Unusual Attractions in the Carolinas


Published:

The best part of a family road trip may not be the destination. As you pack for the annual beach vacation or mountain retreat, plan to make the most of your time
together by visiting some of the funky,family-friendly roadside attractions that line the byways of North and South Carolina. From giant furniture and retro theme parks to out-of-the-way state parks and homemade ice cream shops, the Carolinas have some of the most unique attractions around.

Vollis Simpson's Whirligigs
Corner of Barnes and Douglas streets, Wilson
919-920-5280
wilsonwhirligigpark.org (The photo of whirlgigs above is courtesy VisitNC.com)

Once a machinery repairman, Vollis Simpson has spent the past 30 years as a self-taught folk artist. His "whirligigs" — massive mechanical windmills — have been a popular roadside attraction in Wilson County, 45 minutes east of Raleigh, for decades. 

Simpson's welded and painted constructions are monumental in scale, and many of his works have been exhibited in museums, including the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. More than 30 of the pieces have spent the past two decades in a field on Simpson's rural farm.

Now the giant mechanical windmills will undergo extensive conservation. When finished, the brightly painted works will be the centerpieces of a new 2-acre public sculpture garden. Until the Wilson Whirligig Park opens in November, travelers can see many of the restored devices outside the conservation headquarters at the corner of Barnes and Douglas streets. Others are on street corners around Wilson. Tours of the warehouse may be scheduled on weekdays during business hours by calling Danny Price with the Whirligig Park Project.

Wheels Through Timewheelsthroughtime2.jpg
62 Vintage Lane, Maggie Valley
828-926-6266 • wheelsthroughtime.com

Wheels Through Time, nestled in the Smoky Mountains near Cherokee, is no dusty history museum. Its collection of rare antique American vintage motorcycles and memorabilia brings visitors' imaginations roaring to life, while also working to preserve the two-wheeled vehicles' history.

Founded by Dale Walksler in 1993, Wheels Through Time houses more than 300 of the country's most unique, historic motorcycles. They are displayed in the 38,000- square-foot facility along with thousands of pictures and artifacts — including vintage tires, fenders, wheel rims and other spare parts. (Photo at right of rare and historic motorcycles  displayed at Wheels Through Time courtesy Wheels through Time)

The museum features more than 24 motorcycle brands, such as Harley-Davidson, Indian and Crocker, along with other vehicles powered by motorcycle engines. Some are one-of-a-kind machines with unique stories — including an ice sled that transported alcohol during Prohibition and a motorized mine car.

All of the motorcycles have been restored to running condition, and Walkser and his son, Matt, often demonstrate their power for visitors. A few lucky guests have been known to catch a ride in a sidecar as Walksler explores the winding mountain roads around Maggie Valley.

South of the Border
3346 Hwy. 301 North, Dillon, S.C.
thesouthoftheborder.com

Part theme park, part motor lodge and wholly unique, South of the Border is a larger-than-life roadside landmark that has been welcoming travelers to South Carolina since 1949, when businessman Alan Shafer built a small beer stand on the side of U.S. Hwy. 301.

Sixty years later, the 300-acre complex features a motel, restaurants, carnival rides, mini golf courses and more. It's capped by the 200-foot-high Sombrero Observation Tower, where travelers can overlook the grounds and the surrounding Pee Dee swampland.

It's hard to miss the retro wonderland near the North and South Carolina border, with about 175 billboards heralding its grandeur on highways from Virginia to Georgia. Prominently featured on each sign is Pedro, South of the Border's sombrero-clad mascot. Visitors can drive through the legs of a 97-foot-tall Pedro on their way to the Border's main restaurant and gift shop.

Despite its throwback appearance, South of the Border recently underwent major renovations to most of its attractions, including the 300-room motor inn. Its most recent additions are a reptile lagoon and a motocross training facility.

World's Largest Chest of Drawerschest-of-drawers.jpg
508 North Hamilton St., High Point (Pictured at right, Photo courtesy Bill Russ, VisitNC.com)

World's Largest Chair
N.C. Hwy. 109 and Main Street, Thomasville

In the region known as the "Home Furnishings Capital of the World," travelers can also find some of the biggest furniture around. Downtown High Point boasts the record-holding World's Largest Chest of Drawers, and nearby Thomasville features the World's Largest Chair — both built to celebrate the cities' furniture-making heritage.

As tempting as it may be, Thomasville's 10.5-foot-wide Duncan Phyfe armchair isn't meant for relaxing during a road-trip rest stop. The concrete structure is 30 feet high, and the striped "upholstery" is actually brightly painted cement. For those who need a rest, there are benches nearby in the quaint town square with a view of the giant chair.

Just a few miles away, High Point's huge bureau has been a local landmark since 1926. It was remodeled in 1996, transforming the building's façade into a 38-foot- tall Goddard-Townsend dresser. One drawer features a pair of dangling socks, representing the city's hosiery industry.

Katie Parsley is a freelance writer and mom of two daughters who lives in Statesville.

