columbia. They also have a full ski rental shop.
- The Outpost (operated by CBS Sports) offers canoe, kayak and tubing trips down the Catawba River at the Catawba Meadows Sports Complex.
- Enjoy the outdoors at Lake Jame State Park, South Mountains State Park and Linville Gorge. See more of our Coolest NC Mountain Small Towns.
- Visit four Catawba Valley Wineries.
For more info on the Morganton area, visit the Burke County Web site.
Downtown Morganton Events
Historic Morganton Festival: Come play in the streets in September with wine garden, arts and crafts and four stages of music! Free admission. Go to their Website for the latest details.
TGIF Summer Concert Series: Enjoy live music every Friday night in May-July. Food and beverage (including beer and wine) start at 6 PM and bands play 7-10 PM on the historic town square and courthouse lawn. No pets or coolers. Free admisson.
Go to the Burke County Web site for more attractions and great places to stay.