Nine visiting writers and photographers joined me earlier this month for a tour of Cumberland County’s most beautiful and diverse outdoor attractions and restaurants. Over the course of a weekend, I led them on a "#ColorfulFay" tour that highlighted more than 25 businesses and sites.

At the beginning of that tour, I explained to the group how I was inspired to put together their itinerary. While the Fayetteville area is certainly known for being home to Ft. Bragg, it often comes as a surprise to our visitors when they discover what else makes this place so special.

Our veterans’ travels around the world mean they often bring home spouses from other countries to our community, and that diversity in our population is more than evident everywhere you look. Just one example of that is our county can boast that 30+ countries are represented in our restaurants’ cuisine offerings. For that reason, while we may not be known for fine dining, we can certainly claim our niche in international eateries.

Our diversity is also apparent in the entrepreneurs who launch businesses here, and as I shared on the blog recently, we’re proud of the fact so many of our local businesses are owned and operated by People of Color. The same could be said for our thriving LGBTQ+ community and the many ways our local PRIDE chapter and businesses provide welcoming places for our LGBTQ+ visitors.

In order to assist our visitors with replicating our #ColorfulFay experience here, I have put together a two-day itinerary that includes everything we did over a weekend in October. Regardless of what time of the year you visit, use this to guide you to some of the loveliest areas of this special place!

DAY ONE

Cape Fear Botanical Garden

(536 N. Eastern Blvd., Fayetteville, NC 28301)

Just 5 miles from I-95, you’ll find a true outdoor oasis where you could easily spend hours wandering 25+ botanical gardens and structures on 80 acres of land, located between the Cape Fear River and Cross Creek. Before you start exploring, though, stop by the new Garden View Café to peruse their menu and place your order for lunch later. This sweet addition to the garden is owned by Chef Lou and his family, and their fresh, deli-style offerings make for a perfect picnic on the garden’s grounds or the outdoor bistro area. After ordering, take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, using their online map to guide you, and don’t overlook the brand-new, massive treehouse in the Children’s Garden.

Tip: Make plans to visit the garden around one of their upcoming outdoor events, to include their popular, annual Holiday Lights in the Garden.

The MacPherson House

(701 Hay St., Fayetteville, NC 28301)

A short, 2.5-mile drive from the garden will lead you to Cumberland County’s newest B&B. This recently renovated, 100-year-old home is conveniently located in our Haymount Historic District and is within walking distance of Downtown Fayetteville. When our group arrived on a Saturday afternoon, MacPherson’s owner, Katy, and wellness coordinator, Hayat, greeted us with homemade cookies and beverages and took us on a tour of their gorgeous, 7,000+-square-foot house. Here, you’ll find a king-size bed, fireplace, and private bathroom in each of the four bedrooms, as well as many sweet touches (e.g., fresh eucalyptus hanging in the showers). Each room has its own look and style and has been assigned a historically significant name, like "The Lafayette." The owners are hoping to finish renovations on a top-floor master suite over the coming months, as well.

Tip: If children will be accompanying you, request The Saint Avolde Suite, which has a "sleeping porch" off the bedroom that can be outfitted with a bed (prior arrangements required). 

Dirtbag Ales Brewery & Taproom

(5435 Corporation Dr., Hope Mills, NC 28348)

“North Carolina’s I-95 Brewery” is a 12-mile drive from The MacPherson House and is the perfect spot to spend a Saturday afternoon, even with family in tow. On Dirtbag’s 5+ acres, you’ll find plenty of open space to spread out, throw the ball around, let the kids loose on a playground, listen to live music, and of course, sip on craft beer. Dirtbag recently racked up five Readers’ Choice Awards from The Fayetteville Observer, because the locals are just that loyal to this beloved brewery. While you’re there, an absolute must-try is Dirtbag’s onsite restaurant, Napkins, where you’ll find something to please even the pickiest of palates on a rotating menu. Our group could not stop raving about the beer-braised carnitas tacos, perfectly battered-and-fried shrimp and calamari (aka "Frito Mixto"), and spicy, not-your-mama’s tater tots we devoured as we were sampling Dirtbag’s signature and newest brews.

