Published May 16, 2019 5/16/2019

10 of the Best Places to Visit in North Carolina

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Thinking about a vacation in North Carolina? From picturesque beaches to charming mountain towns, this state offers it all and then some, including these especially fabulous places to visit.

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Boone sunrise near Boone
sunrise near Boone

Boone

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone is an alluring destination and perfect place to base your stay if you’d like to experience the perfect blend of indoor and outdoor pursuits. Ride the 20 miles of twisting bike trails through Pisgah National Forest, take a heart-pounding whitewater rafting trip, search for rare gemstones in gem mines, or enjoy a scenic hike. When you’re ready for a break from all of that activity, you can catch a show at the theater, enjoy shopping for unique items downtown and browsing exhibitions at the Turchin Center for Visual Arts. Boone also hosts a wealth of restaurants serving everything from Carolina-style barbecue to international cuisine.

Lake Santeetlah Lake Santeetlah
Lake Santeetlah

Lake Santeetlah

Lake Santeetlah is one of the most beautiful lakes in the south. It boasts over 75 miles of mostly protected shoreline as part of the national forest and is tucked within the shadows of the North Carolina Smoky Mountains. Visitors can enjoy the tranquility by finding a secluded fishing spot, paddling a kayak or canoe, sailing, swimming, hiking or mountain biking. The local marina offers ski boat, pontoon, jet-ski, kneeboard, kayak and canoe rentals if you don’t have your own sporting equipment with you. After a day of play, head to the lakeside bar at the Blue Waters Mountain Lodge and relax with a drink. The lodge also offers rooms with lake views, but if you prefer to immerse yourself in the outdoors, you’ll find campsites at Cheoah Point Campground.

Beaufort and the Crystal Coast, Outer Banks Crystal Coast
Crystal Coast

Beaufort and the Crystal Coast, Outer Banks

This popular beach destination offers an ideal weekend getaway with postcard-perfect silken shores as well as the opportunity to watch wild horses that race along the sands of Shackleford Banks. The iconic Cape Lookout lighthouse watches over the Graveyard of the Atlantic bears and witness to thousands of sunken ships, including Blackbeard’s flagship and Queen Anne’s Revenge. You can view relics from the infamous ship at the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Don’t miss the chance to get up close to an albino sea turtle and playful otters at the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and be sure to explore the historic haunts in the three-centuries-old town of Beaufort, voted America’s Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel readers in 2012.

Hatteras Island, The Outer Banks Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina

Hatteras Island, The Outer Banks

On Cape Hatteras Island you’ll find a practically endless number of beautiful, peaceful beaches to relax on as well as the chance to enjoy more active pursuits like scuba diving, surfing, standup paddle boarding and fishing. Walk mile after mile along the unspoiled shore, searching for seashells and other treasures, and visit the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one of the most famous lighthouses in the nation. Climb up its spiral staircase to the top and you’ll be rewarded with an unforgettable view of the Atlantic, Cape Hatteras and Buxton. At the Frisco Native American Museum, visitors can get an in-depth look at the Native Americans who were the first inhabitants of the islands through thousands of artifacts in the gallery dedicated to the local tribes.

Corolla, Outer Banks Corolla
Corolla

Corolla, Outer Banks

Corolla is a vacation paradise, bordering the Atlantic as well as the Currituck Sound, providing access to both the waves and more tranquil sound waters that are ideal for paddling. The beautiful, wide beaches are the main attraction, perfect for relaxation with plenty of space to throw down a blanket, as well as for taking part in a wealth of activities like fishing and beachcombing. The wild horses draw countless visitors too – this area is home to Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs who were stranded on the Outer Banks centuries ago, and are still enjoying the laid-back beach lifestyle today. Other popular active pursuits in the area including hiking on multiple scenic trails and great golfing at outstanding local courses.

Topsail Island Topsail Island boardwalk
Topsail Island boardwalk

Topsail Island

Topsail Island is another fantastic coastal destination filled with enticing activities, yet still offering a laid-back atmosphere ideal for relaxation. Spend your days kayaking, sailing, surfing or fishing – even if you’ve never tried it, you can easily hook up with an expert for lessons. If you’d prefer to do nothing at all but to read a good book while soaking up the sun, or enjoy a much-needed massage, this 26-mile-long island is a great place to do it. If the weather isn’t cooperating, you’ll find lots to do indoors too, including visiting the turtles at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center or checking out the island’s past as a test-rocket launching site at the Missiles and More Museum. After dark, you’ll have lots to choose from too, with outstanding local nightlife at popular beach bars and lounges, including the Brass Pelican tavern, where locals and visitors alike enjoy sipping a cold brew on the outdoor deck under the stars.

Wrightsville Beach Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach is another great North Carolina beach destination. Especially popular with surfers, it was named one of the best surf towns in the world by National Geographic – getting out on the water is a way of life for locals, which means if you want to learn how to ride the waves, you’ll have access to some of the best pro instructors in the world. If a surfboard isn’t your thing, try exploring the Intracoastal Waterway on a standup paddleboard. You can rent one right in town, and it’s a sport that’s easy to pick up, even if you’ve never tried it before. And, if you’d prefer to get out on the water rather than in it, book a boating adventure through Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours. They offer a variety of excursions, including trips out to Masonboro Island and sunset harbor cruises. When it’s time to dine, with so much water surrounding the town on all sides you’ll find practically endless options when it comes to waterfront restaurants too.

Asheville Asheville
Asheville

Asheville

Asheville offers a great lineup of things to do, offering anything from great local brews to fabulous hiking. It gained a reputation in recent years as somewhat of a hipster haven, focusing on living locally and organically, though people of all types enjoy vacationing here. Just wandering through the downtown area brings the chance to marvel at the beautiful art deco buildings, but if you want to see one of the most jaw-dropping of them all, you can head to Biltmore Estate, one of American’s very own castles. This sprawling estate is well-worth spending a day exploring. Along with the beer scene, the culinary scene has really been taking off, so whatever you’re craving, you’re sure to find it. Some local favorites include the Tupelo Honey Cafe and Chestnut. Afterward, sample some of the local beers at The Thirsty Monk, which offers around 50 of them – it’s a must-stop for brew lovers.

New Bern New Bern
New Bern

New Bern

New Bern is a great destination for history buffs. It was only the second town founded by European immigrants in the territory of what would become North Carolina and dates all the way back to 1710 when Swiss immigrants named it after their country’s capital. Today, it’s one of the more historically focused cities in the state, with a historic district filled with magnificently restored mansions from its past. It was once referred to as the Athens of the South, thanks to the Athens Theatre and Masonic Temple, which both still stand today. Be sure to tour the re-created Colonial Governor’s palace, or watch one of the many re-enactments that are hosted there. Pepsi fans appreciate this city too, as it’s where the popular soda was birthed. Visit The Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola Store to learn more about the history of its inventor and the early days of the beverage, and shop for gifts and souvenirs.

Pinehurst Pinehurst, North Carolina
Credit: Pinehurst
Pinehurst, North Carolina

Pinehurst

Pinehurst is considered a golfer’s heaven, and it sees a constant stream of visitors that come just for golf, particularly the Pinehurst Resort which hosts nine golf courses, including Pinehurst No. 2, a course that’s a frequent stop on the PGA tour. Those who are seeking a taste of the romantic side of the Old South, will also find it here with the numerous beautiful old buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Next to golf, horses are the big draw, with many horse farms found throughout the area. Visitors can also enjoy the brilliance of the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens and museums like the Tufts Archives, the Pinehurst History Museum, as well as watching a horse race or a steeple chase.

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