Put these route options on your North Carolina radar

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From Charlotte to the Outer Banks, North Carolina is a state filled with great experiences

Any operator organizing or considering tours in North Carolina knows that the old northern state is full of top attractions, incredible scenery, culinary delights, rich history, and a very hospitable tourist community. Here are some interesting stops.

Charlotte

Charlotte as a tourist and travel destination has so much to offer, it’s just amazing. Cultural cravings can be experienced with PNC Broadway Lights at the Blumenthal Arts Center, see Picasso’s talent at the Levine Center for the Arts, or celebrate at the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas. Pair the latter with a tour of Charlotte Black history. Are you a NASCAR lover? No problem, you’ll be covered in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Spend the day with C-Charlotte Tours learning about Billy Graham and his hometown, culminating with the Billy Graham Library. There are Holiday Celebrations at Charlotte Christmas Village, Speedway Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Holidays at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens.

It might be an understatement to say that Charlotte eats well. One place that needs to be on your radar is Optimist Hall, which originally housed Charlotte’s largest textile mill. Twenty food and drink stalls are a perfect option for lunch alone. Charlottetraveltrade.com

Winston Salem

You’re probably familiar with crispy Moravian cookies, after all there’s been a million pounds served. Old Salem Museum & Gardens is where the cookies can be found along with the Miksch Legacy Garden and Bachelor Brother’s Garden. There are other significant historic gardens in Bathabara Historic Park, Tanglewood Park Arboretum and Gardens, Paul J. Ciener Botanical Gardens, and Reynolda Gardens. A visit to the Reynolda House Museum should always be on a Winston-Salem itinerary. The visual and performing arts are at the heart of Winston-Salem tours, including the Diggs Gallery, Delta Arts Center, Stevens Center, and Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts.

Looking at the Winston-Salem calendar of events and festivals, it seems like there’s always something going on. Here are three to put on your radar: The biennial National Black Theater Festival took place in August 2022 and in 2024 the festival returns to Winston-Salem. Put Gears & Guitars on your September 2023 itinerary calendar. It’s the biggest party on two wheels with world-class racing and a long list of live music. This year, add a Winston-Salem Holiday Tour with a stop at 59e Piedmont Craftsmen’s Fair on November 19 and 20, 2022. visitwinstonsalem.com

Durham is a great place for professionals to gather and share thoughts and ideas.

Durham

In the world of college basketball, Durham is well known for the Duke Blue Devils and recently retired legendary coach K. Trust me, those tickets are hard to come by, but there are still plenty of reasons to spend a few days and nights in Durham. Along with Duke University, North Carolina Central University (NCCU), and Research Park, Durham has always been an ethnically diverse community. There are more than two dozen African American heritage sites in North Durham at Duke University, Downtown Durham, Central Durham at NCCU, and South Durham. The Carolina Theater is perfect as an evening entertainment option and well worth a visit.

Put Boxyard RTP on your Durham radar. At the age of one, this is where the industrial meets the inventive. The result is a palette of unique flavors, local products, unique sounds and experiences. All against the backdrop of used shipping containers. discoverdurham.com

The Ava Gardner Museum is full of attractions related to the famous actress.

The Ava Gardner Museum is full of attractions related to the famous actress.

Johnston County

On busy I-95, Smithfield has long been a favorite group travel destination. Groups always find time to shop at Carolina Premium Outlets and DeWayne’s. History is everywhere, starting with the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, North Carolina’s greatest battle and the last major Confederate offensive. Tobacco Life Farm Museum and the new look Ava Gardner Museum. Bands have enjoyed concerts, comedians and live performances for years at the Ruby Theater.

With all there is to see and do in Johnston County, put this on your radar: Ava Gardner’s 100e birthday is December 24, 2022, and October 7-9,. 2022, the “Ava 100 Festival” kicks off a year of celebration. In Johnston County’s emerging food scene, the first roadside food hall will open in late summer 2022. Johnstoncountync.org

Fayetteville

Off I-95, Fayetteville has a well-deserved reputation for honoring our military with 40 sites including battlefields, historical markers and museums from the Revolutionary War to the modern military era. Airborne and Special Operations Museum is definitely one of the most beautiful and the first stop for many group travelers. The Cape Fear Botanical Gardens are another group favorite with regular tours, workshops and events. Groups take advantage of Fayetteville’s excellent culinary, arts, and entertainment options to complete multi-day tours.

There’s definitely a lot to love about Fayetteville, but another one you need to put on your radar is Sweet Valley Ranch. You will love this place. It’s a working farm with over 350 visitors from five continents, rides, go-kart tracks, and five annual seasonal events starting with Springtime Adventures and ending with Festival of Lights. visit fayettevillenc.com

Jackson County

Between Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway lies Jackson County, one of the most beautiful areas in North Carolina. Regular visitors know Sylva’s walkable downtown for its shopping, tasty restaurants, and North Carolina’s most photographed building, the historic Jackson County Courthouse. Make time for Blue Ridge Parkway and its fantastic photo ops. Learn about the rich Native American history of the Cherokee Nation at numerous attractions. Discover authentic Appalachian artwork from over 100 local artisans at Dogwood Crafters and Front Street stores in Dillsboro. In each of these mountain towns, you will be amazed by the culinary delights prepared and presented by exceptional local chefs.

Caleb Sullivan with the Jackson County TDA should be on your radar. You may have met Caleb at a trade show or talked to him on the phone. When he says “I’m ready to help you with your tour”, he means it. No one knows Jackson County like Caleb. Born in Cherokee, his family moved to Sylva when he was young. He graduated from high school in Sylva and earned a college degree at Western North Carolina University in Sylva. He has since been part of the Jackson County TDA. Spice up your tour of Jackson County a little more. Put Caleb on the bus. Discoverjacksonnc.com

Island Farm is a living history site interpreting daily life on Roanoke Island in the mid-1800s.

Island Farm is a living history site interpreting daily life on Roanoke Island in the mid-1800s.

External banks

As impressive as the natural setting of North Carolina’s barrier island is, visitors can enjoy three National Park Service sites, all nearby. The Wright Brothers National Memorial and Cape Hatteras National Shoreline are both designated as the “first”, while the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the “tallest” of the brick lighthouses. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site welcomed the first child born in England, Virginia Dare. Elizabethan Gardens and dozens of other historic sites, including the lost colony outdoor theater and Roanoke Island Festival Park and you’ll easily fill an itinerary. If your culinary leanings lean towards seafood, almost every seafood restaurant buys fresh catch right from the docks. Fresh seafood prepared at family restaurants large and small, along with the dinner itself, becomes an award-winning attraction for your group.

You can build a nice route around what you know about the Outer Banks, but put that on your radar. There is a growing new program for the African American Experience of Northeastern North Carolina (AAENENC). The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau (Dare County) has partnered with the Tourism Development Offices of Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. Gates, Martin and Washington counties will soon join AAENENC. Their mission is to promote individual heritage sites on a website (ncblackheritagetour.com) celebrating the contributions of African Americans and to encourage greater understanding of the region’s rich cultural heritage. Dare County has put together a full-day “Outer Banks: First in Freedom Itinerary.” Outerbanks.org

By Dave Bodle

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