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 Pettigrew State Park
1 Pettigrew State ParkCreswellSee 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.
2 Melvins' Hamburgers and Hot Dogs
2 Melvins' Hamburgers and Hot DogsElizabethtown See 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.
3 Catch The Breeze Sailing
3 Catch The Breeze SailingOrientalSee 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.
4 Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue And Rehabilitation Center
4 Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue And Rehabilitation CenterSurf City See 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.
5 Cowan Museum Of History And Science
5 Cowan Museum Of History And ScienceKenansville See 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.
6 Merchants Millpond State Park
6 Merchants Millpond State ParkGatesville See 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.
7 Jockey's Ridge State Park
7 Jockey's Ridge State ParkNags HeadSee 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.
Track down more coastal gems in The Official 2023 North Carolina Travel Guide.