It’s not every day that I take a trip that I haven’t researched and planned. So when my husband surprised me with a family weekend away for my birthday, I was really intrigued. He had given it a lot of thought and decided not to have us RV, rather stay at a hotel, so I could relax and not have to cook. I married an amazing man! He kept our destination a secret until my curiosity won out the day before we were to leave. Our destination? New Bern, North Carolina! I will admit, I had to look it up on a map and started to look at things to do and then stopped myself. Someone else did the planning and all I had to do was go along!
We left mid-day on Friday and the sun was shining. There was rain in the forecast later in the day for South Carolina so we were not surprised when black clouds began to form west of us. As we entered North Carolina, the clouds began to appear more ominous.
A storm like no other slammed into us. Torrential downpour with continuous lightning flashes and thunder overhead. The road was instantly covered in water and our speed dropped to a crawl. The whole family was uneasy as we slowly made our way north and then, all of a sudden, the storm stopped and we were on dry pavement! It was only a short reprieve. As we were within 10 miles of New Bern, another downpour. As we rounded a corner on our two-lane road, a young man was standing in the middle of the street flagging us down. He had hydroplaned his truck and asked where he was to relay his location to emergency services. After we knew he was OK, we continued on our way.
By the time we arrived in New Bern, the sun was out again and what a beautiful sight! The Neuse River runs wide here and the sun on its surface was dazzling. We stayed at Courtyard by Marriott, with a first-floor room that offered not only a pool view, but we could also see the Neuse.
Dinnertime was upon us so we walked literally next door to Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant for dinner. We were seated upstairs in a “rotunda-like” room that offered 120 degree views of the river. The menu was mostly seafood but there were some strong offerings of beef and pork as well. Although the food was good, we had some issues with our server so we left a little disappointed. The kids skipped a few stones into the river before we headed back to our hotel for an early-night in.
Saturday dawned with a beautiful blanket of fog covering the distant edge of the Neuse River while sunshine beamed overhead. It was going to be a perfect day for exploring.
First on our agenda was breakfast! After a quick search on Yelp, I zeroed in on the number one spot; Baker’s Kitchen. An easy 5-minute walk from our hotel, we arrived right before the breakfast rush. This two-story restaurant is located in one of the many restored downtown buildings in New Bern.
The menu is diverse with so many yummy choices! We decided to start with a cinnamon roll for the table. It’s not the largest but it was one of the best with warm cinnamon swirls covered in a luscious cream cheese frosting. It was gone in 2-minutes flat. Troy and I shared the Farmer’s Breakfast that included enough for both of us. Two delicious slices of French toast with their own syrup creation, two large link sausages, eggs your way and delicious Dutch potatoes which is a shredded potato and cheese casserole. Blissful! We also ordered biscuits and gravy for the table. The biscuits were fluffy but the star of the plate was the gravy. It was truly delicious with lots of sausage and a great texture. The kids menu had good options and Drake chose French toast while Mia ordered a waffle off the adult menu. More than reasonable prices and great service!
After we stuffed ourselves, we walked along Pollack Street to Tyron’s Palace. This mansion may only be a replica of the original completed in 1770, but impressive none-the-less. Tryon’s Palace served as both the Tryon family home and as the first permanent capitol of North Carolina. Unfortunately, right after the state capitol was relocated to Raleigh, the original structure burned to the ground. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that this modern recreation “faithful to the original architect’s plans” was built on the same site and opened to the public.
Tours are offered of the mansion, historical homes. gardens and the North Carolina History Center as part of their One-Day pass. When we learned it would take about 4 hours to visit everything, we opted to purchase tickets to just tour the gardens. The formal gardens were a delight! The paths that spread out had the kids traveling in different directions to see if and when they would meet. A bench in the shade was the perfect spot to watch their delight. Filled with roses, iris jasmine and more, the air was scented of Spring. Bees and dragonflies made lazy circles overhead as we explored the walled gardens and a robust kitchen garden.
As we were leaving, we noticed there was a woman and a boy dressed in colonial period clothing. They were there to introduce visitors to some period games! Drake and Mia delighted in trying their hand at the classic hoop and stick, Graces (a two-person game in which one player flings the ribboned hoop with two throwing rods and the other player catches with one or both rods) and lawn bowling. Each had their successes with Drake, an immediate pro at the hoop and stick, while Mia won the game of lawn bowling. They didn’t want to leave!
On our walk back to our hotel, we made a stop at the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, also located in downtown New Bern. Back in 1898, “Caleb Bradham invented Pepsi-Cola as a cool, refreshing drink for his pharmacy customers.” It was a step back in time entering the store where the original soda fountain gleams. There are some interesting photos and the original recipe of Pepsi-Cola on the wall and display cases of collectables. Don’t forget a stop in the fun Pepsi-Cola store adjacent to the soda fountain to purchase all kinds of Pepsi-Cola memorabilia. Troy and the kids enjoyed a classic fountain Pepsi while I enjoyed one of Pepsi’s new ventures, 1893 Ginger Cola, which was delicious!
