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Summer getaways in the Carolinas
Throughout N.C. and S.C. — there’s plenty to keep you busy for the summer

by Anthony Cash
Looking to get out of town for a few days or maybe just a quick weekend jaunt? The Carolinas are packed with plenty of travel destinations that offer a plethora of entertaining opportunities.

In North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains there’s Asheville, a mountain town that in recent years has become immensely attractive to gays and lesbians, hip and creative young people and hip and creative retirees. Asheville has been listed in Rolling Stone and Modern Maturity as an ideal place to live or visit. A recent story in The Advocate confirmed that Asheville has the largest gay population per capita in the entire country.

The art scene is especially active and Asheville has become a mecca for potters, painters and musicians. It’s home to one of the largest and most ornate homes in the country — the Biltmore House. Other attractions include the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, the North Carolina Arboretum, Pack Square, Blue Ridge Parkway and the Asheville Urban Trail.

In the central Piedmont region of North Carolina, Charlotte is the largest city between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Ga. With a metro population of more than 1.5 million, the city is one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in the United States, with an average influx of around 20,000 newcomers into the region each year over the past decade.

There’s plenty of fun to be had — some of the popular tourist attractions include the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Carolina Aviation Museum, Carolina Raptor Center, Charlotte History Museum, Discovery Place, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Latta Plantation, Rosedale Plantation, Levine Museum, Mint Museum and Carowinds. In recent years, Charlotte’s center city business and residential district has grown in leaps and bounds and has become a destination in itself for locals and tourists for its many nightclubs and upscale eateries. If you’re there, don’t miss the chance to ride the restored trolley system, which runs from the inner city to Southend.

The gay and lesbian community here is active and busy. There are multiple nightclubs and gay owned businesses, a gay and lesbian community center and an annual Pride festival. For the past two years the city has served as home to the annual Human Rights Campaign Carolinas Dinner. It will continue there next year, as well.

The Research Triangle area boasts Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill — three distinctly different towns all within close proximity to each other.

Raleigh was founded in 1792 as North Carolina’s capital city. It was named for Sir Walter Raleigh, who attempted to establish the first English colony on the shores of the new world in the 1580s. The city’s founding fathers called Raleigh the “City of Oaks,” and dedicated themselves to maintaining the area’s wooded tracts and grassy parks.
Some of the attractions you might want to take in include: The grand Victorian North Carolina Executive Mansion. Built in 1891 from native North Carolina materials, it has been cited as one of America’s few splendid examples of Queen Anne cottage-style architecture. The house has 30 rooms, including six bedrooms and 12 bathrooms.

One of Raleigh’s oldest parks, Pullen Park offers recreational opportunities for all ages. Highlights include the Andy & Opie Statue, a 1911 Gustave A. Dentzel Menagerie Carousel, train ride, paddle boats, playground and picnic shelters.

If they’re performing while you’re in town, don’t miss The North Carolina Symphony. This internationally respected symphony orchestra performs approximately 185 concerts a year. Raleigh is also home of the N.C. State Fair, North Carolina’s largest event (this year it takes place Oct. 13-22).

Steeped in history including three State Historic Sites (more than any other place in N.C.), four National Historic Landmarks and 54 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, Durham boasts some of the best architecture in the country: the art deco of Downtown, neo-Romanesque tobacco warehouses, gothic Duke West Campus, Georgian Duke East Campus, the futuristic designs in Research Triangle Park and the funkiness of the Ninth Street Shopping District (a largely gay area). Durham is home to 100 working visual artists, scores of studios and galleries, two major art museums with unique collections, 13 performing arts venues, some of the region’s most successful, indigenous performing groups, countless murals and pieces of outdoor art and sculpture as well as funereal art, more than 20 major festivals and events including 11 signature events with national or regional recognition, and scads of nightclubs and venues offering live entertainment.

Though decidedly smaller, Chapel Hill boasts an undeniable charm that attracts many individuals to the area. A college town with a population of 50,000, Chapel Hill offers a quality of life that includes small town friendliness mixed with liberal sensibilities. The town boasts beautiful neighborhoods, a healthy downtown, a beautiful natural setting with trees and multiple green spaces. While you’re visiting don’t forget to take in the Coker Arboretum and the North Carolina Botanical Garden. No trip to Chapel Hill would be complete without a trip to Franklin Street in the heart of Chapel Hill. It features eclectic boutiques, antique shops and fantastic restaurants.

The LGBT community here is thriving and vibrant — the area is home to the NC Equality Project and Chapel Hill boasts openly gay town councilmember Mark Kleinschmidt. Of course, there are several area clubs and restaurants popular with the LGBT community — take a look at www.outtriangle.com before you visit.

North Carolina’s Triad region is the location of Greensboro, a city of more than 230,000 that boasts a remarkably entertaining center city district chock full of funky and upscale clubs and eateries.

The town is home to several universities and colleges, among them The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T), Guilford College, Bennett College and Greensboro College.

