Benson is a gem of a small town located right off the I-95 corridor and less than an hour from the Raleigh area. With so much to explore for both couples and families – and fur babies – it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway or day trip as part of your North Carolina vacation.
Delight in Downtown’s Breakfasts and Brews
If you need a home base, the dog-friendly Hampton Inn in Benson is conveniently located to both I-95 and downtown, plus directly next to the Benson Dog Park for your pup to get those zoomies out. Though the hotel offers a complimentary hot breakfast, it’s easy to be steered away in the morning with a full menu of freshly made Belgium waffles at family-owned Cornerstone Café downtown. Grab a table outside and choose from more than a dozen fluffy varieties including s’mores, maple bacon and bananas foster. Can’t make it for breakfast? The cafe serves waffles all day alongside gourmet sandwiches and salads.
Just across from Cornerstone is the Benson Museum of Local History with exhibits depicting the town’s early days. Stroll through a vast collection of artifacts with themed exhibits on local subjects like farming, home life, artists, military history, merchants, the State Annual Singing Convention, country doctors and Benson Mule Days (it celebrates the often-overlooked mule every September at one of the largest annual festivals in the state).
Continue the tour of downtown by heading across the railroad tracks to JP’s Pastry, the first certified gluten-free bakery in North Carolina. Perfect for those with dietary restrictions, these artisan cupcakes, pastries, biscuits and pies are baked with a distinctive, whimsical twist that keeps people coming back for more. Great news: You can have these colorful and creative desserts shipped to your home too.
If you’d rather indulge in craft beer, the answer is just a few steps away at Fainting Goat Brewing Co. Founded in 2014, Fainting Goat is an independent-, veteran- and woman-owned brewery that offers a variety of handcrafted brews in a casual atmosphere with a dog-friendly patio. Their taproom doesn’t have Wi-Fi because they believe strongly in personal interaction – so hang out, play a game, listen to music, enjoy food trucks and meet new friends.
Sample More Spirits
If by now you're feeling like an expert at downtown Benson, and you’re staying multiple days in the area, it’s time to explore East Benson and West Benson. Broadslab Distillery and Gregory Vineyards are located a few miles away, and both are stops on the JoCo Beer, Wine and Shine Trail.
At Broadslab Distillery, grab a drink from the tasting room to give this 100-years-in-the-making product a try while relaxing on the porch. Hour-long tours are also offered every Friday and Saturday and include a souvenir shot glass and tasting. Jeremy Norris – who often leads the tours and does all the farming, distilling and production on his “dirt to bottle” distillery so he can control every step of the process – opened the distillery with the help of his grandfather, who taught him “shine” recipes passed down now for five generations.
Gregory Vineyards is a picturesque 135-acre working farm showcasing hills of planted vineyards, a winery, a distillery and a tasting room where you can sip on double gold-winning Mary Elizabeth and Lee Love muscadine wines. The family also operates Lane’s Seafood & Steak House, where Lane himself often stops by tables to say hello.
Connect with Family at a Farm and Over Food
Take a 10-minute drive for more on-farm fun at Smith’s Nursery, a family-owned and -operated farm in Benson. Pick your own adventure here with a wholesale plant nursery, U-pick strawberries and blueberries in spring and summer, a pumpkin patch and hayrides in fall, a roadside produce market, an ice cream and coffee shack, plus events and workshops throughout the year.
While out that way, savor a meal at Redneck BBQ Lab. Eat in the outside picnic area or go through the drive-thru and get it to go. Choose from pulled pork, brisket, turkey, ribs and chicken, then take your pick of classic sides such as slow-cooked baked beans, green beans, collards like mama used to make, jalapeno mac and cheese, or slaw. Don’t sleep on the most important meal of the day here, either; Redneck’s breakfast sandwiches are out of this world. The Redneck BBQ Lab is owned and operated by members of the Redneck Scientific competition BBQ team, which finished fourth in the nation in the Kansas City BBQ Society rankings in 2016.
As your getaway comes to an end with your belly full and heart happy, start planning your next trip to the JoCo area. We’d love to see you again.
This article was produced in partnership with, and all photos are courtesy of, Johnston County Visitors Bureau.