North Carolina’s coastal towns offer a wide range of things to do and see, from small, historic towns with 18th-century houses and tree-lined streets to busy beach towns and fun places for families to do things together.
Many people go to the Outer Banks, but there are many other places to go. Depending on what kind of vacation you want, you can find small towns along the Atlantic Coast or along the sounds.
These places are great places to go to get away from the summer heat and humidity. With ocean breezes and cool water to swim in, this is a great place to relax.
People have been coming to this part of the coast since the early 1800s for good reasons. Spend some time figuring out why on your own. Start with our list of the best North Carolina beach towns.
Without a doubt, Wilmington is one of the best beach cities in North Carolina. It is a top favorite destination on the Atlantic coast.
While it is a larger destination than most beach towns in North Carolina, it is the perfect place to kick off your exploration of the coast.
There are plenty of things to do in Wilmington, NC including water parks, and historical and cultural activities. Wilmington also has terrific seafood that you can enjoy while dining on one of the piers.
From Wilmington, you can visit other beach towns in North Carolina like Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, Wellington Beach, and Surf City. All of these places are reasonable if you are looking for day trips near Wilmington.
Wilmington, NC, is also best known for being the backdrop to many famous Hollywood productions, including Dawsons Creek, One Tree Hill and the Outer Banks.
Its location on Cape Fear creates a district lifestyle that provides a unique setting and contributes to the development of stories.
14. Oak Island
Oak Island is one of the best family beach towns in North Carolina. Separated from the mainland of the state by the Intracoastal, this seaside town in the southeast corner of the state is beautiful. Oak Island offers more than 10 miles of coast with immaculate sandy beaches.
This is one of the top fishing destinations on the Outer Banks. There are two public fishing piers for you to check out, The Oak Island Pier and The Ocean Crest Fishing Pier.
You can also visit the Oak Island Nature Centre to learn more about fishing and wildlife in the Brunswick Islands.
If you are looking for more things to do in the outer banks there is no shortage of activities that everyone will love.
From horseback riding to historical and natural landmarks, this place is a wonder.
Biking around Oak Island is the best way to get around. After you arrive on a ferry, bike along the coast and see the Oak Island Lighthouse, your beach paradise awaits. This is one of the beach towns in North Carolina you must visit.
13. Surf City
Visiting Surf City is a must if you are hoping to see beach towns in North Carolina. The name alone tells you this is the ultimate beach town. Located on Topsail Island, it is an underrated place to spend some time by the beach.
Unlike other beach towns in North Carolina, Surf City is far less touristy. On Topsail Beach, do not expect there to be the same level of commercialization.
However, there are still amazing attractions like the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre.
Topsail Island is known for having lush maritime forests, sea turtles, and fresh crystal blue water. The beaches here are so calming.
The best time to visit Surf City is from May to September, as this is when the conditions are best to get the whole experience.
Beat the crowds and visit Surf City. Catch jaw-dropping sunsets while you relax at one of the loveliest beach towns in North Carolina. You will make one of a kind memories here.
Edenton is a quiet place to get away from the stress of everyday life. It is on Albemarle Sound. This 300-year-old town was the first Colonial capital of North Carolina.
It is full of beautifully restored old homes and buildings. Some of these beautiful buildings are now shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts.
Most of the main attractions are close enough to each other that you can walk between them, and many of them are free to visit. A 15-minute video at the tourist information office at the top of South Broad Street is a great way to start your tours.
The Chowan County Courthouse is one of the best things about the area. Not to be confused with the replica courthouse, this original building faces the sound and looks out over a large green area.
There are cannons at the edge of the water. You can see bald cypress trees growing in the water. They are between 500 and 2,000 years old.
The bottom of South Broad Street is where most of the action takes place. From here, you can ride the trolley around town, take a boat tour on Albemarle Sound, or stop by the historic Cupola House.
Edenton is a great place to go for a romantic weekend away. Book a room at one of the town’s charming old bed and breakfasts and spend the day wandering around at your own pace.
11. Nags Head
Nags Head is the biggest town in the Outer Banks and one of the best-known beach towns. This is a great place for families because there are so many things to do here, like mini golf, restaurants that are good for families, and one of the best beaches in North Carolina.
For parents, there are outlet malls, beach shops, Gallery Row, and the Historic District, which has traditional cedar shake beach cottages that haven’t been painted.
Nags Head is one of the few Outer Banks towns with a good variety of hotels, including resorts. Bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals are other types of places to stay.
Janette’s Pier is the most popular place to fish in town and one of the most popular things to do. This impressive concrete building goes out into the Atlantic Ocean for 1,000 feet.
To walk out on the pier, you have to pay a token fee, which is well worth it for the great views. Bring your fishing gear if you like to fish.
You might catch a Spanish mackerel, bluefish, triggerfish, sea mullet, croaker, or pigfish. Here, parking is free and easy to find.
