Sign Up
Newsletter Signup
Free Fodor's Newsletter

Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.

Passport: Your weekly travel wrap-up
Today's Departure: Your daily dose of travel inspiration

The North Carolina Coast Travel Guide

  • Photo: Eric Krouse / Shutterstock
  • Photo: iofoto / Shutterstock
  • Photo: Zack Frank / Shutterstock
  • Photo: MarkVanDykePhotography / Shutterstock

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 all sorts of wonderful vacation homes mark the shore. Athletes, history buffs, anglers, shoppers, and children find plenty do here, but snoozing along the quiet shore is just as appealing.

Distinctive port cities dot broad rivers that

lead inland from the sounds. There are American Revolution and Civil War battle sites, elegant golf links, and kitschy putt-putt courses. 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 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, Morehead City, and the inland river city of New Bern), and the greater Cape Fear region (Wrightsville Beach through the Brunswick County islands, including Wilmington). 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 closes during midwinter, but even the colder season is a special time to visit. You can escape both crowds and peak prices but still enjoy seafood, beaches, and museums. Whether you're seeking peace or adventure, you can find it on the coast.

Read More

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 flagshipQueen Anne's Revengeat Beaufort's North Carolina Maritime Museum. Queen Anne's Revenge at Beaufort's North Carolina Maritime Museum.
  3. Lighting the darkness North Carolina's seven lighthouses each has its individual personality.
  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 You can get fresh seafood of every variety fixed in practically every method—fried, grilled, stuffed, blackened, or raw.
  6. 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.
  7. Pirate lore and hidden booty The Graveyard of the Atlantic is littered with shipwrecks to dive. See artifacts from Blackbeard's flagshipQueen Anne's Revengeat Beaufort's North Carolina Maritime Museum. Queen Anne's Revenge at Beaufort's North Carolina Maritime Museum.
  8. Lighting the darkness North Carolina's seven lighthouses each has its individual personality.
  9. 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.
  10. Fresh seafood You can get fresh seafood of every variety fixed in practically every method—fried, grilled, stuffed, blackened, or raw.
  11. 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.
  12. Pirate lore and hidden booty The Graveyard of the Atlantic is littered with shipwrecks to dive. See artifacts from Blackbeard's flagshipQueen Anne's Revengeat Beaufort's North Carolina Maritime Museum. Queen Anne's Revenge at Beaufort's North Carolina Maritime Museum.
  13. Lighting the darkness North Carolina's seven lighthouses each has its individual personality.
  14. 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.
  15. Fresh seafood You can get fresh seafood of every variety fixed in practically every method—fried, grilled, stuffed, blackened, or raw.

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 reasona...

Read More

Check historic weather for your trip dates:

Advertisement

Advertisement

Trip Finder
Travel Deals