Roughly a third of the USA population knows I-95 as well as they know the back of their hand. Truly, the stretch from the Carolinas down to the Florida Welcome Center and back again is a throughway to sunshine and sandy beaches. So many people speed down the Interstate with not much more than a passing glance at the names on the big green signs that they miss some great places to visit along the way.
Here are some of them:
Wilson is the seat of Wilson County and the home of the Wilson Botanical Gardens, the Wilson Rose Gardens, and Lake Wilson, all of which are great places to visit. The top attraction is the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park filled with moving sculptures that will amuse and amaze you. Vollis Simpson made them all as a hobby, and now you can enjoy his combination of art, imagination, and physics. But the best of Wilson is Boone’s Antiques. If you have ever wondered how someone would manage to find furniture to decorate a home from the late 1700’s to late 1800’s without paying a king’s ransom or resorting to reproductions, then you must stop in Wilson long enough to have a leisurely stroll through their four-acres of inventory. Boone’s Antiques has been in business for 65 years and had served as one of the best sources for real antique furniture all that time. Even if your taste leans toward mid-century modern, this huge warehouse type store is a living museum that will fascinate you.
For a meal in Wilson head to Parker’s Barbeque.
Fayetteville is home to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, where you can bring your love of adventure to life and see how the experts do those deeds of daring. From WWII to the present day, the museum preserves the history of the Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces, and Special Operators are depicted. Admission is free; donations are accepted. Keeping with the military theme, also visit the Sarte Veterans’ Memorial Park, a tasteful and respectful memorial to the men and women of the armed forces. The park setting is lovely, and the missing man table is quite moving. The Oath of Service Wall has bronze casts of the hands of one hundred veterans, each one representing a North Carolina county. The park also has seven water features.
For a meal in Fayetteville, visit Luigi’s Restaurant and Bar.
We like Lumberton because it has a place where kids can play, let off steam and learn while they do it. That place is the Exploration Station. Kids can explore life on farms, in manufacturing, in medical and dental offices, in banks, on a pirate ship, and a playground. It’s all very hands-on. They will know what to do to explore it, and you will enjoy sharing it with them.
Are you traveling without children? Love antiquing? Lumberton is also home to the Carolina County Peddlers Mall, a vast multi-stand antique mall filled with everything you didn’t know you needed. You will say, “If only I had room and a way to get it home,” around every corner. Add to your collection or start a new one! Even if your trunk is full, you can tuck in a few treasures here and there.
For a meal in Lumberton: Pier 41 Seafood.
Florence is home to the aptly named Columns Plantation, a big white antebellum mansion surrounded by stately columns. The Rankins family called it home way back when and they still do now. Tours are by pre-appointment only, with Kay, the owner herself. You cannot do better than that. You will see all of the downstairs rooms, and hear the storied history of this grand old home. If you go when the azaleas are in bloom, you will see Columns at its loveliest. Palmetto Peddlers for antiquing and Florence Veterans’ Park are among the other excellent places to visit while in this beautiful city.
Food in Florence: Julia Belle’s for great southern country cooking.
Santee may be everyone’s favorite stopping place when they make the drive down I-95 with an overnight stop. We have our favorite place to stay there (shhh, we won’t tell) and you probably do, too. If you will be in Santee among the attractions is the old country store called Smith’s Super Store (aka Smith’s Exxon). Yes, it seems a bit touristy, and it is. But then, you are a tourist, and you will probably find something there to amuse you or that you will want to take to the folks back home. I-95 drivers have been doing that since 1968. For more of an adventure, spend the day on the Fish Eagle Wildlife Tour. Relax, see nature, and hear the story of the lake and the swamp.
For a meal in Santee: Craig’s Place Deli & Cafe
Walterboro offers the visitor the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, a small self-guided lovely memorial area, complete with explanatory plaques about these fine young men, and a commemorative stela. It’s a short six miles east of I-95 next to the local airfield. The Tuskegee Airmen trained in this field. You can learn more about the Airmen and the local culture at the Colleton Museum and Farmers Market. The South Carolina Artisans Center is a trove of state-made arts, and crafts, housed in a restored eight-room Victorian cottage; the pottery and woven baskets are especially gorgeous. There is a surviving slave house on the grounds.
In Walterboro, have a meal at Carmine’s Trattoria
Savannah is one of the loveliest cities in the USA, a place you could spend a week exploring and not see all of the highlights. If you are pausing on your I-95 drive, key sights to see include the Savannah Hop-on Hop-off Trolley Tour, that takes you throughout the Historic District and offers fifteen stops so you can take whatever time you want, and forget about parking cares. Be sure to see the Cathedral of St John the Baptist and the fountain in Forsythe Park.
For a meal in Savannah: Joe’s Homemade Cafe
Darien is home to the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation. Take a walk around the grounds, under the ancient spreading live oak trees with their romantic hanging Spanish moss, and enjoy a stately home tour at this plantation that produced rice from 1800 until 1915, and then operated as a dairy farm until 1942. Visit Fort King George State Historic Park, the oldest remaining English fort along Georgia’s shoreline. From 1721 to 1736, this fort served as the southernmost outpost of the British Empire in North America. Today, you can explore the fully reconstructed fort and its outbuildings, see the museum and film, and shop in the gift shop.
In Darien, dine at B & J’s Steaks and Seafood
Take a side trip to Cumberland National Seashore, the once hidden getaway of well-heeled plutocrats. Do the Land & Legacies Tour to see the Plum Orchard mansion; the wild horses, the ruins of the old Carnegie mansion, Dungeness, all the miles of its white sand beach. All the splendors that drew people here during the Gilded Age. Cumberland Island was once the private enclave of industrialist Thomas Carnegie and his family, as in the brother and partner of Andrew Carnegie. Then, the island was the realm of invited guests only. Its remoteness makes it still a quiet slice of the Atlantic coast. Cumberland Island offers wild horses, strolling at random on the beach and in the surf. And, if you are lucky, you will have them at sunrise. To be on the scene in time of sunrise, we suggest staying on the island at the Greyfield Inn. It is still owned and operated by Carnegie descendent Lucy R. Ferguson and her family.
In St. Mary’s, have a meal at St Mary’s Seafood & More
When you get to Florida, stop at the Welcome Center, and sip some orange juice. It’s free, and you’ve earned it!