We wanted to do a little more exploration of the area so we headed 40 minutes east in hopes of experiencing some of the Outer Banks. Conveniently, we found the Crystal Coast Visitor Center located in Morehead City, NC. Here, I had the pleasure of speaking with Frank who offered a wealth of information about the area and recommended that we stay in the local area. He suggested a trip to Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, then travel to Beaufort for a visit to the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Both of these institutions are free to the public! Fort Macon State Park was only a 10-minute drive from the Visitor Center and included a great bridge that crossed over the Brogue Sound. Below us were a myriad of boats zipping by and enjoying the picture-perfect weather.
Atlantic Beach is part of the Brogue Banks barrier island and is a classic beach town. Wide sandy beaches encourage visitors to come spend the day on their shores. Maybe that’s why Coastal Living Magazine named Atlantic Beach among the “21 Best Beaches.” We were instructed by Frank at the Crystal Coast Visitor Center to pass up the Atlantic Beach boardwalk area and head to Fort Macon State Park to check out the beach. He instructed us to look out for the Bathhouse sign and park there. Being a gorgeous weekend, parking was tight but with a little patience, we snagged a good spot to take a look at the beach.
The Atlantic was sparkling like a jewel as we crested the top of a sand dune. As far as the eye could see north and south umbrellas were up, sand castles were in the process of being built, and people swimming in the warm water. Seagulls overhead searched for that unattended snack and we could hear squeals of delight from the smallest of beach-goers.
Tip: Fort Macon’s protected beach offers a seaside bathhouse, nature trails, picnic facilities, and handicapped-accessible beach-side areas. Parking is free!
From the Bathhouse parking lot, it is a quick 3-minute drive to the 2015 North Carolina State Park of the Year – Fort Macon, a “perfectly restored Civil War-era fort.” The large Visitor Center is home to a coastal education center with interactive exhibits perfect for curious kids. Here, we watched the short film to get the history of this intriguing fort.
In a nutshell, a fort was built on this spit of land back in 1756. It wasn’t until 1926 that Fort Macon was built in earnest under the leadership of engineer, Robert E. Lee. Fort Macon saw action during the Civil War, was then a Federal prison and finally sold to the State of North Carolina and made into a park in 1923. It was used again by the military in 1941 during World War II, then released back to the state in 1946. Now that we were armed with some basic history, we headed to fort.
Fort Macon is a 5-sided fort and has a moat. We crossed over the moat to enter the parade ground. Here, we were surrounded by 26 vaulted rooms (also called casements). As we began to tour the casements, there was a call that it was time for a musket-shooting demonstration. There in the parade ground a volunteer came out and walked us through the multiple steps of loading and shooting a musket. Good thing he asked all the kids present to cover their ears! It was extremely loud! Drake thought it was awesome while Mia didn’t really enjoy it.
Back to the casements, each room hosted exhibits and displays depicting life at the fort including restored kitchen, bread oven, officers’ quarters, enlisted quarters, and powder magazines. We learned about the Hot Shot Furnace, a system of heating non-explosive cannonballs red hot for the purpose of setting fire to enemy warships. Drake and Mia not only thought that was cool but also enjoyed seeing what was inside cannon balls!
Tip: There are no entrance fees to visit North Carolina state parks with just a few exceptions. Visit www.visitnc.gov for more details.
By the time we finished touring the fort, we decided to hold off on our visit to the North Carolina Maritime Museum for another time as the kids wanted to take a swim in the hotel pool before we had to meet up for our sunset cruise on the Neuse River.
It took some work but we finally got the kids to agree to one more stop – to check out the New Bern KOA, located across the Neuse River from New Bern. What a great spot!
We got a pass from the front office to take a drive around to check out the campground. There is so much to do here! There was a pool, a mini-golf course, jump pad, and a catch-and-release pond.
The really cool things about New Bern KOA were the 100-foot pier, porch swings, fishing opportunities (need a valid NC fishing license to fish off the pier), and fun rentals including: kayaks, paddleboats, dinghies, and pedal bikes. We will be back to stay here on our next visit to North Carolina!
Tip: Don’t have an RV? New Bern KOA offers camping cabins (without bathrooms) and deluxe cabins with bathrooms in difference sizes to accommodate parties up to 6 people.
After the kids got their swim in the hotel pool, we made the 5-minute walk to the Adventureship Bolero for our Sunset Sail. Captain Paul greeted us warmly and started with a quick safety speech for the kids. The clouds had gathered and looked a bit ominous. Captain Paul kept a close watch on radar and after a quick shower, the sky cleared overhead. It was time to set sail!
Captain Paul was so good with the Drake and Mia. He quizzed them on sailing terms (we had a sail boat so they knew some of them), allowed them to help put up the sails and gave them a captains hat to wear while steering the vessel. He also gave the history of the area in a way they could understand including topics such as pirates, storms and shipwrecks. Drake and Mia were mesmerized! He even put on some music for us. “Gilligan’s Island” theme song anyone?
With the storm still in the area, we did hear some thunder and were also lucky to see a beautiful rainbow. Even though it was a little soggy, we moved out to enjoy the benches under the sails. Nothing like feeling the wind in your hair and hear the quiet lapping of water against the bow. And the sunset didn’t disappoint either. What a glorious sight! Thanks to Captain Paul for a great experience on the Neuse River.
The next morning we left for home. It was definitely a quick visit but what we learned is that this area is a treasure trove of “to-do’s” and “to-see’s.” I see a camping trip up here in the future!
Do you have a favorite spot or activity in coastal North Carolina? Feel free to send me your recommendations as it is never too early to start planning!