15 Great Things to Do In Hickory, NC

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Key Points

  • Hickory has plenty of activities for families. Be sure to check out the Catawba Science Center for hands-on exhibits, an aquarium, and a planetarium. Your kids can sit in the cockpit at the Hickory Aviation Museum or enjoy a day at the park at Lowes Foods City Park.
  • If you’re a history buff, you’ll also like the Hickory Aviation Museum. But also be sure to check out the Harper House and Henry River Mill Village.
  • For outdoor adventurers, don’t miss hiking at Bakers Mountain Park. You can also enjoy a day on Lake Hickory, and even rent a boat to take out on the water.

With scenic nature trails, famous furniture stores, artisan culture, and family-friendly attractions, Hickory is a year-round destination. There are a lot of fun things to see and do. 

You can buy famous furniture, go biking, hiking, or kayaking, eat delicious food and drinks, and enjoy art. Here, we’ll look at what to do in this Accredited Main Street America Community.

About Hickory

Before we get into the best things to do in Hickory, let’s first see why it is worth visiting.

Hickory is located near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Catawba County, North Carolina. With a population of over 40,000, it is the principal city in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton Metropolitan Statistical Area. The town sits along the Catawba River, just a short drive from Asheville and Charlotte. 

Hickory has a long and interesting history. It was founded in the 1850s by Dolph Shuford and Henry Robinson under a large Hickory tree. The town was initially known as Hickory Tavern, but later, they removed the term Tavern in 1873. 

It has been designated as an All-American City three times. Today, the city has a large manufacturing industry, particularly furniture and textile. It has changed a lot over the years and has become a popular tourist destination.    

#1: Learn about Nature and Science at the Catawba Science Center

Location: 243 3rd Ave NE, Hickory, NC 28601

If you’re looking for fun and educational things to do in Hickory, NC, the Catawba Science Center must be on your list! This 35,000 sq ft science museum is a fun place for kids to learn about science and technology.

The aquarium has both fresh and saltwater tanks. The highlight is the 8,000 gallon shark and stingray tank. But they’ve also got garden eels, sea horses, Amazonian river turtles, and much more. The herpetarium is where the kids can discover the wolrd of reptiles. There is also a special lab, the nano lab, and a greenhouse. 

Outside of the aquarium, they’ve also got the Milholland Planetarium. The planetarium has a dome-shaped screen and surround sound to bring science, nature, and technology to life.

Other things you’ll find here are special exhibits and events and the Science Shop.

#2: Explore American Art at Hickory Museum of Art

Location: 243 3rd Ave NE, Hickory, NC 28601

If you’re an art or history lover, you’ll want to check out the Hickory Museum of Art. It’s located in downtown Hickory and connected to the Catawba Science Center. So you can visit both attractions at the same time.

The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday, and closed Monday and Tuesday (and holidays). Admission is free, but there is a suggested $5 minimum donation. It actually costs the museum $12 per visitor, so please donate more if you can.

The museum started in 1944 and is the second oldest art museum in North Carolina. It has almost 1,500 pieces of American art from the 1800s to the present. You can see paintings from the Hudson River School, colorful glass, pottery made in America, and folk art from the Southern United States. 

You can take art classes and learn to make pottery, paint abstract art, and explore the artist inside you. There are classes available for both kids and adults.

They’ve also got art summer camps that are great if you live close by and have a budding artist in the family.

#3: Visit Hickory Aviation Museum to See Historic Aircraft

Location: 3101 9th Ave Dr. NW, Hickory, NC 28601

If you want to learn about aviation history and see vintage aircraft, visit the Hickory Aviation Museum. It is located at the Hickory Regional Airport. Like the art museum, admission is free, but please consider donating if you can. They are open everyday except Monday.

On the Flight Line, you can see over 30 airplanes from as far back as the 1930s, like the F/A-18 Hornet, P-3C Orion plane, Republic F-105 Thunderchief, and Curtiss XF15C-1 Stingaree. You can even sit inside some of the old planes!

Inside in the historical exhibits, you’ll find uniforms, cannons, flight suits, and photos that tell stories of aviation from WWI all the way to the present.

They also maintain a research library with a collection of aviation-related magazines, books, and flight manuals. Grab a bite to eat at their Crosswind Cafe and make a day of it.

#4: The Harper House/ Hickory Historic Center

Location: 310 N Center St, Hickory, NC 28601

This next spot is also for history buffs! The Harper House, also called the Hickory History Center, and the Lyerly House are both places where you can learn about Hickory’s history. They tell stories about the families who lived there and what life was like in Victorian times.

Admission is free for groups of 10 or less. Guided tours are available for an additional fee. Admission is available on appointment only.

The Harper House was built in 1887 by Daniel Webster Shuler, the first banker in Hickory. It is named after the Harper family, who lived there the longest, from 1923 to December 21, 2000. Inside, the house is decorated in the Queen Anne style, with a slanted roof, wooden shingles, and pretty stained-glass windows. 

