Getting Oriented

Your first decision is whether to choose one destination for thorough exploration or to sweep the entire coast in five to six days, which is more doable in spring or fall when traffic is lighter. Arrival options include driving here from nearby locales or flying into airports at Wilmington or New Bern, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; or Norfolk, Virginia; then renting a car. A vehicle is essential for navigating the coast here, as little public transportation is available. State-operated vehicle ferries and smaller private ferries provide essential links between islands and offer enjoyable alternatives to land routes. Boat touring is another option. Dozens of marinas line the shore, and the Intracoastal Waterway runs the length of the North Carolina coast.

  • The Outer Banks. Long stretches of wild beach are intermingled with small, lively towns on this ribbon of sand. The north end is a tourist mecca of shops, resorts, restaurants, beach cottages, and historic sites. Quieter villages and open, undeveloped beaches mark the south end, where travelers often hear nothing but surf and shorebirds. With just one two-lane road stretching the length of the Outer Banks, locals refer to mile markers instead of street numbers when giving directions.
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore. With challenging waves, myriad fish, and the impressive Cape Hatteras lighthouse anchoring the south end, this part of the Outer Banks is a surfer's playground, an angler's dream, and a history buff's treasure.
  • The Crystal Coast and New Bern. History here ranges from historical colonial sites to the birthplace of Pepsi, while extensive stretches of ocean, sound, and rivers please boaters, anglers, water-sports lovers, and those who just want to relax on a big Southern porch with a glass of sweet tea.
  • Wilmington and the Cape Fear Coast. Part cosmopolitan, part old-fashioned Southern charm, the Cape Fear region has attracted people from all over the world since the early 1500s, when explorers first arrived. You can still cast a line off an old wooden pier or spend the day roaming art galleries and wine bars.

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