North Carolina’s beautiful bookends – the mountains to the west and beaches to the east – make for great spring break destinations for those who love playing outdoors. If an urban getaway sounds more up your alley, cities in the central part of our state have lots to discover with museums, amusement parks and dining hot spots.
Whether you’re planning spring break as a family vacation, getaway with your significant other or a reunion with friends, we have you covered.
1 Calling All Couples
1 Calling All CouplesKill Devil Hills, Nags HeadSee on map
One of the few fun things about “adulting” is the opportunity to go on trips with your couples friends. Pitch in to stay at an I-wish-we-lived-here beach house that will be your home base for some quality time exploring North Carolina’s barrier islands. The Outer Banks towns of Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills will keep your group entertained with nightlife and dining choices, and they also have easy access to the famous wild horses in Corolla and historic Roanoke Island.
To soak in the beauty of OBX, load up your rented off-road vehicle and hit the sand, or book a cruise and view the island chain from the Atlantic Ocean. Adventurous folks should consider reserving one of the dozens of adventures through Kitty Hawk Kites, which offers hang gliding, parasailing and paragliding lessons that might just turn out to be the highlight of your trip.
2 Take the Family to the Beach
2 Take the Family to the BeachCarolina BeachSee on map
This beach town has retained its vintage charm with the colorful Carolina Beach Boardwalk, one of the only remaining beach boardwalks along the East Coast. An arcade and Ferris wheel give visitors plenty of fun between stops at restaurants, bars and sweet shops dishing out classics like homemade fudge. Check out Nauti Dog, where you can get a made-to-order Carolina Dog (mustard, chili and slaw) or BBQ Dog (BBQ sauce, slaw, fried onion straws and bacon).
You’ll want to leave plenty of time for playing on the beach and savoring the ocean views. Rent a surrey bike that accommodates up to eight people, walk the 700-foot scenic pier, and enjoy your picturesque beach cottage or oceanfront condo. Pro tip: Enroll the kids in Spring Break Surf Camp. They’ll come back with stories and Instagram-worthy photos, and you’ll get to sit back and bask in the sun. In nearby Kure Beach, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher also deserves a visit for its interactive experiences and free daily programs that include feedings, diver talks, and meet-and-greets with reptiles.
3 An Escape for Two
3 An Escape for TwoHighlandsSee on map
The neighboring mountain towns of Highlands and Cashiers will deliver the perfect settings for your intimate vacation. Think romantic waterfall hikes, heavenly spa treatments and cozy retreats that beg for ample time snuggling indoors. Splurge and stay in Half-Mile Farm’s luxurious cabin rooms or suites, or go for the B&B experience at Colonial Pines Inn Bed and Breakfast.
For dinners, you’ll find multiple highly rated fine-dining experiences in Highlands, including Madison’s, Ristorante Paoletti and On the Verandah. Or wow your honey with a picnic dinner with supplies from Mountain Fresh Grocery & Wine Market while you watch the sunset from the appropriately named Sunset Rock or Whiteside Mountain Trail. Of course, a trip to this area wouldn’t be complete without pictures of the two of you at Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Add in some activities at Lake Glenville – home to three waterfalls that tumble into the lake – and your romantic getaway is officially planned.
4 Good Times, Good Friends
4 Good Times, Good FriendsDurhamSee on map
Is it about that time to get your crew together for a long-overdue girls’ or guys’ (or co-ed) trip? You’ll have a blast in Durham. By day, Bull City’s walkable downtown provides groups with easy access to a number of cool galleries. When the sun goes down, locals, college students, and visitors alike can be found bar-hopping between live music venues, lounges and dive bars. You’ll also want to sample the suds at one of several breweries, including the game-room-like Fullsteam Brewery.
The Italian sandwich spot Toast should be essential lunching when visiting Durham. For breakfast, try one of two highly rated donut spots, Rise Biscuits & Donuts or Monuts Donuts, which you can work off by paddling the Eno River, located just 15 minutes from downtown. Sports fans can catch a baseball game from the Triple-A Durham Bulls. And while Durham is known as a hub for blues music, a healthy amount of music venues, including the popular Motorco Music Hall, offer lineups to please any concertgoer.
5 For the Kids and Kid in You
5 For the Kids and Kid in YouCharlotte areaSee on map
As the largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte has the popular attractions you’d expect, such as one of the nation’s top interactive museums, Discovery Place, and a big amusement park in Carowinds, which opens each year on the weekends in time for spring break. Parents will love Charlotte’s family-friendly breweries with cool outdoor spaces: Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Birdsong Brewing Co., Sycamore Brewing and NoDa Brewing.
Plenty of outdoor fun awaits about 30 minutes north at Lake Norman if you want to add in a little nature to your urban getaway. Explore our state’s largest lake by renting a boat, or get your paddle on with kayak, canoe or SUP board rentals, while chartered cruises are a relaxed way to enjoy the water. Plus, the Lake Norman area is home to Zootastic Park and Lazy 5 Ranch, providing zoo and safari-like adventures.