The North Carolina Coast

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The North Carolina Coast - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Battleship North Carolina

    Downtown

    Across the Cape Fear River from downtown, take a self-guided tour of a ship that participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific during...

    Across the Cape Fear River from downtown, take a self-guided tour of a ship that participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific during World War II. Exploring the floating city, with living quarters, a post office, chapel, laundry, and even an ice cream shop, takes about two hours. A climb down into the ship's interior is not for the claustrophobic. A ½-mile timber walkway lets visitors tour the ship's exterior with no cost of admission. The ship, which is open for tours every day of the year, can be reached by car or via river taxi from the downtown waterfront.

    1 Battleship Rd., Wilmington, North Carolina, 28401, USA
    910-399--9100

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $14
  • 2. Bodie Island Light Station

    The original Bodie (pronounced "body") lighthouse was constructed in 1847 but had to be abandoned in 1859 because of structural issues; the replacement lighthouse was...

    The original Bodie (pronounced "body") lighthouse was constructed in 1847 but had to be abandoned in 1859 because of structural issues; the replacement lighthouse was destroyed by Confederate troops in 1861. The current black-and-white-banded, 156-foot-tall lighthouse was completed in 1872 and has been restored several times. The original lightkeepers' home, last remodeled in 1992, now serves as a ranger station and information center. From the third Friday in April to Columbus Day, you can climb the 214 steps to the top. (Children must be at least 42 inches tall, and climbers must weigh less than 260 pounds.)

    8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Rd., Bodie Island, North Carolina, 27959, USA
    252-473--2111

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Grounds and visitor center free, lighthouse climb $10, Lighthouse tower closed mid-Oct.–late Apr., Visitor center open year-round; lighthouse open for climbing late Apr.-mid Oct.
  • 3. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

    Authorized by Congress in 1794 to help prevent shipwrecks, this was the first lighthouse built in the region. The original structure was lost to erosion...

    Authorized by Congress in 1794 to help prevent shipwrecks, this was the first lighthouse built in the region. The original structure was lost to erosion and Civil War damage; this 1870 replacement is, at 210 feet, the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. Endangered by the sea, in 1999 the lighthouse, with its distinctive black-and-white spiral paint and red-and-tan base, was raised and rolled some 2,900 feet inland to its present location. A visitor center is located near the base of the lighthouse. In summer the Museum of the Sea in the former keeper's quarters is open, and you can climb the lighthouse's 257 narrow steps to the viewing balcony. Children under 42 inches tall aren't allowed to climb. Offshore lie the remains of the USS Monitor, a Confederate ironclad ship that sank in 1862.

    46379 Lighthouse Rd., Buxton, North Carolina, 27920, USA
    252-473--2111

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Visitor center and keeper\'s quarters free, lighthouse climb $8, Lighthouse and museum closed mid-Oct.–late Apr., Visitor center and grounds open daily 9-5 year-round; Museum of the Sea and lighthouse late Apr.–Columbus Day
  • 4. Cape Lookout Lighthouse

    This distinctive 1859 lighthouse's double walls allow the tower to rise as tall as required—169 feet—without making the building unstable. This lighthouse on Core Banks...

    This distinctive 1859 lighthouse's double walls allow the tower to rise as tall as required—169 feet—without making the building unstable. This lighthouse on Core Banks island withstood retreating Confederate troops' attempts to blow it up to keep it out of Union hands (they stole the lens instead). With its white-and-black diamond markings, the beacon continues to function as a navigational aid. A small museum inside the visitor center over on Harkers Island tells the story of the lighthouse from its first incarnation in 1812. Anyone 44 inches or taller may climb the tower's 207 steps from mid-May to mid-September. The climb is worth it for an incomparable view of Cape Lookout's wild shores. A private ferry, Island Express Ferry Service, runs between both Beaufort and Harkers Island to the lighthouse.

    131 Charles St., Harkers Island, North Carolina, 28531, USA
    252-728–2250-Cape Lookout park service information line

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Grounds free; lighthouse $8; round-trip for pedestrian ferry from Harkers Island $18, from Beaufort $40, Lighthouse closed mid-Sept.–late May; Harkers Island and Beaufort ferries closed Oct.–Feb.
  • 5. Currituck Beach Lighthouse

    The 1875 lighthouse was built from nearly 1 million bricks, which remain unpainted on the exterior. Except in high winds or thunderstorms, or during winter...

    The 1875 lighthouse was built from nearly 1 million bricks, which remain unpainted on the exterior. Except in high winds or thunderstorms, or during winter when the lighthouse is closed, you can climb 220 steps to the top of the northernmost lighthouse on the Outer Banks, taking in the view toward Virginia and south to Nags Head.

