Wild Atlantic beaches, a handful of tiny fishing villages, and some of the country’s most significant historic sites make coastal North Carolina a great place to visit.

A highlight for many vacationers are the Outer Banks, miles of barrier islands where busy resort towns like Nags Head contrast with the stretches of pristine beaches protected on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Besides golden sands, the Outer Banks area includes two evocative historic sites: the dunes at Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers first took to the air, and Roanoke Island, site of the first ill-fated English effort to colonize the New World.

Farther south, beyond the quirky small city of Wilmington, a movie-making mecca, the 300-mile coastal route turns inland around Cape Fear, heading toward the South Carolina border.

Warmed by the Gulf Stream currents, the Outer Banks beaches are some of the best in the world, but the waters do not warm up appreciably until south of Oregon Inlet, and swimming in the northern stretches remains quite invigorating until July.

Map of the Atlantic Coast through North Carolina.
Map of the Atlantic Coast through North Carolina.