One-Tank Getaways: Easy Road Trips to Take from Raleigh

For a change of pace, drive to a North Carolina wine region, a remote island or an artsy, historic Virginia town.
by Jason Frye

There’s nothing like a road trip. But when gas prices are high — or, let’s be honest, even if they’re not — it’s ideal to find a transporting experience that doesn’t involve too much… transportation. So we did the math: Here are three excellent getaways you can reach (there and back!) on one tank of gas or full charge of an electric vehicle. From a wine-filled mountain escape to an artsy urban oasis to a beach getaway, rev up and peel out to one of these areas. 

For a Wine-Filled Weekend: Yadkin Valley, North Carolina | 130 miles

Head west where the Yadkin Valley offers up a weekend of wine tasting that rivals anything you can find in Napa or Sonoma. The Yadkin Valley is North Carolina’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA) — a distinction given to regions ideal for growing wine grapes — and it’s packed with wineries to visit; between the Yadkin Valley and abutting Swan Creek AVA you’ll find dozens specializing in French and Italian varietals. Between tastings, head to the top of Pilot Mountain (by road or hiking path) for huge Piedmont views or experience the small-town charm of Mount Airy, Andy Griffith’s hometown and the inspiration for Mayberry.

Eat & Drink: Book an Estate Tasting ($55) at Dynamis Estate Wines ( to sip five current releases as your personal wine ambassador provides tasting notes. Alpha and The Mountain — two bold red blends — and the delicate Fumé Blanc are standouts. At JOLO Winery & Vineyards (, work your way through the Tasting Flight ($25) or Reserve Flight ($40) and try to decide if you prefer the Golden Hallows Reserve or the Carolus XII. Can’t decide? Discuss over dinner at End Posts Restaurant while you admire the view of vineyard vines and Pilot Mountain. 

Shelton Vineyards ( offers standard ($15), reserve ($38) and grand tastings ($50). Once you’ve decided between a bottle of the Petit Verdot and Estate Chardonnay (who are we kidding, get them both), head next door to Harvest Grill for a spectacular lunch or dinner (we’re fans of starting with the cornmeal-crusted oysters and finishing with the seasonal sonker, a regional dessert with a fruity base and cobbler-like topping). Finally, visit Raffaldini Vineyards ( where you’ll feel transported to Italy by both the wine and the views. Tastings ($30) inevitably lead to a bottle or two going home with you, and you can’t go wrong with the Vermentino Superiore, the Montepulciano Riserva or the rosy Girasole.

Stay: Pilot Knob Inn ( has a collection of cabins, cottages and suites in the heart of the Yadkin Valley. In Dobson, Hampton Inn and Suites at Shelton Vineyards offers up reliable rooms (and a shuttle to the vineyards) not far from the center of the wine action. Or opt for a VRBO or Airbnb near Mount Airy. The E.Q. Benbow House ( is walkable to downtown and has room for two couples.

For a Relaxing Waterside Excursion: Bald Head Island, North Carolina | 162 miles, plus a ferry ride

Bald Head Island is a sparsely inhabited (only around 220 call it home year-round) beach haven on the Atlantic coast. The pace is slow here, so it’s easy to unplug, relax and reconnect with nature by exploring the island’s winding roads, 10,000-acre maritime forest nature preserve and 14 miles of beaches (dog-friendly, with some precautions during sea turtle nesting season). The island is also totally car-free. Yes, you need a car to get there — it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Raleigh to Deep Point Marina in Southport, before you take a 20-minute ferry ride — but once you’ve arrived, the only way to get around is by golf cart. “The golf carts slow you down and give you the time to experience the island your way,” says Kathy Dzubak, a frequent Bald Head visitor and longtime resident of Southport.

“You can take it all in as you drive through the forest or along the beach, or you can get out for a closer look at the lighthouse or some wildlife nearby. On one drive, we saw alligator tracks in the sand and dozens of ibis roosting for the evening.” While you’re there, consider renting kayaks to explore the marsh creeks (Riverside Adventure Company rents kayaks;, climbing to the top of Old Baldy, the state’s oldest lighthouse (, or taking a bike ride across the island. 

Eat & Drink: In the harbor check out Jules’ Salty Grub & Island Pub ( for a seafood feast (including Low Country-style steam pots) and a taste of island nightlife. Pizza from Copper’s Wood-Fired Kitchen ( is excellent. Java from Midway Coffee ( is a must. You can shop for groceries on the island, but things can get a little pricey, so consider bringing some staples — knowing you can pick up anything else you need from the Maritime Market (

Stay: Rental options range from beachfront estates to marsh-side bungalows to the Marsh Harbour Inn, a chic collection of a dozen rooms and suites (, and The Inn on Bald Head Island, a cottage-like 10-suite hotel with views of Old Baldy ( You’ll also find getaway homes to rent from Bald Head Island Services ( and Tiffany’s Beach Properties ( where you’ll find pet-friendly, perfect-for-a-group or ideal-for-the-family stays across the island.

For an Artsy Good Time: Richmond, Virginia | 170 miles

Like Raleigh, Richmond has a complex history, beautiful architecture, greenway trails, museums galore and plenty of boutiques to visit — but with all the novelty of a new-to-you city. Richmond is also home to a vibrant community of artists, including painter and muralist Emily Baker and her glass-artist husband, Steven. “I draw inspiration from the James River and the natural landscapes surrounding Richmond,” Baker says. The blooms at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and the 52-mile Virginia Capital Trail, which connects Richmond to Jamestown, can give you a dose of that inspiring nature, as can a stroll or bike ride along the Riverfront Canal Walk.

Thanks to city initiatives, the Canal Walk is full of public art responding to the city’s history, and nearly 200 murals adorn the walls of downtown buildings. Baker recommends visiting the Richmond Arts District on a First Friday, where the gallery crawl and gathering of artists and musicians will give you a broad look at the artsy vibe. While you’re in town, stop by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for a look at historic and contemporary Richmond, or visit the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, where exhibitions tell the story of Black Virginians and their contributions.  

Eat & drink: Explore the tasty side of town with a food tour (focused on booze and bites, pizza and ice cream, or a particular neighborhood) from Discover Richmond ( If you’re into beer, there are loads of local breweries, including The Answer Brewpub, dog-friendly Triple Crossing and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (among others on the Richmond Beer Trail). Dine at Cobraburger (, the seafood-centric Alewife ( or Brenner Pass (, where Chef Brittanny Anderson shows off her Top Chef chops. 

Stay: Get a room at Graduate Richmond ( or Quirk Hotel Richmond ( to stick close to the youthful energy of Virginia Commonwealth University, where you’ll find a growing collection of coffee shops and restaurants that serve the students — and their parents. 

This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of WALTER magazine.