Tip: Follow Dirtbag on Facebook to see the wide range of live music, recreational events, and more happening there year-round.

Hope Mills Lake

(3609 N. Main St., Hope Mills, NC 28348)

A trip to the Town of Hope Mills would not be complete without visiting its cypress-lined lake. Just 4 miles from Dirtbag, this charming body of water is in the heart of our second-largest municipality, on the edge of its small downtown. Here you’ll also find Big T’s Snoballs, where the locals have been taking their families for generations. Our group grabbed snow-cones to enjoy, lakeside. Then, while a few folks met up with Yakalacky Outfitters for a kayaking adventure, a couple of others stayed on the dock for a fishing lesson, courtesy of Cedar Creek Fish Farm (another great fishing destination located in Fayetteville). Whether you want to rent a watercraft from Yakalacky, throw a line in the water, hit the playground, or lay down a blanket for a picnic, this is certainly one of Cumberland County’s sweetest outdoor treasures to explore.

Tip: Visit the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission for information on regulations, licensing, and permits applicable to inland fishing in NC.

Pharaoh’s Legacy: Mediterranean Cuisine & Bar

(3010 Traemoor Village Dr., Ste. 100, Fayetteville, NC 28306)

If you’ve never had the opportunity to try Egyptian cuisine before, then here’s your chance to introduce your taste-buds to this full sensory experience. The dishes you’ll find on the menu at Pharaoh’s, which is just 4 miles from the lake, are a reflection of many Mediterranean classics, such as gyro and hummus, but with a unique Egyptian twist in the marinades and spices they use. The excellent waitstaff here brought out a wide assortment of appetizers, like dolmades and baba ghanouj, for us to try before we feasted on platters of charbroiled lamb and beef kabob over basmati saffron rice. Not only was the food incredibly flavorful, but it was also so beautifully presented that our group spent the first 15 minutes taking picture after picture of the spread.

Tip: For “a taste of American comfort meeting Mediterranean tradition” in a more casual setting, visit this restaurant’s first location, Pharaoh’s Village: Mediterranean Grill & Market, in Hope Mills.

DAY TWO

The MacPherson House

(701 Hay St., Fayetteville, NC 28301)

Katy and Hayat knew our group would be brunching later that morning, so they set out a light spread of pastries, fresh fruit, and matcha smoothies for their guests to enjoy at their leisure. A few folks took their breakfast on the porch before joining Hayat, or “The Traveling Shala,” downstairs for a private yoga session. MacPherson’s entire downstairs has been turned into a serene wellness center, with dedicated rooms for massage therapy, yoga, and more. They even have plans to outfit one of the rooms with a kitchen for when the house hosts weddings and other events.

Tip: When making your reservation, be sure to ask about MacPherson’s massage, yoga, and other wellness services available for pre-booking during your stay.

fun things to do in fayetteville
Blue Moon Cafe

Blue Moon Café

(310 Hay St., Fayetteville, NC 28301)

One of the benefits of staying at The MacPherson House is its proximity to Cool Spring Downtown District. In less than a 1/2-mile walk, you’re downtown, with plenty of options for dining and shopping. One of those fantastic options is this cozy café, which has become known for its Sunday brunch. The menu here reflects the creativity of its owners, Josh and Nathan, who really spoiled our group on a Sunday morning with mimosa bottle service. In honor of National Coming Out Day, they put a colorful Fruity Pebbles French Toast on the menu that a couple of folks couldn’t resist ordering. I went for the rich Monte Cristo Panini while others indulged in Blue Moon’s signature crab dip, tacos, and much more. Whether you hit Blue Moon for a meal or just a craft cocktail, you’ll fall in love with its casual-yet-hip ambiance, its fabulous view of Hay Street (downtown's main thoroughfare), and its delicious offerings.

