With just eight weeks left until the official end of summer, now is the perfect time to plan a Labor Day holiday trip to northeastern North Carolina, a welcoming cluster of small towns with offerings for the foodie, the history buff, the sportsman and the arts and antiques enthusiast. Where the southern hospitality is free and where the riverbanks, sand, surf and museums are all within an hour’s drive or far less, create unforgettable memories while getting acquainted with one of the most charming regions in the country.
DAY ONE Friday Afternoon in Elizabeth City
Fuel up for the afternoon’s activities with lunch at The Flour Girls Café & Bakery (102 N. Water St.; 252-331-2230). Known for its homemade soups, salads and sandwiches served on bread baked fresh on the premises, be sure to save room for the café’s popular desserts like the Cookie Dough Cake and the Orange Bars.
Stop by the Visitors Center in Museum of the Albemarle (501 S. Water St.; 252-335-5330) to get information about goings on around Elizabeth City including self-guided tours and travel resources. While in the museum, take a tour of the permanent collections as well as the new exhibit, Tar Heels in the Trenches: The Albemarle and the Great War, which recognizes the 100th anniversary of America’s formal entrance into World War I (through December 2018) and the special commemorative exhibits celebrating the museum’s 50th anniversary.
Complimentary bicycles are also available on loan via the Visitors Center so use them to explore Elizabeth City’s unique historic neighborhoods and tours. Learn about the Wright Brothers local connection via the Aviation Trail Tour with 11 different stops and nine historical markers around town indicating places the Wright Brothers visited, bought materials and first recorded their flight undertakings. See the Underground Railroad Marker at Waterfront Park which highlights the Pasquotank River—the first river in the nation to be designated as part of the escape network that helped slaves gain their freedom—and take the Main Street Residential District Tour—a self-guided tour that includes an impressive number of Queen Anne, Eastlake, Craftsman and Colonial Revival architectural gems.
After an afternoon of bike riding and walking, wind down the day with dinner at Hoppin’ Johnz (606 E. Colonial Ave.; 252-679-7716). With the chef’s emphasis on organic, heritage and heirloom ingredients and his nod to low country cuisine, order the signature Hoppin’ John or the Shrimp and Grits.
DAY TWO Saturday in Elizabeth City
Begin the day at Mama Tee’s (109 S. Hughes Blvd.; 252-285-4101) with its home style bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes and renowned sweet potato biscuits. After breakfast, head to the Downtown Waterfront Market (Water St. between E. Fearing St. and E. Main St.) an outdoor venue within Mariners’ Wharf Park that features locally grown produce, baked goods, preserves, and crafts. While in the park, see the monument honoring the Rose Buddies, founded in 1983 by two local residents who welcomed visiting boaters docked in the harbor. The Elizabeth City Area Convention & Visitors Bureau now continues the tradition and hosts wine and cheese receptions for the boaters.
Two blocks away from Mariners’ Wharf Park is Arts of the Albemarle (516 E. Main St.; 252-338-6455). Located in the historic Lowry-Chesson Building, the non-profit arts council is home to over 250 artists, a gallery, a school of the arts, and The Maguire Theatre, an intimate state-of-the-art performance space that hosts local, regional and national acts (inquire about the scheduled concerts and live performances). From Arts of the Albemarle, have lunch at Golden Roots Café (407 McArthur Dr.; 252-679-7655) with its fresh vegetarian and gluten-free options such as the Avocado Caprese Salad or the Country Club Lettuce Wrap. After lunch, browse the Shoppes at Kenyon Bailey right outside the door of the café. With over 40 vendors, everything from handcrafted toys and jewelry to hand-painted wine glasses and gourmet pet treats can be found here.
If you love the workmanship of a bygone era, visit Coppersmith Antiques & Auction Co. (123 S. Hughes Blvd.; 252-331-5814). The 18,000-square foot space, including an auction house, boasts an extensive collection of oak, mahogany and walnut furniture, pottery, Depression glass, Sterling silver tableware, estate jewelry, and houses several consignment booths under its roof. Elizabeth City is emerging as a destination for antiquing and has several shops to scour to find that one-of-a-kind treasure. Check them out in the blog, “Everything Old is New Again: Antiques and Vintage Stores in Elizabeth City.”
And if a round of good golf is of interest after your antiquing jaunt, head to The Pines at Elizabeth City (1525 N. Road St.; 252-335-0278) a semi-private golf club with an 18-hole regulation length course. The swinging and putting is certain to work up an appetite but you won’t have to travel far for dinner with The Bistro at the Pines (252-335-7029) located in the clubhouse and overlooking the course. Serving New American cuisine, try the Oyster Salad, the homemade onion rings, or the ribeye.
