Carolinas base camp is what I like to refer to our beloved Queen City. We are in the perfect location to access the many offerings of the Piedmont, a region with a rich history, beautiful main streets, and world-famous barbecue. Its just two hours to Asheville or Blowing Rock and the stunning overlooks, waterfalls and rivers, and gorgeous hikes that surround one of the best drives in America: the Blue Ridge Parkway. Eastbound and down I-26 and the gorgeous beaches and history of Charleston await. Or if you prefer some solitude, Mclellanville, Georgetown, Litchfield, and Debordieu are just slightly north. Back in the Old North State, coastal draws like the Outer Banks Duck and Corolla make you feel like youre on a secluded beach of a by-gone era absent of all the high rise hotels and crowds. There are truly thousands of places to explore in the Carolinas and Charlotte makes getting to all of them very easy. What was not easy for us was trying to choose a list of 50 or so of the best, most unique, and slightly off-the-beaten path Carolina travel destinations for you. But, we had no choice but to narrow it down. Here are your 50 must-visit Carolina destinations.
Discover life in 1830’s New Bern while soaking up some rich Carolina history. While exploring the Old North States first capital city and Tryon Palace, be sure to take in the nearly 14 acres of perfectly curated and awe-inspiring gardens.
The three and a half hour drive to Wilson is more than worth it once you taste your first bite of the swine served up at Parkers. This is truly eastern North Carolina style barbecue at its best. Parkers chops their pig fine, sauces it lightly with a tangy vinegar base, and pairs it with spicy, fresh cabbage slaw.
Unwind and relax with your better half at this jaw droppingly beautiful bed and breakfast in the Smoky mountains located 5,000 feet above the cares of the world. This bed and breakfast offers luxurious award-winning service and views that even your Instagram friends can’t handle.
Jockey Ridge Sand Tours
Experience the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern United States. If you arent wandering the 1.5 mile remarkable hiking trail, hand-gliding and sand boarding can be the perfect way to spend your weekend getaway.
Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Touch a shark, climb through a reef or see the world-famous albino alligator. These are only a few things to do at the Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Perched at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in Kure Beach, North Carolina, the Aquarium at Fort Fisher dedicates itself to protecting threatened animals from extinction. Inexpensive for all ages, visitors can check out the World Oceans Day or feed the Lorikeets with their bare hands.
Stay until last call at The Crunkleton, one of Chapel Hill’s oldest downtown bars and juke joints, where you can throw back some of the best and most unique whiskey available in the state. This classic whiskey bar offers over 500 distilled spirits and 12 various styled beers on draft.
Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail
Experience the awe-inspiring views that the scenic Profile trail offers. Start your hike off at the base of the mountain, cross over the Watauga River, pass Shanty Springs and head up the moderate-to-intense trail until you arrive at Calloway Peak, where spectacular panoramic views abound.
This adorable little boutique hotel will take you back to the luxury of the roaring 20’s while also putting you in a state of rest and relaxation that you deserve. The amenities include a complimentary southern-style breakfast featuring world-famous homemade-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits to the comfiest king size bed designed specifically for the perfect nights sleep.
Frying Pan Tower
A former Coast Guard platform right in the middle of the Atlantic, Frying Pan Tower is out of sight from land and stands in 50 foot deep clear blue waters. Fly in by helicopter to fish from the platform or stay in one of the eight luxury bedrooms. Entirely restored by volunteers, Frying Pan Tower is roughly 32 miles south of Bald Head Island North Carolina, and is a perfect getaway for all.
The small village of Pinehurst is home to some of the most spectacular golf courses in the country including most notably, Country Club of North Carolina, Pine Needles, Pinehurst #2 and Pinehurst #8. Aside from the world-class golf, the area also has some of the finest restaurants, hotels, and spas in the state, led by the Carolina Hotel, a beautiful historical property nestled in the heart of Pinehurst, close to all of the shops and goings-ons.
The Castle On Silver Lake
Stay in one of the oldest bed and breakfasts in the Carolinas located on the stunning coast of Ocracoke. Built in the 1950s, the Castle belonged to Sam Jones, a local legend in the Carolinas. This bed and breakfast offers several fine Southern amenities from an incredible pool to a breezy screened porch.
Kinston’s The Chef And The Farmer
Combining modern atmosphere with coastal plain culture, The Chef and The Farmer ensures its visitors leave happy. It is owned and operated by four time James Beard Best Chef Southeast semi-finalist and star of the PBS Documentary “A Chef’s Life” Vivian Howard and her husband Ben Knight. Headlining a transition of eastern North Carolina agriculture away from tobacco, The Chef and The Farmer serves produce grown from local farms from the rural areas of Kinston, Snow Hill and Hookerton.
