Even though the official kick-off of summer is about a month away (here’s to you, June 21), the hot weather will arrive much sooner. If you’re ready to jumpstart your summer plans but don’t want to melt into a puddle, check out our favorite spots across North Carolina to indulge in a/c. Who says sweat is a requirement?
North Carolina Museum of Art
It’s not a true North Carolina summer if you don’t check out the Museum of Art at least once. Pack up the kids, hop in the car and head to NCMA, just over an hour from Southern Pines, to explore the permanent collection and visiting exhibitions.
This summer, the museum is featuring “Golden Mummies of Egypt,” “Reflections on Light: Work from the NCMA Collection,” and “The Bacchus Conservation Project: The Story of a Sculpture.” There’s a café inside, but if you feel like braving the heat for a short while you can pack a picnic, rent a bike and ride around until you find your perfect picnic spot. Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. 5 p.m. Excludes some holidays.
US Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum
Planted at the entrance of Historic Downtown Fayetteville, just 10 miles from Fort Bragg, visitors are welcomed with free admission and free A/C as they explore exhibits for military history.
Exhibitions include Early Airborne, World War II, Korea and Cold War, Civil Unrest in the United States, Vietnam, Contingency Operations and Training, and the Global War on Terrorism. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday: noon to 4 p.m.
NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher
The only thing better than an air-conditioned room in the middle of summer’s hottest weather is an air-conditioned room that keeps your kids busy.
Located near Kure and Carolina beaches, the aquarium features interactive experiences with sea turtles, a rescued bald eagle, sharks, rays, eels, digging for fossils, a “touch tank” for sea stars and horseshoe crabs, and daily educational programs. As if this wasn’t incentive enough, the aquarium is now featuring a new family favorite that can’t be missed: Otters on the Edge. Step out of the heat into a cool underwater sanctuary any time this summer, open seven days a week. Hours: Monday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Holidays may be excluded.
If you’re looking for the perfect mix of fun and education, Old Salem Museum and Gardens may be the perfect fit. Operating at a historic site in Winston Salem, the museum explores the history of the American South with an emphasis on the Moravian and Black experience, and lives of Indigenous people. Despite being populated with docents dressed in 18th century garb, many buildings have been updated with air conditioning.
The grounds are open to explore six days a week, but we suggest we time your visit around when the bakery is open. Hours: Tuesday— Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 pm; Sunday: 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
New Bern isn’t only home to the Neuse River and Nicholas Sparks (although we do recommend checking out some of his cinematic spots) but also to North Carolina’s first state capitol. Crank up your Hamilton soundtrack all the way there, just shy of three hours from town, and get ready to travel back in time.
At Tryon Palace, you can wander through acres of gardens and historical buildings, and take a step back to the 1830s with guided tours and the North Carolina History Center. On the way back visit the beach, indulge in Southern-style home cooking at a local restaurant, or just take a BuzzFeed quiz to finally unlock the mystery: which Founding Father are YOU? Hours: Most attractions at Tryon Palace are open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This list wouldn’t be complete without our favorite mountain staple. The Biltmore Estate, nestled in the mountains of Asheville, has something for everybody — most importantly, extensive tours through the thoroughly air-conditioned home.
We wouldn’t lead a horse to water, we’d lead a SwayBae to wine. Be sure to check out The Biltmore’s very own winery where they offer a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting. It’s not vacation without a glass in hand, right? Hours: Biltmore is open every day. Hours vary.