March 2009 Issue
A Place in the Sun
Get away to Virginia Beach and the Carolinas.
After a long winter inside, it’s time to get away. Whether you’re looking to flee to the hills or splash around in the surf, a quick escape to Virginia and the Carolinas is sure to cure your wintertime blahs.
These three Atlantic coast states are blessed with some of Mother Nature’s best work. Virginia Beach offers miles of sandy shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. The panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are breathtaking in Asheville, North Carolina, and the magnificent moonlit skies are magnified on warm coastal nights on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, thanks to the mandated absence of streetlights.
Of course, a visit to Virginia and the Carolinas also puts you in the footsteps of the nation’s founding fathers at just about every turn. Historical sites abound, and cities such as Charleston, South Carolina, still exude Colonial charm.
So pack your swim gear, hiking boots and camera. It’s time to kiss those frigid temperatures goodbye with a retreat to Virginia and the Carolinas.
On the Boardwalk
As soon as you arrive at Virginia Beach, lace up your walking shoes and hit the city’s signature boardwalk. The oceanfront walkway, which recently underwent a $103 million makeover, stretches for three miles and serves as the access point for entertainment, eats and, of course, the beach.
No one would blame you for going straight to the sand. Virginia Beach is a family-friendly area with plenty of room to stretch out and catch some rays. The waves typically roll in gently here, making it a nice place to introduce kids to the sea.
As you continue your boardwalk stroll, you just might hear the happy screams of children — and some exuberant adults — as you approach the Virginia Beach Amusement Park. If you’re up for some thrills, stop in for an old-fashioned carnival experience. The main attraction is the 165-foot “Skyscraper,” which spins and shoots you into the air at speeds of up to 65 mph. Or, keep both feet on the ground, show off your ring-tossing skills and win a souvenir for your sweetie.
Cap off your boardwalk binge with a stop at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. As you explore the center’s 700,000 gallons of aquariums, you’ll come face-to-face with sea turtles, sharks and other underwater organisms. You also can get a “feel” for some of the ocean’s occupants, such as stingrays and crabs, by visiting the aquarium’s hands-on touch pools.
To see some of those creatures in their natural habitat, a trip to the nearby Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is in order. There, you can explore the untamed coastal park on water via a guided kayak tour or on land aboard the “Blue Goose Express” tram.
If you’re a history enthusiast, include a stop at the Fort Story military base on your itinerary. There, you’ll find the old Cape Henry Lighthouse, which was built in 1791 and remains open to visitors today. The stone structure stands near First Landing State Park, where Capt. John Smith arrived in 1607 with the Virginia Company, the first group of permanent British settlers in America.
In the Hills
Searching for some earthy inspiration? Asheville, North Carolina, is the place to go. Surrounded by stunning mountain vistas and awash in the arts, this Appalachian retreat will revitalize and renew your creative spirit.
For art lovers and nostalgia buffs, the Woolworth Walk is a must see. Housed in an old F.W. Woolworth store in Asheville’s historic district, the Woolworth Walk is home to the city’s largest art gallery. Inside, you’ll find a wide array of creations — from photographs and paintings to clothing and jewelry. The Soda Fountain at Woolworth Walk pays tribute to the famed stool-lined diners from the five-and-dime store’s glory days. The renovated restaurant even features phosphates and egg creams on its menu.
After you slurp down your treat of choice, head to Chimney Rock Park to burn off the extra calories. This is where hiking boots come in handy. A three-quarter-mile jaunt puts you at the base of Hickory Nut Falls, where you’ll look up and see water cascading down a 404-foot rock wall. The half-mile Four Seasons Trail offers a hearty workout and rewards you at the end with a perch atop the mountain. As its name suggests, the park’s signature Chimney Rock rises above the trees to provide stunning views of the scenery 75 miles out in all directions. Huff and puff your way up the stairs or just step inside the elevator for a smooth ride to get to the top.
When you’re on the top of the rock, you just might see a golf course or two. Asheville is home to some great golf spots and, in fact, will get the first-ever course designed by Tiger Woods. While you’re waiting for Tiger’s creation to take shape, check out the Donald Ross-designed course at the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa. Nestled in the hills, the Grove Park course is set up for precision over power, so leave that monster driver in the bag. While your scorecard may get ugly, the beauty all around won’t disappoint you.
