Traveling doesn’t always mean heading out of state or hopping on a flight. If you’re in need of a quick weekend getaway or somewhere new to take your family on a Saturday, below are five destinations in North Carolina to add to your 2021 travel bucket list.
Bryson City, NC
A little more than an hour west of Asheville, Bryson City is an excellent home base for exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As a charming mountain town, don’t expect too many visitors in the colder months. In the summer, however, the city is bustling. Deep Creek Campground is a popular destination for tourists and locals, offering hiking trails, waterfalls, and river tubing (one of the area’s most popular activities). With only a few restaurants in the town, expect higher wait times during the summer months and holidays. The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad also draws in tourists year-round for stunning train rides along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers. Want a break from outdoor activities? Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is less than a 20-minute drive away. Enjoy a nice dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and a few hours at the craps table before heading back to your cabin or campsite for campfire s’mores.
Atlantic Beach, NC
Head to the coast for the weekend and enjoy eating fresh seafood in Atlantic Beach. Considerably less crowded than Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach offers beautiful North Carolina Beaches and waterfront restaurants that are sure to take your mind off of the stress of the workweek. For those interested in history, Fort Macon State Park is a short five-minute drive from the Atlantic Beach Boardwalk. Tour the fort or take a walk along the 1.5-mile Beach Trail. Along with swimming and picnicking, many visitors enjoy year-round fishing in the park. After a long day of sightseeing and touring, relax with a piña colada at Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant overlooking the Money Island Bay.
Downtown Durham often flies under the radar as a tourist destination, but its streets offer fantastic cuisine and are packed with character. Located across the street from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the beautiful American Tobacco Campus offers dining, retail, and live music, accompanied by a man-made river that runs through the campus during the warmer months. If you’re an art enthusiast, the art galleries at the 21c Museum Hotel are open daily with rotating art exhibits. For an outstanding dining experience, the Counting House restaurant located in the hotel is a popular spot among locals and art-lovers. Before leaving town, get some exercise and take a stroll through Sarah P. Duke Gardens, offering five miles of walking paths and a one-of-a-kind koi pond.
Not too far from Durham, Pullen Park in Raleigh is a great family-friendly way to spend a Saturday. Children will love the park’s playgrounds, carousel, and pedal boats. The park also houses picnic shelters, tennis courts, and a cafe. With over 66 acres, the park offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation and sits just west of Downtown Raleigh. In case of bad weather, taking the family to explore the Marbles Kids’ Museum is an excellent indoor alternative. Children will love the museum’s myriad of interactive exhibits and will be mesmerized while watching an IMAX documentary. Admission to the museum and IMAX film tickets can be reserved ahead of time online.
In need of a girls’ weekend? Davesté Vineyards in Troutman is located about 10 minutes east of Lake Norman. Purchase tickets for a guided vineyard tour and a wine tasting for less than $30 per person. After tasting a few wines, get in the car with your designated driver and drive another 10 minutes to Zootastic Park to see a variety of exotic animals. Visitors have the option of walking or driving through the park, in addition to purchasing private animal encounters with kangaroos, lemurs, armadillos, and sloths (to name just a few!). Zootastic also has first- come, first-serve outdoor picnic tables for hosting birthday parties.
As North Carolina continues to open safely, be sure to check the operating hours and new safety protocols online for all of the above destinations before your trip to ensure a safe and seamless getaway.