Tip: As seating is limited indoors and on the patio at this highly popular spot, call ahead to put your name on the list for Sunday brunch: 910-860-4700.

fun things to do in fayetteville
Hummingbird Candle Co.

Hummingbird Candle Co.

(240 Hay St., Fayetteville, NC 28301)

One of the more unique experiences available to downtown visitors is a candle-making workshop, and this activity makes for a perfect girls’ night or date night. Owner Tianna and her staff have created such a warm, hospitable environment for their shop that by the time you leave, you feel you’ve been adopted into the Hummingbird family. Since they allow attendees to bring their own beverages, we made prior arrangements with The Wine Café (108 Hay St.) to give us a mini wine-tasting onsite. Manager Holly greeted us with glasses and pours of their new Prisma wines, adding another indulgent layer to the whole experience. Our group then made their rounds to select their favorite scents from the dozens of chemical-free oil options Hummingbird offers, and Chandler Extraordinaire Sesselie led everyone through the candle-pouring process, step by step. In case the struggle is real with picking just one scent for your coconut-wax candle, Hummingbird also sells premade candles, room sprays, and more. 

Tip: Since reservations are required, book your workshop in advance on their website and follow them on Facebook for special event announcements.

fun things to do in Fayetteville
Cool Spring Downtown District

Cool Spring Downtown District

(222 Hay St., Fayetteville, NC 28301)

While Cool Spring Downtown District can boast several art galleries and history museums, you don’t have to step inside a building to appreciate its wide array of art installations, murals, landmarks, and green spacesall making for some incredible photo-ops, spread throughout a 0.5-mile footprint. Anyone can easily discover these gems on their own, using this handy guide, but Cool Spring enlisted the help of the Downtown Alliance in giving our group a guided walking tour. Sam, who also serves as president of our local PRIDE chapter and is a true champion of Fayetteville, led our group on a lovely Sunday afternoon walk while sharing fun and fascinating factoids. He could have easily spent the entire time educating the group on just our city’s fascinating history, which dates to 1739, but he also showed off downtown's more artistic side (e.g., the stunning Prismatica installation) and led us through its lovely green spaces (e.g., Lafayette Park). Of course, we couldn’t do this tour justice without visiting the Airborne & Special Operations Museum grounds, where statues and memorials educate our visitors on our elite military forces before they even enter the museum. Additionally, our group had the pleasure of seeing 500 flags staged on the Field of Honor, an annual initiative of the museum and downtown.

Tip: Before heading out on a self-guided walking tour, make a stop at The Coffee Cup (108 Hay St.), The Wine Cafe’s sister shop, and grab a hot beverage from one of their sweet baristas.

fun things to do in Fayetteville
Uptown's Chicken & Waffles

Uptown’s Chicken & Waffles (Ramada Plaza)

1707 Owen Drive, Fayetteville

Chef Judith Cage, better known as “Chef Judy,” has appeared on four different Food Network shows: Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Restaurant Impossible, and Supermarket Stakeout. She brought home a $10K win from her last appearance, in 2019. Before that, she served in the U.S. Army for six years as a Food Service Specialist and went on to train and apprentice under French chefs. She’s certainly earned legendary status on the local level and beyond for her Southern-style eateries, catering business, and personal chef service to celebrities (ex: Mark Zuckerberg).

Myron heads to Ramada Plaza to dine at Chef Judy’s newest Uptown’s Chicken & Waffles, which she co-owns with RaShawn Moore. His go-to there is the wing plate—“good and crispy on the outside and moist on the inside”—with collard greens and macaroni and cheese. If wings aren’t your thing, you really can’t go wrong with Myron’s mother’s “all-time favorite”: Chef Judy’s signature shrimp ‘n grits.

Chef Judy also owns the following restaurants in Cumberland County: Let Me Cater to You at 5446 Reilly Road, Building 289, Pope Army Airfield; Uptown’s Chicken & Waffles at 7105 Bragg Boulevard, Fort Bragg (Stryker Golf Course); and Uptown’s Chicken & Waffles at 1960 Coliseum Drive, Fayetteville (Crown Coliseum Food Court).