Hit the Road: Our Favorite North Carolina Travel Destinations

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Find inspiration for your spring and summer travel plans with some help from our staff

Ocracoke getaway
Photo by Anna-Rhesa Versola

Compiled by Jessica Stringer

“My family’s happy place is Ocracoke, a tiny barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. From Pittsboro, it’s about a four-hour drive to Cedar Island where you roll onto a ferry. Two hours later, you follow Highway 12 to the only village on the island. We usually rent a home at the edge of Springer’s Point, a nature preserve along the sound where Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) was beheaded in 1718. We ride bikes to small shops, like Mermaid’s Folly (they have a great selection of T-shirts), and restaurants like Dajio and the Flying Melon. Our favorite eatery is Thai Moon, which only offers pickup service, but it has the best Thai food in the state. We hang out at one of the many beaches during the day. I enjoy hunting for pretty shells while my husband is fishing and our daughters are jumping in the waves. Only one beach is monitored by a lifeguard. And there’s a beach by the airstrip where four-wheel vehicles can drive onto the sand. Ocracoke is a true barefoot getaway where you can feel like you’re standing at the edge of the world listening to waves as a storyteller shares ghostly tales while the sun slips behind the dunes.” – Anna-Rhesa Versola, managing editor, Chatham Magazine

getaway dining place

“I most enjoy Isle of Palms, South Carolina, with my family, and I also love a quick getaway with girlfriends to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. It’s less than a two-hour drive from here, we stay at the newly renovated and modern Holiday Inn to save a buck, and eat at cute, casual beach bars with great margaritas and fish tacos – like Shark Bar and Kitchen – or dine late on the waterway at Bluewater Waterfront Grill.” – Ashlin Acheson, director of creative operations

Topsail Island Getaway

“Each summer, my family heads east and rents a house on south Topsail Island. By day, we swim in warm water, look for dolphins and walk along the dunes – peering out toward Wilmington. Most evenings involve preparing fresh seafood from the market, then watching the sunset from the southern tip of the island. For casual eats, we grab a burger or mahi sandwich at SurfDog Bites & Brews. This Surf City spot is owned by Suzanne Ray and John Ray (the latter is a former Raleigh restaurateur of Crowley’s and Edwards Mill Bar & Grill). Another favorite is Beach Shop & Grill on Topsail Beach where we can shop for gifts or clothing while we wait for our delicious seafood meal. It had a Wine Spectator list rating, and it’s a true hidden gem! With my kiddo in tow, the retro putt-putt, arcade and ice-cream shop Patio Playground is always on our list.” – Jenna Parks, publisher, Heart of NC Weddings

In state, I am heading anywhere there is a spa, whether that’s Pinehurst (The Spa at Pinehurst), Blowing Rock (Westglow) or Cary (The Umstead Hotel & Spa). For some beach time, Sunset Beach is my favorite destination to relax and unwind. When my boys were small, this was my fave.” – Lucinda Poole, account executive

“Kure Beach is a bustling, small North Carolina beach town. We love going in May or October when the weather is warm, but it’s not overcrowded. We always stop by The Veggie Wagon on the way into town or a seasonal beer on tap and to pick up some ready-made dinners and locally farmed vegetables. Spend a long weekend surfing and building sandcastles on the beach, or take a ride to Southport on the ferry. Hike through Fort Fisher and spend an afternoon at the North Carolina Aquarium.” – Rory Kelly Gillis, president, Triangle Digital Partners

“I love getting out to the mountains, specifically the Blue Ridge Parkway around Blowing Rock in the spring and summer. I love to camp out at Julian Price Campground, coming up to town to get breakfast at Blowing Rock Market and then coffee at Camp Coffee Roasters. I will spend the day out on the parkway, whether doing a round trip on my bike from Blowing Rock to Linville Falls and back, taking in the views and overlooks, or finding any of the amazing hiking trails (like Rough Ridge to the viaduct on Tanawha Trail). If I’m feeling extra adventurous, I’ll throw my stand-up paddleboard in so I can do some paddle exploring at Price Lake.” – Lauren Phillips, account executive

“I love spending my summer weekends in Wilmington, North Carolina. After a sunny day at Carolina Beach’s Freeman Park, I like to eat at The Kitchen Sink for dinner. Afterward, I head over to Boombalatti’s for the best nondairy coffee ice cream, or walk next door to Edward Teach Brewery for its signature B.A.D. Lager. Visit Airlie Gardens, eat an acai bowl at Zeke’s Beans and Bowls, relax with a drink at High Tide Lounge & Tiki Bar, have some coffee from Bespoke, eat the tastiest brunch at Blue Surf Cafe, learn all about Wilmington’s ghosts on a tour, take a look through the Historic Thalian Hall, and, most of all, enjoy the sun, sand and surf.” – Lindsay Scott, graphic designer/ production coordinator

“Spend time outside in Graham and Burlington, two charming towns just a hop, skip and a jump away from Durham. Start with brunch at the Smokehouse at Steve’s in Graham, and order the hefty chicken biscuit and grits. Enjoy a walk through Burlington’s Springwood Park or stroll downtown. Forgotten Road Ales in Graham has amazing sour ales and an expansive patio with a disc golf course in back. And, perhaps best of all, Forgotten Road is dog-friendly!” – Jessica Stringer, editor, Chapel Hill Magazine

“Our family has been heading to Bald Head Island for more than 30 years. We like to go a few weeks before Memorial Day. Everything is open, but we get to avoid the crowds. The water is still too cold to swim, but we always have a blast riding around in golf carts, building sandcastles and enjoying the people watching at the marina. Tip: Plan your trip around a full moon so you can enjoy bagpipes, a bonfire and a stunning moonrise at the year-round Howl at the Moon event held at Beach Access 39 and sponsored by Maritime Market. You really do get to howl at the moon with your fellow islanders!” – Sally Scruggs, creative director, Triangle Digital Partners

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