I went on a couples getaway to Highlands, NC and I wanted to share a full Highlands travel guide on what we did over the weekend for those of you planning your next getaway to the mountains! I honestly didn’t expect to love Highlands as much as I did. It was the perfect weekend to unplug and relax, while also enjoying cooler weather and beautiful views. Here is a recap of our weekend, along with my recommendations on where to stay, eat, and do in Highlands!
**This post was recently updated during Summer 2023 after our last trip to Highlands, NC. We have traveled back twice a year since our initial stay in 2020. It’s such a great weekend getaway from Atlanta, GA if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway.
The drive was so easy from Atlanta. Once you get on 85-N it’s pretty much a straight shot. The trip is just over 2 hours without traffic. We hit a little traffic on 85 around spaghetti junction (always!), but luckily we have a peach pass and got through quickly after that.
How to Spend a Relaxing Weekend Getaway in Highlands, NC: Travel Guide
We arrived at our cottage rental and immediately got to take in the beauty of the mountains from our back porch. We stayed on a vineyard in Scaly Mountain, about 10 miles away from Highlands. Because of the coronavirus, we felt more comfortable in a rental away from the city. Heads up that the internet was spotty at times, but a weekend unplugged was exactly what we needed! Every night, we played cards against humanity and the meme game, which are both always entertaining.
Tim and I went into Highlands for dinner and ate Midpoint Highlands then we grabbed ice cream across the street. Parking in downtown Highlands was so easy, and it really clears out at night because the shops all close early, around 5PM.
We had an early lunch at Julep Kitchen and explored the property. We came back to the cottage and explored the vineyard property before a storm came through. We all took a nap during the storm, then got ready for dinner at Wild Thyme Gourmet. The food was so fresh, it was our favorite meal of the trip!
While we waited for a table at Blue Bike Cafe we walked into some unique home decor shops and checked out the farmers market in Founders Park. Then we drove into Cashiers to try Bucks Coffee. On our way back to Highlands, we stopped at Reclamations, which is a cool antique shop to walk through with Joanna Gaines vibes. Getting some fresh air on the drive was also nice, especially if you get car sick! I took Dramamine both days because I can get super car sick. We drove by Bridal Veil Falls and Callasaja Falls, two waterfalls you can see right off the road. Then we got ready for a late dinner at Ristorante Paoletti.
On our last morning, we had a late breakfast at Julep Kitchen before returning home. There aren’t a ton of options to eat along Highway from the cottage, so this was the easiest place for us to eat as a group before leaving.
Planning a Weekend Getaway to Highlands, NC
Where to eat in Highlands
Breakfast & Lunch
BlackBear Breakfast and Lunch: We ate here on our most recent trip and they had a great variety on their breakfast menu.
Calders Coffee Cafe: This is certainly the go-to spot for coffee in town.
Mountain Fresh Grocery: This is an unexpected spot to grab a delicious breakfast! The oatmeal was the best I’ve ever had. It’s a grocery store but they also have fresh-to-order food to the left as you walk in. I highly recommend getting the pumpkin bread or the freshly baked bread to the right of the store. They also have a great wine selection, too.
Blue Bike Cafe: A popular spot in town for brunch and lunch. I wouldn’t come here if you’re in a rush because there is usually a wait and the service can be a little slower 🙂
Julep Kitchen: A cute farm to explore and dine in. We went twice and had different service experiences, but I will overall still recommend checking it out. I ordered the chicken salad croissant and fries on both trips, so good! They only serve brunch on Sundays, and the menu is somewhat similar to their lunch menu.
Bucks Coffee: We drove to Cashiers (about 20 minutes) to explore a new area and grab a coffee. If you’re not in the mood for coffee, definitely try the apple cider!
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Most of the restaurants in Highlands are on the nicer side, but there are a few places to eat on the patio or for a more casual dining experience.
Four65: Everyone raves about the brick oven pizzas here and I have to agree, it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. We ordered the margarita pizza and split the brussel sprout appetizer (trust me, it’s a must-try). They also have great cocktails and a small patio space if you’re wanting to eat outside.
Mountain Fresh Grocery: This is a local grocery store in town that also serves casual breakfast and lunch. You can pick up wine, treats, and pizza. Great place to pick up a sandwich to pack with you for a hike. We grabbed a few items to make a cheese board in the hotel before dinner, but I’ll warn you the price for that added up quickly and a lot of the restaurants have them for appetizers.. so that may be a more budget-friendly option.. Also, check out their fresh baked goods, we tried the pumpkin bread and it was delicious!
The Ugly Dog Pub: This is a very popular spot to grab lunch, dinner, and drinks. We went right when they opened and I was surprised how many people were there already. If you want to indulge, I loved the jalapeno mac and cheese bites.
The Pizza Place of Highlands: I ordered the jalapeno popper pizza and it was spicy but delicious! They had really unique pizza toppings, and next time I want to try the Greek pizza.
Bistro on Main: This was closed during our last visit for renovations, but it’s on my list to try once they reopen!
Midpoint Highlands: Tim and I ate a light dinner of appetizers on the patio. They have a pretty unique menu selection.
