80+ Amazing Small Towns in North Carolina (For Your Next Road Trip or Home!)

Last Updated on October 21, 2021

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If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

We’ve discovered these amazing small towns in North Carolina during various road trips and while casually driving between our amazing cities.

In many cases, these places have overshadowed the bigger spots that surround them. That’s why we included many of them in our NC Bucket List Book.

Typically, these wonderful small towns in North Carolina will grab our attention with amazing history, hospitality, great people, and beautiful outdoor surroundings (including great state parks!). Then, there’s typically a charming main street or similarly named road that’s lined with shops and popular attractions.

If you have a chance to visit any of them, trust us. You’re going to be in for a huge treat. These quaint towns are scattered throughout the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains through the foothills, piedmont, sandhills, and our awesome coast.

That’s why we’ve organized these NC small towns alphabetically and sorted them by region. Here’s how they’re broken down:

  • Small Towns in North Carolina (Western)
  • Small Towns in North Carolina (Central)
  • Small Towns in North Carolina (Eastern)

You can scroll ahead to a specific collection of small towns in North Carolina or continue reading and head out west with us.

Read More: Unique Things to Do in North Carolina

Small Towns in North Carolina (Western)

You might think that all of these small towns in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains are near Asheville, but more than a few of them are at least a couple of hours away. Those mountain towns that are within two hours were included in our guide to day trips from Asheville.

Read More: The Coolest Airbnbs in North Carolina

Banner Elk

Small Towns in North Carolina

Our first walk through small towns in North Carolina takes us to Banner Elk. The downtown sits in a valley between two ski resorts, which bring in quite a few people from all around.

We came to check out Apple Hill Farm and learned more about an awesome agritourism business from owner Lee Rankin.

Read More: Otter Falls Trail and Beacon Heights

Black Mountain

Small Towns in North Carolina Black Mountain NC

Black Mountain is about the last town you can stop in before Asheville on I-40 (Exit 65) when heading west. You’ll want to stop at its Town Square before deciding you need more time there.

Lake Tomahawk Park is great for outdoor days and White Horse is a must-visit music venue.

We also love Black Mountain for its proximity to Catawba Falls, which is just under 10 miles away! Oh, and don’t forget about Oak and Grist, which is one of our favorite distilleries in North Carolina!

Blowing Rock

Chetola Resort Blowing Rock NC Small Towns

Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, and neighbor Boone are a few of the best mountain towns and all within a short drive of each other. We love visiting Blowing Rock for its downtown and the amazing scenery (including hikes and waterfalls) that surrounds it.

This is an amazing place throughout the year and of course, Blowing Rock is included among our favorite winter getaways in North Carolina.

You can come for The Blowing Rock, shopping, their awesome restaurants, and walks around Moses H Cone Memorial Park or the Glen Burney Trail. Or you can use Blowing Rock as your base for exploring the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway, the ubiquitous Grandfather Mountain, and more.

Whether you stay at Chetola Resort, the historic Green Park Inn, or elsewhere, we hope you enjoy your time in Blowing Rock!

Read More: Day Trips from Boone

Boiling Springs

Gardner Webb University calls Boiling Springs home and students and parents have a beautiful campus to explore. In fact, the town gets its name from the natural spring that feeds into GW’s campus.

While driving into Boiling Springs, all the throwback-era general stores and rolling green farmland offer homey vibes that take over long before you park in town.

The nearby Broad River Greenway is another great way to get outside and enjoy yourself while in Boiling Springs.

Boone

Small Towns in North Carolina Boone Doc Watson Statue

Many folks who attended Appalachian State University (or App) will quickly share fond memories of their time living in Boone. But even if you’re not a Mountaineer, there’s plenty to see and do here, inside and outside.

There are amazing restaurants in Boone that you will surely love when spending a weekend there. Don’t forget about the town’s breweries, either!

Not far from both Boone and Blowing Rock is one of our favorite sunrise hikes, Rough Ridge Trail. It’s one of many awesome hikes in the area. Many include some beautiful waterfalls, too!

You can enjoy a stay at the Horton Hotel downtown or at one of these cool Airbnbs in Boone and in nearby towns.

Read More: Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes

Brevard

Places to Visit in North Carolina Brevard NC Looking Glass Falls Image
Looking Glass Falls near Brevard is one of the area’s best-known waterfalls.

Brevard is first and foremost, known as the Land of Waterfalls. Some of our favorites include Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. Between the two is the Moore Cove Falls Trailhead, which is a rewarding 1.5-mile roundtrip hike!

There’s also a really cool downtown filled with shops and great places to eat. Of course, you’ll want to head over to Brevard College for a “chance” at seeing one of those famed white squirrels.

Stay at the Pines Country Inn in nearby Pisgah Forest for lovely views and delicious breakfasts to start your day!

Read More: Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway

Bryson City

Small Towns in North Carolina Bryson City Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

You can start your Blue Ridge Parkway adventure in Bryson City or hop on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, or do both. Some of North Carolina’s best beers are produced at Nantahala Brewing.

