Points of interests abound in the region around Elon, N.C., but for something beyond the typical mall, movie, dinner, there are a number of hidden gems worth the time. Spend a Saturday off-the-beaten path taking in Southern culture and discovering local eateries, charming towns and unique activities.

SOUTHERN CHARM REVISITED

Spend the day in historic Saxapahaw, a small former mill town located in Alamance County. Enjoy all the quaint points of interest this newly revived cotton mill area has to offer.

TAKE IN THE SIGHTS. Take a step back to yesteryear as you browse the Saxapahaw General Store. Open daily, the store offers a variety of farm-fresh products and all-natural options. Then get artsy with a visit to the Saxapahaw Artists non-profit group. Check out assorted works by local and regional artists in the gallery, which is open daily and housed in the historic Sellars building.

GRAB A BITE. The Eddy offers pub fare with a focus on the local food movement. Enjoy sunset on their patio overlooking the Haw River as you sip a featured North Carolina brew (the restaurant only keeps state-brewed beers on tap). Taste all that the state has to offer with their Local Cheese Plate ($10 appetizer) and Pulled Local Pork Sandwich with house slaw ($12 dinner w/fries).

ENJOY THE SEASON. The Saxapahaw Music Series runs May through August on Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Farmer’s Market. Bring a picnic and blanket and watch as bands perform from a hay-wagon stage.

WILD CATS, WINE, WAR & MORE

Animals, history and science oh my! Start the day with heart pumping adventure and then learn a little about North Carolina history before relaxing at a winery and scoping out the universe.

GO WILD. Begin the morning with a walk on the wild side and get up close and personal with lions, tigers, leopards and more at the Conservators’ Center Inc. The non-profit, large-cat rescue offers scheduled tours of its facility near Mebane, N.C. Bring a student ID for $7 admission.

STEP BACK IN TIME. Travel back in time at the Alamance Battleground as you learn about the rebellion that took place in 1771 between a group of farmers and the royal governor’s militia. See the relocated historic Allen House after checking out the visitor’s center for information on the battle. Pack a picnic and enjoy the three-quarter-mile nature trail and grounds at this free historic site.

SIP AND SEE. Unwind after a busy day as you enjoy a glass of wine and take in the rural scenery at the Winery at Iron Gate. At $5 a tasting, you’ll be able to sample a variety of wines during the 45-minute seating. Don’t miss their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and Rustic Blooming, which both took gold at the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Southeastern Wine Competition.

DISCOVER THE STARS. End the evening with a peek through the largest telescope in North Carolina for a chance to see star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, double stars, planets and the moon. Used primarily for research, the Three College Observatory does schedule public viewing nights and allows online ticket requests.

SMALL TOWN SIGHTS

Sure big cities offer all different amenities but small towns offer simple delights and make-your-own fun. From down-home diners to classic drive-ins, there are undiscovered gems, hidden history and scenic spots.

BEGIN WITH BREAKFAST. Start the day with the right way; after all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Drive about an hour up to the town of Eden, N.C. and taste the southern flavor the Railroad Café serves up. Open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., breakfast is the best bet with an artistic griddle master at the ready.  Don’t miss the pancakes at this down-home diner, which come in every shape from giraffes to ninja turtles (photos can be found on their Facebook page).

EXPLORE ANTIQUES. Stop and shop in the quaint antique stores found in and around this town before heading to a historic plantation home. Some spots to check out include: Granny’s Variety & Antiques located at 140 N. Fieldcrest Road, Belladonna Antiques & Interiors located at 646 Washington Street and Johnson’s Florist & Antiques located at 657 Washington Street.

EXPERIENCE AN ESTATE. Spend the afternoon soaking up the surroundings at Chinqua Penn Plantation. About a 30-minute drive from Eden, this 27-room historic mansion situated on 22 acres is a truly Southern experience and also features elaborate gardens, vineyards and a wine tasting room. Tours of the house and grounds are $15 for students and wine tasting is an extra $5. Special events include Great Gatsby Day, Spring Tulip Festival and other holiday activities, which can be found on the calendar of events.

MAKE MOVIES MAGICAL. Wind down the day of small-town sights by taking in movie at the local drive-in. A short drive from Chinqua Penn, Eden Drive-In is one of the few throwbacks to yesteryear, offering a historic drive-in feel while showing new releases. For $6 admission, you can usually watch two films back-to-back all from the driver’s seat. Food and drinks are offered at the snack bar but outside food and alcohol are permitted.

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