Long, low, and flat, North Carolina’s coastal plain includes nearly one-third of the state, stretching roughly from Interstate 95 east to the ocean and including windswept beaches, historic towns, and sprawling wildlife refuges.
Many come here strictly to enjoy the beaches – and there are a lot of them. White sands and towering dunes can be found at spots like Oak Island, Bald Head Island, Wrightsville, Topsail Beach, and Cape Lookout. Here you’ll find urban resorts and wilderness refuges accessible only by boat. Many of the best and least crowded beaches can be found on Cape Lookout National Seashore, which is home to tide marshes, an iconic lighthouse, and a historic village.
Make sure to spend a day in gorgeous Beaufort, which is home to stately houses along the waterfront and the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Nearby Atlantic Beach has oceanfront restaurants and some of the best seafood on the coast. Inland, Wilmington is a cultural center along the Cape Fear River home to a notable historic district and the moored U.S.S. North Carolina, a battleship. Ready for adventure? Bring your canoe to Croatan National Forest, which is studded with swamps and lakes.
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Gorgeous scenery, rolling hills, and mild weather year-round make North Carolina’s Coastal Plain a winning destination for golfers. Brunswick Plantation near Calabash features ponds and moss-draped trees, while Currituck Club near Corolla has expansive greens. Nags Head Golf Links is one of the most famous courses in the state, while the Outer Banks is home to beautiful Kilmarlic Golf Club. Other spots noted for their greens include Bald Head Island Club and St. James Plantation.
Coastal North Carolina has a number of significant museums. In Wilmington, the Cape Fear Museum of Science and History has exhibits about the region’s history and unique geology. In Elizabeth City, the Museum of the Albermarle is huge and features an 18th century farmhouse. Quaint Beaufort is home to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, which is waterside, and features exhibits on boating, pirates, the seafood industry, and marine life.
Science is fun at coastal North Carolina’s science centers, which mix entertainment and learning. In Kinston, the Neuseway Planetarium, Health, and Science Museum is a hit with kids and is right next door to the Kinston Nature Center. In Grifton, A Time for Science is a learning center offing insight into the region’s natural history and ecology. Outside of Brunswick, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences offers hands-on exhibits for kids and dinosaur skeletons.
North Carolina has some of the country’s best beaches – there’s one just for you! In the north, Duck offers small-town charm and a long stretch of sand. Nearby, Kitty Hawk is a historic spot with big waves perfect for body surfing. You’ll find wild and secluded coast along the Outer Banks – head for Hatteras and its famous lighthouse. To the south, Topsail has long been a family favorite loved for its sunshine and sunsets.
Get close to native and exotic animals when you visit coastal North Carolina’s zoos. Near Carolina Beach, the North Carolina Aquarium is a teaching facility which showcases the region’s aquatic life. Tregembo Animal Park has more than 75 species from around the world, while Wilmington’s Cape Fear Serpentarium is an indoor zoo with snakes. This stretch of coast is a byway for birds – learn more about them at the Cape Fear Raptor Center.