You can also explore the beautiful natural surroundings at Deep Creek Trail inside Great Smoky Mountain National Park, just outside Bryson City. That trail is one of a few we love exploring inside our state’s (and nation’s) most popular national park.

Burnsville

NC Small Towns Burnsville Downtown

Town Square in Burnsville is a great place to start in one of our favorite small towns in North Carolina. You’ll find great restaurants and places to shop, and you can also learn about the area’s artists by visiting Toe River Arts.

We interviewed TRA’s Executive Director and learned more about the organization during this NC Travel Chat!

Of course, you’ll want to get outside while in Yancey County. Explore Mount Mitchell but don’t forget that other Black Mountains hikes await. They include the beautiful waterfalls you’ll find at Crabtree Falls, as well as Setrock Creek Falls and Roaring Fork Falls.

These are just a few of our favorite things to do in Burnsville and Yancey County.

Cashiers

Small Towns in North Carolina Silver Run Falls near Cashiers
Silver Run Falls.

One of our favorite things to do in Cashiers is to walk around The Village Green, which hosts events throughout the year. It’s a really wonderful place for a walk any time you stop by.

Silver Run Falls and Rainbow Falls are just a couple of reasons to visit Cashiers, with the epic Upper Whitewater Falls just a short drive away, too.

Schoolhouse Falls in Panthertown Valley might not stand as tall as these other waterfalls, but it’s certainly worth a visit.

We loved staying at Bear Lake Reserve, about 30 minutes away from Cashiers.

Cherokee

Mingo Falls near NC Small Town Cherokee
Mingo Falls.

Learn about Native American heritage in Cherokee at the Oconaluftee Indian Village or the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. There’s also Mingo Falls near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC side) entrance.

It’s perfect for any waterfall lover, worth every step, and we’ve shared more about it here.

Read More: Clingmans Dome Observation Tower

Connelly Springs

JDs Smokehouse Connelly Springs NC Small Town
JD’s!

Connelly Springs is the newest of small towns in North Carolina, if you want to be technical about it. They only re-incorporated in 1989 but the buildings and people have been here for much longer.

South Mountain Distilling Company, one of our favorite spirit-makers, calls Connelly Springs “home.”

JD’s Smokehouse makes some of the tastiest barbecue we’ve enjoyed in North Carolina, even if it doesn’t style itself as Eastern or Western.

Danbury

Priddys General Store Danbury NC

If you’re headed to Hanging Rock State Park, you’ll most likely pass through Danbury. Many folks come here specifically for Moratock Park, especially during hot summer days when the Dan River is luring tubers from all over to come and float!

In this fun small town, you’ll also find local shops, including the bakery known as Artists Way Creations.

We also love heading down Sheppard Mill Rd to JE Priddy’s General Store, a place that lives up to its name. You’d really be hard-pressed to NOT find what you need here.

Read More: Hiking the Hanging Rock Trail (from Start to Finish)

Dillsboro

Small Towns in North Carolina Dillsboro Haywood Smokehouse

When in Dillsboro, stop by Haywood Smokehouse for some gifts or a delicious helping of barbecue and sides. Dogwood Crafters shares the work of local artisans and then there’s the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory, who’d love to share their fine creations with you.

Elkin

Small Towns in North Carolina Grassy Creek Vineyard Elkin
Grassy Creek Vineyard.

You’ll run into Elkin either on I-77 or after exploring Stone Mountain State Park nearby. We highly recommend hikes along the latter’s Stone Mountain Loop to Stone Mountain Falls and also, a drive and short walk to Widow’s Creek Falls.

Thanks to some impressive wineries (even kid-friendly ones like Elkin Creek and Grassy Creek), Elkin gets quite a few visitors. The Surry County Wine Trail features more than a few of the area’s best.

While we come here often to sip and savor, we enjoy adventures beyond wine in this wonderful small town.

Skull Camp is a cool spot to enjoy some wine, but also some NC beer and yummy smoked food. And for a place to walk it all off, check out Elkin Municipal Park or Carter Falls (0.4 miles round trip).

Franklin

Small Towns in North Carolina Wayah Bald Appalachian Trail Franklin NC
Wayah Bald.

Franklin is one of two amazing small towns in North Carolina’s Macon County that we’ll mention. Beer at Lazy Hiker Brewing, gear at Outdoor 76, and books from Books Unlimited are a few of the fun things you can explore in downtown Franklin.

The town is perfect if you love the outdoors, as it sits near the center of Nantahala National Forest and is a popular Appalachian Trail rest stop. Wayah Bald Tower is a well-known AT landmark that you can hike or drive to from Franklin.

The town is also near quite a few waterfalls, including Rufus Morgan Falls to the east. Drive between Franklin and Highlands on US-64 and you’ll be on the Waterfall Byway.

