compiled by Lainey Millen and Maria Dominguez
Do you feel that every summer is all about beaches and hiking, and you want to see something new? This list may be for you. All across the Carolinas and in surrounding areas, weird and quirky places await to entertain, educate and enliven your imagination. From fun vintage venues and strange collections, to creepy tours and exotic or even mythological creatures, these destinations aren’t your average summer road trip.
Asheville Pinball Museum
1 Battle Square, Ste. 1B. Asheville, NC 28801
Monday, 1-6 p.m.
Wednesday-Friday, 2-9 p.m.
Saturday, 12-9 p.m.;
Sunday, 1-6 p.m.
Buy, sell and play arcade games at Asheville Pinball Museum. This venue has over 75 pinball and classic video games and a bar for those 21+. Private after-hours parties are available for adults only.
1157 Bristol Caverns Hwy., Bristol, TN 37620
March 15-Oct. 31.
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday, 12:30-5 p.m.
Nov. 1-March 14
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Sunday, 12:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Bristol Caverns is a winding, underground system of caves with stalagmites and stalactites lighted through a system of concealed, indirect lighting which highlights the natural colors and beauty of the formations. Tours take visitors to all three levels of the caverns which feature an underground river and other formations.
The Button Museum
53 Joe Dority Rd., Bishopville, SC 29010
Currently under transition due to the death of its owner in 2016
Dalton “Button King” Stevens spent over a decade affixing buttons to a host of objects, including clothing, an outhouse, a hearse, a Chevrolet Chevette, a guitar, a piano and two caskets, one of which he was buried in when he passed away. Admission is free, however, donations are accepted to help cover expenses.
Brown Mountain Lights
Brown Mountain, Pisgah National Forest in Western NC
This long, low ridge has been the site of mysterious floating lights appearing, witnessed repeatedly for 800 years or more. The earliest reports come from Catawba and Cherokee tribes and Civil War soldiers, but the modern U.S. government has investigated the phenomenon thrice in recent history. For a chance to catch this mysterious sight, visit Brown Mountain after dark.
Carolina Tiger Rescue
1940 Hanks Chapel Rd, Pittsboro, NC 27312
By reservation only
This sanctuary for big cats allows visitors guided educational experiences with some of the most graceful and deadly creatures in the world. The organization hosts many types of cats, and offers public and private tours and twilight tours for those 13+. Reservations must be made and tours will be supervised at all times.
Cryptozoology and Paranormal Museum
328 Mosby Ave, Littleton, NC 27850
Daily from 1-7 p.m.
Hours flexible with advance notice.
This personally-run museum documents testimony, mythology and evidence of the mysterious creatures and phenomenon to exist rumored, but not recognized by traditional science, such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and UFOs. In addition to the museum displays, the organization offers after-hours ghost tours.
606 S. Elm St., Greensboro, NC 27406
Thursday-Saturday, 1-10 p.m.
Elsewhere is a museum and artist residency set in a three-floor former thrift store housing one woman’s 58-year inventory. It is part residency, school, playground, meeting ground, theater, project space and laboratory for creative ideas.
Emerald Hollow Mine
484 Emerald Hollow Mine Dr., Hiddenite, NC 28636
The Emerald Hollow Mine is the only emerald mine in the world open to the public for prospecting. It is also host to more than 60 different types of naturally occurring gems and minerals, and one of the few places on earth where the rare gemstone hiddenite can be found. Visitors can participate in sluicing, creeking and digging.
Lazy 5 Ranch
15100 Mooresville Rd. Mooresville, NC 28115
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. until 1 hour before sunset
Sunday, 1 p.m. until 1 hour before sunset
Home to more than 750 animals from six continents, Lazy 5 presents the unique experience of a safari ride in the comfort of one’s own vehicle or in a reserved horse-pulled wagon. Operational since 1992, Lazy 5 has earned a reputation as one of the most humane and ethical handlers of exotic and endangered animals internationally.
Mary’s Gone Wild Folk Art and Doll Baby Museum
2431 Holden Beach Rd. SW, Supply, NC 28462
Monday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
This eclectic shop is stocked with artistic oddities including The Bottle House Gallery, which consists of nearly 8,000 bottles of every imaginable form available, and The Lighthouse Gallery, showcasing a myriad of imaginative art pieces.
Oyotunji African Village
56 Bryant Ln., Sheldon, SC 29941
Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-Dusk
Oyotunji African Village is North America’s oldest authentic African village and the first intentional community based on the culture of the Yoruba and Dahomey tribes of West Africa. Visitors can experience life in a traditional setting. It also has an annual festival, bazaar, spiritual services and more.
Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
2025 Independence Blvd., Wilmington, NC 28403
Sunrise to Sunset
The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden features a collection of carnivorous plants including Venus Fly Traps, a variety of pitcher plants and sundews and other insectivorous species occupying a microclimate space which permits year-round growth outdoors. The small garden area includes interpretive signage onsite to provide information about the garden. Plant hikes are available on Saturday mornings free.
4400 Cook Rd. Rockwell, NC 28138
Sunday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
This growing zoological park has been open to the public since 2008 and houses more than 54 species including 14 endangered animals. The venue offers general admission, guided tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and an evening Carnivore Feeding Safari Tour by appointment only.