This past week our family had the opportunity to visit New Bern, North Carolina and we spent two magical days in this gem of a town situated on the bank of the Neuse River. We drove down from the Washington DC area and it was roughly a 5 hour drive, though they do now have some direct flights between their regional airport (Coastal Carolina Regional Airport) and Reagan National Airport. Founded in 1710, New Bern was also the first capital of North Carolina. It’s a quaint yet bustling southern town where the houses are stately, you can tour Tryon Palace, visit a Civil War battlefield, shop to your heart’s content, eat incredible food thanks to their vibrant restaurant scene, spend time out on the water, or visit the birthplace of Pepsi. And the kids’ favorite part- hunting for the fiberglass bears that are scattered across town! (Mom hack- grab a map for each of your kids and let them circle all the bears they find. It kept our 3 little kids interested and engaged the entire time we were there!) The town is small and incredibly walkable, and we even brought scooters for the kids to use. There is a visitor’s center right in the center of town, and they can help you plan your visit and it’s a great place to grab brochures and maps. Here’s a recap of what we did while we were in New Bern, North Carolina!
A Family-Friendly Guide to New Bern, NC
Where we Stayed
We stayed at the William S. Gaskins house, which is a charming historic Airbnb located right on the Neuse River and within walking (and scootering) distance of downtown. Built in 1885, it has been fully updated and it has spacious porches on 3 sides of the house. There is ample space for the kids to play inside and out, the views of the river are stunning, and it has 4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms – this house was exactly what our family of 5 needed to relax and spread out during our stay in New Bern. My favorite part was enjoying coffee on the wicker chaise on the back porch, and the kids loved exploring outside and catching lightning bugs as the sun went down.
Where we Ate
Baker’s Kitchen– Southern comfort food at its finest! Baker’s Kitchen has a yummy assortment of baked goods and every Southern breakfast food you could want. 3 of us got cinnamon rolls and they were huge, warm and delicious. Great family friendly restaurant in a relaxed environment.
The Country Biscuit- A local establishment that’s been around for 40 years- The Country Biscuit is a laid back and family friendly restaurant with delicious biscuits, biscuit donuts, and Mickey Mouse pancakes for the kids. I ordered a breakfast sandwich and grits loaded with cheese and bacon. Tom got an omelet and we all enjoyed every bite. One unique thing about The Country Biscuit is that they have a server robot that helps the staff out! Her name is Rosie and the kids thought she was the coolest thing ever.
Baker’s Kitchen– Our first meal in New Bern was lunch at Baker’s Kitchen, but they also serve breakfast all day! I was in the mood for a good Southern meal so I had country fried steak and mashed potatoes. Tom had biscuits and gravy, Jack had French toast, Caroline had macaroni and cheese and Tate had chicken tenders. This restaurant was definitely Vail kid approved!
Morgan’s Tavern and Grill– Morgan’s Tavern and Grill was a hopping lunch spot! Great food and beer selection. I had a burger and Tom had the shrimp tacos. The kids devoured their burgers and cheese quesadillas. Really family friendly and a great place to relax after strolling around town!
The Chelsea Restaurant- On our first night in New Bern we ate dinner at The Chelsea Restaurant, and it was our favorite meal of the trip! It’s an upscale restaurant serving “New-American Cuisine” and it was very busy- for good reason! I’d definitely make reservations if you plan to eat here. We started with fried green tomatoes (served as caprese with mozzarella), and Tom got the grouper special and said it was one of the best pieces of fish he’s ever had. I had the horseradish and parmesan crusted salmon with saffron risotto and asparagus and it was incredible too. The kids devoured their cheese pizzas. This restaurant was kid friendly but since it’s finer dining it wasn’t as relaxed as many of the other places we ate while in New Bern. We did see other kids there and they have a kid’s menu, we just had to keep reminding our children to use their inside voices. If you love good seafood then The Chelsea is a must!
Cypress Hall Kitchen and Bar- For our final dinner in New Bern, we ate at Cypress Hall, which is a trendy new restaurant that any foodie would love. The bar is the center of the restaurant but there are booths along the side wall. It was the least kid friendly of all of the restaurants we visited and they did not have a kid’s menu, but they serve pizza so our kids were happy- I just had to be a bit more on edge since we didn’t see any other children there. The staff was totally welcoming of the kids, just more of a hip place that would have been more fun without kids, LOL. We started with pork rinds with pimento cheese (turns out Tate likes pork rinds!) and I had a spicy pizza with caramelized onions that was delicious. Tom got a Nashville hot chicken sandwich and a craft cocktail that he really enjoyed. The whole vibe of the place was very cool.
