In order to really experience a place with every ounce of your perception, it's important to let go of the concept that you're too good for something. You'll be amazed at what you discover. Take Cherokee, N.C. for example.
There's a big, fancy Harrah's in Cherokee, aka The Qualla. If that's your thing, go for it! It's nice. But if that's not your scene and you want to experience the area in a little less vain, more gritty and far more inexpensive way, you're in for a treat. The area is rich in so many ways, and it's only a roughly three-hour drive from Charlotte (if you take the highways.)
The Qualla (the area in which Cherokee exists) is First Nations land. It's where the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians fled capture during Indian Removal in the 1830s. Those who were run out of their homes slogged along what we now know as The Trail of Tears and became the Western Band out in Oklahoma. This place though, this untouched sprawl of mountainous bliss, is the Eastern Band's homeland. It's a beautiful, scenic place that will touch and inspire you and is a true reminder of how important it is to respect the land, even if it's not fancy and Paula Dean-ed out like you'll find at Harrah's.
So, if you enjoy frugal travel like I do, here's is my cheapskate's guide to weekend entertainment that highlights the things you need to see and do in Cherokee from my very short-sighted but highly-moved perspective:
See a traditional dance
Cost: whatever you're moved to give
Bonus: This is a good opportunity to re-frame what you know about American Indians. There's been a lot of hullabaloo and rage towards Urban Outfitters lately about their exploitation of this culture. Come get a better sense of what the hell is actually going on. Reading and watching "A Letter to Urban Outfitters" by Autumn White Eyes will get you up to speed on the Urban Outfitters controversy.
Autumn is nearly here and I've never wanted a sunburn to stick around so badly.
Google Maps says the Kure Beach area is a four-hour drive from Charlotte, but in reality it's a little over three-and-a-half if you leave on Friday at lunchtime. As far south in North Carolina as you can go on Highway 421 with public beach access before hitting the historic grounds of Fort Fisher or Zeke's Island Coastal Reserve, it's perfect for a super relaxing weekend trip!
Kure Beach, NC
The biggest lesson learned about this place is that rocks can bite just like bugs. Yowza! A short walk into the surf at mid-tide and I stumbled, literally, onto big, rough rocks. They'll tear your feet up, so beware. This beach may be more scenic and less popular than Carolina Beach (which is 20 minutes north), but if your priority is to not come out of the water bruised and bloody, you're going to want to avoid this particular spot. But surfing seems to be alright from the number of surfers out there.
The breakfast search was interesting first thing Saturday morning. Hot coffee can be found at Magic Beanz but finding anything by way of fresh fruit in a non-"sit down" restaurant was, well, special. No quick markets had fruit. What the deuce? In Charlotte, we're spoiled with apples and bananas by the registers. Not so much out there. What's the moral of this story? Bring your own.
But you can count on finding fresh fish in the area, that's for sure. Especially if you're after sustainable seafood — the Kure Beach area is great for this. Cape Fear Seafood Company is completely delicious and I'd certainly recommend it.
Wilmington is a short drive from Kure Beach, so we stopped there Sunday morning for breakfast. A great idea. I ordered the Huevos Verduras at Dixie Grill. I would've snapped a pic, but I was too busy shoveling delicious eggs, black beans, cheese and veggie skillet into my mouth. It's a strong statement, but it's easy to say it was one of the best breakfasts I've had in a long time. YUM. It looked like they had some cool local craft beers there for later in the day, too.
After breakfast is a pretty good time to jet back to Crown Town on Sunday morning. If you leave around 11 a.m., it puts you back here around 2:30 p.m., which is just enough time to get laundry going, get the sand out of your car, and sit for dinner at home. Out of 10, I give this (as a weekend getaway trip) an 8. Get out there right away if you're up for serenading summer just one last time!
Next up for 2012: The Qualla, California, Seattle, DC, NYC, Canada and Boston!