Perfect for a long weekend, these small towns in North Carolina offer great food, lovely scenery and fewer people for a socially-distant getaway
by Addie Ladner
Need last-minute Labor Day plans? Lucky for us in the Raleigh area, you can be at the beach for a weekend vacation in just a few hours and enjoy a complete change of scenery—ocean sunsets, fish fare and an overall change of pace. Below, we’ve rounded up five lesser-known towns on the water in Eastern North Carolina that are worth the trip any time of year and have something for everyone.
For the History Buff: Manteo
Located on Roanoke Island, three hours from Raleigh with marshland views of the Roanoke Sound and a small lighthouse as the backdrop of town, Manteo is one of the most historic areas in the state (with the first English child said to be born here in the 1580s! and read about the Lost Colony here.) Fish tacos from Avenue Waterfront Grill and anything at Ortega’z are must and the Roanoke Inn looks like a dreamy spot to spend a few days at. Don’t miss the insane vantage points at Jockey’s Ridge State Park or all there is to see at the Roanoke Festival Park for an old-world experience.
For the Foodie: Beaufort
There’s no beach access in this inlet town, a little over four hours from Raleigh, but after a quick walk to the ferry launch, you’ll find yourself searching for the wild horses on Shackleford Banks, gazing at the Cape Lookout lighthouse or shelling on Carrot Island in minutes. Don’t miss Moonrackers’ outdoor patio, pizza from Black Sheep, hot dogs or cheeseburgers from local drive Royal James Cafe, Aqua’s tapas and lastly anything at the iconic Beaufort Grocery. Stay at the Inn on Turner Street, the Inlet Inn, or find a VRBO to enjoy some of the charming historic neighborhoods in town. Hop on the Island Ferry Express (runs every half-hour) to see the famous wild horses, go shelling or explore any of the previously mentioned islands. Or take yourself out for a ride by using Beaufort Paddle. Fort Macon and Radio island are two other public beach options a short drive away.
For the Sailor: Oriental
Oriental is a sleepy town located on an inlet of the Pamlico Sound, just outside of historic New Bern a bit over two hours from Raleigh. The town claims to house more sailboats than residents—which is likely accurate. It’s a sailor’s haven, with some type of water vessel, whether it be for sailing, shrimping or yachting always within your view. The entire village is walkable. Stay at the Inn at Oriental for made-to-order breakfast and clean, cozy, classically designed rooms. Try O’Town Restaurants seafood nachos or tuna avocado appetizer or Toucan Grill’s fried flounder while you eavesdrop on local banter. Fuel up on coffee (or milkshakes “blended with a boat propellor”) from The Bean.
For the Pirate-Lover: Ocracoke
Depending on which route you take, it might take you an entire day to step foot on NC’s farthest inhabited island town but it’s well worth the trek. Rich with history, fig-trees, bikers and island views, the energy of Ocracoke is unlike any other. Explore Springer’s Point, a gorgeous shaded nature preserve that was loved by Pirate Blackbeard himself. Shop for books and pottery in a charming historic home at Books to be Red. Check to make sure which places are open but if they are don’t miss Jolly Roger’s coconut shrimp and Dajio’s brunch. For further reading, try CC Parker’s Escape Ocracoke Island.
For the Surfer at Heart: Wrightsville
Surf’s up! A short two hours from Raleigh, this town is full of laid-back beach vibes and tons of public beach access. Insiders tell us, the best hot dogs are at Trolley Shop, Robert’s Grocery has famous chicken salad and pimento cheese (don’t forget to grab cold wine and beer from the walk-in) and Brasserie du Soliel is a lovely French cafe. Dockside is where it’s at for views of boats with a good burger or soft shell crab sandwich.
P.S. Don’t forget to mark a few road-trip spots to eat at on your way over!