Bald Head Island
Take a 20 minute ferry ride to Bald Head Island and you’ll leave all of your worries behind. With 14 miles of pristine beaches, a gorgeous coast-side golf course, and plenty of history including Old Baldy, the original lighthouse, this Carolina top spot is sure to be one of your favorite summer vacations. The best part about the island: There are no cars. Enjoy seeing the entire island by golf cart or bicycle. When on Bald Head, make the nature trails a priority. The diverse flora and fauna of the brackish Lowcountry is stunning.
Known as the High Country’s hidden treasure, Eseeola Lodge was first built in 1891 and continues to be one of the most alluring inns in the Carolina mountains. Here hospitality is a priority, and the amenities abundant. The rejuvenating spa offers all types of massage, aromatherapy, and hot stone work. The Donald Ross golf course was designed around the natural contours of the land. Activities like tennis, croquet, and an Olympic-sized salt-water pool give you plenty to do. Spend your evenings dining with Chef Patrick Maisonhaute and his expertly crafted menu.
Whether you’re looking for adventure or a place to escape, Corolla Beach offers a backdrop of incredible beauty. Its quite a haul to Corolla but more than worth the trip. With its towering sand dunes, wild horses, expansive yet uncrowded beaches, and warm Atlantic waters, Corolla is an ideal summer destination.
It doesn’t get more off-the-beaten path than Hazel Creek. A great destination for hikers, campers, and fly fisherman, Hazel Creek, is only accessible by miles and miles of hiking or by boat via the gorgeous Lake Fontana. Here, you will find the complete and utter solitude you are looking for. Be one with nature, from the wide variety of flora and fauna, wildlife, and a thriving population of native and wild brown, brook, and rainbow trout.
In May of 1941, armed with more torpedos and fuel than its predecessors, German submarine U-352 set sail and prowled the East Coast of the United States. Only one year later, U-352 found itself on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean where it rested until found by Claude Hull in 1975. To this day, U-352 is a prime diving destination off the North Carolina coast and is an artificial reef home to countless marine life. Artifacts from the submarine are also on display in the nearby Morehead City museum, a must-see for history buffs from around the world.
In the middle of the classic Raleigh warehouse district, The Pit, winners of Food Networks Throwdown with Bobby Flay Rib Challenge offers only the finest barbecue from free-range farm pigs and fresh produce from local Carolina farms.
The Fork Farm
From amazing equestrian facilities to some of the best sporting clay courses in the world and amazing quail and duck hunting, The Fork Farm and Stables in Norwood, NC has it all for the sportsman.
Dedicated to bringing the classic traditions of Carolina farming to the tables of Durham, Fullsteam Brewery offers only the finest southern beers. Family and dog friendly, Fullsteam Brewery has won seven medals, including five Gold, in the US Beer Open since 2012, and owner Sean Lilly Wilson is a two-time semi-finalist in the James Beard Outstanding Wine, Beer and Spirits Professional Category. Open for four years, Fullsteam only uses locally grown ingredients from North Carolina farms and is the perfect spot to get together and throw down a cold-one.
Red Bridges BBQ
Specializing in barbecue for 68 years, and winner of countless bbq awards, Shelbys Red Bridges is a must for all of North Carolinas barbecue fans. Opened by Red Bridges and his wife Lyttle in 1946 under the name Dedmonds Barbecue, Red Bridges restaurant is now located just off of Highway 74 in Shelby and run by their daughter Debbie and her children. Proudly one of the few who still slow cooks its pork over hickory, Red Bridges is the only place to find the old-fashioned flavor that made North Carolina famous.
The Blowing Rock
Take in the stunning views and rich history of the Blue Ridge mountains by paying a visit to North Carolinas The Blowing Rock. Since 1933, this place has been mesmerizing travelers from across the country with its enchanting legend as well as its natural phenomenon. Known as the only place where snow falls upward, The Blowing Rock is the oldest tourist location in NC. Standing 4000 feet above sea level, and 3000 feet above the Johns River Gorge, The Blowing Rock gets its name from the powerful gusts that flow along the Gorge below. The Blowing Rocks walking trails, observation posts, and the rock itself are perfect for school field trips, weddings and a simple day outside. It is also home to some of the best events in the High Country like their September Music Fest.
Stretching over 40 miles from Tennessee to North Carolina, the Cherohala Skyway is a two-lane paved highway giving travelers breathtaking views of the Appalachian mountains as high as 6,000 feet above sea-level. Opened in 1996 and costing over $100 million to construct, Cherohala runs through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests and is great for sports cars, motorcycles as well hiking and bird watching.
