Go Explore: Smithfield, NC

by Janean Flowe
Display at Ava Gardner Museum

By Kristy Tolley

Chartered in 1777, Smithfield is the county seat for Johnston County, North Carolina. The town is named for John Smith, who owned much of the land on both sides of the Neuse River. Historic attractions, fantastic food finds and varied diversions — there are lots of reasons to make this historic town your road-trip destination.


Begin your visit at the Johnston County Heritage Center, situated in historic downtown. Constructed in 1913, the building was originally the Bank of Smithfield. Today this library (and museum) serves as the home for exhibits, artifacts and other historical resources. It’s also the starting point of the Smithfield Walking Tour. The tour includes 19 spots showcasing the town’s history.

Included in the tour is the Hastings House — one of the town’s oldest homes. This well-preserved Greek Revival home was built in 1839 and acquired by William Hastings in 1854. It served as headquarters for General Joseph Johnston as he engaged General Sherman at the Battle of Bentonville during the Civil War. It’s also a stop along the Carolina Campaigns Civil War Trail.

Get a peek into the life and legacy of a Hollywood icon at the Ava Gardner Museum (also part of the walking tour). Gardner was born and raised in Johnston County. The museum showcases an extensive collection of art, costumes, scripts and personal artifacts from Ava’s career and private life. You can also plan your Smithfield visit around the Ava Gardner Festival, which takes place downtown on Oct. 16-18, 2020. (due to Covid-19, please check the most up-to-date information here)


Simple Twist Burger

A burger from Simple Twist



Downtown’s Beau and Beauty is an eclectic shop that provides a variety of styles for both men and women. New and gently used clothing, outer wear and shoes — there’s something to fit any fashion flavor.

If you can’t find it at Brightleaf Flea Market, it probably doesn’t exist. The 100,000-square-foot building houses a seemingly endless list of vendors. Plan a day to peruse antiques, handmade goods, furniture, clothing and more.

Oak City Collection is a good spot to find local and unique souvenirs. Most items are crafted in Johnston County, though some are made in nearby counties. They offer a nice selection of pottery, etched glassware, local art, clothing and other gifts.

Grab some deals at Carolina Premium Outlets. You’ll find Carolina Pottery, as well as 80 designer and name brand outlet stores there. They include Coach, Banana Republic, Adidas, Timberland and others.


Double Barley Patio

Double Barley Brewing



Located on Market Street, Simple Twist serves up locally sourced made-from-scratch meals. Go for the fried green tomatoes and the Twist Cheeseburger, topped with pimento cheese, Applewood bacon and their “sinful” mayonnaise.

Family owned and operated Double Barley Brewing was launched when Cheryl Lane gifted her husband Larry with a home brew kit for his 40th birthday. This taproom and beer garden is family friendly with ample outdoor seating. You can enjoy an appetizer or sandwich with your flight. Weekly tours are also on offer.

Enjoy freshly made pizzas, pastas, salads and subs at Sami’s Pizza, located on Market Street in the downtown area. Under the Oak Café boasts innovative menu items like Korean BBQ carrots, mushroom toast and red wine braised brisket, as well as gourmet salads and tasty side dishes.


Neuse River kayaking

Neuse River kayaking



Test your mental stamina at Ready-Set-Escape. You have 60 minutes to solve puzzles and challenges and break out. Take in a show at the Neuse Little Theatre, housed in a log building that overlooks the Neuse River. This community theater’s first show opened in 1974, and they’ve delighted audiences ever since. Smithfield also provides varied opportunities to spend some time outdoors. The Buffalo Creek Greenway curves along the banks of the Neuse River and offers a nearly three-mile paved trail for hikers, runners and bikers. It meanders along the Spring Branch to the Neuse River Walk. Pack a picnic lunch and head over to Smithfield Town Commons. Take in nature, go fishing or just enjoy dining al fresco along the Neuse River.

More road trip inspirations!

(Go Magazine Sept-Oct 2020)

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