Here are a few waterfalls that you’ll pass along the way:

Hendersonville

Small Towns in North Carolina Jump Off Rock Hendersonville Western NC
Jump Off Rock.

Some of the best small towns in North Carolina include Hendersonville, the Henderson County seat. We love stopping downtown and grabbing a bite at a local restaurant before doing some browsing and shopping.

The town and its surroundings are home to some of the best NC wine, including the wonderful Burnt Shirt Vineyards.

Of course, fall visitors should head to an area orchard for some of the best apple picking in North Carolina.

Folks seeking some nature should head to nearby Jump Off Rock and the Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock.

Speaking of hiking in the Hendersonville area, we think you’ll absolutely love Bearwallow Mountain, about a 30-minute drive from town. It’s a short (yet steep) mile hike that leads to a beautiful grassy meadow and views of famous peaks like Mount Mitchell and Mount Pisgah.

Read More: Hikes near Asheville

Highlands

Sequoyah Lake Highlands NC
You’ll see Sequoyah Lake just as you enter or right before leaving Highlands.

You could easily spend all your time in Highlands, exploring the shops downtown. Theater-goers should keep an eye out for showtimes at the Highlands Playhouse. At the Museum of American Cut and Engraved Glass, you’ll learn about pieces from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Of course, you should venture out around Highlands, as it’s not too far from Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls (not the one inside DuPont State Forest), and Cullasaja Falls.

Kings Mountain

We first stopped in Kings Mountain when spending our first weekend in Cleveland County and really dug the vibes there. It’s the first of many small towns in this post that we included in our guide to day trips from Charlotte.

When you’re in this awesome Cleveland County town, you should spend time learning about the area at the Kings Mountain Historical Museum. Of course, you should get outside at the Gateway Trail, part of the Carolina Thread Trail.

You can also check out Crowders Mountain State Park nearby.

Read More: Outdoor Things to do in Charlotte

Lake Lure

Small Towns in North Carolina Lake Lure

We won’t avoid the movie references here because in Lake Lure, you can have the time of your life. Any Dirty Dancing fans will know exactly what I’m talking about.

But beyond Lake Lure serving backdrop for much of that iconic movie, a visit will get you close to the water via a boat tour. Of course, you can relax on the beach.

And if there’s any time of year to visit, pick September when the Dirty Dancing Festival is going on. You bet there’ll be dancing and music, along with arts and attempts at that famous lake lift.

Read More: The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge

Little Switzerland

Hop off the Blue Ridge Parkway and spend some time in Little Switzerland, which we refer to as our next mountain getaway. Don’t forget to stop by the Switzerland Cafe and General Store, where you can shop, eat, peruse, and more.

Just down the road is Grassy Creek Falls, which we hear is still open to folks who want to walk down and have a look at the beautiful waterfall. Just be respectful of the property, please and thank you.

Maggie Valley

Small towns in NC Soco Falls Maggie Valley

Many folks know Maggie Valley either for Cataloochee Ski Area or as a motorcyclist mecca. Those are two fun reasons to spend time in this Haywood County town, but even more awaits.

For starters, the food here is really good, with breakfasts at Joey’s Pancake House, lunch or dinner at Brickhouse Burgers and Pizza, and beers (plus food!) at BearWaters Brewing‘s Maggie Valley location first coming to mind.

The town is also surrounded by plenty of natural beauty, with Soco Falls one of our favorite waterfalls in North Carolina. Purchase Knob and Black Balsam Knob aren’t too far away, either, and still in the county!

Read More: Waterfalls near Asheville

Morganton

NC Small Towns Morganton Catawba Brewing

Morganton is the Burke County seat and is surrounded by tons of natural beauty. The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is here, filled with awesome spots that include Linville Falls and Wiseman’s View.

The amazing Table Rock Mountain can be seen from downtown, which is a wonderful hint for you to get outside when here.

There’s also the Catawba River Greenway just outside of downtown Morganton, as well as the Fonta Flora Trail. Speaking of downtown, we think you should spend some time here perusing shops, digging into the town’s great food scene, and tasting some of NC’s finest breweries (including Catawba, Fonta Flora, and Sidetracked).

Read More: High Shoals Falls in South Mountains State Park

Murphy

Small Towns in North Carolina Murphy

Murphy sits on the absolute western edge of North Carolina and is where you’ll come into the state if you’re driving US-64. That’s where the saying, “From Murphy to Manteo” comes from if you’ve ever wondered.

But speaking of the former, Murphy is close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and home to some outdoor fun on its own. The Fields of the Wood is a Bible-themed park, with a massive prayer mountain to explore.

Shelby

NC Small Towns Shelby Earl Scruggs Center

Of all the small towns in North Carolina, the Cleveland County seat might have the biggest musical claim to fame. And many folks do come to Shelby for a look at Bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs, who grew up in the area.

What has us wanting to come back is the homey atmosphere, Hunger Games-inspired pizzas at Pleasant City Wood Fired Grille, and more that we shared here.

