Hey Raleigh, Johnston County is your neighbor to the east and just 20-30 minutes from your doors. Did you know that Clayton is in Johnston County…you may have heard of the cool nightlife scene and restaurants along main street or that the Mountains to the Sea Trail connects Wake County all the way to Clayton.  You might love to bargain shop at Carolina Premium Outlets in Smithfield or love the selection of unique gifts at DeWayne's in Selma. There is so much more to discover....

Here are some of the hidden gems just minutes from Raleigh and the Triangle…we welcome our neighbors any time to explore and visit us often!

Carolina Premium Outlets

For an in-person shopping experience, (sorry Amazon!) head to Smithfield for some new clothes for the family or a new pocketbook for you, and find great outlet shopping prices at 80 outlet stores. Set your GPS for savings and get great hotel deals at area hotels, click here for 15% off room rates. Ask for the package and get a free gift bag when you check in with more great coupons for area restaurants, attractions, and our downtown shops.

Coach bag display at the Coach Outlet at Carolina Premium Outlet, Smithfield, NC.

Explore the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail

If you love completing a trail and getting a FREE gift at the end, we challenge you to visit all seven stops on the BWST over a weekend trip. Download the brochure and get all boxes stamped -- then send it to the Visitors Bureau and we will send you a gift. And you get to have fun along the way at three breweries, two wineries and two distilleries. Enjoy bands, food trucks and more -- just a bonus! Our area hotels are also offering room discounts for our BWST visitors.

Aerial drone shot of Hinnant Vineyards in Pine Level, NC.

Hollywood Legend - Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner, a Hollywood legend of the Golden Age, was born and raised in Johnston County. Today, visitors from around the world travel to Smithfield to celebrate her life and career.  The Ava Gardner Museum has an extensive collection of movie memorabilia, including photography, artwork, movie posters, scripts, costumes, and personal belongings. Make a weekend trip to the museum and add in a movie at the historic Howell Theater, shopping in local area boutiques and gift shops, and venturing out to a winery or brewery. For some help with itinerary planning check out our suggestions, and get great hotel deals as well. 

Ava Gardner photo with a blue dress.

Mountains to the Sea Trail

Johnston County now has two sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail, with the trail in Clayton connecting us to Wake County. The Clayton River Walk on the Neuse is a beautiful hike or bike ride along the banks of the Neuse River. In Smithfield, the Buffalo Creek Greenway connects the Smithfield Community Park, where there are playgrounds and the Aquatic Center, to the Downtown Smithfield Commons.  After a 3-mile walk, we suggest heading into town for some shopping and dining options. 

A kayaker paddles a river in the sun captured by a drone.

Howell Woods

For one of our hidden gems in Johnston County, take your family on an outdoor adventure to Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center, just 15 minutes from Four Oaks. This 2,800 acre outdoor classroom offers camping, and ADA accessible cabins, perfect for a family weekend trip. They offer kids activities and playgrounds, a reptile exhibit with an aquarium, a bird of prey exhibit, walking trails, and 25 miles of roads for biking, hiking, and exploring this managed forest rich with flora and wildlife. Check the website for a variety of programs and activities. 

GALOT Motorsports Park

Soon the roar of drag-racing cars will return to the GALOT Motorsports Park and special events like Monster Truck rallies will entertain you. We suggest checking their website for event dates. Make it a weekend trip to Benson, to include a stay at the dog-friendly Hampton Inn, shopping, yummy waffles at Cornerstone Café and sitting outside at the Fainting Goat Brewing Co. - we have a suggested itinerary for you!

Race car on the dragstrip at GALOT Motorsports Park in Benson, NC.

Family Farm Fun

There is much to see and do on family-owned farms from spring Strawberry Picking season to buying summer fresh vegetables at our farmer's markets, and fall pumpkin picking season. Also there's tons of fall events like corn mazes, festivals, and holiday light shows. Head to Johnston County with the family for a weekend of fun on the farm; add in some shopping, following the BBQ trail, or our new Coffee Shop trail, a museum or two, and it's been a fun weekend for all.

Enjoy a trip around the corn maze at Sonlight Farms in Kenly NC.

Eat your way along the BBQ Trail

Come for the variety of barbecue experiences now available in Johnston County. Known for our eastern NC style of vinegar based BBQ, you will love the traditional fare at White Swan, Storming Norman's, and Smithfield's Chicken n' BBQ. For some new takes on barbecue like Kansas City Competition cue, we suggest you try The Redneck BBQ Lab, and for a take on smoked barbecue entrees, head to SoDoSoPa in Downtown Smithfield.  Try some of these dining options, which go perfectly with the Beer, Wine and Shine Trail

Redneck BBQ sandwich with slaw and side of potatoes, Benson, NC.

The Clayton Center

We cannot live a culturally rich life without the arts - and the programs have continued at The Clayton Center throughout the shutdown. One day soon, we will again enjoy comedy, music and performing arts at the Clayton Center, but for now we encourage you to listen in to live performances via their YouTube channel. For a weekend visit to the Town of Clayton, where you can stroll along the Clayton Sculpture Trail, enjoy a sweet trip down Main Street, and get some exercise along the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse River -- we have put together a suggested itinerary to help you plan. Think Clayton, think the Arts!

Band from the back of the stage at The Clayton Center, in Clayton, NC.

Shop Our Downtowns

We love to invite visitors to get off the beaten path to explore what our thriving downtowns have to offer. Small business owners are adapting to a new way of doing business and so they need the support of visitors and residents alike. From boutiques, antique shops, vintage & variety shops, and local farmer's markets, there are unique finds for everyone's interests. Check out the variety of shopping available here in JoCo! 

The Bexley House exterior shot in Clayton, NC.