Whether you’re a student at North Carolina State University or working in the Research Triangle area, living in Raleigh, North Carolina means easy access to a wealth of cultural experiences and non-stop fun. However, sometimes you might crave a change of pace. Book a stay at a Raleigh vacation rental tucked away in the mountains or on the beach, then set out for a weekend trip to a neighboring city or town. Take a look at exciting places in proximity to Raleigh.

1. Kitty Hawk

Source: Flickr/Joanna Lee Osborn

Hit the beach, and learn a little bit of history at the same time with a weekend in Kitty Hawk. After soaking up the sun on the beach, visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Start with a visit to the visitor’s center with its displays on the struggles the Wright brothers experienced becoming the first to experience motorized flight, and view the replica of the plane that the brothers flew. Past the visitor’s center on the top of a hill, a towering monument marks the spot the men took off from. Another popular spot is Jockey Ridge, the largest sand dune in the eastern United States. Most days, a local business, Kitty Hawk Kites, offer sand surfing lessons.

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2. Boone

Source: Flickr/Jeremy Mikkola

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway sit the quaint mountain town of Boone, where your family can unwind and take in the area’s natural beauty. Hit the hiking trails in the Elk Knob State Park, or climb to the peak of Grandfather Mountain for amazing views in all directions. King Street is the place for an afternoon stroll and a little shopping in the eclectic blend of shops, including Doe Ridge Pottery. This college town has some great watering holes, so enjoy a meal with the kids at Bella’s Italian Restaurant, or choose F.A.R.M. Cafe with its locally-sourced ingredients and pay-what-you-can philosophy.

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3. Blowing Rock

Source: Flickr/Chris Mavricos

Another great mountain town is Blowing Rock. Visit the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, which features the works of local artists and offers a myriad of artifacts dating back to the founding of the town. Take the kids to the Tweetsie Railroad amusement park to enjoy a wild west theme and an old railroad train you can take a short ride on, and stay for the staged gun fight. At Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, take a tour of the main home before stretching your legs on one of the estate’s many walking trails, or enjoy a picnic lunch at on a blanket on the lawn while the kids play chase.

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4. Ocracoke Island

Source: Flickr/bobistraveling

Take the ferry from Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke Island for a weekend of low-key island life. You can find a vacation rental in the island’s small town or opt for something a little further out. Beach Outfitters has everything you need for a weekend on the island, including beach chairs, umbrellas, and bike rentals. Pedal over to the Ocracoke Lighthouse, one of the oldest continuously working lights on the eastern shores of the United States, or ride down to the Pony Pen to see where locals care for the island’s wild horse population with little intrusion.

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5. Wilmington

Source: Flickr/bobistraveling

Founded during Colonial times, Wilmington has many historical buildings for the architecture lover in your family, plus a beach that’s perfect for splashing in the water and building sandcastles. Take a tour of the USS North Carolina (BB-55), a World War II-era battleship to learn more about the war and life aboard one of these large ships. On a rainy afternoon, bring the kids to the Cape Fear Serpentarium for some creepy crawly fun as you view more than 40 types of snakes along with alligators and lizards. Learn about life in the area in the days before the Civil War with a tour of the Bellamy Mansion.

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6. Chapel Hill

Source: Flickr/bobistraveling

A short drive from Raleigh, Chapel Hill is a great little college town that offers a slower pace than your normal days. The Morehead Planetarium teaches kids and adults alike about space and the cosmos so stop by for a tour and one of their shows. Kids are likely to enjoy an afternoon at the Kidzu Children’s Museum that teaches more about the natural world. If you arrive in the spring, drive over to the North Carolina Botanical Garden to check out all the flowers and plants in full bloom. Help your kids spot all the sculptures in the gardens. During the fall, order tickets to see the Tar Heels play in their home stadium.

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7. New Bern

Source: Flickr/Ken Lund

Founded by Swiss immigrants, New Bern is a coastal town that celebrates its rich history. Take a tour of the North Carolina History Center at Tryon Palace with its exhibits and artifacts from past eras. Another great place to step back in time is the Tryon Palace, a replica of the original home of the Royal Governor of the Province of North Carolina. After dark, take older family members on a walking tour of the historic district with Ghosts of New Bern to hear tales of murder, mischief, and ghosts. In Union Point Park, you and the hubby can stroll along the boardwalk while the kids hit the playground to burn off some energy.

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