Wilson’s Creek Gorge
You’ve seen the bumper stickers around town that say I’d Rather Be On Wilson’s Creek. There’s good reason for this. One of the most scenic and secluded gorges on the east coast, Wilson’s is a collection of several tributaries including the famed Harper’s Creek and offers some of the best kayaking, tubing, fly fishing, hiking, camping, and relaxing in the Carolinas. Wilson’s Creek Gorge and its neighbor, the Linville Gorge, are truly North Carolinas last frontier.
Honeymonk Lexington BBQ
Monk, Honeymonk, Lexington Barbecue #1. No matter what you call it, youve got to put this epic epicurean experience on your list, for it truly is the real deal North Carolina style barbecue. Founded in 1926 by Wayne Monk, Lexington Barbecue stays true to tradition by using only oak and hickory to smoke their pork shoulders, resulting in melt-in-your mouth vinegary pig goodness. Try this legendary chopped barbecue plate with an ice cold Cheerwine and youve got a tried and true Carolina classic.
High Hampton Inn
This perfect quaint getaway will put your mind at ease. The resort estate rests high in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. Grandiose mountains, a secluded thirty-five acre lake, and divine gardens surround this historic country inn.
Send your troubles and stresses out to sea at Sanderling Resort, the gem of North Carolinas Outer Banks. Rated as a Four Diamond / Four Star Resort, you can rest assured your experience will be high class. No matter if you are traveling with your significant other, family, or friends, Sanderling has something to offer everyone, from golf and tennis to a full-service spa and fine dining restaurants.
Hickory Nut Falls
Hickory Nut Falls ranks as one of the tallest falls east of the Mississippi River.Take a breezy hike to the falls and enjoy a quaint picnic as the gin clear mountain water cascades over the rocky outcrops for nearly 410 feet.
Tavern Of Old Salem
Go back in time and dine Moravian style in the Tavern of Old Salem and experience home cooking at a whole other level. The house was built in 1816 and offers locally farmed delicacies, beers, and mixed drinks in an upscale setting. Sip on your crisp beer in candlelight while being served by waiters dressed in historic Moravian attire.
Kick back and relax at The Umstead, a hideaway luxury hotel right in the heart of Cary. Enjoy your time sunbathing by the pool, rejuvenating in the spa, and perusing through the luscious green gardens. The sublime epicurean experience at Herons and the massive collection of wines and signature cocktails at The Bar & Lounge completes the Umstead Experience.
Charming. Pristine. Exclusive. Debordieu, with its peaceful, breathtaking beaches, world-class golf courses, and wide variety of high-end amenities is one of the best coastal destinations in the South.
Inn at Palmetto Bluff
Create memories that will last a lifetime at this romantic escape located in SCs beautiful lowcountry. A combination of world-class luxury, sporting, and accommodations, Palmetto Bluff allows you to experience southern comfort at its finest, whether it be at the cottage spa, Jack Nicklaus signature course, the shooting club, or its exquisite restaurants.
Thick and lush forests with an old south allure. With the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina, and five miles of beaches teeming with land and marine life, Hunting Island is the most popular state park in South Carolina, drawing over one million visitors every year. Journey over eight miles of hiking trails, explore the salt-water lagoon and ocean inlet, or pitch a tent in one of the 200 camping sites scattered throughout the park, Hunting Island will keep you busy all day long.
Spend a romantic day strolling through Bishopsville SC’s Pearl Fryar’s magical garden and soak in all of the award-winning artistry and horticulture. This whimsical place contains over 300 plants, all trimmed to perfection.
The Edisto River is one of the longest blackwater rivers in the country, starting in the sandhills of Western South Carolina and winding slowly towards its eventual end: the Atlantic Ocean and Edisto Beach. Near its midpoint in Canadys, SC you can find Edisto Treehouses, an epic fairy-tale escape. From the canoe put-in, paddle down twelve miles of slow-flowing water to your treehouse, each of which are tucked far in the woods, beneath a canopy of old growth cypress trees. Here you can take in all that nature has to offer, from blue heron and egrets to alligators, wild turkey, and maybe even a bobcat. Each treehouse has the bare necessities, an outdoor grill, a dining deck, and candles. If its adventure you are looking for, then look to the trees.
Historic Brattonsville SC
Step into the 1750s and experience the Revolutionary War in a way your 5th grade teacher could never show you. Witness the reenactment of the Battle of Hucks Defeat, which took place on the grounds of Brattonsville over 200 years ago and visit the Bratton plantation.
