Road Trip through NC & SC
August 16, 2015 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Your tips for a December mini-road trip through North & South Carolina, please!

My partner and I are planning a mini-road trip through the Carolinas over winter break, five or six days before or after Christmas. It's not much time and there's a lot of ground to cover but it'll give us a first taste. We'd love your tips and suggestions for everything and anything, including hotels and lodging; we're generally thrifty but certainly open to the occasional splurge.

We are interested in cultural activities (history, museums, etc.), nature (hiking!), food (down-home diners & cute cafes), and more. We'll be coming from the north and were thinking of making a loop. Right now we're considering the Research Triangle, Charlotte, Spartanburg & Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach & the Outer Banks. Clearly, we don't have enough time to do everything so we'd likely focus on two or three places. (Asheville is definitely a destination but we're saving it for another trip.)

Thanks so much!
posted by smorgasbord to Travel & Transportation around Murrieta, CA (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You do want to do Asheville, and you are correct in wanting to take 5-6 days there all by itself. I lived there for many years, and it's worth exploring in detail.

I'd go to Red Bridges BBQ, which is in Shelby, NC (40 mins west of Charlotte, and the pulled pork WNC standard), and if you want to get hyper-touristy (and are coming before Christmas) driving through to see the lights in McAdenville (20 mins west of Charlotte) is kind of a local, though trafficky, tradition.

I can give you a whole Charlottean list, too, if you're interested.
posted by concertedchaos at 11:17 AM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: concertedchaos: Thanks for your tips so far! We figured we'd wait until it's summer to see Asheville to avoid driving in the snow but I'm sure it's just as amazing in the winter.

Yes, I'd love your list of things to do in Charlotte!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:24 AM on August 16, 2015

Best answer: The North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail will give you some pointers where to eat barbecue in the state. In the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, Allen & Son is the place to try.

If you like art museums, there's the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, the Ackland in Chapel Hill, and Nasher in Durham. There's also Duke Homestead in Durham, which includes the Tobacco Museum, which is a fun place if you're into quaint Americana, especially tobacco ads, and you like industrial museums.

As to where to eat, I am partial to Scratch for brunch (their grits are so good!). Gocciolina is a current favorite for Italian, and I also like Rue Cler's prix fixe menu. After much biscuit sampling current favorite is Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, but Neil's isn't bad, either (their grits are also good!), and NC State Farmers' Market Restaurant's biscuits are consistently good. Or you can try Big Ed's in Raleigh, and their gigantic pancakes. There's Dame's Chicken and Waffles if you want to eat chicken and waffles, and Mama Dip's for homey Southern food.
posted by research monkey at 1:39 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just a note: the Outer Banks is still way, way far away from every other area on your list. I live in Wilmington, and just to get to Ocracoke it's a 2 hour drive to a several hour ferry. Add significant travel time if you're interested in OBX.

Seconding Red Bridge's; my mom's from Shelby and it's still the best.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 1:47 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're not doing Asheville I would skip spartanburg/Greenville. It's out of your way and not super compelling as a travel destination, imo. There's lots of nice hiking between Greenville and Asheville but it might be easier accessed in the summer if you were planning a trip to the area then, plus you could take the blue ridge parkway to tour the area (parts of the parkway will probably be closed off in the winter for snow/ice so that likely won't be an option in December).
posted by geegollygosh at 4:20 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My favorite destination is the Conservator's Center in Mebane, NC (just west of Durham, so you should pass it.) They are an animal sanctuary: lions, tigers, wolves, all the small cats, binturongs, etc. They have winter wonderland tours in December. Every one of our guests we've taken here says it was their favorite event of the visit. (Sorry for no link, on my phone!)
posted by mirabelle at 4:47 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can give you a whole host of ideas for Charleston but I don't want to overwhelm you. There's so much to do here you might want to consider giving it a treatment similar to Asheville. If anything below piques your interest, let me know and I'll give other similar options.

As far as history/nature I love Charlestowne Landing, purported to be the area first settled by Europeans in the Carolinas and only a short 5-10 minute drive outside of town. It's a State Park too, so it's a good deal cheaper than going out to plantations. Ft Sumpter is...dramatically disappointing and a longish boat ride away, along with being stuck on the island for a couple hours until the next boat leaves if you're not enjoying it. If you're a beach person, I'd stick to Folly Beach or Sullivan's Island and avoid Isle of Palms unless you're into the touristy beaches. They both have fun little downtown-y restaurant and bar areas as well, although the food is better out in Sullivan's. Otherwise just walk around downtown, especially south of Broad Street to see all the beautiful homes and the Battery/Rainbow Row. I'd skip the horse carriage tours and see if you can get a walking tour if you'd be interested in that.

If you're looking for food, there are SO MANY amazing options it's hard to narrow it down. Down-home diners and cafes are a little less common, but there are a bunch of restaurants that are a little more upscale-leaning that are a lot less pretentious than they may seem. I'd stick to the Upper King area where all the newer, better restaurants have moved, away from the historically touristy Market area. Fish is, in my opinion, the best food for the price you can find in the area. There's a neat diner styled after the 50's era diner called Rarebit just up the road. There's a fantastic farm-to-table style restaurant with an ever-changing menu called The Grocery just a little further up the road. If none of those sound enticing to you, let me know and I'll talk to you literally for hours about other, also-amazing options.

This is getting long, so feel free to memail me with any other specific questions you might have regarding the Charleston area if y'all decide to come through.
posted by This Guy at 7:55 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your wonderfully helpful answers!! We have enough to really start planning but welcome any more suggestions people may have. Here are some quick personalized responses, too:

research monkey: the restaurants sound delicious and the art museums exactly what I'm looking for!

sara is disenchanted: your feedback on travel times to the OBX is super helpful. We'll probably save those for a future trip!

geegollygosh: it sounds like we'll probably save Greenville for when we go to Asheville.

mirabelle: the animal parks sounds really cool and conveniently-located, so we plan to check it out!

witchen: Wilmington sounds wonderful and worth visiting, for sure.

This Guy: your Charleston tips are super helpful, and I'd love to hear more if you'd like. I appreciate your advice to avoid Fort Sumpter and check out other great places instead.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:14 PM on August 18, 2015

Best answer: Morris Island lighthouse has an interesting history and some beautiful scenery around the area where you can see it. It's on the northern tip of Folly Beach, just to the south of Charleston harbor entrance. Fort Moultrie is another interesting piece of Revolutionary War and Civil War history on the other side of the harbor along Sullivan's Island.

If you like drinking and long drives out into the country, try the Firefly Distillery on Wadmalaw Island to the south of Charleston is an interesting day trip. It's also relatively close to Kiawah island, if you like rich folks, golf, or both.

If you go down to Folly, be sure to try the Lost Dog Cafe for the best brunch/breakfast in the area. Another good brunch place is, interestingly, a pseudo-divey place called Vickery's on Shem Creek (offer only good on Sundays) for a great brunch with a beautiful view of Shem Creek and the marsh leading out to the harbor. It's on the way out to Sullivan's Island. If you're out on Sullivan's for the day, check out Poe's for a fantastic burger.

There are also a ton of art galleries along King Street downtown, especially down toward Broad Street, although some have moved up further north lately. I'm sadly an awful museum-avoiding person so I can't speak to any of the museums in the area, but lots of interesting art can be seen in the galleries.
posted by This Guy at 10:27 AM on August 19, 2015

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