Tap That Craft Beer- Just a short walk past downtown, you’ll find New Bern’s “Beermuda Triangle.” There are 3 great breweries/bars at this intersection and I can imagine it would be really fun to visit these bars with a group of friends! I stopped by Tap That Craft Beer and Wine Bar on my own to see what it was all about (the kids needed to rest so Tom stayed home with them), and they had a great outdoor area that was kid friendly and the restaurant and bar area is huge!
Eateries that I heard great things about that we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit:
What We Did
North Carolina History Center- The huge North Carolina History Center is incredible! We only scratched the surface and spent close to an hour at the Pepsi Family Center- Portal to History while we waited for our Tryon Palace tour reservation. The center was interactive, educational, and incredibly kid friendly! They were able to pretend like they were sailing a ship, harvesting turpentine, fulfilling orders at the general store, and more. Definitely worth a visit, especially if you visit New Bern with children! There are a few other exhibits in the North Carolina History Center as well, so be sure to block off a good bit of time for this location.
Tryon Palace- New Bern was the first capital of North Carolina and Tryon Palace was home to the Royal Governor William Tryon. It was originally built between 1767 and 1770 but it burned down in 1798. In the early 1950s it was completely rebuilt using the original plans and furnished with the exact (or similar) antiques that had originally been in the home. You would never know it is not the original house when you tour it! You can tour the home with a guide in colonial-era clothing, explore the gardens, visit the kitchen and stable, and interact with a recreation of a Revolutionary War military camp. We took our children (ages 2, 4, and 6) on the palace tour and they did well, but I’d say that the inside tour is more suited for children 6 and up.
New Bern Trolley Tours- If you want to learn about the history of the town and hear stories about the most striking homes and buildings in New Bern, then going on a trolley tour is a must. I especially enjoyed the architectural aspect of the tour, as I’ve always loved learning about old homes. Jack went on this tour with me, but I’d say that this is probably best for adults and older children simply because it’s a lot of information and a good bit of sitting.
New Bern Bear Hunt- The highlight of the visit to New Bern was the Bear Town Bear Hunt! Stop by the Visitor’s Center and pick up a bear map so you can find and mark off all the bears in town. Why bears? Well, Swiss and Germans settled New Bern, and it was named after the founder’s home- Bern, Switzerland. Bern is the old Germanic word for Bear, and Bern, Switzerland’s symbol is a bear. New Bern followed suit, and bears are the symbol for this town as well. You can find them in most window displays, on the town’s flag and even in some architecture. In 2010 in commemoration of New Bern’s 300th year, different local businesses sponsored painted fiberglass bears and they have been placed all across town. The kids loved tracking them down and marking them on their maps. It kept them excited to keep walking and they loved seeing how all the different bears were painted. Such a highlight of the trip!
Birthplace of Pepsi- Pepsi was invented by a pharmacist in New Bern in 1898, and you can still get a Pepsi (or a float!) at the original pharmacy location. Tom and I both got floats and the kids each got a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a cup and some popcorn. It was a fun nostalgic treat!
We were supposed to go out on a pontoon boat with T & G Motorsports on our final morning but the rain had other plans. I wish we could have done it! The Neuse River is incredibly wide where New Bern is located and the views can’t be beat.
New Bern is also the home of author Nicholas Sparks, and many of his books take place in New Bern. If you’re a fan of The Notebook, The Wedding, or A Bend in the Road, be sure to do the “A Walk to Remember Tour” while you’re in New Bern so you can see some of the places that are mentioned in these books.
Where We Shopped
Oyster Belle- I truly wanted to move into this beautiful store. The building itself is stunning, with the original wood floors and ornate ceilings and walls, but the carefully curated assortment of clothing, home decor and accessories was equally impeccable. I picked up a seagrass wrapped salad bowl, a striped tray, and a rattan picture frame.
The Last Detail- The Last Detail is a home decor store that has a beautiful collection of art, furniture, and accessories. Think lots of blue and white, chinoiserie accents, and coastal decor. Definitely a must visit.
Peacock’s Plume- This chic boutique had an amazing selection of colorful and stylish clothing! The beautiful dresses caught my eye in particular, but they also had a wide variety of other clothing, accessories, and and footwear. The perfect place to find something unique to add to your wardrobe!
Nautical Wheelers- Tom needed to replace a very old pair of Sperrys that he lives in, so while he watched the kids I stopped by Nautical Wheelers and was able to find him the perfect pair of closed to summery sneakers. His old shoes promptly went in the trash.
Shops that were on my list that I didn’t have time to visit:
We had an incredible time in New Bern and I now know why it was ranked one of the best small towns by Southern Living in 2021! If you’re looking for a family friendly getaway or a spot for a future girls trip, be sure to consider visiting New Bern, North Carolina, as you’re sure to be in for a treat. For more content from out trip, be sure to check my “New Bern” highlight on Instagram!