Of course, Asheville’s greatest claim to fame is the Biltmore, which is billed as America’s largest home. The sprawling 250-room chateau sits on an 8,000-acre estate, which you can tour the old-school way — by horseback and carriage — or in 2009 style aboard a motorized Segway. Want to stay there? You can book a room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate and enjoy a classic resort experience.
The Biltmore is not the only well-known dwelling in Asheville. The city also boasts the Old Kentucky Home boarding house, which was made famous by legendary American author and Asheville native Thomas Wolfe. You can tour the Victorian home, which now serves as a memorial to the author.
The moment you arrive in Charleston, South Carolina, you notice the formality — young ladies dressed in skirts for a night on the town alongside uniform-clad cadets from The Citadel strolling the sidewalks.
Beyond that instant charm, three things really stand out about Charleston: architecture, history and food. And the best way to get a foothold on all three is by taking a carriage tour soon after you arrive. The insight you receive from a good guide is well worth the cost of the tour.
There’s Rainbow Row, the colorful and grand 19th-century Georgian townhomes that line the waterfront, and the Powder Magazine, the oldest public building in South Carolina, an unassuming structure built in 1713 to store the city’s munitions. There’s also the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist — an awe-inspiring structure that stands out even among the many steeples of the City of Churches. Every building has a story.
Charleston’s centerpiece is the Old City Market, a sprawling open-air structure where the locals used to shop for produce and seafood. These days, the market is filled with vendors selling jewelry, paintings and all sorts of wares.
You’ll work up an appetite after all of this sightseeing. Fortunately, there are plenty of dining options in Charleston.
One local favorite is Jestine’s Kitchen, a small room that fills up fast with folks looking for a home-cooked Southern meal. To get in, just stand in line outside and move forward one by one until you reach the front. Inside, you face some tasty choices — feel like fried chicken, shrimp and grits, maybe some cornbread? Order a Coke and you’ll get it in one of those tiny bottles, chilled to perfection.
Of course, there are plenty of choices for fresh seafood in this coastal town. And, for a truly unique experience, traverse the cable-stayed Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from Charleston to Mount Pleasant. After a short trip through a residential neighborhood along Shem Creek, you’ll arrive at a run-down shack that looks like it should be condemned. But don’t worry — this is the Wreck of the Richard & Charlene, a rustic place with a simple menu consisting mainly of shrimp, crab and scallop dishes. The food is so good, you won’t mind eating it off the paper plates they provide. It’s cash only; no plastic at the Wreck, except your knife and fork.
After dinner, cap the night off with a drink or two at the Pavilion Bar. Perched atop the roof of the Market Pavilion Hotel, this relaxation haven offers lounge chairs, warm breezes and spectacular views of the lights and sites below.
From Charleston, you can make your way to Hilton Head Island — and resort life at its best — in about two and half hours. Here, the sun almost always shines and the average daytime temperature is 70 degrees.
While only 42 square miles in size, Hilton Head seems to offer something to do on every square inch. That includes 12 miles of publicly accessible beaches and 24 beautiful golf courses.
As for golf, Hilton Head attracts the best in the game every April for the Verizon Heritage PGA Tour Tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links in the Sea Pines Resort. The annual tournament will mark its 40th anniversary this year when it tees off April 13.
If you’re looking to work on your own game, the instructors at The Golf Academy at Sea Pines claim they can improve your swing while you vacation. The academy offers one-, two- and three-day schools to help you shave some strokes off your handicap.
If you get frustrated chasing around the little white ball, relax by booking a cruise. There are nine public marinas, where a variety of vessels offer tours on the waters surrounding the island. Be sure to pack your camera to capture bottlenose dolphins swimming alongside the boat.
If you feel like ending the day with a party, head to the Shelter Cover HarbourFest. Every night from April through August, you’ll find entertainment, food and other family fun at this spot in the Palmetto Dunes Resort. And every Tuesday from June 3 to Aug. 26, fireworks will light the sky at dusk.
If you want everyone to see how much fun you’re having on vacation, head to the Salty Dog Café. This Hilton Head landmark features a spot on its party deck where you can stand and wave to your friends at work via Webcam. As you bask in the sun’s rays, be sure to lift up your drink to make them extra jealous.
For More Information
To plan your southern getaway, visit the following Web sites.
Virginia Beach: www.vbfun.com
Asheville, North Carolina: www.exploreasheville.com
Charleston, South Carolina: www.charlestoncvb.com
Hilton Head, South Carolina: www.hiltonheadisland.org