Travel Tips

One-Tank Trips: Raleigh, North Carolina

Locations in this article:  Los Angeles, CA Santa Barbara, CA

grandfather mountain view north carolinaRemember those nearby destinations that you’ve been meaning to visit?

Many of the South’s beaches and mountains can be far away, busy, booked, and pricey, so consider some alternatives that are a little closer to home.

Neha Shah reports on one of her favorite one-tank road trips departing from Raleigh to Mount Airy (139 miles), then to the town of Pittsboro (112 miles) and back to Raleigh (38 miles).

Mountains, Music, and Mayberry

Mount Airy, hometown of Andy Griffith, is fondly and often compared to Mayberry due to its small-town feel and picturesque landscape.

A trip toward the mountains practically guarantees some gentle breezes and Mount Airy is a community that offers a great deal—expansive countryside, vineyards with plenty of dining options, orchards packed with fruit and produce, storybook architecture, and family-friendly activities.

southern supreme tourMayberry adventures are enough to make feel like you’re on set at The Andy Griffith Show, so take advantage of his hometown’s haunts and explore The World’s Largest Andy Griffith Collection (housed at The Andy Griffith Playhouse and Surry Arts Council), Andy Griffith’s Homeplace, Floyd’s City Barber Shop (two chairs and no waiting; enter for free, but pay if you want a haircut), Opie’s Candy Store, and other characters’ corners. Check out Aunt Bee’s Room at the Mayberry Motor Inn. A stop at Wally’s Service Station to refuel yourself with an RC Cola and Moon Pie will gear you up for the next adventure, a squad car tour. If the sweets and soda won’t cut it, stop by Snappy Lunch for a pork chop sandwich.

The vineyards in the vicinity are in Dobson, Booneville and Mount Airy; some are part of the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail, a three-county region at the base of the Blue Ridge parkway with elevations ranging from 900 to 1,500 feet. The 1.4 million-acre Yadkin Valley, just west of Winston-Salem was approved as North Carolina’s first American Viticultural Area.

After a full day of checking out the sights and a few wineries, a great dinner is in order. Old North State Winery offers tastings, a social hour with wine and appetizers, and a dining experience with a range of satisfying dishes. Another equally indulgent option is Shelton Vineyards. Ask for the Reserve Tasting and Tour, starting at $20 per person, which allows you to sample the Family Reserve wines and limited releases, and follow it up with a bistro-style dinner at the Harvest Grill.

Spend another day in Mount Airy and you can get beyond the Mayberry fanfare. Mount Airy is home to plenty of down home music including bluegrass, storytelling, fiddling, and the Donna Fargo Exhibit (including the famed musician’s popular Blue Mountain greeting card line). Check out the events and music that are ongoing year-round.

fruit basketsA departure from urban lifestyle is a visit to the farms and orchards of Mount Airy. Levering Orchard offers sweet and sour cherries, a variety of apples, peaches, nectarines, and pears, all with a side of music, if you wish, at the Cherry Orchard Theatre. They are located just two miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Virginia, so you can say you’ve had a two-for-one vacation. The area also includes three farms for pick-your-own juicy and large strawberries.

All the wine, Moon Pies, and pork chop sandwiches can easily be walked off with hikes at nearby Pilot Mountain State Park (14 miles south of Mount Airy), Hanging Rock State Park or Stone Mountain State Park (both are 45 minutes from Mount Airy), or just enjoy a scenic drive on Blue Ridge Parkway (15 miles north of Mount Airy).

More than a Pitt Stop

Take the Andy Griffith Parkway out of town to Pittsboro, another small town that hasn’t been completely discovered. It’s conveniently located on the ride home—no detour is required; it’s just a different way home to Raleigh.

Pittsboro offers plenty of hidden pockets, and depending on your interests, you can browse nifty shops downtown, canoe on one of the three rivers (Rocky, Deep, and Haw), spot birds along the Jordan Lake portion of the N.C. Birding Trail, visit one of four farmers’ markets, and discover other sights. You can even complete the Mayberry adventure with a stop at Aunt Bee’s gravesite at Oakwood Cemetery in Siler City to leave some flowers.

white tigerOne of the attractions that few people know about is the Carnivore Preservation Trust, a wildlife sanctuary offering guided “big cat” tours that are up close and personal (and safe) with an opportunity to see more than 100 exotic animals. Walk the Cat Walk to see tigers, kinkajous, ocelets, binturongs, servals, leopards, and more. The tour lasts two and a half hours and questions are welcome. (at right, a white tiger named Jellybean, photo credit: Carnivore Preservation Trust)

Also in Pittsboro is the old-time soda shop reminiscent of thick milkshakes and juicy burgers of the ‘50s. Summertime favorites are of course ice cream, but the orangeades and limeades really hit the spot. Pittsboro and Siler City (16 miles apart) offer two wineries and a brewery, each offering tastings and tours.

Horizon CellarsHorizon Cellars is a boutique winery in Siler City and their tasting and tour includes a souvenir glass. Nearby is Southern Supreme Gourmet Specialties for tours and tastings of nutty fruitcakes (their signature item), jams, jellies, chocolates, cookies, and more. Watching the staff at the cooking stations will bring back memories of Lucy & Ethel gobbling chocolates as they came off the conveyer belt.

Opt to stretch the vacation an extra night and stay in one of the six bed & breakfasts (check out the goat cheese at the family-friendly Inn at Celebrity Dairy) or indulge in a luxe stay at the Fearrington House Country Inn, which is a great deal for a five-star inn and restaurant—your stay includes an over-the-top gourmet breakfast and proper English afternoon tea.

By Neha Shah for Photos by Neha Shah (except as indicated).


Interested in more ideas for simple, inexpensive trips? Don’t miss our One-Tank Trips: Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County.

And if you’re interested in a trip in a recreational vehicle, don’t miss the RV Chronicles series, starting with First-Time RVers Hit the Road.

We’ve also got America the Beautiful: Nine Stops, Nine Miles, with more great road trip ideas.