This year over 16 million people are expected to fly in the United States for the Labor Day holiday weekend, and even more are expected to drive. Popular destinations like Charlotte, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina beckon weekend travelers with package deals and special rates, but they also come with the caveat of long lines and heavy traffic. But where could you book a last-minute trip that would keep you entertained, fed, and happy for the holiday weekend?
These smaller destinations are located in popular places for people to visit, but often overlooked for the flashier attractions. It’s easier to book a last-minute trip to one of these towns listed below, and certainly easier to get around once the weekend crowd arrives. Since you won’t be spending hours waiting in traffic jams or for an available table, you’ll have even more time to explore these places and discover what they have to offer you.
1. Beaufort, South Carolina
This small town an hour south of Charleston is a charming and exciting escape. A stroll down Bay Street will take you past local arts and crafts shops, fine art galleries, and great places to eat. If you’re up for a little drive you can explore some local history at Fort Fremont on Saint Helena Island, or take a drive down to Hilton Head Island one evening. Hunting Island State Park, the most popular park in the state, features miles of beautiful beaches and the only lighthouse in South Carolina you can still climb.
2. Southport, North Carolina
Southport is steeped in history and culture, today offering great places to eat, shop, and play. Grab a room at a local B&B for a special treat, but if they’re already booked you can find a room at a nearby hotel. Spend your days kayaking the Cape Fear River, climbing the Oak Island Lighthouse, or reading up on history at the North Carolina Maritime Museum. For a special treat take the ferry over to Bald Head Island and rent a golf cart for the day. When the sun goes down head out to one of the local eateries on the water for fresh local catch seafood and nightly entertainment.
3. Waxhaw, North Carolina
Just thirty miles outside Charlotte, this small town takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and returns you to the peace and quiet of a small country town. The downtown area is anchored by the local farmers market on Saturday mornings, but that is only where the fun begins. The Museum of the Waxhaws is a neat way to spend a few hours learning about local history before heading down South Main Street for places to eat and shop.
4. Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Located in Western North Carolina, Blowing Rock is an excellent way to explore the local section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Within an hour drive on the parkway visitors will find Linville Falls, the Lincove Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain, and Julian Price Memorial Park. But you don’t have to spend your entire weekend driving: head down to Main Street to find great local eateries and places to shop, or take a short drive out to the locally owned Blowing Rock attraction to learn how the town got its name.
5. Chincoteague Island, Virginia
Located along Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Chincoteague Island is a great escape for the holiday weekend. The island is full of great local eateries and a booming food truck scene (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it, that food was fantastic). Perhaps the largest draw to the island is the outdoor recreation opportunities on the water; go kayaking across Toms Cove, horseback riding inside Assateague Island National Seashore, rent a pontoon boat and discover The Sandbar, or rent a bicycle and ride around town. Speaking of the national seashore, Chincoteague Island is known world-wide for the wild ponies that roam the barrier island just minutes away, and you can frequently see the herds from the observation platforms and hiking trails around the seashore.
6. Abingdon, Virginia
Take a walk along the wide brick sidewalks through downtown and you’ll quickly see the draw of this small country town. The Barter Theatre is not only an historic performing arts venue, but also an active one with great performances throughout the year. Across the street is the historic Martha Washington Inn & Spa which could very well be a one-stop destination with large suites, on-site spa, indoor swimming pool and outdoor jacuzzis, and a restaurant and bar. You can rent bicycles and hop on the Virginia Creeper Trail, an old railroad converted to a hiking and biking trail, for beautiful scenery as it winds through the mountains, beside fields, and across rivers. When you finally realize you’re hungry, you won’t have to go far to find great food along Main Street that includes everything from southern BBQ to authentic German dishes.
7. Tri-Cities of Tennessee
The Tri-Cities region includes the cities of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City. You can’t go wrong staying in any one of these cities and exploring all the rest. State Street in Bristol straddles the Virginia and Tennessee border, giving you the chance to be in two places at once. Either side of the street will have lots of places to shop and eat, but be sure to visit the Burger Bar at least once. Downtown Kingsport has lots of local eateries and shops along the wide, comfortable sidewalks. Be sure to visit Bays Mountain to see the wildlife habitats to view wolves, deer, and otters up close, and then take the hour-long eco tour on the lake. Johnson City has a small, packed downtown area chocked full of great local eateries including everything from pizza to German food, steaks, and local country cooking.