Sometimes you just want sun, fun and quality time with your favorite people. And the coast of North Carolina has everything you need for an epic getaway. Take a local tour, get out on the water, taste wines and fresh seafood, and, of course, dish on life as you meander from the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds down to the breathtaking Crystal Coast on this four-day getaway.
Day 1: Shopping, Sunset and Seafood
Check in to one of Elizabeth City’s B&Bs to experience the best of Southern hospitality in a city regarded for its welcome wagon. Start your vacation with a delicious lunch at a local spot like Hoppin' Johnz, then take a self-guided walking tour of Elizabeth City.
Boutique hop downtown and pop in to shops like Cozy Carolina and Bijoux Vibes for some retail therapy as you make your way to the water. Here, you can catch the sunset while indulging in more seafood delights at Grouper’s Restaurant. Or go next door to Cypress Creek Grill for a little Tex-Mex and Creole-inspired seafood options like New Orleans barbecued shrimp or creole-spiced crab cakes. After dinner, enjoy live music at Waterfront Park or Coasters Downtown.
Day 2: Kayaking and Craft Beer
Get an early start on your day and head to the Pasquotank River, Dismal Swamp or the Outer Banks for some quality kayaking. Or go for a guided trip on the water you won’t soon forget with Albemarle Fishing Charters – and it’s okay if you’re more about the scenery than the fish. Since you’re only just more than an hour from the Outer Banks, a day lounging at the beach on one of these barrier islands might win majority vote for today’s activity.
For dinner, how does a little history and a beer flight sound? Weeping Radish Farm Brewery is the oldest microbrewery in North Carolina and was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives when Guy Fieri tried the baked potato soup topped with housemade bacon. German owner Uli Bennewitz takes the farm-to-table concept very seriously, maintaining a butchery (managed by a German master butcher), farm for its produce and a brewery – all on-site to deliver fresh charcuterie, sausages and schnitzels.
Day 3: Wine’s Up, So Wind Down
You’ll make your way south today with stops at two wineries to kick your unwinding into overdrive. To start your day off right, head to another charming coastal town, Edenton, coined one of “America’s Prettiest Towns” by Forbes magazine. Edenton is located about 30 minutes southwest of Elizabeth City down U.S. Highway 17 and is home to the beloved Edenton Coffee House Bakery & Café. This spot roasts the coffee in-house alongside grilled breakfast bagel sandwiches and an array of fresh-made pastries you can enjoy at the quaint café or take to-go for a waterfront picnic.
After you’ve pleased your palate, Bennett Vineyards awaits about an hour south. This homespun vineyard resides on land that was deeded to the Bennett family in the 1800s from King Charles II and grows Nesbitt, Noble, Carlos and Muscadine varietals. Get a bottle to go of your favorite and continue south another 30 minutes to the city of New Bern, famous for being the setting of several romance novels by Nicholas Sparks, including The Notebook, The Wedding and A Bend in the Road. Stretch your legs and follow the Walk to Remember Heritage Tour map that highlights 15 sites featured in books by Sparks, like Harvey Mansion and Alfred Cunningham Bridge.
For the final stop of the day, try Red Fish Grill, a Morehead City favorite, for its view of the water, live music nights and daily fish specials.
End your day relaxing in the small town of Beaufort, named one of “America’s Coolest Small Towns” by Budget Travel. It’s less than 3 miles in size and is surrounded by a mile of water.
Day 4: Beach Day With Wild Horses
With your getaway entering its last day, start with breakfast near the water at Beaufort Coffee Shop and its hot, cold or frozen coffee options. Then take the ferry to Shackleford Banks where horses roam free, dolphins play near the beach and sea turtles abound. Make your reservations online for the ferry and be sure to pack everything you need for a day lounging by the sea, since Shackleford and the surrounding islands don’t have restaurants, businesses or lodging. This just means visitors can revel in the unique experience of truly unspoiled beaches.
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is another great day trip from Beaufort, with 56 miles of undeveloped beach along the Cape Lookout National Seashore awaiting you and your travel buddies. (Please note: The lightouse is undergoing extensive renovations and is closed to climbers through 2025.) Or reserve a guided tour through Crystal Coast Ecotours if you want to learn more about the area.
For your last night on the Crystal Coast, linger over a waterfront dinner at Black Sheep in Beaufort. After choosing your brick oven pizza toppings, ask for cocktail recommendations to toast your fabulous friendships and fun-filled vacation.