Fun touristy sites include the Bog Garden, the Greensboro Arboretum and the Blandwood Mansion and Gardens. It’s not surprising in a progressive college town you’d find one of the nation’s oldest gay student organizations.

Established in 1974, UNCG Pride is one of the oldest, most continuously active LGBT student organizations in the nation The organization continues its strong tradition today of providing a safe and welcoming social atmosphere for students of all sexual orientations.

Alternative Resources of the Triad, in conjunction with the openly gay owners of the vintage Biltmore Hotel hold a gay movie night at Warehouse 29, a local gay club. If you’re in town, be sure to check it out.

Settled on the Cape Fear River, Wilmington residents have the advantage of life nestled between a river and the ocean.

The city offers its historic downtown as a main tourist attraction and business center and is minutes away from nearby beaches. It is also home to the WWII Battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55). Now a war memorial, the ship is open to public tours and is on display across from the downtown port area. The town is home to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the Wilmington Hammerheads USL soccer team, the Cape Fear Soccer Youth Soccer Association and the Cape Fear Museum. The city has become a major center of American film and television production; motion pictures such as “The Crow” and “Blue Velvet” as well as television shows such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” have been produced there.

Additional tourist attractions include the Bellamy Mansion and Airlie Gardens.
Like Chapel Hill, this town has an active gay community that supports many gay owned attractions and businesses. Wilmington, however, boasts its own LGBT Community Center. Out Wilmington just celebrated their first annual Pride and the center just celebrated their first anniversary (see page 15).

Historic Charleston, South Carolina is probably the most popular tourist destination in the two-state area. The town was founded as Charlestown or Charles Towne, when South Carolina and North Carolina were known as Carolina in 1670. Up until 1800, Charleston was the fifth largest city in North America, behind Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, and Quebec City. It adopted its present name in 1783.

As an old colonial city, Charleston has a wide variety of museums and historical attractions. The Old Exchange and Customs House in downtown Charleston, finished in 1771, is perhaps the third most important Colonial building in the nation (behind Faneuil Hall in Boston, Massachusetts and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). The building features a dungeon, which held various signers of the Declaration of Independence, and also hosted events for George Washington in 1791, and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. There are also several former plantations in the area, including Boone Hall Plantation, Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Place.

Other fun spots to visit include the South Carolina Aquarium, the Audubon Swamp Garden, Cypress Gardens and Charles Towne Landing.

Inarguably the three most desirable features of the city are the plethora of colonial-era architecture, it’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its bountiful supply of fine dining experiences.

It’s the home of the LGBT political action group AFFA (Alliance For Full Acceptance) and boasts numerous gay owned bed and breakfasts, as well as several restaurants and nightclubs.

Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, has an estimated metro population of 689,878. Located in the state’s Midlands region, the town was founded in 1786 as the site of the state’s new capital city. One of the first planned cities in the United States, the area is often cited for its high quality of life offerings, with its many cultural amenities, parks, and recreational features. At the confluence of two major rivers, Columbia is one of the best destinations in the country for kayak and canoe enthusiasts. It is also known for its large number of independent theater groups. The city was recently named as one of 30 communities from across the nation chosen as “America’s Most Livable Communities.”

Columbia boasts a happening historic downtown entertainment district, museums, an internationally acclaimed zoo, galleries and Lake Murray, a magnet for water sports fun. It’s also home to The South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement’s Harriet Hancock Center, an LGBT resources facility.

Greenville, located in South Carolina’s Upstate region, features an award-winning revitalized downtown with a spectacular 20-acre park.

The artistic and cultural epicenter for Upstate South Carolina, the city features traditional symphony and ballet organizations, as well as cutting-edge theatre, visual artists and film societies.

Much of the local arts activity is centered on the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. This $42 million center features a 2,000-seat concert hall and a more intimate 400-seat theatre.

With a blending of historic homes and modern office towers, Greenville has often been described as where “Old South” meets “New South.”

Additional points of interest include Falls Park on the Reedy, a large regional park with beautiful gardens. It’s also home of the Liberty Bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge.
The Greenville County Museum of Art mainains a highly acclaimed Southern Collection of art that dates back to the 1700s.

Resources for the LGBT community here seem somewhat limited, though there are a handful of organizations, among them, AFFIRM, a gay youth organization and a PFLAG chapter. At the current time, the city has two clubs frequented by mostly gay men and a third that is popular with lesbians. According to a few local insiders, Greenville proper is an excellent choice for a weekend getaway.

South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach has long been a popular destination for sun worshippers and graduating high school students. Located in a region known as the Grand Strand, that stretches from Georgetown, S.C. to Little River, S.C. The largest community of its kind in the area, Myrtle Beach is a major tourist destination known for its wide beaches, large selection of challenging golf links, excellent seafood restaurants and outlet-style shopping activities. For this reason, the Myrtle Beach area attracts over 14 million visitors a year.

In recent years it’s become a destination for the gay community as well, as the local LGBT community has grown in leaps and bounds in the area. June 1 saw the opening of an LGBT community center located at 307 Highway 15 in downtown Myrtle Beach (near the intersection of Third Ave. South and Broadway).

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