1,000 places in North Carolina to see before you die

by DG Martin

“But why didn’t you include the Ava Gardner Museum in your list of ’50 Things Every North Carolinian Should Do’?” The museum hostess pressed me for an answer when I stopped by a couple of years ago.

The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield is right across the street from Shirley’s Restaurant. I had visited Shirley’s in my search for family-owned, home cooking places near our interstate highways for a series of articles in Our State magazine.

Our State had just published a wonderful article by Marshall Ellis with descriptions of places we should visit or things we should do in North Carolina. As I explained to the hostess, I had nothing to do with the selection of the 50 places and things to do. She believed me and gave me a great tour of a fine museum.

I thought about our conversation the other day when I saw a new book called “1,000 Places to See Before Your Die.”

The book lists and describes a thousand different sites that ought to be on our “life list” of places to visit-all over the world. What is on the list? A promotional blurb gives a clue: “[A]n around-the-world, continent-by-continent listing of beaches, museums, monuments, islands, inns, restaurants, mountains, and more. There’s Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the covered souks of Aleppo, the Tuscan hills surrounding San Gimignano, Canyon de Chelly, the Hassler hotel in Rome, Ipanema Beach, the backwaters of Kerala, Oaxaca’s Saturday market, the Buddhas of Borobudur, Ballybunion golf club-all the places guaranteed to give you the shivers.”

Of course I don’t know where most of those places are – or what they are. I would like to visit them, but there is not enough time or money to get me to more than a few of them. I looked through the book to see how many of those thousand places were in North Carolina.

There are just three, and no surprises. The Great Smokey Mountain National Park (the nation’s most popular park), the Outer Banks (the world’s longest system of barrier islands) and the Biltmore Estate (the biggest and most glorious home in America).

Just for comparison’s sake I looked to see what the book recommended in South Carolina. It listed the low country around Beaufort and Charleston, including its cuisine and the Spoleto Festival. In Virginia, the Homestead, Monticello, the Shenandoah Valley, the Inn at Little Washington and Williamsburg made the grade.

Interested now about what others thought were must-see places in North Carolina, I remembered that National Geographic Traveler had published an issue on “50 places of a lifetime.” But, when I tracked down that issue, I found that none of the 50 places were in North Carolina. However, the same magazine later published a similar list of “50 places of a lifetime – America.” On the cover of that edition (October 2001) is the Biltmore House. So, as soon as I saw the magazine, I knew we would have at least one representative on the list. We had another as well, the Cape Lookout National Seashore, with a lovely short article by Outer Banks writer Jan BeBlieu.

I confess that I was a little bit miffed that so few North Carolina places made these outsiders’ lists. “I bet there are at least 1,000 places in North Carolina that I should see before I die,” I thought to myself.

Then I knew I was hooked. I will have to try to make the list. I can’t do it without your help. Send me your ideas and I will send you a list of Our State’s list of 50 things every North Carolinian should do, including attractions like the USS North Carolina, historic Halifax, Thomasville’s world’s largest chair, Mount Mitchell, Grandfather’s swinging bridge, the North Carolina Zoo and Penland. (If you want to track down or order this Our State, it is February 2002.)

Then, maybe someday, I will be able to share with you our list of 1,000 Places in North Carolina to See Before We Die.

And I bet the Ava Gardner Museum will be on our list.

DG Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina “Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 5 p.m.