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Calendar

August 2019

For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

August 16th is National Tell a Joke Day. Come to the Finley Center anytime during the day to share some jokes with the park community. A large board will be set up in the Exhibit Hall where...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

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Enjoy live music, kid activities, a taco eating contest and The Best Taco contest.

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

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Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See the Game Grumps play games, make jokes and more in this stage show. Purchase tickets online. 

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

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Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11-17 learn how to make foods inspired by Asia. Register online. Choose course #124729.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

More information

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Enjoy storytime with Amy Godfrey. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Locopops Dessert Cafe
2618 Hillsborough St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Dragonflies love to eat flying bugs, especially mosquitoes and gnats!  Discover the different parts of a dragonfly's body through a colorful craft, learn about its life cycle, and play fun...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Join us at Harris Lake County Park as we explore the wonders of water through educational activities and some for just plain fun! We will dip for critters in our pond to discover what lives...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Come to Learning Express Falls Pointe for an instructive class on how to make your very own Do-A-Dot Art creation.

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
Website »

More information

Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
Website »

More information

Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Bring your own poles or borrow one of ours through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are provided. All...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

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Take the fast track to nature in this hands-on study of ecology. Ages 8-12. Register online. Choose course #124972.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Design a T-shirt. Materials provided. Grades 3-5. Register at the library or call 919-245-2539.

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W. Margaret Ln.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

We are so excited for our next Durham Night Market at Pine & Poplar at The Wine Feed. Over 40 local makers will be selling their handmade products. There will be food trucks, live music...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Wine Feed
307 S Roxboro St
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
Website »

More information

Film to be announced. *Actual time to be determined by sunset. Bring your lawn chairs, blankets, and picnics to enjoy a movie under the stars in our beautiful garden!

Cost: Free

Where:
GREGG MUSEUM OF ART & DESIGN
1903 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Sponsor: Gregg Museum of Art & Design
Telephone: 919-515-3503
Contact Name: Gregg Museum
Website »

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Personality Festival is a Roxboro tradition. Enjoy amusements rides along Main Street, food vendors, singers, dancers, craft and merchandise vendors, local businesses and more. Little Miss...

Cost: Free

Where:
Uptown Roxboro
211 N. Main St.
Roxboro, NC  27573
View map »


Sponsor: Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 336-599-8333
Contact Name: Melissa
Website »

More information

Bring your friends and family to Learning Express for a Family Game Night. There will be several games available to play including popular board games, card games, arcade games, and dice...

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
Website »

More information

Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. Choose course #124903.

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Take the family for a night of jigs, reels and anything Celtic. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Carrboro Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

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Shop for local handmade arts and crafts from local vendors. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Hundreds of artisans from across the Southeast, festival foods, demonstrations, a kids' play area and live music highlight the town's signature arts and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Town Hall Campus
316 N. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

The North Carolina Boys Choir and Girls Choir Half-Day Camp and Music Workshop is open to public (all children in our community between 7 and 14 years of age). Register online. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Binkley Baptist Church
1712 Willow Dr
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolina Boys Choir and Girls Choir
Telephone: 919-239-9083
Contact Name: Robert Unger
Website »

More information

Celebrate North Carolina farming culture and history at Duke Homestead. Don't miss the looping contest and Hornworm Race. This event features live music, local arts and crafts vendors, hands-on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate North Carolina farming culture and history at Duke Homestead. Don't miss the looping contest and Hornworm Race. This event features live music, local arts and crafts vendors, hands-on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Personality Festival is a Roxboro tradition. Enjoy amusements rides along Main Street, food vendors, singers, dancers, craft and merchandise vendors, local businesses and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Uptown Roxboro
211 N. Main St.
Roxboro, NC  27573
View map »


Sponsor: Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 336-599-8333
Contact Name: Melissa
Website »

More information

Play children's games from the past. No registration rquired. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family for treats, music, art and more. See a special exhibit showcasing the work of Artspace's talented young artists.

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace
201 E. Davie St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 2:30 & 3:00 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Come into Learning Express North Hills for a trading event. Socialize with others who collect Pokemon and/or LOL dolls and negotiate for rare cards.

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
Website »

More information

Children make treasured memories while increasing their knowledge of plants and animals. Ages 7-10. Register online. Choose course #124931.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Join Horne Memorial UMC & First Baptist Church of Clayton for an evening of Christian fellowship, inspirational music, free food and family fun. All proceeds benefit Clayton Area Ministries...

Cost: Free

Where:
Clayton Town Square
100 W. Main Street
Clayton, NC  27520
View map »


Sponsor: First Baptist Church of Clayton and Horne Memorial UMC of Clayton
Telephone: 919-218-4010
Contact Name: Melissa Dooley
Website »

More information

East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

More information

North Carolina State University celebrates the beginning of a new academic year with good, music and family-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC  27607


Website »

More information

Caribbean culture and cuisine showcase this 7th annual festival that features masqueraders, arts and craft vendors, live music and a kids corner. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
400 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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Annual Guides

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