Read More: Day Trips from Charlotte

Sylva

Sylva NC Small Towns

Visitors to Sylva will love the natural surroundings, including spots like Pinnacle Park and Wolf Creek Lake. Stick around for fun at the American Museum of the House Cat.

And if you’re into beautiful historic buildings, check out the Jackson County Public Library. A nice view of downtown awaits from up there.

Read More: Bear Lake Reserve

Waynesville

Small Towns in North Carolina Waynesville

Waynesville is the largest town west of Asheville, home to fun on Main Street and around Frog Level. You’ll also find the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts in Waynesville, typically open from May to October.

And if you’re into big events, check out October’s Apple Harvest Festival and Folkmoot, with the latter celebrating both Cherokee and Appalachian cultures.

Valdese

NC Small Towns Valdese

Valdese is the last Burke County town that we’ll mention and definitely one of the most interesting.

We love its downtown and recommend you stop by Old World Baking Company on Main St for coffee and pastries or a yummy sandwich with some soup for lunch.

McGalliard Falls is another reason you should visit Valdese. It’s on the outskirts of town but where you’ll find a 40-foot waterfall joining a recreated grist mill. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot, too.

West Jefferson

Small Towns in North Carolina West Jefferson Ashe County

West Jefferson is a lovely Ashe County town, sitting in the shadows of Mount Jefferson and Paddy Mountain.

There’s a lovely arts district here, West Jefferson Park to stroll around, and a farmer’s market that sells locally produced food that includes Ashe County cheese!

New River State Park is also nearby in Ashe County. Don’t pay attention to the name, as this is one of the oldest rivers in the US. Folks love it for all the canoeing, paddling, hiking, and fishing opportunities.

Read More: Christmas Tree Farms in North Carolina

Wilkesboro

Small Towns in North Carolina Downtown Wilkesboro

Wilkesboro has long been known as the Moonshine Capital of the World. And if you don’t know your NASCAR history, Wilkesboro is the site of the first-ever NASCAR track.

Folks who love music know Wilkesboro as the site of Merlefest, which typically happens each April.

The town gets into festival mode each year to prepare for the huge acts and crowds who come to enjoy this family-friendly series of shows around Wilkesboro Community College.

Small Towns in North Carolina (Central)

Many of these small towns in Central North Carolina are within quick reach of a day trip, especially from Raleigh and Durham. Some are near Charlotte and even considered part of its metropolitan region.

Aberdeen

You’ll see a lot of cool small towns in North Carolina as you pass through on US 1, and Aberdeen might be the first to stand out. It’s fun for shopping or perusing at spots like Seagrove Pottery of the Sandhills.

Plus, you can get some holes in at Legacy Golf Links.

Apex

Small Towns of North Carolina Apex NC Image

Apex follows its motto, “The Peak of Good Living” with a fun Historic District that’s filled with boutique shops and restaurants. Peak Town is also close to Jordan Lake, solidifying its spot among our favorite small towns in the Research Triangle.

Asheboro

Small Towns in North Carolina Asheboro

Asheboro brings in tons of people for the North Carolina Zoo but there’s even more to this town that sits in the heart of our state. The NC Aviation Museum and the American Classic Motorcycle Museum are two mainstays to visit. Oh, and there’s also the NC Potters Conference in March.

Read More: Kid-friendly Events in North Carolina

Burlington

Zacks Hot Dogs in Burlington NC Small Towns

Even if you don’t go to Elon University, you should come hang out in Burlington. The downtown is nice for a walk after you dig into a hot dog (or two) at Zack’s.

There are also a few lakes nearby that are perfect if you’re into kayaking or canoeing. Burlington’s Animal Park at the Conservators Center hosts events throughout the year, which are great for the kids and whole family!

Head over to Graham next door and grab a bite at the Soda Shop. If you have a little one, take them to the Children’s Museum of Alamance County.

Read More: Day Trips from Greensboro

Carrboro

Small Towns in North Carolina Carrboro Farmers Market

Carrboro is where a lot of UNC-Chapel Hill students live. It’s also home to folks who discovered that this is one of the most chill small towns in North Carolina.

We long felt that way and even learned about the ties between many Carrboro restaurants during the Taste food tour we joined there. You’ll also figure out how special this place is during one of the weekly Carrboro Farmers’ Markets.

Read More: Things to Do in Chapel Hill and Orange County

Gastonia

Crowders Mountain State Park near Gastonia NC

Gastonia shares Gaston County with Crowders Mountain State Park. Its 5,210-acres and 16 hiking trails are waiting for you to come and explore.

Head into Gastonia and you’ll find quaint antique stores and the Carolina Speedway, which happens to be one of the oldest dirt racetracks in the South.

George Poston Park is also in the area and has some awesome biking trails that are perfect for riders of all levels.

Read More: North Carolina State Parks

Hillsborough

Ayr Mount Hillsborough NC Small Towns
Ayr Mount.

