Sunday, August 26, 2018

Visiting Southeastern North Carolina

In mid-July, we snuck away for a little family vacation to Raleigh, North Carolina. We were looking for a place with cheap flights from KC, beach access, and the ability to see several cities within short drives. Raleigh was perfect! Located in the mideastern part of North Carolina, Raleigh isn't far from popular destinations like the Outer Banks and Myrtle Beach, and it's super close to Durham and Chapel Hill! Here's a recap of our trip, and some great reasons to visit the Raleigh area.

Visiting Southeastern North Carolina: Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington

The Jacksonville, NC Area

Since we're big fans of thrifty travel, we planned this trip around the fact that Eli could still fly free. We had flight points and hotel points to use, so we looked into IHG hotels in the area where we could use those points while still having a little diversity in the places we were seeing. We flew into Raleigh, rented a car, and then drove to Jacksonville, NC. This area has a really large military presence, and was mainly our access point to the beach, as it's only 45 minutes from the ocean. While in Jacksonville, we enjoyed Aruzzo's Pizza and Mi Cabana Mexican Restaurant. We bought Eli a little dollar store pail and shovel, and he was in heaven! 

On our first full day, we headed to Topsail Beach, which is known to be a great place for sea turtles. It was a little overcast, but the water was actually pretty warm. We also hit Surf City, which lived up to its name with incredible waves so intense that Aaron couldn't really use his snorkel. Eli could've dug in the sand all day.

The next day, we drove a little further east to check out Atlantic Beach and the Emerald Isle. Eli ended up falling asleep in the car, so we kept driving all the way to historic Beaufort, where we visited the free North Carolina Maritime Museum. We had a tiny rental car, so Eli's umbrella stroller was just perfect. Traveling with him at about 16 months old meant we had less "stuff" to bring with us, which was kind of nice. But he was more difficult on the airplane than back when he just slept the entire time. Still, he was pretty golden almost the entire trip!

Wrightsville Beach

One of my very favorites parts of the trip was our time spent in Wrightsville Beach. We had a free IHG night to redeem, so we stayed for free at the beautiful Holiday Inn Resort, which was right on the beach! The resort had a "happy hour" with free cookies and milk, as well as a couple of restaurants, a bar, pools, and a hot tub all right on the grounds. And you could walk right down to the ocean! They had a shuttle that took you within five miles, so we rode that to a fantastic dinner at Tower 7 Baja Grill, and then we just called them to come pick us up when we were done! I also enjoyed a little shopping at a downtown store called Wings- right across the street.

We had a perfect sunny day that day, and I ended up getting to have beach and pool time, while also going on a run on the beach while Eli napped in the hotel room with Aaron. Side note- Pack and Play naps in the bathroom for the win!! They made it possible for us to actually watch TV, play games, and talk while Eli was napping- almost like a separate room so that he could get the mid-day sleep he needed in order to be ready for the rest of the night. He does one 3 hour afternoon nap, so we'd go adventure in the morning, come back for his nap (when I'd typically go work out), and then we'd adventure again before coming back for bedtime! Anyways, I'd definitely come back to Wrightsville Beach! There is more of a suburban city presence, but then the beach is right there within a 10 minute drive.


The next day we headed to Wilmington, which is a port city right on the Cape Fear River. It has a really cool downtown with fun restaurants and shops, and is just the right mix of historical yet suburban. It rained our first evening, but we came back the next day and took a trolley tour around the city, which was really fun and reasonably priced.

Because it had been so rainy, we spent part of our time at the Independence Mall, but we also enjoyed an incredible meal at Casey's Buffet! We'd definitely go back. Another highlight was eating dinner at Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn. I got my nails done here, and I'll forever be a fan of dipping powder, because they lasted a month! We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, which was newly remodeled and really nice.


From Wilmington, we started to make our way back North towards Raleigh. We had a free cheap point night to stay in Wallace, NC. There wasn't a lot in the area, but we did make a quick stop at the world's largest frying pan! We also enjoyed dinner at Mad Boar, which was right next to our hotel. If you're a fan of sweet wine, Duplin Winery is nearby and has cheap tasting and lots of events!

Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

From Wallace, we headed north to Raleigh. Our favorite thing in Raleigh were all of the free museums that were really well done! We took Eli to a storytime at the Museum of Natural Science, where he also got to "pet" a cockroach, bunny, and lizard. We also had a lot of fun riding the train at Pullen Park, which had free admission, awesome playgrounds, and really reasonable attractions. We also enjoyed visiting the State Farmer's Market and sampling fresh produce.

Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill form what's called the research triangle, or simply "the triangle". You can get to any of them fairly easily, and they all have big colleges present: NC State, Duke, and North Carolina, respectively. We visited Duke University's campus in Durham and saw the beautiful and famous chapel. We also walked around their gardens, which were free to visit.

My favorite of the three triangle cities was Chapel Hill. It had a really cute downtown area within walking distance of campus, as well as lots of shops and restaurants. It definitely had that college town feel. We enjoyed visiting The Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery for our last dinner. We also liked walking around the North Carolina campus and seeing one of their gardens. If we went back, we'd probably visit their planetarium. We did make a quick visit the the free College Basketball Museum, which had a cool Michael Jordan exhibit.

All in all, it was an amazing trip with just the right mix of beach, history, food, and college town fun. Eli did great overall and we were able to do a lot during our week away, while still building in time for afternoon downtown (and a nap for E). I'm not sure if we'll be flying with Eli as much once we have to pay for him to fly, so it was a perfect trip to an area where we probably wouldn't have driven. We loved our visit to the area and the trip couldn't have gone better. Have any questions? Let me know! 



  1. This whole post makes me so somesick! We're from Maine, but Zack was stationed in Jacksonville, NC for 5 years. I married him 3 years in so that's where we eloped and started our life together. We miss the area soooo much! And kind of a funny coincidendce, my family actually almost moved to Wilmington back when I was in high school (we ended up moving to Florida instead) and it was that same Courtyard by Marriott that my dad had gotten a job offer from!! He was almost the General Manager there. I'd love to see what it looks like with their remodel! It wasn't a bad hotel before, but it definitely needed some updating at the time (this was back in like 2009 or something so I'm glad they got that remodel haha). We're hoping to move back to that area once Zack is out of the military and I have my fingers crossed on being in Wilmington over Jacksonville, but we'll see :) so glad you had such a great time!!

    1. I love this so much, Keating!! I bet you loved living there. And oh my goodness, smallll world!! It was a really pretty hotel- I'd definitely stay there again. I'd love Wilmington!!

    2. Such a fun story, Keating! I knew you lived in Jacksonville for a while!

  2. Okay, this is officially on my to-do list! Great pictures!

    1. Thanks so much, Lacy! It was such a fun trip- you'll love it!

  3. Like Keating, this post makes me homesick. We JUST moved to GA, but otherwise I have lived my entire life in NC. Up until college, I lived in Ocean Isle Beach, NC, which is an hour South of Wilmington. My brother was born in Wilmington, and I played basketball against Michael Jordan's high school team in my junior and senior year of high school. NC is just the best :)

  4. My hubby used to live in this area! I cannot wait to go back!

  5. North Carolina is one of my favorite states. It looks like you guys had a wonderful time!

    1. It was really fun, and truly exceeded my expectations.

  6. I have tons of cousins in that area so I'll need to visit there ASAP!


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