Streets full of yesteryear charm blend easily with modern additions like Depot Park and its kid-spritzing fountain. Here in Sanford, there’s a bit of everything – for foodies and art lovers, live theater to railroad history, plus room to roam in nature. You’ll hardly believe you’re less than an hour from Raleigh.
Festivals and special events pepper the calendar year-round including Boo & Brew, Strawberry Jammin’, IndieFest, StreetFest, Pottery Festival and holiday events.
Click here for an interactive map of these Sanford attractions
Playtime: So Many Choices
Tobacco Road Golf Club (442 Tobacco Rd, Sanford, NC 27332) is thoughtfully designed on former tobacco farmland. Featuring British Isles influences, it’s ranked 50th among the World’s Top 100. Four other courses are nearby, and Pinehurst is an easy drive, too.
Youngsters won’t want to miss the All Aboard Train Scavenger Hunt. Stop at the Visitors Center (106 Charlotte Ave. Sanford, NC 27330) in the historic Depot building for the hunt passport to use to spot miniature bronze trains around town. Draw or note sightings, then turn it in for the prized take-home conductor’s hat and train whistle.
Lee County has the most U-Pick farms in the state, some dating back generations. Visitors can pick produce seasonally — berries, pumpkins, flowers, even Christmas trees.
U-Pick isn’t the only way to get your hands on fresh Lee County produce. Stop into the Sanford Farmers’ Market at 115 Chatham St. every Saturday 8:30-noon, between April and November, for an assortment of local produce and made-in-NC goodness.
Year-round Big Bloomers Flower Farm (275 Pressly Foushee Rd., Sanford, NC 27330) offers a huge selection of plants, shrubs, herbs and more. Can you say Ornamental Hardy Banana Basjoo?
Check your shooting skills and take lessons at popular Deep River Sporting Clays (284 Cletus Hall Rd., Sanford, NC 27330).
If exercise could only include a cold brew … Wait, it can on the 10K Lager Jogger Trail that combines hiking (or biking or walking) with stops at any or all of Sanford’s three breweries. It’s 6.2 miles, self-guided. Along the course are historic landmarks and several murals to spot.
Bragging rights await bicyclists who pedal a portion of the Maine-to-Florida US Bike Route 1, part of which runs by the Depot Park in downtown Sanford.
Parks and Nature A Plenty
Lee County is home to portions of both the Cape Fear and Deep River plus several popular lakes.
Variety is the name of the game at 177-acre San-Lee Park (760 Pumping Station Rd., Sanford, NC 27330) with a nature center, trails for mountain biking and hiking, seasonal paddleboat rentals, geocaching, camping, grills, picnic tables, large covered shelter and volleyball court. With its large stocked lake, chances are good you’ll get a bite, too.
There are not one, but two Kiwanis Parks located near each other. The smaller Kiwanis Children’s Park (101 Park Ave, Sanford, NC 27330) is colorful with blue pickleball courts and its bright playground, while much larger Kiwanis Family Park (1800 Wicker St, Sanford, NC 27330) has a gazebo, splash pad, a bigger play area, picnic shelter and tables plus fitness/walking trail that includes a natural creek.
Watson Lake Park (3101 Watson Lake Rd., Broadway, NC 27505) in Broadway has walking trails and a playground and allows non-motorized boats (bring your own as there are no on-site rentals).
White Pines Nature Reserve (548 S Rocky River Rd., Sanford, NC 27330) at 275 acres, is popular for hiking, offers river views and yes, white pines to spot along with mountain laurel, Catawba rhododendron and spring wildflowers. It’s part of the NC Birding Trail, too.
Art, Culture, History and Honor
The 1925 Art Deco Temple Theatre (120 Carthage St., Sanford, NC 27330) produces live performances plus special events like the Sanford Music Circle of songwriters and their guests. Mann Center of North Carolina (507 N. Steele St., Sanford, NC 27330), dubbed The Crown Jewel of Lee County, stages shows in its 300-seat venue.
Twelve stops (and more in progress) on the city’s Mural Art Trail (info at 106 Charlotte Ave. Sanford, NC 27330) pay homage to historic standouts like a NASCAR legend, Sanford’s minor-league baseball team as well as tobacco and dairy farming. Speaking of trails, for antique hunters, seven independent shops have joined hands to sell vintage and second-hand treasures. The centerpiece is the Sanford Antique Mall (118 S. Moore St., Sanford, NC 27330) housing 75 vendors in 18,000 square feet. Lots to see; no pressure to buy.
