Whether you prefer the fresh ocean breeze of a beach getaway or the seclusion of picturesque mountain towns, there’s plenty to see and do just a short drive from the Winston-Salem area. Discover quaint cities perfect for romance, or head out on a family weekend adventure that includes your favorite water sports, biking trails, or nature exploration. Thriving downtown areas offer unique shopping opportunities, delicious eateries, and fun music venues and bars, ideal for after-dark excitement. Book a North Carolina vacation rental in one of these top cities and towns for a relaxing weekend escape.

Autumn trees in the mountains

1. Wilmington

With fabulous beaches and award-winning golf courses, Wilmington is a great spot to escape to for a weekend. Golf lovers are sure to enjoy playing a few rounds at the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course, which was designed by golf legend Donald Ross. After a morning of golf, head to Wrightsville Beach to soak in the sun or indulge in your favorite watersports. Rent surfboards, paddleboards, or kayaks from Wrightsville Kayak Company, and enjoy convenient oceanside delivery and pickup. Best of all, everything is close together allowing you to spend your weekend playing instead of traveling. Catch is the best place for a fresh seafood dinner, and the Causeway Cafe serves delicious down-home style breakfasts and lunches in a casual atmosphere. Alternatively, grab take-out coffee and home-baked treats from the Sweet n Savory Cafe, and enjoy breakfast on the beach. Wilmington is only three hours away from Winston-Salem by car, making it perfect for a weekend stay.

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2. Elizabeth City

Spend a relaxing weekend on the beautiful Pasquotank River with a vacation rental in Elizabeth City. Driving to this scenic town takes just under four hours, and offers a weekend full of picturesque parks, river adventures, and fabulous museums. Elizabeth City is known for its fine cuisine. Check out great Southern staples, such as shrimp and grits or fried green tomatoes, at Hoppin’ Johnz New South Cuisine, or opt for something a little fancier with the French specialties at Montero’s Restaurant, Bar & Catering. For a taste of the Carribean, head to Island Breeze Grill, known for delicious jerk chicken and slow-roasted curried goat. If you love the out-of-doors, spend an afternoon exploring Dismal Swamp State Park. Boardwalks give you an upclose view of the flora and fauna of the bayou, or bring along your kayak and explore the swampy waterways. If you prefer to stay indoors, the Museum of the Albemarle gives you an in-depth look at North Carolina history, including an authentic pirate’s cannon and traveling art exhibits from around the state. After dark, Ghost Harbor Brewery is the place to go for quality microbrews, conversation, and soaking in the wonderful evening ambience of downtown Elizabeth City.

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3. Franklin

Franklin is the perfect place for a weekend adventure in the Smoky Mountains. The short three-hour drive west out of Winston-Salem takes you to a mountain wonderland steeped in western North Carolina’s mining history. Be sure to stop at the Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum for a closer look at that history. If you’re vacationing with kids, they’re sure to love the museum’s hands-on mining activities, and you’ll enjoy seeing the extensive collection of gems on exhibit. Bicycling is a great way to explore the many outdoor trails around Franklin at a pace suitable for a weekend getaway, and a vacation rental with a garage makes it easy to bring yours along. For an easy ride, explore the Little Tennesee River Greenway, or head to Nantahala National Forest for more adventurous mountain biking. Keep your eyes open for hidden waterfalls and spectacular mountain views throughout the forest. After you work up an appetite, enjoy a lunch or dinner of old-country barbecue at Fat Buddies Ribs & BBQ. For an evening out, head to Currahee Brewing Company for unique craft beers with a view of the Little Tennessee River. Then, head to Lazy Hiker Brewing Company for another round and a game of giant Jenga in their comfortable outdoor seating area.

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4. Robbinsville

Robbinsville offers another picturesque mountain escape about three hours from Winston-Salem. This gorgeous, secluded town in the heart of Graham County is a great choice for a romantic getaway, with tranquil ponds, beautiful waterfalls, and mountain vistas in every direction. Book a vacation rental in the spring to enjoy the festive azalea blooms that pepper the landscape, or choose the fall for the colorful leaf show, repeated yearly by mother nature. For breathtaking views, head west out of town on the Cherohala Skyway. This 20-mile drive gives access to several overlooks for views of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and the grassy balds of the Appalachian Mountains. Relax by the water at Cheoah Point Beach where sandy shores butt up on a natural mountain-lake swimming hole. Cheoah Point is also a great place for fishing for bass, crappie, trout and more during the April through October season. If you want to get out on the water, boat rentals are available at Deyton Camp Power Boat Rentals right in Robbinsville or at Almond Boat and RV Park in nearby Bryson City.

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5. Atlantic Beach

Explore the south-facing beaches of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast with a weekend getaway at Atlantic Beach. A four-hour drive takes you to a magical seaside town with enough surf and sand to satisfy every beach lover. There are four public beaches to explore with picnic areas, beach houses, and plenty of parking. Check out the Tom Doe Memorial Beach Access for handicap-accessible facilities and an oversize beach playground. When hunger strikes, step into Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar for dishes like warm cheesy lobster dip and crab & shrimp gratin made from scratch. Be sure to order the make-your-own s’mores for a memorable dessert experience with marshmallows toasted right at your table. If you’re craving barbecue, White Swan Bar-B-Q & Fried Chicken and Big Oak Drive-In & Bar-B-Q both offer a variety of Carolina barbecue specials. Make a quick stop at the Spouter Inn to pick up some fresh-baked muffins or pastries for breakfast at your vacation rental the next day. If you have kids in tow, plan to visit the nearby North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for a chance to feel a stingray, observe river otters at play, or gaze at sharks, sea turtles, and other aquatic wildlife. If you’re a history buff, Fort Macon State Park gives you a peek at a Civil War-era fort as well as exhibits on the military history of the area.

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6. Rodanthe

Escape to the Outer Banks with a weekend getaway in Rodanthe, just under five hours by car from Winston-Salem. A vacation rental in Rodanthe puts you up close to the beach for sunbathing, fishing, or simply enjoying the spectacular sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean. Take a hike at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge for a glimpse of the many animal species that live in the Outer Banks region as well as the over 400 species of birds that live or pass through the area yearly. The Rodanthe Fishing Pier is a great place to fish, no license required, and the pier house sells bait, fishing supplies, and refreshments to fuel your fishing trip. For fresh seafood, including the delicious house special chowder, Diamond Shoals is a sure bet. After dark, StingWray’s Bar & Grille offers a variety of adult-only evening activities, including karaoke, live music, and comedy. Watermen’s Bar and Grill hosts an annual outdoor concert series in the summer while serving up unique, over-the-top daily drink specials and craft beers from Carolina Brewery.

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7. Currituck

Travel four and a half hours to the northeast corner of the state for a weekend getaway in Currituck, with beaches, wild horses, and plenty of opportunities for shopping. Choose a vacation rental within walking distance of the beach to make the most of your time on the coast. Sunbathe, swim or wade, collect seashells, and keep an eye out for the county’s famous wild horses. On your second day, take the ferry to Knott’s Island for some serious nature exploration along the Charles Kuralt Trail. Eleven wildlife refuges along the trail offer glimpses of protected species, including the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle. For lunch on the island, check out Pearl’s Bay Villa Restaurant at the marina, and enjoy outdoor dining with a view. If you love to shop, head to Timbuck II for nearly 50 boutiques browse, such as Tar Heel Trading Company for local handicrafts and Parrot Bay for upscale beachwear.

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