    1101 Corolla Village Rd., Corolla, North Carolina, 27927, USA
    252-453–4939

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Lighthouse $10, grounds free, Closed Dec.--early Mar.
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  • 6. Fort Fisher State Historic Site

    This is one of the South's largest and most important earthworks fortifications from the Civil War, so tough and strategically placed along the Cape Fear...

    This is one of the South's largest and most important earthworks fortifications from the Civil War, so tough and strategically placed along the Cape Fear River that it was known as the Southern Gibraltar. The fall of the fort in January 1865, closing the last supply lines for the South, helped seal the fate of the Confederacy. You can explore the restored battery with its reconstructed artillery and follow trails along the river. Inside, displays range from Civil War relics and a fiber-optic battle map to artifacts from sunken blockade runners. It's also known for its underwater archaeology sites. Fort Fisher also includes a beach access point with showers. It's one of the most attractive beaches in the area.

    1610 Fort Fisher Blvd., Kure Beach, North Carolina, 28449, USA
    910-251--7340

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun. and Mon., Memorial Day–Labor Day, Tues.–Sat. 9–5, Sun. noon-5
  • 7. Fort Macon State Park

    The centerpiece of this multiuse state park is the 1834 pentagon-shape fortress, built under the supervision of a young Robert E. Lee. From atop its...

    The centerpiece of this multiuse state park is the 1834 pentagon-shape fortress, built under the supervision of a young Robert E. Lee. From atop its walls, where six cannons still point out toward the harbor, take in the gorgeous 360-degree views of Beaufort and across the ocean. The fort was briefly used by the Confederacy against the Union during the Civil War, but was quickly surrendered under siege in 1862. The 365-acre park also offers picnic areas, hiking trails through the maritime forest, and a mile-long beachfront with a large bathhouse, showers, and refreshments. The beach has lifeguards on duty June through Labor Day and is known as one of the best surfing breaks in the Crystal Coast area.

    2303 E. Fort Macon Rd., Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, 28512, USA
    252-726--3775

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Daily 9–5:30 (visitor center closes at 5)
  • 8. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

    Fort Raleigh is a restoration of the original 1584–90 earthworks that mark the beginning of English-colonial history in America. The site has been identified as...

    Fort Raleigh is a restoration of the original 1584–90 earthworks that mark the beginning of English-colonial history in America. The site has been identified as the original site of the doomed Lost Colonists, and the question that hangs in the air here is "What happened to the 117 men, women, and children of the 1587 expedition who disappeared without a trace?" Be sure to see the orientation film before taking a guided tour of the fort. A nature trail through the 513-acre grounds leads to an outlook over Croatan Sound. Native American and Civil War history is also preserved here.

    1401 National Park Dr., Manteo, North Carolina, 27954, USA
    252-473–2111-general information number for all Outer Banks NPS parks

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Grounds daily dawn–dusk; visitor center daily 9–5
  • 9. Historic Corolla Village

    What was once an aging, isolated beach town is now a vibrant year-round community where the tiny chapel schoolhouse again educates children and restored buildings...

    What was once an aging, isolated beach town is now a vibrant year-round community where the tiny chapel schoolhouse again educates children and restored buildings house art galleries, a coffee shop, a bookstore, a barbecue restaurant, and a nonprofit dedicated to the wild horses that wander the beach and surrounding maritime forest. The road ends in Corolla—to access the beach north of here, you need a 4x4 vehicle.

    Corolla, North Carolina, 27927, USA
    252-453--9612
  • 10. Jennette's Pier

    Built in 1939, Jennette's Pier was North Carolina's oldest wooden ocean-fishing pier until 2003 when Hurricane Isabel knocked it down. In 2009, the state of...

    Built in 1939, Jennette's Pier was North Carolina's oldest wooden ocean-fishing pier until 2003 when Hurricane Isabel knocked it down. In 2009, the state of North Carolina came to the rescue, breaking ground for not only a new, 1,000-foot-long concrete pier but also a public beach access point with 262 free parking spaces. Operated by North Carolina Aquariums, this is a great spot for fishing—depending on the time of year, you can catch black and red drum, flounder, king mackerel, mahimahi, gray trout, and others—and the website gives a daily fishing report along with details of notable catches. Non-anglers can walk on the pier, check out the aquarium fish tanks in the two-story, 16,000-square-foot pier house, or just laze on the wide, clean beach.

    7223 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, North Carolina, 27959, USA

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Walk-on $2, fishing $14
  • 11. Jockey's Ridge State Park

    The 427 acres of this park encompass the tallest sand dune system on the East Coast (about 80 to 100 feet). Walk along the 384-foot...

