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Pick Your Pleasure in North Carolina

From the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains along its western border to the pristine beaches of the Outer Banks on its east coast, North Carolina stops travelers in their tracks. 

Groups can arrange a scenic statewide tour that offers a taste of everything the Tar Heel State has to offer, with stops along the way to enjoy the cultural highlights of major cities as well as the charm and friendliness of unique, small towns. 

Looking for inspiration? Here’s a sample itinerary your group is sure to enjoy.

Jackson County

Home to the North Carolina towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva — among others — Jackson County offers an ideal staging point to soak in the unmatched beauty of the North Carolina mountains.

“We’re centrally located between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park,” said Caleb Sullivan, sales and marketing manager for the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority. “So we’re a perfect gateway community for both.”

Cherokee itself is the site of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, a major entryway into the National Park, as well as the Oconaluftee Indian Village, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the summertime outdoor drama “Unto These Hills” — each offering insights into the area’s rich Native American history. Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino offers a different kind of entertainment option, with 150,000 feet of gaming plus on-site restaurants, pools and a spa.

For a dose of small-town North Carolina charm, groups can enjoy strolling through downtown Dillsboro, which is dotted by cute, locally owned craft stores and artisan galleries and boutiques, including Dogwood Crafters, a co-op shop featuring works by more than 100 regional artists. 

Jackson County is also home to seven successful craft breweries, which together form the Jackson County Ale Trail. Several stops are located in picturesque Sylva — the Main Street of which was the filming site for the movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” In Dillsboro, Innovation Station Brewery, located in a former train station in the heart of downtown, offers ample creekside patio seating — perfect for groups wishing to wind down after a day spent sightseeing.

For nature lovers, Pinnacle Park in Sylva is a must-see. As North Carolina’s first and only Certified Forest Therapy Trail, the easy-to-navigate pathway offers visitors an opportunity to “forest bathe” on a sensory-aware walk through the woods.

discoverjacksonnc.com

Asheville

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a city with both plenty of culture and plenty of nature. 

Groups can take a drive along the storied Blue Ridge Parkway or enjoy any of the area’s many hiking trails for an ideal day trip to soak in the beauty of the region.

No trip to the Asheville would be complete without a stop at The Biltmore, today billed as America’s Largest Home but once the private residence of the George Vanderbilt family. Built between 1889 and 1895 in the French Renaissance style, the 250-room mansion includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. While exploring the sprawling estate is breathtaking — its lavish rooms are furnished in period décor, and the available audio tour offers fascinating insights into the history of the home. Groups can also enjoy an array of other fun activities while at the Biltmore, including wine tastings, garden tours, carriage rides, hiking, horseback riding and more.

Inside Asheville’s city limits, there’s no shortage of things to do. The city’s bustling River Arts District is home to an eclectic array of galleries and studios staffed by working artisans, many of whom are available to chat about their works. Downtown, groups can stop by Lexington Glassworks to watch skilled glass artists at work or even try to create a glass-blown piece of their own. Or they can head to Citizen Vinyl, a café, bar and working record-press facility offering an up-close look at how records are made.

When it’s time to wind down, groups can explore any of Asheville’s more than 50 craft breweries and cideries. 

exploreasheville.com 

Mount Airy

It’s long been said the fictional town of Mayberry on “The Andy Griffith Show” was based loosely on the very real town of Mount Airy, where the storied actor grew up. 

Today, the central North Carolina town, located roughly 37 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, embraces this connection fully, with a dozen or so Andy Griffith-themed attractions available year-round, plus Mayberry Days — an entire festival dedicated to all-things Mayberry — every September. 

Fans of the show can drive by the home where Andy Griffith grew up, tour the town in a 1960s-era squad car like Sherriff Taylor’s, stop in at Floyd’s Barber Shop or Wally’s Service Station, visit Otis’ jail cell at the replica Mayberry Courthouse and snap a selfie near the Andy and Opie statue located near the Andy Griffith Museum — which is a must-see.