Hillsborough was one of the first small towns of North Carolina that we visited and we immediately fell in love with it. You can easily enjoy this place, and you should start with a walk on Churton Street before stopping at Wooden Nickel Pub.

You can also stroll along the Riverwalk and grab some grub at Hillsborough BBQ Company on Nash Street. Additional awesome spots for walks include the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail and of course, Ayr Mount.

Read More: Things to Do in Durham

Kannapolis

Kannapolis NC Dale Earnhardt Statue

NASCAR fans will know Kannapolis as the home of the late Intimidator Dale Earnhardt Sr and you can find a statue dedicated to him along the Dale Trail.

The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is in Kannapolis, and you can learn more about our state’s musical heritage and hall inductees when visiting.

We think you should also walk around downtown Kannapolis, grab some food at a local restaurant like Chophouse 101. You’ll also find, Old Armor Beer, one of the area’s best breweries.

Don’t forget about Douglas Vineyards if you’re interested in a tasting.

Read More: Things to Do in Concord and Cabarrus County

Lexington

Lexington barbecue pits image

Lexington’s Barbecue Center was my first experience with red slaw and after the first spoonful, I was hooked. Sure, this town is known for its signature style of ‘cue and holds an annual festival to commemorate that.

But you should also come here to sip some wine at Childress Vineyards and enjoy the waters of High Rock Lake.

Read More: Things to Do in Lexington

Lincolnton

You’ll enjoy yourself any time of year in Lincolnton and its surroundings in Lincoln County. Of course, we can’t talk about this place without discussing the annual Apple Festival in October.

That’s hands-down the most popular time to be here. On a good year, more than 80,000 visitors come to town for music, a farmer’s market, tons of apple-focused food, and much more! 

Mebane

Mebane easily lives up to its “Positively Charming” motto and remains one of our favorite places to visit in Alamance County. Clay is a great shopping street where you can find all sorts of things.

Mooresville

Small Towns in North Carolina Carrigan Farms Mooresville
Carrigan Farms.

Mooresville is a great gateway to Lake Norman. The town also has plenty of family-friendly attractions around the lake.

One of them is Carrigan Farms, a family-owned farm that hosts U-pick fruits and vegetables. There, you’ll also find a natural rock quarry swimming hole, especially welcome on hot days.

Being a racing hub, many of the top NASCAR team shops are located in Mooresville, too. JR Motorsports, Team Penske, and Kyle Busch Motorsports are based here. In their shops, you’ll find cars, trophies, memorabilia, and plenty of swag to take home.

Mount Airy

Small Towns in North Carolina Mount Airy Round Peak Vineyards
Round Peak Vineyard.

Many folks know the Surry County town of Mount Airy as “Mayberry” and after checking out Downtown and the Andy Griffith Museum, you’ll see why.

Mayberry Spirits Distillery and Round Peak Vineyard are fun Mount Airy spots, too. Oh, and there’s also the amazing Pilot Mountain State Park nearby, too.

Mount Pleasant

NC Highway 73 runs through Mount Pleasant in Eastern Cabarrus County. This place is special in our hearts for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it’s the hometown of NC Hall of Fame inductees The Avett Brothers.

There are also some yummy restaurants here, including 73 and Main. This restaurant sits inside a former hosiery mill and produces some amazing food. Hopefully, they’ll keep the PB & J Burger on the menu!

And finally, Mount Pleasant is the home of Southern Grace Distilleries. Seeing the Whiskey Prison in person and learning about the story of this locally owned business (and tasting their award-winning spirits) was such a treat.

Pinehurst

Small Towns in North Carolina Pinehurst

Spend some time exploring Pinehurst, one of the most interesting small towns in North Carolina.

The acclaimed Pinehurst Resort is worth a visit (or stay) during your trip to this Moore County town. Walk around the village itself, perusing the locally-owned shops, before grabbing some food nearby.

We highly recommend a visit to Pinehurst Brewing for some tasty food that pairs nicely with some great NC beer!

Don’t forget about the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens before you leave. It’s a wonderful garden curated by the students at Sandhills Community College.

Pittsboro

We love this Chatham County town for its walkable downtown.

Pittsboro is also known for Carolina Tiger Rescue, which is doing its part in the fight against the exotic animal trade. You should also head to nearby Siler City and visit Celebrity Dairy, especially when the baby goats come out in spring.

Salisbury

Small Towns in North Carolina Salisbury

Salisbury is growing, thanks to that massive city of Charlotte that we hear has a lot of things to do. It’s known as the home of Cheerwine and Food Lion.

However, we also think you should check out their five historic districts and venture a couple of miles away to the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer.

Read More: Children’s Museums in North Carolina

Saxapahaw

Small Towns North Carolina Saxapahaw Alamance County Saxaco General Store Image

When talking about the small towns of North Carolina, Saxapahaw is our favorite one to say out loud. It’s also home to some awesome shops, including a five-star general store that serves some delicious food.