    The 427 acres of this park encompass the tallest sand dune system on the East Coast (about 80 to 100 feet). Walk along the 384-foot boardwalk from the visitor center to the edge of the dune. The climb to the top is a challenge; nevertheless, it's a popular spot for hang gliding (Kitty Hawk Kites has an outpost here for beginner lessons), kite flying, and sand boarding. You can also explore an estuary, a museum, and a self-guided trail through the park, which also has eight picnic shelters. In summer, join the free Sunset on the Ridge program: watch the sun disappear while you sit on the dunes and learn about their local legends and history. Covered footwear is a wise choice here, as the loose sand gets quite hot (25–30 degrees hotter than air temperature) in the summer months.

    300 W. Carolista Dr., Nags Head, North Carolina, 27959, USA
    252-441–7132

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Park: June–Aug., daily 8 am–9 pm; Mar., Apr., May, Sept., and Oct., daily 8–8; Nov.–Feb., daily 8–6. Visitor Center: Mar.–Oct. daily 9–6; Nov.–Feb. 9–5
  • 12. Kure Beach

    Family memories are made here on tall ocean piers where kids reel in their first big catches. You can swim, beachcomb, kiteboard over the big...

    Family memories are made here on tall ocean piers where kids reel in their first big catches. You can swim, beachcomb, kiteboard over the big blue sea, or scuba dive down to find some of the Cape Fear Coast's dozens of shipwrecks. Wildlife excursions set off from various nature trails, birding sites, and miles of undeveloped beach at the southern end. Shorebirds and loggerhead sea turtles inhabit the remote reserve of Zeke's Island. At Fort Fisher, the Confederacy's largest earthen fort, you can track Kure Beach's history. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (generally Memorial Day to Labor Day); parking (mostly no fee). Best for: sunrise; sunset; surfing; swimming; windsurfing.

    U.S. 421, off U.S. 17, Kure Beach, North Carolina, 28449, USA

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 13. Ocracoke Island Beaches

    The 16 miles of undeveloped shoreline here are often considered some of the best beaches in America. These beaches are among the least visited and...

    The 16 miles of undeveloped shoreline here are often considered some of the best beaches in America. These beaches are among the least visited and most beautiful on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The shelling is amazing, the solitude unparalleled. Four public-access areas are close to the main beach road, North Carolina Highway 12, and easy to spot; just look for large brown-and-white wooden signs. There are lifeguards only at the day-use beach ½ mile north of Ocracoke Village in late May through early September.Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming.

    Irvin Garrish Hwy. (NC 12), Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, 27960, USA

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 14. Portsmouth Village

    Portsmouth Island

    This coastal "ghost town" is like nowhere else on the southeastern Atlantic coast, and the few thousand people that make it here each year are...

    This coastal "ghost town" is like nowhere else on the southeastern Atlantic coast, and the few thousand people that make it here each year are stunned to realize it exists.Inhabited from 1753 until the early 1970s, Portsmouth had 685 permanent residents at its peak in 1860, making it one of the largest settlements on the Outer Banks. It was a "lightering" town, where ships heavy with cargo had to unload to smaller boats that could navigate the shallow Ocracoke Inlet. But the Civil War and the dredging of a deeper inlet at Hatteras were the beginning of the end for the town. By 1956 there were 17 inhabitants; the last two left in 1971. Today the public can tour the one-room schoolhouse, the Methodist church, the post office and general store, and the turn-of-the-20th-century lifesaving station (a multiroom Coast Guard station), each of which has been restored following the devestating flooding of Hurricane Dorian in 2019. Guided tours are available June 1 to September 1. Bring your own food, water, and bug spray (the mosquitoes could carry you away). Rudy Austin's Portsmouth Island Boat Tours runs a small passenger boat from Ocracoke.

    Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina, 28531, USA
    252-728–2250-park information line

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Passenger ferry $40 per person
  • 15. Tryon Palace

    This elegant reconstructed 1770 Georgian building was the colonial capitol and originally the home of Royal Governor William Tryon. Tours are led by witty, engaging...

    This elegant reconstructed 1770 Georgian building was the colonial capitol and originally the home of Royal Governor William Tryon. Tours are led by witty, engaging docents dressed in period attire and sometimes include cooking demonstrations in the freestanding kitchen. The palace burned to the ground in 1798, and it wasn't until 1959 that a rebuilt, scale replica of the home was completed. Today, only the stable and one basement wall are original, and the foundation has been restored to its original footprint. Everything else has been reconstructed from architectural plans, maps, and letters; and the palace is furnished with English and American antiques corresponding to Governor Tryon's inventory. Additionally, 85% of the books in the library are the same titles as those that were there 200 years ago. The stately John Wright Stanly House (circa 1783), the George W. Dixon House (circa 1830), the Robert Hay House (circa 1805), and the New Bern Academy (circa 1809) are also part of the 13-acre Tryon Palace complex. You can also stroll through the 18th-century-style formal gardens, which bloom year-round but are especially popular during spring tulip and fall mum seasons. The complex's 60,000-square-foot North Carolina History Center contains two museums providing interactive displays that trace the history of New Bern and the central North Carolina coast.