Nag’s Head Fishing Pier is the other pier in town. As the name suggests, it is mostly for fishing. It is near Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the northern part of town.
Edenton is a peaceful place to get away from the stress of everyday life. It’s on Albemarle Sound. This town was the first Colonial capital of North Carolina.
It has been around for 300 years. It is full of old homes and buildings that have been beautifully fixed up. Some of these lovely buildings are now shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts.
Most of the main attractions are close enough to each other that you can walk between them, and many of them are free to see. You can start your tours with a 15-minute video at the tourist information office at the top of South Broad Street.
One of the best things about the area is the Chowan County Courthouse. This original building, which is not to be confused with the replica courthouse, faces the sound and looks out over a large green area. At the edge of the water, there are guns.
In the water, there are bald cypress trees that you can see. Between 500 and 2,000 years ago, they were made.
Most of what’s going on is at the bottom of South Broad Street. From here, you can ride the trolley around town, take a boat tour on Albemarle Sound, or visit the historic Cupola House.
Edenton is a great place to spend a weekend with your special someone. Book a room at one of the town’s charming old bed and breakfasts and spend the day walking around at your own pace.
Duck is different from many other Outer Banks towns. It is quiet and green, with big trees and stately homes.
There are no big box stores or chain restaurants here. Instead, it’s all small, local, and sometimes weird places with a low-key vibe.
The main part of Duck is on the wide, flat Currituck Sound, which keeps the worst weather from the Atlantic Ocean away.
Duck is also special because it has a long, elevated boardwalk that goes out over the water for a mile and connects restaurants, shops, and parks while giving great views of the sound.
The Duck Boardwalk is a great place to go for a walk. It starts at the parking lot for the kayak launch and goes south along the water’s edge until it ends at Aqua Restaurant, where you can have a leisurely lunch on their great outdoor patio.
Aside from eating, shopping, and walking, you can fish from the boardwalk, crab on the sound, ride a bike along the six-mile Duck Trail, or watch a free show at the Amphitheater.
The Duck Jazz Festival is a big music event in the town. This free event happens every year during the second week of October.
9. Kitty Hawk
Just north of Kill Devil Hills is the town of Kitty Hawk. If you are driving along Highway 158, with its big box stores and shops, you might not even notice that you are in a different town.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first people to fly at Kitty Hawk. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is a great place to visit that is just south of town.
Long and wide, with golden brown sand, Kitty Hawk’s beach is a great place for long walks. Most of the services are along the main highway, just like in Nags Head.
There are a lot of family-friendly restaurants, mini golf courses, a Children’s Museum, and beach shops in this area.
At the northern end of Kitty Hawk, where Highway 158 meets Highway 12, there is a small pier. Behind the big Hilton Garden Inn is where the pier is.
The large maritime forest in Sandy Run Park is one of the most interesting things about Kitty Hawk.
For a break from the beach, you can walk along the peaceful boardwalk, where you might see yellow-bellied slider turtles, deer, otters, or egrets. Launch a kayak or canoe and explore the twisty waterways to get an even better look.
8. Carolina Beach
Just a short drive from Wilmington will get you to Carolina Beach, where the sand is golden and the water is warm.
The famous old Carolina Beach Boardwalk is full of fun things to do, like carnival rides, a carousel, an arcade, ice cream shops, and restaurants with beachfront patios.
Every Thursday night in the summer, there are concerts with live music and fireworks. The musicians play a wide range of styles.
Carolina Beach is known as a great place to go surfing in North Carolina. Here, there is a wide beach with soft sand.
Carolina Beach is great for families because it has both the ocean and fun things to do behind it. Carolina Beach State Park is close by and has places to camp.
7. Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach is easy to get to and has a beautiful waterfront. It is often called one of the best beaches in North Carolina. The beach here is big, and the water is clear and looks like aquamarine.
People who like to surf, stand up paddleboard, and kayak often go to the beach, so bring your gear. The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History and the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center are two places to visit in the area.
During the summer, from the middle of May to the end of September, every Monday at 8am, there is a farmers market. It is on the town grounds, close to the town hall.
Wrightsville Beach is a short drive from Wilmington, so it’s easy and quick to get here. There are well-marked parking lots where you can park, and you can pay by the hour and add time to your parking pass with your phone.
Crystal Pier is where most of the people meet. People come here to fish, walk hand in hand, or just hang out and look out at the ocean.
People plan to go back to Beaufort almost as soon as they get there. Beaufort is the third oldest town in North Carolina. It has a lot of history.
The town has a maritime feel to it because it is on three sides by water. Homes from the 17th century are on beautiful streets with lots of trees that make you want to take a stroll and think about how people lived here more than 200 years ago.
Down by the docks, there’s always something to see or do, like a fisherman showing off his catch or people catching up on an outdoor patio.