Haw River Farmhouse Ales is here, too, and produces some of our favorite beers. And then there’s the Haw River Ballroom, which hosts bands and musicians from all over.

Seagrove

NC Pottery Center Seagrove

Visit Seagrove and you’ll be smack dab in the middle of the handmade pottery capital of the United States. You can visit potters in their studios and if you don’t know where to start, visit the NC Pottery Center for all the info you’ll need.

Be sure to spend time driving around the NC Pottery Highway (NC 705). That way you can stop in towns like Star, Whynot, Robbins, and more along the way.

Southern Pines

Small Towns in North Carolina Southern Pines Sunrise Theater

After hitting up Pinehurst and Aberdeen in the “Home of Golf,” don’t forget about Southern Pines. We love walking around downtown’s amazing shops before grabbing some food at great restaurants like Chapman’s, followed by a scoop or two at the Ice Cream Parlor.

Weymouth Woods is also in Southern Pines and a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors.

Statesville

Small Towns in North Carolina Statesville Balloons

Many folks come to Statesville for Carolina Balloonfest in October, but you can come any time of year to see Fort Dobbs and Bigleaf Slopes Park. Beer and spirits connoisseurs will enjoy Fourth Creek Brewing and Southern Distilling Company, too.

Read More: I-40 Exits in North Carolina

Wake Forest

We first visited Wake Forest for a now-defunct barbecue competition that we hope will return but fell in love with the community centered around White Street.

For beer lovers, White Street Brewing is a must and if you want to check out some nature, E. Carroll Joyner Park and nearby Falls Lake State Recreation Area should get a visit from you.

Small Towns in North Carolina (Eastern)

Eastern North Carolina is where you’ll find the highest concentration of historic small towns, mainly because Europeans first permanently settled down in this part of the state. Not only is there a rich heritage in this area, but there are also some of the quaintest and friendliest coastal towns right by the beach.

Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach NC Small Towns

Atlantic Beach is the first Bogue Banks town you’ll encounter after crossing over the bridge from Morehead City. This is one of the best beaches in North Carolina and one of our favorites to enjoy a vacation.

Fort Macon State Park is also here, at the eastern end of Bogue Banks. Here, you’ll find a Civil War-era fort, beach access, trails, and an incredible coastal education center.

There are also some great restaurants here, including the Shark Shack (great fried seafood), as well as tasty breweries like Crystal Coast Brewing.

Read More: Atlantis Lodge

Avon

Avon, historically known as Kinnakeet, is the first Outer Banks town that we’ll cover. It’s the largest and most populated Hatteras Island town but not too big for our list.

You’ll run into Avon via the Outer Banks Scenic Highway and should be on the lookout for a place to park. Here, you’ll find plenty of shops, art galleries, and outdoor sporting retailers.

Windsurfing and kiteboarding are popular in Avon, especially at a spot known as The Haulover, also known as Canadian Hole.

Read More: Outer Banks Towns

Bald Head Island

Small Towns in North Carolina Bald Head Island

You could easily spend a weekend, a week, or the rest of your life on Bald Head Island. It’s one of the best small towns in North Carolina for all travelers.

When you get tired of lazying around the house, grab your golf cart and check out Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse.

Or you can explore one of the many nature trails, including Kent Mitchell, on the island.

Beaufort

Places to Visit in North Carolina Beaufort Rachel Carson Reserve Image

The wild horses of the Rachel Carson Reserve were the main reason we first stopped by Beaufort, and we were hooked on the town. You can also come here for the North Carolina Maritime Museum or just stare at the boats and water after parking on Front Street.

Also, don’t forget to grab some grub at Beaufort Grocery CO and Moonrakers.

Calabash

Small Towns in North Carolina Becks Calabash

Right at the southeast edge of the state is Calabash, which you may know for its signature style of preparing seafood. When you’re not eating all the fresh fish and other sea creatures they offer, head to nearby Sunset Beach or Bird Island for more coastal fun.

Corolla

Small Towns in North Carolina Corolla Outer Banks

Corolla is one of the newer players on the Outer Banks vacation rental scene. Because of this, it’s viewed as a bit more upscale. You’ll find more oceanfront mansions, gated communities, and wide-open beaches here.

Corolla is also home to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Whalehead Historic House Museum.

Many folks come here to hang out near the Corolla wild horses. These natural beauties are protected by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and are only accessible via four-wheel drive.

Duck

Duck NC Boardwalk View

Many folks look to Duck when picking towns in The Outer Banks. Its beach and boardwalk are perfect for families, couples, and solo travelers alike.

You’ll see folks out enjoying walks along the sidewalks or by the water, giving this place a more residential feel than others.

We also included the Roadside and Coastal Cravings in our guide to Outer Banks restaurants, if you’re coming hungry.

Edenton

Edenton NC

Edenton was the first permanent European settlement of North Carolina and its second permanent capital. The Chowan County seat is filled with history and some of our favorite places to learn about it include the Roanoke River Lighthouse and the Penelope Barker House.