Sometimes described as a Living Dali painting, Boneyard Beach has a mystifying appeal you wont get at any other beach. Over time, as the north end of the island eroded, the forest was overtaken by the rising tide. Now you can see the remains of dead oaks and cedars poking through the breaking waves of the shore. Boneyard Beach draws visitors from all over the Carolinas and is an interesting sight to behold. It happens to also be one of the darkest sites on the east coast, making it a perfect destination for stargazing with excellent opportunities to see the elusive Milky Way.
Breathe in the salty air and relax in tranquility on the secluded island of Daufuskie. Most native residents of Daufuskie Island are descendants of freed slaves, who have made their living oystering and fishing for decades. Its authenticity is one of the major reasons the island has become such a popular destination. People also come for its exclusive amenities like the scenic and challenging golf course, equestrian activities, and much more.
After spending the day strolling the charmingly picturesque streets of downtown Charleston, be sure to quench your thirst at one of Charlestons oldest watering holes. Erected in 1778, McCradys boasted an elite list of regulars including Revolutionary War heroes and bright-minds of the day. Current owners have restored the historical establishment to its former glory, paying homage to classic Lowcountry cuisine with a modern twist, featuring fine craft cocktails and a critically acclaimed wine list.
Stumphouse Tunnel Park
In Oconee County, a tunnel was created in the mid 1800’s for the Blue Ridge Railroad of South Carolina. Just a swift and easy walk on this trail leads from Stumphouse Mountain Park to Issaqueena Falls, a gorgeous 200 foot waterfall. Its been said that the Indian maiden, Issaqueena, rode her horse to a nearby fort to alert others about a possible attack and then when attempting to escape attackers pretended to jump over the falls but actually hid beneath them. This hike will give you a gorgeous view along with a chance to see the remains of the 1850’s railroad.
The historical home to Native Americans, American colonists and plantation owners, Kiawah Island is now a pristine island getaway. Top tier golf courses, beautiful beaches, luxury communities, and its proximity to historic Charleston make Kiawah the place to be. Kiawah Island continues to raise the bar in luxury lifestyle, while preserving the coastline atmosphere and environment that makes South Carolina unique.
Aiken, South Carolina, widely known for its equestrian influences, is only a short two-and-a-half hour drive from the Queen City. When you arrive in this town you feel as if you have driven back into the 19th century. Aikens historical downtown has stood the test of time. The pride of the residents can be seen in the preserved and restored buildings in the town center. The wide roads are lined with marvelous oaks that resemble a classic southern postcard. Unique shops line the historical streets.
Over the last twenty years, Greenville has experienced massive growth and with that its cultural opportunities have increased exponentially. This growth is probably due to several things, one being its location between the metropolitan areas of Charlotte and Atlanta. Another reason, the elegantly designed downtown. The city of Greenville fits perfectly within its surrounding natural features. The amalgamation of modern and historical architecture also adds to the allure. The climax of the Greenville experience is Falls Park on the Reedy, a public greenway with multiple waterfalls.
The 100 foot high waterfall of the Middle Saluda River is one of the premier falls of the state and the southeast and truly a sight to behold.
The Jazz Corner
As one of the culinary institutions of the state, The Jazz Corner in Hilton Head serves up some excellent fare in an intimate environment. Here you can dine in style while listening to first-rate jazz.
Paradise is only a boat ride away. The secluded island just north of Isle of Palms is open for camping and exploration. The nearly three mile long island has loads of flora and fauna, wildlife, great fishing, and views of both the inland lowcountry and the beautiful shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Stargaze, relax fireside, and take in the peace and quiet.
One of the pristine gardens in the country, the National Historic Landmark, features 65 acres of diverse and stunning landscapes. The House Museum and Plantation Stableyards take you back in time.
Its 5,500 acres of land dedicated to the traditional sporting lifestyle, offer an unrivaled list of amenities and activities. 3,500 acres of that land alone are an untouched wilderness of marshes, estuaries, fields, and woods where quail, deer, turkey, partridge, and duck abound. Also on site is a gun club and clay shooting facility offering skeet, trap, and sporting clays. A beautiful inn, golf course, and tennis club round out this spectacular private community.
Hamptons of Sumter
With an eclectic and diverse menu full of sumptuous options that have won the restuarant countless awards, Hamptons is a destination in and of itself and worth the trip to the Gamecock City.
Watersports taken seriously. Trophy Lakes offers private lessons, a watersports cable park and the best disc golf course in SC.
While visiting Charleston learn about its history by visiting the Battery on the Peninsula or making a trip to Fort Sumter. You can also soak up its rich history by simply galavanting the many cobblestone streets, visiting the old graveyards, and enjoying its age-old architecture. Charlestons historical appeal has blended eloquently with modern amenities, shopping, dining and accommodations. Downtowns King Street offers some of the best shopping and eating in the South.