7 Hidden Treasures in North Carolina Coastal Towns

Look beyond known coastal hot spots and be rewarded with unforgettable experiences. An active traveler’s dream, adventures include fly-fishing in a vast natural lake and paddling to a campground only accessible by canoe. The coast delivers plenty of exertion-free family attractions too. Let’s dive in!

1 Cowan Museum Of History And Science

1 Cowan Museum Of History And Science

Kenansville See on mapSee on map

Explore a one-room log schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop and other storied structures at this museum honoring rural North Carolina heritage. More than 4,000 artifacts, including 18th- and 19th-century farming and household items, give everyone a lesson in the joys and struggles of earlier times, many years before the days of online shopping.

2 Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue And Rehabilitation Center

volunteers holding a sea turtle at Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue And Rehabilitation Center

2 Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue And Rehabilitation Center

Surf City See on mapSee on map

Dedicated to the conservation and protection of all marine turtle species, a volunteer team cares for 40 or more turtles at any given time. Send healing vibes through the windows of the Sea Turtle Sick Bay, then observe and photograph recovering turtles nearly ready to return to the ocean. Check the event calendar to experience a turtle release in person.

3 Merchants Millpond State Park

Two couples canoeing through Merchants Millpond State Park  surrounded by trees

3 Merchants Millpond State Park

Gatesville See on mapSee on map

Watch out for pairs of big eyes in the water while canoeing through the coastal pond of this state park, generally known as the northernmost home of the American alligator. Cypress and gum trees covered with Spanish moss form a dreamlike wetland setting over the quiet pond and creek, where you’ll also spot beavers, otters, owls and dragonflies.

4 Catch The Breeze Sailing

4 Catch The Breeze Sailing

OrientalSee on mapSee on map

Inhale saltwater-tinged air and feel the wind in your hair in this charming fishing village-turned Sailing Capital of North Carolina. Hidden waterways weave throughout Oriental, all leading to the mighty Neuse River and grand Pamlico Sound. Here, boats outnumber residents at a ratio of 3 to 1, so you’ll always have a way to get out on the water.

5 Jockey's Ridge State Park

kite flying at Jockey's Ridge State Park

5 Jockey's Ridge State Park

Nags HeadSee on mapSee on map

Watch your kite dive and whip against the backdrop of the tallest natural sand dune on the Atlantic Coast. The rolling dunes and high winds off the ocean make Jockey’s Ridge the ideal place to fly a traditional diamond kite or to learn the intricacies of launching, flying and landing a framed stunt kite. From the dunes, you can see the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Roanoke Sound to the west.

6 Pettigrew State Park

6 Pettigrew State Park

CreswellSee on mapSee on map

Cast your line into the crystal-clear waters of Lake Phelps, one of the largest natural lakes in North Carolina at 16,600 acres. It’s abundant with largemouth bass, yellow perch and bluegill fish. The park also teems with history. Ancient single-log dugout canoes — the way Carolina Algonquians traveled the coast — have been discovered here.

7 Melvins' Hamburgers and Hot Dogs

7 Melvins' Hamburgers and Hot Dogs

Elizabethtown See on mapSee on map

Burgers for breakfast? At Melvins', the line for coleslaw and-chili-topped burgers and flame-kissed hot dogs (using the same recipes since 1938) starts forming just before doors open at 7:30 a.m. But you won’t have to wait long. At peak speed, the expert team can average a burger on the counter every five seconds.

Track down more coastal gems in The Official 2021 North Carolina Travel Guide.

Updated June 4, 2021
About the Author
Shayla Martin

Shayla Martin

Shayla Martin is a Durham-based travel and food writer. She has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fodors Travel and more.

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