5 Perfect Summer Vacations on the North Carolina Coast

5 Perfect Summer Vacations on the North Carolina Coast

Johnnie Mercer’s Pier is an iconic landmark at Wrightsville Beach, located 20 minutes from Wilmington

It may seem as if everyone is heading to the North Carolina coast this summer, but with 320 miles of coastline to choose from, the destinations vary. From the northern region of our coast (Outer Banks) to the southern tip (Brunswick Islands), here are five cities and towns – with riverfronts and beaches – where you'll wish you could stay all summer.

Beach Retreat: Nags Head

Cape Hatteras National Seashore sunrise

Cape Hatteras National Seashore spans more than 70 miles, from south Nags Head to Ocracoke Inlet

Nags Head is the quintessential Outer Banks town – a symbiotic mix of land and sea with plenty of natural and cultural attractions. Treasures around Nags Head include Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which boasts one of the loftiest active sand dune systems in the eastern United States. It’s also one of the planet’s premier locations for learning to hang glide. Kitty Hawk Kites, just across from the dunes, offers hang-gliding lessons as well as kayak tours, dolphin tours, and guides for wakeboarding and stand up paddleboarding. But it doesn't have to all be adventurous, especially when a great variety of vacation rentals put you steps away from beach relaxation.

Pretty Small Town: Edenton

Penelope Barker House Welcome Center in Edenton

Start your tour of Edenton at the Penelope Barker House Welcome Center

Make this summer historic in more ways than one by heading to Edenton, which earns the distinction of being one of “America’s Prettiest Small Towns.” Beautifully preserved historical homes tell the story of 300 years of history, while a vibrant downtown district offers modern shops and restaurants to visitors and locals alike. Visit the Chowan County Courthouse, built in 1767, or the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse that overlooks Edenton Bay. When hunger strikes, make sure to stop by Nothing Fancy Café and Market, where you can enjoy Southern cooking made from scratch and peruse local crafts and collectibles. Or go for upscale classic American fare at 309 Bistro.

Cheers to the Coast: New Bern

Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant

New Bern Convention & Visitors Bureau

Enjoy the views from Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant in New Bern

You’ll discover that our coastal cities and towns, such as New Bern, are filled with acclaimed restaurants and wineries. Dine al fresco at Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant, overlooking the Neuse River, or at Christoph’s on the Water, where you can people-watch as boats pull in and out of the dock. Fill your days with visits to Tryon Palace and the North Carolina History Center, wander through the spectacular gardens, historic homes and quaint shops of downtown, and stop by the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola. Plus, near New Bern, Lake Road Winery

Land on the River: Wilmington

Wilmington Riverwalk runners

Wilmington's Riverwalk is always bustling with activity

Indulge all your senses in Wilmington and its island beaches. Downtown is an experience all its own, from the streets lined with restaurants, bars and shops, to the scenic Riverwalk where boats dock awaiting to lead tours along the Cape Fear River. Among the many places to eat you’ll want to visit are The George on the Riverwalk, for incomparable views; Fork N Cork, a small dining spot that’s big on taste; and Caprice Bistro, a perfect date night choice. Plus, at any moment, you can take a 20- to 30-minute drive to one of the three nearby beaches: Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach.

Leave Your Worries Behind: Bald Head Island

Old Baldy Lighthouse at sunset

Located on Bald Head Island, Old Baldy is North Carolina's oldest standing lighthouse

Bald Head Island is only a 20-minute ferry ride from Southport and the modern-day mainland, but it feels a world away. While lush nature preserves cover more than 80 percent of the island, there’s still room for the lodging, activities and amenities to make your vacation memorable. The island has its own transportation system, and cars are prohibited. So park yours in secure lots at the mainland terminal, board the ferry and prepare for an incredible retreat. Enjoy tours of nature with Bald Head Island Conservancy, including the Turtle Walks you can only experience in summer. Climb to the top of Old Baldy Lighthouse, and make it part of a larger experience by going on the Bald Head Island Historic Tour. The island features 14 miles of pristine beaches, where you can watch both a sunrise and sunset.

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