DAY THREE Sunday in Elizabeth City to Edenton and Hertford
Start the day at The Villa Restaurant (846 Halsted Blvd.; 252-338-6206) where the breakfast offerings span the gamut from corned beef hash to Belgian waffles with fruit topping to Greek omelets. After your meal, travel five miles west of Elizabeth City to take photographs of the Amazon Wind Farm US East (US 17 Bypass) with its 104 massive turbines. The first utility-scale wind farm in North Carolina, it is the largest of its kind in the southeastern United States.
Drive 40 minutes south to Edenton for the historic Trolley Tour (Penelope Barker House Welcome Center; 505 S. Broad St.; 252-482-7800), a guided tour chock-full of details about colonial life, 18th century architecture, and notable landmarks including the site of the Edenton Tea Party—a woman-led political protest organized in response to the Tea Act of 1773. Have lunch at The Table Restaurant, at Inner Banks Inn (103 East Albemarle St.; 252-482-3641). With its farm-to-table concept, enjoy the Sunday jazz brunch featuring southern dishes with a twist like the Fried Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese Mousse or the Pimento Grilled Ham and Cheese.
On the east side of town is the Cotton Mill Museum of History (420 Elliott St.; 252-482-4985) dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Edenton Cotton Mill, a profitable mainstay in the local economy from 1899 to 1955. And no trip to Edenton is complete without a visit to the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse (7 Dock St.; 252-482-2637) which sits in the bay and is believed to be the last surviving example in the United States of a square-frame building built for a screw-pile base.
From Edenton, drive 20 minutes northeast to Hertford and visit more notable sites. Begin with The Walking Tour of Historic Hertford (252-426-5657) a self-guided tour with a picturesque route including waterfront homes, an 1828 courthouse, and a commercial district dating from the early 1900s. And don’t miss the Historic S Swing Bridge (407 N. Church St.; 252-426-5657). Built in 1928, it is believed to be the only bridge of its design in the nation that’s still operational.
Back in Elizabeth City, dinner at Island Breeze Grill (220 N. Poindexter St.; 252-338-0048), featuring Caribbean cuisine, concludes the day. Try the famous Jerk Chicken or Smothered Whiting or if you’re feeling adventurous, the Curried Goat.
DAY FOUR Monday in Elizabeth City to the Outer Banks and Barco
It’s top o’the morning at Kathy’s Kreations (1775 Weeksville Rd.; 252-331-1888) where the large front window allows a view of the campus of Elizabeth City State University. Start the day with the café’s popular Sausage Gravy Biscuit, Stuffed French Toast or an egg-based Panini.
After breakfast, take US-158 for the hour-long drive to Kill Devil Hills to the Wright Brothers National Memorial (1000 N. Croatan Hwy.; 252-441-7430) which pays tribute to the tenacity, courage and scientific achievements of Wilbur and Orville Wright and their first successful flight in 1903 after four years of experimentation.
Continue your drive along the peninsula to the town of Nags Head and Jockey’s Ridge State Park (300 W. Carolista) where you can explore the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States that is also recognized as one of the top hang gliding and kite flying locations in the region. After hiking or gliding along the dunes, you’ll need sustenance so pop into Tortugas’ Lie (3016 S. Virginia Dare Trail; 252-441-7299) for a casual lunch. Try the Hatteras Style Chowder with the Baja Fish Taco Platter or the spicy Hummus Wrap. Nearby is Jennette’s Pier (7223 S. Virginia Dare Trail; 252-355-1501) where you can choose a variety of activities from surfing and paddle boarding to fishing and crabbing lessons. And if you’re lucky, while at the pier, you might even witness what locals call the ‘ray ballet’—a school of cownose stingrays swimming in circles that’s thought to be a mating ritual.
From the peninsula, take Highway 158 to Roanoke Island and the town of Manteo, home of the exquisite Elizabethan Gardens (1411 National Park Dr.; 252-473-3234), a 10-acre botanical sanctuary with hundreds of species of indigenous plants and wildlife as well as pieces of art, statues and plant life from benefactors around the globe. The remarkable and quiet setting beckons visitors to linger so take your time in this refuge with its abundance of natural beauty.
After exiting the gardens, take an hour-long drive northwest to Barco and end your day of sightseeing with dinner at Currituck BBQ (447 Caratoke Hwy.; 252-453-6618) where the hickory-smoked Beef Brisket, Pork Ribs and house-made sides attract a loyal following. You can even purchase a bottle of ‘Larry’s Original,’ the establishment’s signature sauce, to take home with you.
We hope you enjoy the outings and don’t forget to tag us in your Instagram photos with #DiscoverECity!
Simone Cooper is a publicist and branding specialist who is also a mid-century modern fanatic. When she’s not assisting clients with messaging, you can find her hunting for furniture and housewares from the 1960s.