You should also come to Edenton for views of Albemarle Sound and at least a weekend at one of their many relaxing places to stay, which includes the Inner Banks Inn.

Elizabeth City

Further toward the coast from Edenton, you’ll find Elizabeth City, a beautiful town that sits on the Pasquotank River.

Among the many things to do here, you should check out the Museum of the Albemarle. This is the northeastern branch of the NC Museum of History.

Emerald Isle

Emerald Isle sits at the western end of Bogue Banks, opposite Atlantic Beach, and adjacent to Indian Beach. Since this is one of the most popular beaches in North Carolina, EI can get very busy in the summer.

Of course, its shops and restaurants are ready to handle the traffic. Cap’n Willis Seafood Market has all you need if you want to cook at home, too.

And while you’re in Emerald Isle, head to The Point for some of the best beach views in all of North Carolina.

Goldsboro

Small Towns in North Carolina Goldsboro Wings Over Wayne Image
Wings Over Wayne is a huge event that happens every other April. You should visit Goldsboro way more often than that. Just saying!

Come to Wayne County and you’ll discover the four Ps that run the show in Goldsboro and in its surroundings. You really have to come and walk around Downtown, eat at some area restaurants, and check out Heritage Farms General Store nearby.

Thank me later, but don’t forget to stop by Grady’s Barbecue in Dudley. It’s so good that we mentioned it in our guide to North Carolina barbecue!

Holden Beach

Small Towns in North Carolina Holden Beach in Eastern NC

Holden Beach is one of the best small towns in North Carolina and it’s also known as North Carolina’s “Family Beach.” You can kick back and relax at your rental or venture out to the nearby beach or to the Intracoastal Waterway.

We love riding bikes along Ocean Blvd and around many of the sights found on the “Olden” Holden Trail. If you haven’t yet visited this wonderful Brunswick County town, please do yourself a favor and book a visit!

Hope Mills

Dirtbag Ales Hope Mills NC Small Towns

We first think of Hope Mills as the home of Dirtbag Ales but the Cumberland County town offers more beyond those delicious brews and the on-site restaurant Napkins.

Elsewhere in Hope Mills, be on the lookout for fun events throughout the year. You’ll be impressed by their Memorial Day and 4th of July festivities, but also the Gallberry Corn Maze (September to November) and various Christmas celebrations in December.

Kill Devil Hills

Places to Visit in North Carolina Kill Devil Hills OBX Kill Devil Grill Image
Seriously, eat at Kill Devil Grill or else you’ll really miss out!

Kill Devil Hills has been our go-to place to stay in The Outer Banks. When not at the beach or eating at Kill Devil Grill, we love visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial and Nags Head Woods, which the town co-manages with Nags Head.

Read More: Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Kinston

Mother Earth Brewing Kinston NC Small Towns

Kinston is worth exploring at least for a meal at Vivian Howard’s famed Chef & the Farmer, but don’t forget about the other restaurants in and around town.

Mother Earth Brewing also pumps out some of Eastern NC’s finest beers from Kinston and if you’re into Civil War history, check out the CSS Neuse II that’s on display.

Leland

Leland is one of many Brunswick County spots that you might recognize from the many movies filmed here. You’ll understand why very quickly. Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest is a nice spot for admiring the beauty here and for a day on the links.

Manteo

OBX Distilling Manteo NC Small Towns

Manteo is the only incorporated town on Roanoke Island, which it shares with Wanchese. The latter is known for fresh seafood and Manteo is the Dare County.

This small town offers a quieter feel than its Outer Banks surroundings. A visitor can expect Bed and Breakfasts, quaint shops, and a beautiful waterfront boardwalk.

Oh, and please stop by Outer Banks Distilling and pick up a bottle of their delicious Kill Devil Rum! This is definitely one of our favorite North Carolina distilleries!

Morehead City

Small Towns in North Carolina Morehead City

The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament brings people from all over to Morehead City every summer. It’s also popular for scuba diving and many folks, including us, enjoy hanging out on Atlantic Beach just across the Bogue Sound.

Read More: Summer Things to Do in North Carolina

Mount Olive

We’ve mentioned a few times that Mount Olive is a pretty big dill, thanks to the massive pickle company that calls it home. You can learn more about this in April during the NC Pickle Festival.

Beyond that spring extravaganza, stop by the town and patronize some of the local businesses, including R&R Brewing, and tell them we said “Hi!”

Nags Head

Jennettes Pier Nags Head OBX Small Towns

Nags Head is known for Jockeys Ridge State Park, the iconic Jennette’s Pier, and nearby Bodie Island Lighthouse. Some of our favorite places to eat in Nags Head include Grits Grill and Tortugas Lie, and there are tons more places to dig into.

New Bern

Things to do in New Bern NC Tryon Palace

We quickly learned that New Bern is one of the tightest-knit small towns in North Carolina. You can learn about it while touring Tryon Palace or when visiting the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola.

