Stroll: Widely known as North Carolina’s home of golf, the Sandhills towns of Southern Pines and Pinehurst offer more places to stretch your legs than just on the course. At the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens (www.sandhillshorticulturalgardens.com) in Pinehurst, stroller-friendly walking paths lead visitors through a dozen distinct gardens covering 27 acres. The gardens are planted to be bloom- and berry-filled every season. Where some gardens use native plants or reflect contemporary aesthetics, others are English-inspired, reflect a Japanese style or are planted solely with succulents.
Shop: Southern Pines is bisected by a rail line dating back to the 1890s and to either side is Broad Street. Along Northwest and Northeast Broad streets, five blocks of specialty shops, confectioners, boutiques and galleries make up the heart of the town. Pick up something to read at The Country Bookshop (www.thecountrybookshop.biz) and grab a bite from Betsy’s Crepes (www.betsyscrepes.com) for a low-key afternoon, or outfit yourself for a hike with a new set of trekking poles from Riverjack (www.riverjack.com) and a trail-side snack of artisanal meat and cheese from Southern Whey (www.southernwhey.tumblr.com).
The Sandhills, especially Seagrove, are renowned for pottery, and Pinehurst Pottery (www.pinehurstpottery.com) has a gallery full of ceramics, but a side trip to a couple of potters on your way to the N.C. Pottery Center (www.ncpotterycenter.org) will fill an afternoon. Ben Owen Pottery (www.benowenpottery.com) and From the Ground Up (www.fromthegrounduppots.com) invite the public to watch them work, chat a bit and shop.
Hike: Here the longleaf pine is king, and a 1.25-mile trail from Southern Pines’ Weymouth Center (www.weymouthcenter.org) through the Boyd Tract of the Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve (www.ncparks.gov; use the “Find a Park” link) carries hikers through the only old-growth longleaf pine forest in the region. Some of the trees here date back to the 1550s, including the oldest known longleaf pine, a bent and twisted 466-year old beauty.
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For longer hikes, hit Reservoir Park (www.southernpines.net) where 12 miles of trails and greenways wander by the town’s reservoir and the picturesque Mill Creek Pond.
Bike: Mountain bikes won’t find any true single-track trails in the area, but the town’s greenway system allows for some long rides on packed sand trails. Forest Creek, Reservoir Park and Knoll Road Trails are the longest single routes, but by using connector trails, riders can string together and out-and-back trip of 18 miles or so. Most of the cycling here is road-based, and at Rainbow Cycles (www.rainbowcycles.com) and through the Sandhills Cycling Club (www.sandhillscyclingclub.org), road riders can find a route that suits their experience level and endurance. For hardcore riders, try the 103-mile Tour de Moore 100, a long route through some prime Sandhills scenery.
The people-watching at The Ice Cream Parlor is almost as good as a cup or cone, but when you require a meal, look to Etalia for a piping hot pizza. Open for lunch and dinner, Etalia’s (www.etaliapizza.com) wood-fired pizzas and pork meatballs or veggie meat(less)balls pack in the flavor. Southern Prime Steakhouse (www.southernprimesteakhouse.net) dishes up steaks, chops and lobster tail dinners in a fine-dining ambiance.
Southern Pines Growler Company (www.spgrowler.com), a couple of blocks off NW Broad Street, has 30 craft beers on tap with a wide range of breweries and styles to sample in flights, pints or growlers. The Wine Cellar & Tasting Room (www.thewinecellarandtastingroom.com) on Northeast Broad Street has high-end wines to sample by the glass or half-glass at self-serve tasting stations, or you can cozy up to the bar and let the bartender guide you on a glass-by-glass wine tour.