One fun thing to do here is to take a tour of the harbour, where dolphins will almost certainly be racing in your bow wake.
The Rachel Carson Reserve is close by and has wild horses, birds, turtles, and other animals. One of the best parts of a trip to Beaufort is going to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, which has treasures from Blackbeard’s shipwreck that were found just offshore.
5. Morehead City
This lively, outdoorsy town is one of the bigger ones along the North Carolina coast. It draws you in and makes you want to stay for a while. Here, fishing is king, and there are many charter boats that take people out for a day of fishing.
Make sure to stop by the weigh-in area in the afternoon, when the boats bring back their catches, some of which are huge. In fact, every year in the second week of June, the world-famous Big Rock Blue Marlin Fishing Tournament is held here.
All of the good fishing means that the town has a lot of great restaurants with great seafood. Fresh fish is cooked in ways that will make your taste buds happy.
The North Carolina Seafood Festival takes place every year on the first weekend of October if you can plan ahead. It is one of the most popular events in the state.
The town is easy to get around on foot. Walk around the shops, stop by the water to see what’s going on, and then relax on a patio by the water to take in the view of Sugarloaf Island. Get some sun and sand at Atlantic Beach by crossing the bridge.
Southport’s maritime history goes back to 1795, when it was founded at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.
The town is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it has been beautifully brought back to its former glory. More than 40 movies and TV shows have been filmed here.
The best way to understand a town is to walk around it. The best places to see and things to do are easy to get to on foot, and if you get tired from your adventures, you can stop at one of the restaurants and refuel with a delicious seafood meal.
The Old Brunswick County Jail Museum, the Maritime Museum, and the Fort Johnson-Southport Museum and Visitors Center are all full of history. Visit the Southport Pier and Riverwalk, which has great views and a nice breeze. The journey starts at the City Pier.
The historic Southport-Fort Fisher car and passenger ferry is a great way to get from Wilmington to Southport.
This 30-minute ride across the mouth of the Cape Fear River is cheap and a much better way to get to town than taking the long way around.
Calabash should be your first stop if you like good food and small towns with a lot of character. The town calls itself the “Seafood Capital of the World,” which is a bold claim, but there is some truth to it.
In addition to great places to eat, the town has a wide range of shops that are great for shopping. In the summer, every Tuesday there is a free concert in the town park.
Different bands play different kinds of music. It’s fun for the whole family. Nearby, people set up stands where they sold everything from homemade ice cream to savoury foods.
Golfing, dolphin cruises, and deep-sea fishing are all things to do just outside of town.
Another great beach town in the Outer Banks is Avon, which is a great place to stay if you want to see the best of the area.
Even though the town is just a bunch of shops and restaurants along the highway, it is a popular place to visit because of its beautiful beach and other nearby attractions.
The Avon Pier is where most people in town get together. After you pay your dollar, you can walk out on the pier. You’ll want to take pictures of the crazy zigzag path almost as soon as you see it. From here, you can see all the way up and down the coast.
Keep an eye out for surfers doing their thing next to the pier when the waves are big. Avon Pier is also a popular place to fish, especially for drum, which people have caught in record numbers there.
The tall Cape Hatteras lighthouse is one of the most interesting places to see near Avon. It is about eight miles south of the town. This black-and-white lighthouse can be climbed, and if you take the 257 steps to the top, you’ll get a great view of the coast.
The three cities of Waves, Rodanthe, and Salvo are only a short distance north of Avon. When you see the colourful kites of the kiteboarders just offshore, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
Stop by Good Winds for lunch, which is upstairs in the Kitty Hawk Kites complex. You can sit on the patio and watch the crazy kiters fly over the waves and do tricks in the air.
You can stop and park yourself in Avon. Most of the places to stay are beach houses on stilts that you can rent from one of the local real estate agencies.
Online, you can see what houses are available and what they have to offer. You can also make reservations there. There are a few hotels just south of town in Buxton if you’d rather stay in one.
1. Buxton and Frisco
These two towns on Hatteras Island, at the end of the Outer Banks, are very close to each other. Along the main street, which is also called Highway 12, there are many different shops, restaurants, and hotels.
The towns are perfectly located so that you can enjoy the North Carolina beach. There are many beach access roads that make it easy for 4WD vehicles to get to the ocean.
This lets you get to some of the best beaches in the Outer Banks. You don’t have a 4WD car? Not a problem. Just drive your car to the access road and walk the short distance to the beach.
The well-known black and white Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is in the town of Buxton. Climb up the 257 steps to the top, where you can see all around you. You can stay in a local hotel or vacation home, but a lot of people prefer to camp.
Some of the best places to camp in the Outer Banks are at two campgrounds close by. In fact, the campground near Frisco is so close to the beach that you can hear the waves crashing as you fall asleep.
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