New Bern’s African-American Heritage Tour is another great way to learn about this small town. You’ll follow the tour from the Convention Center to more than 10 landmarks.

Speaking of landmarks, you can also hunt for all the bear statues in New Bern. There’s also the waterfront and tons of local restaurants like Persimmons, Baker’s Kitchen, and more worth exploring for at least a weekend!

Oak Island

Small Towns in North Carolina Oak Island Lighthouse

Oak Island is the perfect spot to have a beach getaway and if you feel the need for more seclusion, head over to Caswell Beach next door. To get a nice panoramic view of the area, visit Oak Island Lighthouse and show off even more to friends and family.

Ocracoke

Ocracoke is the last of the Outer Banks small towns in North Carolina that we’ll feature. The only way to reach it is by boat, either your own, someone else’s, or via the free ferry.

The relative seclusion makes Ocracoke’s pristine beaches and untouched maritime forests even more special. You can explore by grabbing a bike and riding around the village. Of course, you’ll want to visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse, wild horses, and hike the trails.

Oriental

When looking up “Outdoor Fun” in the dictionary, a picture of Oriental should come along with the definition. You can paddle, bike, boat, and just about anything else an outdoor enthusiast can do here.

You can also grab a beer at New Village Brewery and soak up some backstory at Oriental’s History Museum.

Smithfield

Small Towns in North Carolina Smithfield White Swan BBQ
White Swan Bar-B-Que & Fried Chicken.

Smithfield is just a short drive from Raleigh and sits above the I-40/I-95 split. The Ava Gardner Museum is one great reason to stop in Smithfield, and you’ll agree when visiting this interesting tribute to the iconic Johnston County native.

Smithfield is also known as the home of Carolina Packers, which makes the red Bright Leaf Hot Dog, a very famous North Carolina food.

Pop over to Benson for a visit to Broadslab Distilling and if you like barbecue, make a special trip to McGee’s Crossroads and dig into the wonder that is Redneck BBQ Lab.

Southport

Small Towns in North Carolina Southport

Home to the North Carolina Fourth of July Festival, Southport is worthy of all the TV shows and films that have used it as a backdrop. You can hang out by the waterfront all day long and visit one of the North Carolina Maritime Museum locations here.

Southport is also where you go to reach Bald Head Island via ferry.

Read More: July in North Carolina

Spring Lake

Carvers Creek State Park Spring Lake NC

Carvers Creek State Park sits near the town of Spring Lake and is one of our favorite places to walk in the woods. The Cumberland County town also hosts the annual Sandhills Sankofa Festival in April and September’s Renaissance Faire.

Both are a couple of awesome reasons to visit this town, though we think you’ll find something here throughout the year.

Surf City

Small Towns in North Carolina Surf City Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center

When on Topsail Island and exploring the beaches there, you’ll want some time to explore Surf City. It’s got a cool fishing pier that you can walk on and watch folks as they reel in something big.

Then there’s the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, a truly fun and educational place that is open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.

Swansboro

Waterfront pink skies Swansboro

Swansboro sits between Jacksonville and Cedar Point and is largely known for its wonderful waterfront. We love walking around Front St, where you can shop and eat all day long.

You can take a boat from Swansboro or Hammocks Beach State Park to reach Bear Island, one of the best places to go shelling and enjoy some isolation along North Carolina’s coast.

You’re also close to Cedar Point’s Salty Air Open Market and Emerald Isle if you feel like getting away from this nice little town.

Washington

Small Towns in North Carolina Washington

Washington (also known as “Little Washington”) sits on the Pamlico River’s northern bank, with a cozy historic waterfront for walks or picnics. Goose Creek State Park is another nice way to enjoy the outdoors here.

And if you’d like to see North Carolina’s oldest town, you can drive for about 20 minutes and reach Bath.

Read More: Important Places to Visit and Learn Black History in NC

Wilson

NC Day Trips Wilson Whirligigs Image

If you haven’t gotten to visit the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, then we know what you’re next thing to do in North Carolina should be. Lake Wilson Reservoir is another fun way to get outside in the area.

And by the way, Parker’s and Marty’s both have some of the best Eastern NC barbecue you’ll find.

What are the Best Small Towns in North Carolina?

So now that we’ve laid out the best small towns in North Carolina, we’d love to know what you have down as your favorites.

Which is the first one you want to visit when getting out and about in our state? Got any you’d like to add to the mix? Let us know in the comments section!

More Things to Do in North Carolina

1 thought on “80+ Amazing Small Towns in North Carolina (For Your Next Road Trip or Home!)”

  1. I agree with basically all of the places you’ve mentioned, but I can’t believe that Davidson didn’t make your list! It’s a wonderful quaint college town with friendly people and proximity to Lake Norman, state parks, Lake Norman State Park, Duke Energy Visitor Center, and numerous other attractions. It is also the home of Christmas in Davidson an annual event that takes place on the first weekend of December, April is For Arts celebration, etc. It’s a wonderful place to live and to visit!

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