RALEIGH, N.C. — The Triangle is just about perfectly situated for day trippers. Both the beach and the mountains are within reach. Outside of the standards – Wrightsville Beach, Asheville, Charlotte – here are some alternate ways to spend a day, see your home state and still sleep in your own bed.
No matter your collegiate allegiance, game day at East Carolina University is an experience to behold. ECU plays big-time football at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, where a 2010 expansion increased the capacity to 50,000. With apologies to the ACC teams of the Triangle, the Pirates just know how to party.
Get the full-on campus experience by getting to Greenville early. There are breakfast options – IHOP, Lee's Country Kitchen – near campus to fuel up before your tailgate. And after the game, avoid the traffic jam with a stroll west on Fifth Street to the main food-and-drink drag.
Sports fans and people watchers can also find a unique experience at Rockingham Speedway, about 90 miles southwest of the Triangle. "The Rock" is a legendary track that the top-tier of NASCAR outgrew, but it continues to host two events a year on the big oval and even more on the road course.
Race day features multiple events, live music, tailgating and, for the right price, a chance to tour the pits and get close to the cars.
At the total opposite end of the cultural spectrum is Tryon Palace in New Bern. The restored mansion served as capital of the colony of North Carolina during the Revolutionary War. Tours include the main mansion and gardens, with self-guided access to two additional historic buildings – the kitchen and the stable. Guides in period dress lead the way and demonstrate crafts and hobbies of the mansion's residents.
While in New Bern, be sure to sample the local, fresh seafood and waterfront views that first drew settlers to this part of our state.
For fans of "The Andy Griffith Show," Mount Airy is the real Mayberry, the hometown Andy based his show upon. Main Street, Mount Airy, is alive with events to draw the nostalgic, from the monthly "cruise-in" of classic cars to live beach music to dances at the renovated Earle Theatre.
This small-town downtown is about a two-hour drive from Raleigh near the Virginia state line, and you will enjoy the change from flatlands to foothills along the way to your trip to the past.
Mount Airy also serves as a great stepping off point to the wineries of the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail. A favorite is Old North State Winery and Brewery, where you can tour and taste seven days a week. Old North rates for regular live music and a fresh deli. They even offer pre-selected meat and cheese trays to enjoy with your bottle.
No matter your taste and time, there is a North Carolina winery to suit, and many along the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail offer accommodations for a longer visit.