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Plan Your North Carolina Coast Vacation

Three hundred miles of breathtaking barrier islands make North Carolina's coastline a beach lover's dream. White sands and pristine waters, lighthouses, and a plethora of vacation homes mark the shore. Athletes and anglers; history buffs and gallery hoppers; singles, couples, and families of every configuration find plenty to do here, but snoozing along the quiet shore is just as appealing.

Distinctive port cities dot broad rivers that lead inland from the sounds. You’ll find American Revolution and Civil War battle sites, elegant golf links and kitschy putt-putt courses, upscale boutiques and big-box surf shops. Aquariums, fishing charters, and museum outreach programs put you up close and personal with the seashore critters. North Carolina's small towns (mostly of 1,000 to 3,000 people) offer their own special brand of genuine warmth and hospitality.

The coast is divided into three broad sections that include islands, shoreline, and coastal plains: the Outer Banks (Corolla south through Ocracoke, including Roanoke Island), the Crystal Coast (Core and Bogue Banks, Beaufort, Southport, Morehead City, and the inland river cities of New Bern and Edenton), and the greater Cape Fear region (Wrightsville Beach south through Wilmington to the Brunswick Isles). The Outer Banks are visible from space: the thin, delicate white tracings are barrier islands that form a buffer between the Atlantic Ocean and the mainland.

Although other states' coasts have wall-to-wall hotels and condominiums, much of North Carolina's coast belongs to the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation and the U.S. National Park Service. This arrangement keeps large chunks of the coast accessible to the public for exploration, athletic activities, picnicking, and camping. Still, property values have skyrocketed as summer residents' dream houses continually replace generations-old beach cottages.

Some of the coast either closes or operates on reduced hours during midwinter, which makes the colder season a special time to escape both crowds and peak prices but still enjoy seafood, beaches, and museums. Whether you're seeking peace or adventure, or a combination of both, you can find it on the coast.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Water, water everywhere Surfers delight in Cape Hatteras's formidable waves. Kayakers and boaters prefer the Crystal Coast's sleepy estuaries. Beach strollers love Ocracoke's remote, unspoiled shore.
  2. Pirate lore and hidden booty The Graveyard of the Atlantic is littered with shipwrecks to dive. See artifacts from Blackbeard's flagship Queen Anne's Revenge at Beaufort's North Carolina Maritime Museum.
  3. Lighting the darkness North Carolina has seven lighthouses, each with its own personality; a few, you can climb to the top.
  4. The Lost Colony In a mystery for the ages, 117 settlers disappeared without a trace. Their story is presented both in historical context and dramatic entertainment in Manteo.
  5. Fresh seafood Prepared practically every way possible—fried, grilled, stuffed, blackened, or raw—the bounty of the ocean is available all along the coast.

When To Go

When to Go

North Carolina's coast shines in spring (April and May) and fall (September and October), when the weather is most temperate and the water reasonably...

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