    529 S. Front St., New Bern, North Carolina, 28562, USA
    800-767–1560

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Guided tours of Governor\'s Palace $20; galleries and gardens access only $6, Mon.–Sat. 9–5, Sun. 1–5
  • 16. Wright Brothers National Memorial

    One of the most popular photo sites on the Outer Banks, 5 miles south of Kitty Hawk, is the 60-foot granite airplane's tail that stands...

    One of the most popular photo sites on the Outer Banks, 5 miles south of Kitty Hawk, is the 60-foot granite airplane's tail that stands as a tribute to Wilbur and Orville Wright, two bicycle mechanics from Ohio who took to the air here on December 17, 1903. A sculptured replica of their WrightFlyer and stone markers showing the exact points and distances soared help you experience the historic day humans first made powered flight—and the multiyear, trial-and-error process the perseverant brothers endured leading up to it. Informative talks by National Park Service rangers also help bring the event to life. The museum and visitor center, completely renovated in 2018, uses historical artifacts, reproductions, and displays to dive into the lives, legends, and flight process of the brothers.

    1000 N. Croatan Hwy., Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 27954, USA
    252-473–2111

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $10 (free for National Park pass holders), Daily 9–5
  • 17. Airlie Gardens

    Midtown

    This garden's 67 lush acres feature azaleas, magnolias, and camellias that flourish near two freshwater lakes that attract waterfowl. This is not an ornate flower...

    This garden's 67 lush acres feature azaleas, magnolias, and camellias that flourish near two freshwater lakes that attract waterfowl. This is not an ornate flower garden—it's more of a naturally beautiful place to take a stroll beside the river, enjoying native plants in bloom, trailside sculptures, and abundant birdlife. Take note of the greatest specimen in the gardens: a gargantuan five-century-old oak. May through October you can flutter among 300 to 400 butterflies in the huge butterfly house. The last tickets of the day are sold a half hour before closing. No pets (except service animals) are permitted.

    300 Airlie Rd., Wilmington, North Carolina, 28403, USA
    910-798–7700

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $9, Mid-Mar.–Dec., daily 9–5; Jan.–mid Mar., Tues.–Sun. 9–5. Hours are extended during the spring blooming season
  • 18. Atlantic Beach

    Just across the harbor from Beaufort—but three bridges driving—this beach is a family-friendly spot known for its wide stretches of sand (even at high tide)...

    Just across the harbor from Beaufort—but three bridges driving—this beach is a family-friendly spot known for its wide stretches of sand (even at high tide) and beautiful green water. Free outdoor movies, movie festivals, playgrounds, and a park are featured on the town's Circle. A boardwalk fronts part of the clean, wide beach, where buoys mark lifeguard-protected swimming areas. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming; windsurfing.

    W. Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, 28512, USA
  • 19. Beaufort Historic Site

    In the center of town, the historic site consists of 10 buildings dating from 1732 to 1859, eight of which have been restored, including the...

    In the center of town, the historic site consists of 10 buildings dating from 1732 to 1859, eight of which have been restored, including the 1796 Carteret County Courthouse and the 1859 Apothecary Shop and Doctor's Office. Don't miss the Old Burying Grounds (1709), where Otway Burns, a privateer in the War of 1812, is buried under his ship's cannon; a nine-year-old girl who died at sea is buried in a rum keg; and an English soldier saluting the king is buried upright in his grave. Tours of the entire 12-block historic site, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places, either on an English-style double-decker bus or by guided walk, depart from the visitor center. For a self-guided tour, download the free walking tour brochure from the website and put on your walking shoes—Beaufort has about 150 historic houses with plaques that list their date of construction and original owner.

    100 Block Turner St., Beaufort, North Carolina, 28516, USA
    252-728–5225

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Guided walking tour $12; bus tour $12; combined tickets: $18
  • 20. Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola

    In honor of the soda's 100th anniversary in 1998, the local bottling company opened the Birthplace in the same corner store where teacher-turned-pharmacist Caleb Bradham...

    In honor of the soda's 100th anniversary in 1998, the local bottling company opened the Birthplace in the same corner store where teacher-turned-pharmacist Caleb Bradham brewed his first batch of "Brad's Drink." He later renamed it Pepsi-Cola, marketing the syrup to other soda fountains, and a conglomerate was born. This old-fashioned shop feels like a museum, with its reproduction of Bradham's fountain and exhibits of memorabilia, including the original recipe that included coriander, nutmeg, and a half gallon of alcohol. Enjoy an ice-cold bottle of Pepsi while roaming the gift shop, full of Pepsi history and souvenirs ranging from T-shirts to thimbles.

    256 Middle St., New Bern, North Carolina, 28560, USA
    252-636–5898

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Mon.–Sat. 10–6; Sun. noon–4

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