Madison’s: This place serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It has a mountain Ralph-Lauren Farmhouse-type of vibe. Reserve a table early if you want to eat here, it’s a popular spot! You can also try their outdoor patio, which doesn’t require a reservation and they serve the same lunch menu.
Wolfgang’s: We didn’t eat here, but it came highly recommended!
Wild Thyme Gourmet: This was everyone’s favorite meal of the trip. Great service and everything we tried was fresh and delicious. We ordered:
- Risotto Shrimp Fritter
- Caprese salad – we ordered two rounds, it was so fresh!
- Wedge Salad
- I split the Salmon with Vidalia Onion Crust
- Lemon cake for dessert
It’s funny because as I’m updating this post I realized I ordered the exact same thing during our recent trip two years later! But this time Tim and I split an expresso martini for dessert and it was very good.
Ristorante Paoletti: This is a fine-dining Italian restaurant across from Old Edwards Inn. I ordered:
- Oregon wine
- The bread was to die for! It also came with a side of olive tapenade.
- Tortellini alla Panna con Piselli e Prosciutto
- Brownie dessert with Gelato
Since our first visit, there have been a few new openings, such as Oak Steakhouse, which is a great steakhouse, and I’ve heard great things about Canyon Kitchen if you don’t mind the drive over to Cashiers.
Drinks and Treats
Kilwins Highlands: We visited this place often to end the night with ice cream. We also picked up fudge, and it was delicious! It was also one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had – very rich and the perfect little dessert drink.
Highlands Wine Shoppe: This is such a great spot to enjoy a glass of wine outside under the shaded trees, surrounded by hydrangeas (at least if you visit during summer!)
The Cake Bar: We didn’t visit here, but it has great reviews!
The Wine Garden: On my list to try next time, located at Old Edwards Inn.
Can you tell my travel plans are mainly centered around food?
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What to do in Highlands
There are so many great little shops in downtown Highlands that you could spend a day popping in and out of. There is no shortage of antique shops in the area, too. I think the best way to enjoy Highlands is to spend it very low-key, walk around and enjoy the beauty or even take a drive with no destination planned. We usually drive over to the Cashiers, venture to Bucks Coffee, and check out the Farmers Market across the street. Cashiers isn’t as walking-friendly as Highlands, but there are still some great spots to pop into while you’re there.
Highlands Aerial Park:
If you want some adventure, there’s a well-known ziplining park right across from the cottage we rented.
Hiking and Waterfalls:
There are plenty of trails to explore around Highlands. There are three lookout places along Highway 106 to stretch your legs and take in the views.
- Sunset Rock
- Cullasaja Falls
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Dry Falls
- Whiteside Mountain – We did this hike on our recent trip back to Highlands and we really enjoyed it! You can climb the mountain two ways, either by a wide gradual trail or a more narrow, hiking type of trail that does take a little more endurance but is totally doable. We went up the more intense side and down the other way. The views up top were great, especially with all the fall foliage.
Most importantly, relax! This is the perfect place to unplug and de-stress. Book a spa appointment at Old Edwards and treat yourself to a nice dinner! You can also enjoy shopping in downtown Highlands. I loved browsing through some of the home decor shops down N 4th St. If you love antique shopping, there are plenty along the drive from Atlanta and hidden in the mountains.
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Where to stay in Highlands
You can find so many cabin and cottage rentals in the area! Browse through VRBO or Airbnb to see what you can find, especially if you’re staying with a larger group. I find it’s more cost-effective that way. But if you’re wanting to stay in a hotel, here are my top recommendations.
Old Edwards Inn: This is a well-known historic inn right in the heart of downtown Highlands. It’s expensive, but it would be a great place to stay for an anniversary or romantic getaway.
Park on Main: A dog-friendly hotel right in downtown Highlands. We stayed here on our most recent trip with Josie and had such a great experience. The staff was all very friendly, it felt like you were staying at a Bed and Breakfast and the rooms were a great size, especially with a baby!
Half-Mile Farm: If you’re looking for the ultimate place to relax, this is it! This is a few miles outside of downtown Highlands and it’s owned by Old Edwards Inn. It’s for adults only, so guests must be 18 years or older.
200 Main: A little more affordable luxury. A block off the main strip of downtown Highlands.
Vinyard at High Holly: When we first visited we stayed just under 30 minutes outside of Highlands in Scaly Mountain at Vinyard at High Holly and it was such a great spot! It’s actually a wedding venue that can host I believe 65 people, but the cabins are also rentable if available.
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What to pack
No matter when you visit, it’s always cooler in Highlands because the elevation is over 4,100 feet. We experienced weather in the 60s to mid 70s during August. It’s always a good idea to pack an umbrella and a light jacket because you never know when a shower can pop up in the mountains and it gets a little cooler. During the day it’s casual attire. I would bring some exercise clothes if you plan to hike. Dinners tend to be a little more fine dining, so bring a nice dress. Tim wore button-down tops and chino pants both nights at dinner.
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I hope you enjoyed this Highlands travel guide!
Did I miss anything? What was your favorite recommendation from this list? Let me know in the comments!