“The Andy Griffith Museum has a large collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia and has recently undergone renovations to become much more interactive,” said Jenny Smith, group tour manager for the Mount Airy Visitors Center. “You can watch video clips of his performances, and there’s a music exhibit of some of the music he’s done. It’s not just about ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ — it’s about his whole life and career.” 

Earlier this year, the city unveiled a striking new Andy Griffith mural on Moore Avenue, near the visitors center, which makes another ideal photo site for groups. 

Beyond the many Mayberry-related tie-ins, Mount Airy offers lots to enjoy, including 10 downtown restaurants ranging from a taco bar and a sushi restaurant to Walker’s Soda Fountain — where visitors can grab 1950’s vintage-style shakes and malts. 

For the ultimate Andy-approved meal, groups can head to Snappy Lunch, which was referenced on “The Andy Griffith Show” a few times over the series’ run.

visitmayberry.com

Charlotte

The Queen City lives up to its royal billing when it comes to delivering on things to do. In Charlotte, groups can explore an array of cultural hot spots, including The Mint Museum and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, which together boast world-class collections of American, European and contemporary art. The city is also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a bucket-list destination for all motorsports fans.

Groups can get immersed in Charlotte’s city history at the Charlotte Museum of History and the Levine Museum of the New South, where exhibits explore aspects of the city’s growth and evolution from the Civil War to today. Nearby, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture showcases works of art that speak to the richness of the African-American experience. Art abounds outdoors, as well, thanks to the many murals that brighten street corners throughout the city.

The Billy Graham Library, a popular stop for faith-based groups, will reopen this summer following extensive renovations, including a refreshed “Journey of Faith” tour of Graham’s life.

Beyond the museum hop, groups can also have fun exploring two new adaptive reuse sites that recently opened in the city. Optimist Hall, a former textile mill, and the 76-acre Camp North End, a former Model-T and Model-A factory and, later, a military supply depot and missile manufacturing site, are now home to dozens of shops, galleries, restaurants and cafés. 

Adventure-seekers will also want to make time to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, where groups can take part in guided whitewater rafting on the world’s largest manmade whitewater river. The center also offers ziplining, climbing, yoga, ropes courses, mountain biking and more.

Big-city sophistication blends seamlessly with the fun vibe of eclectic neighborhoods like South End and NoDa, which burst with great restaurants and other hidden gems. 

“We’ve seen groups dine at some of the hottest restaurants in Charlotte and enjoy a star-studded PNC Broadway show at Blumenthal Performing Arts,” said Chacara Harvin, travel trade marketing manager with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. “Others appreciate touring Charlotte’s bustling neighborhoods on Funny Bus Comedy City Tours or gliding on e-bikes or Segways with Charlotte NC Tours.”

charlottesgotalot.com

Outer Banks

Stretched along North Carolina’s easternmost boundary, the Outer Banks contain some of America’s most pristine beaches — vast spaces where visitors can experience the raw beauty of unvarnished coastlines.

Here, history and natural beauty are intertwined. The islands are home to iconic destinations including the Wright Brothers National Memorial — a site in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, that commemorates the famed brothers’ first flight, which took place in nearby Kitty Hawk in 1903 — and, farther south, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, home to three historic lighthouses.

“Cape Hatteras National Seashore was America’s first national seashore and represents the largest stretch of undeveloped beaches in the eastern United States that you can easily visit by car,” said Aaron Tuell, public relations manager for the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. 

Groups can book hotel rooms or vacation rental homes in the seven villages on Hatteras Island — essentially having the national seashore at their doorstep.

History buffs will also want to explore Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in Manteo on Roanoke Island, site of an English settlement in 1587 that became famous as “The Lost Colony” — a story that’s told each summer in a popular outdoor play held in the on-site amphitheater.

For something truly unique, groups can try their skills at hang gliding off some of the largest natural sand dunes on the East Coast at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nag’s Head, where guided lessons are available. 

“Jockey’s Ridge is North Carolina’s most visited state park,” Tuell said. “It has the exact same kind of ecosystem or environment that the Wright brothers used when learning to fly their gliders.”

outerbanks.org

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