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“Why are you going to Fayetteville? You’re not in the military.” This was the most common reaction I received when I headed to the home of the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg for a few days of exploring. Do all the things to do in Fayetteville revolve around the military? Apparently, everyone knows there’s nothing else to do in North Carolina’s sixth largest city.
Spoiler alert: everyone is wrong.
I ignored this well-meaning but wildly inaccurate advice like I always do whenever someone writes off an entire city, state, or country. And I’m so glad I did, because I teamed up with the awesome crew at the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and had a phenomenal time visiting and learning about “America’s Hometown.”
Note: I had the pleasure of being hosted by the Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau on this trip, but all opinions are, as usual, my own.
Here are 9 phenomenal things to do in Fayetteville, North Carolina, plus things to know before you go.
1. Sail through the trees and over waterfalls (yes, waterfalls in Fayetteville. I know, I was surprised, too!) on one of the top 10 ziplines in the United States. ZipQuest Waterfall & Treetop Zipline Adventure is 55 acres of unexpected delight. From the geological quirk of Carver’s Falls to the imaginative spiral staircases leading you to the tallest platforms, there is a surprise around every corner. Sailing through the loblolly pines and mountain laurel at 30 mph with sunlight and birdsong streaming past has got to be the most exhilarating adventure in town. Pro tip: If you’re feeling extra adventurous, ZipQuest offers after-hours night tours, so you can zip through the darkened tree canopy under the stars.
2. Scrub Oaks Restaurant. Right around the corner from ZipQuest and the perfect way to refuel after your adrenaline rush. One part sports bar, one part genteel Southern dining, Scrub Oaks seems like a complete paradox, but trust me- it works. The menu is as fresh and contemporary as the airy, sophisticated surroundings. I thought I was being conservative by ordering the cheese plate appetizer, but I could have fed half of Fayetteville with the amazing spread they brought me. You won’t leave here hungry! Pro tip: get the bourbon milkshake and thank me profusely later. You’re going to want to split this with like 17 people, FYI.
3. OK, yeah, you can’t really escape the military overtones here. There’s a lot of camouflage and star spangled everything in Fayetteville, so it’s fitting that the Airborne & Special Operations Museum was my first stop. I’m a shameless history nerd, so this was one of the highlights of my trip. As I wandered through the exhibits with my camera in hand, a hunched man with a cane and a pristine black “World War II Veteran” hat rounded the corner in front of me. His head was down and his red, swollen eyes were wet. There are a lot of unquiet old ghosts in this shiny glass and chrome building, and the solemn weight of the museum’s humanity will settle on your shoulders as soon as you step inside. Pro tip: Due to the nature of the subject matter, some of the exhibits are uncanny and unsettling, though not gratuitous. If you’re sensitive, you may want to plan on following your visit with some fresh air on one of the benches outside with a view of Iron Mike and Constant Vigilance. Despite the heavy subject matter, this museum was one of my favorite things to do in Fayetteville.Iron Mike, standing guard outside the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.
4. Have a meal at Sherefe, which may very well be the highlight of your whole trip. First things first: it’s pronounced “sherefay” and means “Cheers!” in Turkish. Owner Mustafa Somar and crew are passionate about healthy food; fresh, locally sourced produce; and being part of a thriving community. All of these passions will be supremely self-evident from your first bite. Pro tip: Come hungry or be prepared to cry when you can’t finish your meatballs.
5. Get out in nature at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden. It was the dead of winter when I visited and I honestly didn’t expect much. I assumed everything would be brown and dead, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was to see. A visit in the spring blooming season must be absolutely mesmerizing. Pro tip: This is more than just a pretty flower garden. The professionals here are changing lives with their therapeutic horticulture program for wounded or transitioning veterans, with the produce they grow being donated to a local food bank.
6. Take a stroll back through North Carolina history at the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex. The 7 acre complex is made up of three unique sites, and all are worth a visit: the museum galleries, the 1897 Poe House, and the ruins of the Fayetteville Arsenal, which was Sherman’s very first target during the Civil War. The whole complex is worth a visit, but if you love Victorian architecture as much as I do, you’re in for a huge treat at the Poe House. Pro tip: Tours of the Poe House are given at various times throughout the day; check the website for the latest.
7. Grab a drink at the Huske Hardware House Brewing Company. Fayetteville’s very first craft brewery, this stately structure was, as you might have guessed, a hardware store for nearly 70 years. (There’s probably a joke in there somewhere about getting hammered, but I’ll leave it there. Oops. Sorry.) But on a serious note, the British gastropub menu is on point and you can tell by the lively early-evening crowds that this is the most happening spot on Hay Street. Pro tip: You can’t go wrong with the pot roast or the bangers and mash.
8. See a show at the Cape Fear Regional Theater. I didn’t know quite what to expect before seeing Seussical at the CFRT. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. I kind of assumed it would be geared toward children and I would be bored to tears. However, we’ve already established that I’m an idiot. You guys, this show was absolutely breathtaking. I was mesmerized at the acrobatics and the whole over-the-top spectacle of the thing. We’re talking actual open-mouthed gaping here. Pro tip: Opt for a season ticket package for the best deal if you’re local. Or even if you’re not because I looked at the lineup of upcoming shows and I want to see every last one of them.
9. Check out the street art on a stroll through downtown. One of my very favorite things to do in Fayetteville turned out not to be on my itinerary at all. I arrived a little early for lunch and took a walk down Gillespie Street, and had a great time photographing some of the fun street art on display.
Things to know before you go:
- Plan your accommodations in advance, especially if you’re traveling around holidays, festivals, or graduations. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Ramada Plaza Fayetteville, which was super comfortable and convenient to downtown and all of the best things to do in Fayetteville.
- Your trip doesn’t have to break the bank, as there are tons of free things to do in Fayetteville and the surrounding area.
- The Fayetteville Convention & Visitors Bureau was the most helpful destination marketing organization I’ve *ever* worked with, so definitely don’t hesitate to reach out to them for help while planning your trip!
- The folks in Fayetteville take their Southern Hospitality seriously. Prepare to be charmed.
Did I miss any Fayetteville travel tips or hidden gems? Let me know in the comments and share the love!
Planning more North Carolina adventures? Check out this post on the Outer Banks!