Railroads played a major role in Sanford’s development, and a great way to learn more is by visiting the Historic Railroad House museum, (110 Charlotte Ave., Sanford, NC 27330) part of Depot Park. It’s the oldest house in Sanford and the original home to the first depot agent of the Raleigh and Augusta Airline Railroad in 1872.
Depot Park (106 Charlotte Ave, Sanford, NC 27330) sits in the heart of downtown amid working rail lines and hosts family events like outdoor concerts and October’s street fair with fireworks. Sanford even combines trains and the holiday spirit on the first Sunday in December, with the annual Train and Tree Lighting.
Steeped in history and true to its patriotic roots, Lee County honors the service of all North Carolina veterans at The NC Veterans Memorial Pavilion in Broadway (210 South Main St., Broadway, NC 27505). The memorial brick wall with granite inserts bears veterans’ names (more are being added). A Disabled Veterans addition is nearing completion.
Many Dining Choices
Sanford has a wide range of restaurants. For that quintessential Southern experience, there are six barbecue diners, five of them locally owned. For fresh, homemade Mexican dishes, bright décor and upbeat music, check out Fonda Lupita (952 S. Horner Blvd., Sanford, NC 27332) with its ever-changing menu.
Mrs. Lacy’s Magnolia House (405 Carthage St., Sanford, NC 27330) is not only known for home-cooking but grandma-delicious desserts like Hershey Bar Cake, Apple Crisp and Victoria’s Secret fruit cobbler. Reservations recommended.
Davison’s Steaks (1724 Westover Dr., Sanford, NC 27330) is situated in the Tramway area of the county, so named for the old tramway that transported lumber to the local sawmill.
Sauce and dough are made in-house daily at La Dolce Vita Pizzeria (226 Carthage St., Sanford, NC 27330) in the old federal building. Stop by the gelato bar.
At padded booths along the walls at Fairview Dairy Bar (109 Carbonton Rd., Sanford, NC 27330) or atop its red stools at the u-shaped serving bar, sample specials like Mini Corn Dog Bites and a Shrimp Boat, The Monster Philly and Cheese, the Rachael (substitutes turkey for corned beef on a Reuben) or Pokey’s Favorite Burger. Famous Homemade Banana Pudding and Brownie Bottom Pie are just two of the many desserts.
Sweeten Your Stay
Start your day at Buttermilk Biscuit Bar (121 Chatham St. Suite 102, Sanford, NC 27330) — the name alone makes your mouth water — or at another locals’ favorite, Landmark Breakfast Shop (1949 S. Horner Blvd., Sanford, NC 27330). Join the line out the door for donuts at Sandra’s Bakery (225 Wicker St., Sanford, NC 27330), and just up the street Millie’s Mama Bakes (233 Wicker St., Sanford, NC 27330) sells out daily.
Treat yourself to a frozen dessert at a stop that is popular with all ages, family-owned Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream (132 McIver St. Unit #4341, Sanford, NC 27330) with 30 flavors all made in-house since 1935. NC’s first 3-D mural flanks the entire side of the building.
The Instagram-worthy stuffed milkshake at Howard’s Dips & Dawgs (120 N. Main St., Broadway, NC 27505) takes the concept of a Dairy Queen Blizzard to another level by adding cake frosting and sprinkles or crumbles on the lip of a take-home logo mason jar, then stacking on spears of small cakes, brownie bites or cookies into mountains of whipped cream.
The old Broadway Town Hall is home to Pop Heaven Gourmet Popcorn and Sweet Shop (117 S Main St, Broadway, NC 27505). Among its 50 kinds of popcorn is bourbon caramel pecan, plus there’s a cotton candy burrito. Can’t decide? Opt for the sampler pack of 9 or 15 varieties.
Catch Some ZZZs
Sanford/Lee County’s range of overnight options includes name-brand hotels, an Airbnb in a historic downtown home, and pastoral glamping is coming to Sugarneck (4844 Buckhorn Rd., Sanford, NC 27330). The site is a wedding/event venue, too, with a historic post office and rentable upscale two-bedroom cabin.
Rest well for there’s more awaiting you each tomorrow in Sanford.
Find out more at VisitSanfordNC.com or call the Sanford Tourism Development Authority at (919) 718-4659.
Story by: Kathy M. Newbern and husband J.S. Fletcher are award-winning freelance travel journalists based in Raleigh, NC, who have visited 76 countries, all seven continents and reported on 81 cruises. They often incorporate their travels into their romance novel business at “YourNovel.com”
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