The Lyerly House, built in the Craftsman style, also has exhibits about Hickory’s history. It is free to visit, but you have to pay to go inside the Harper House. They also offer guided tours that last for one hour. It is a fun place for the whole family!

#5: Lake Hickory

Escape to nature and spend a day on Lake Hickory! This 4,223-acre man-made lake is located near downtown Hickory and has 105 miles of shoreline. It provides water to Hickory, Longview, and Conover. 

The lake is a popular spot for boating, fishing, for fishing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and picnicking. It is a fully recreational lake, allowing all kinds of motorboats. If you don’t have a boat, you can rent one from the Lake Hickory Marina. Boats available include pontoon boats, speed boats, and a 19′ deck boat. After your water adventures, have lunch at the Copper Penny Grill

You can also go on a dinner cruise with Lake Hickory Adventures. If you’re visiting Lake Hickory, don’t forget to visit Gietner Park on the lake’s edge. 

#6: Buy Local Products at Hickory Downtown Farmers Market

Location: Union Square NW, Hickory, NC, 28601

Visit the Downtown Hickory Farmers Market, held at Union Square. Local farmers and vendors sell all kinds of goods, like fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheeses, meats, baked goods, and more. Buy foods and products to help support the local farmers!

Also be sure rto stop by Baking Creations by Dana and try their gluten-free and keto-baked goods like bagels, flatbreads, and desserts.

The market is open all year round, even in the winter. During the winter season, it’s open on Saturdays from 10 am to 1 pm. In the regular season, from April to October, it’s open on Saturdays from 8 am to 1 pm and Wednesdays from 10 am to 2 pm. They also have special events like Octoberfest.

#7: Shop, Dine, and Enjoy at Union Square

If you’re looking for an exciting spot in downtown Hickory, then Union Square is the place to be. There are lots of shops, restaurants, and other things to do. One of the best things about Union Square is that you can meet people “Under the Sails.” 

Fun events are happening all year round, like the Downtown Hickory Farmers Market (see #6), community events, and live music shows. You can enjoy these events outside in the fresh air because there is plenty of outdoor seating and space available. 

#8: Go Hiking at Bakers Mountain Park

Location: 6680 Bakers Mountain Road, Hickory, NC 28602

If you’re an adventure seeker, you may want to try hiking at Bakers Mountain Park. At 1,780 feet, it is the highest point in Catawba County. The park covers almost 200 acres of forest, mostly Mountain Laurel bushes and big Chestnut Oak trees. It has about 6 miles of hiking and biking trails.

Do you like being out in nature? Visit the park to relax and see the different animals and plants that live in the North Carolina Mountains. There are also places to have picnics and do other fun activities. 

Don’t forget to go to the top of the mountain and check out the observation deck. From there, you can see really beautiful views of the Catawba Valley.

#9: Hickory Furniture Mart

Location: 2220 Hwy 70 SE, Hickory, NC, 28602

If you’re in Hickory, you shouldn’t miss visiting Hickory Furniture Mart! People from all over the world come here to buy furniture. 

As the “Furniture Manufacturing Capital of the World,” this one-million-square-foot marketplace is a must-visit spot. Here, you’ll find everything you need, from custom-order showrooms to manufacturer galleries, all under one roof. They also have interior designers who can help you make your home look beautiful. The prices are lower than what you might find at other places.

And don’t forget to check out the Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse, on Level 1, or the Of Great Taste Cafe, on Level 2, for a treat while you’re inside.

#10: Watch the Race at Hickory Motor Speedway

Location: 3130 US-70, Newton, NC 28658

If you’re a big fan of NASCAR, you shouldn’t miss the Hickory Motor Speedway. The speedway was started in 1951 and is known as the world’s most famous short track and “the birthplace of the NASCAR stars.”

It is still a popular spot for NASCAR’s club racing events and other stock car races. From February to November, you can watch races and practices there. For ticket info, click here.

And if you’re coming from out of town, there is a campground with full RV hookups right onsite.

#11: Glenn C. Hilton Jr. Memorial Park

Location: 2000 6th St NW, Hickory, NC 28601

If you’re looking for outdoor family fun, head to Glenn C. Hilton Jr. Memorial Park. This well-preserved memorial park has a 2-mile loop trail perfect for jogging, walking, and biking.

The park is open all year, and you can bring your pets. It has a 24-hole disc golf course, a nature boardwalk, a garden, and two playgrounds. There are also horseshoe pits and a canoe launch.

#12: See a Performance at Hickory Community Theater

Location: 30 3rd St NW, Hickory, NC 28601

If you want to add some entertainment to your Hickory trip, catch a live show at Hickory Community Theater! Founded in 1948, the theater has been entertaining the community with a variety of classic and modern shows.

They welcome everyone to audition and host all kinds of shows throughout the year, including ones for families, with local actors. No matter the time you visit, there is usually a show happening almost every week for visitors to enjoy.

#13: Enjoy a Game at LP Frans Stadium

Location: 2500 Clement Blvd NW, Hickory, NC 28601

For sports lovers, a visit to LP Frans Stadium is a must! The Hickory Crawdads baseball team plays at LP Frans Stadium. They’re part of Minor League Baseball in the South Atlantic League.

The stadium has seating for 5,062 people. It was renovated recently and now has an electronic scoreboard and big dugouts. 

Other amenities include a big video screen, an area fors VIP guests, a playground, and places outside to have parties. They also have special nights with themes, fireworks, and extra netting to keep everyone safe.

#14: Lowes Foods City Park

Location: 300-326 Main Ave NW, Hickory, NC 28602

If you’re looking for kid-friendly activities in Hickory, visit Lowes Foods City Park. It is located near Union Square, so it’s a great place for families to hang out after visiting everything downtown.

There is a playground for kids with cool water features, a splash pad, art, and music. Other park facilities include bathrooms, benches, and picnic tables.

#15: Take a Tour of Henry River Mill Village

Location: 4255 Henry River Road, Hickory, NC

Last but certainly not least! If you’re looking for a unique adventure, Henry River Mill Village is the place to go, just 6 miles away in Burke County.

Henry Mill Village was the set for District 12 of the Hunger Games. It was once a bustling cotton mill town in the early 1900s, and started in 1905 with houses for workers, a boarding house, a mill building, and a store.

Now on the National Register of Historic Places, it offers a fascinating glimpse into America’s industrial past. Take a guided tour to explore the village’s historic buildings and learn about its history and spooky stories. It is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you want to stay overnight, you can camp nearby at Indian Springs Campground or stay in one of the old mill houses.

Where to Eat in Hickory

If you’re looking for good food in Hickory, NC, here are some of the best places to dine!

Olde Hickory Station

Location: 232 Government Avenue SW, Hickory, NC

The Olde Hickory Station, located in Downtown Hickory, is a converted train station. They are run by the Olde Hickory Brewery and open daily, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch on weekends.

They serve up all-American dishes, along with freshly baked bread and pies. If you’re in a hurry, they have a market where you can grab beer, wine, coffee, tea, and snacks to take away. It’s definitely worth a visit!

Olde Hickory Tap Room

Location: 222 Union Square NW, Hickory, NC

The Olde Hickory Tap Room is the perfect place to for lunch and drinks. It is located in Union Square and is open every day of the year.

They serve a wide variety of beers, and the place looks lovely inside. Their food is also amazing! You can enjoy tasty sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, fish and chips.

Hatch Sandwich Bar

Location: 268 1st Ave NW, Hickory, NC 28601

Hatch Sandwich Bar offers tasty food in a relaxed, cozy setting. Since opening in 2012, it’s been a go-to spot for locals and tourists. Their menu includes around twelve sandwiches, platters, and side dishes, like miso broccoli and creamy mac and cheese.

Boca

Location: 74 8th St SE Suite 108, Hickory, NC

Boca is a trendy tapas restaurant located in the Moretz Mills shopping area. It serves small plates meant to be shared with friends while enjoying a relaxed dining experience.

In addition to tapas, they offer larger plates to order. Their menu gets influence from Morocco, Spain, and Italy.

Where to Stay in Hickory

Here are some good places to stay in Hickory. 

For more info, check out: The 9 Best Hotels in Hickory, NC

Hampton Inn Hickory 

Located near the Hickory Metro Convention Center, this hotel features comfortable rooms, a fitness center, and a free hot breakfast. It is also just a short drive from local attractions like Hickory Furniture Mart and Lenoir-Rhyne University.

Crowne Plaza Hotel Hickory

Just a few minutes away from Catawba Science Center and Hickory Museum of Arts, this beautiful hotel is a great place to stay during your Hickory trip. The hotel has luxurious rooms, an indoor pool, a gym, an on-site restaurant (Piedmont Park Restaurant), and a bar. 

Holiday Inn Express

Located close to Hickory Motor Speedway and Valley Hills Mall, this hotel is a perfect way to spend a relaxing weekend in Hickory. The hotel facilities include comfortable bedding, a complimentary breakfast buffet, WiFi, and a business center.  

When is the Best Time to Visit Hickory?

Hickory is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit depends on what you want to see and do. The city experiences warm and humid summers and cool and wet winters. 

The best time to enjoy warm-weather activities in Hickory is from early to mid-June and from early August to early October. Spring and fall are ideal seasons for outdoor activities, because the weather is mild and nature comes alive with lively colors. And of course downtown Hickory can be a lot of fun during the Christmas season, complete with a Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting.

The Bottom Line

The Hickory Art Museum, Catawba Science Center, and Lowes Foods City Park are all great activities for kids. If you love the outdoors, you can’t go wrong with Bakers Mountain Park or Lake Hickory.

If you love watching sports, you’re un luck too. Hickory’s baseball team, the Hickory Crawdads, plays regularly at LP Frans Stadium. And Hickory is also home to their own NASCAR track, the Hickory Motor Speedway.



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