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80 Amazing Small Towns in North Carolina (For Your Next Road Trip or Place to Live!)

Last Updated on November 16, 2020

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For as long as we’ve lived here, we’ve been on a hunt to find the best small towns in North Carolina. We discovered them in a variety of ways, either randomly during a road trip or while casually driving between our amazing cities.

In many cases, these bucket list-worthy 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 will grab our attention with amazing hospitality, great people, and beautiful outdoor surroundings. And inside this post, we’re going to share what we think are the best.

If you have a chance to visit any of them, trust us. You’re going to be in for a huge treat. In case you’re looking for a specific area, we’ve organized these NC small towns alphabetically and sorted them by region. Here’s how they’re broken down:

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

The Best Small Towns in North Carolina

Many of these awesome small towns are also where you’ll find the coolest Airbnbs in North Carolina.

Small Towns in Western North Carolina

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

Banner Elk

Small Towns North Carolina Banner Elk Apple Hill Farm Image

Our first walk through small-town 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.

Banner Elk is also surrounded by some awesome hikes that include our favorite waterfalls, including some of the best in North Carolina.

Black Mountain

Black Mountain is about the last town you can stop in before Asheville on I-40 (westbound) and 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!

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.

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. However, 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 delcious breakfasts to start your day!

Bryson City

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.

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 its 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 Falls and Roaring Fork Falls.

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

Cashiers

The Village Green Cashiers NC Small Towns

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

And right in the center of town is The Village Green, which hosts events throughout the year. It’s a really wonderful place for a walk any time you stop by 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.

The epic Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is about 25 miles from Cherokee, too, and totally worth a visit.

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.

Dillsboro

When in Dillsboro, stop by Haywood Smokehouse for some gifts or a delicious cup. 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

Carter Falls Elkin NC
Carter Falls.

You’ll run into Elkin either on I-77 or after exploring Stone Mountain State Park nearby. Thanks to some impressive wineries, Elkin gets quite a few visitors but we think there’s even more to 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

Franklin sits near the center of Nantahala National Forest and is a popular Appalachian Trail rest stop. It’s near quite a few waterfalls, including Rufus Morgan Falls and Dry Falls between that Macon County town and Maggie Valley in Haywood County.

Franklin is also fun for shopping and for catching shows at Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts.

Hendersonville

You should head to Hendersonville for more reasons than I can name here. If you’re searching for fine NC wine, head to Burnt Shirt Vineyards.

Of course, fall visitors should head to one of their orchards for apple picking and folks seeking some nature should head to nearby Jump Off Rock and the Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock.

Speaking of nature, we think you’ll absolutely love Bearwallow Mountain, about a 30-minute drive from Hendersonville. 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.

Speaking of the Carl Sandburg Home and Bearwallow Mountain, we featured both in our guide to 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, 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.

Both the Carolina Thread Trail and Crowders Mountain feature among our favorite outdoor things to do in Charlotte since it’s also close by.

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.

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!

Morganton

NC Small Towns Morganton Catawba Brewing

Morganton is the Burke County seat and 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.

There’s also the Catawba River Greenway that runs through Morganton, as well as the Fonta Flora Trail. Downtown Morganton is also nice on its own, as you’ll find nice shops to peruse, great food to eat, and breweries (Catawba, Fonta Flora, and others) to help you explore NC beer.

There’s so much more to explore in this area, which is why we’ve dedicated a whole guide to a weekend in Morganton.

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.

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.

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

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 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.

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 Central North Carolina

Many of these small towns in Central North Carolina are within quick reach of a day trip, especially from Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. 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

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.

We mentioned NC Zoo and other kid-friendly spots in our guide to children’s museums in North Carolina, too!

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.

Carrboro

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.

A visit to this fun town is included in our guide covering a weekend 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.

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.

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 also here, and you can learn more about our state’s musical heritage and hall inductees when visiting.

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

We also included a visit to Kannapolis in our guide to a weekend 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.

These are just a few of the fun things to do in Lexington on any weekend throughout the year!

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.

Then, you should dig into the awesome dishes served at The Mebane Downtown Table.

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

Many folks know 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

Slow down a bit at Pinehurst Resort before heading out for a day on the Cradle Par 3 Course. You can also get out and explore Pinehurst’s Sandhills Horticultural Gardens or travel to nearby Carthage for a look at murals and some grub at Pik N Pig.

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

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.

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

After hitting up Pinehurst and Aberdeen in the “Home of Golf,” don’t forget about Southern Pines. There’s a fun downtown to walk through, and also Reservoir Park if you feel like getting in some nature time.

Statesville

Many folks come to Statesville for Carolina Balloon Fest 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.

We featured all this fun and more in our guide covering things to do in Statesville.

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 Eastern North Carolina

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 is more than a beach. It's one of the best small towns in North Carolina!

Atlantic Beach is the first Bogue Banks town you’ll encounter after crossing over the bridge from Morehead City. Fort Macon State Park is 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.

And if you need a place to stay nearby, check out Atlantis Lodge. Our family has been going there for years!

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.

We’ve covered all the Outer Banks towns and if you know the area, we’d love to know your favorite!

Bald Head Island

You could easily spend a weekend, week, or the rest of your life on Bald Head Island. 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 to 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.

These are just a few of the many great things to do in Beaufort!

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

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 was the first permanent European settlement of North Carolina and its second permanent capital. The Chowan County seat is filled with history but is also worth a visit for views of Albemarle Sound and a weekend at one of their many relaxing places to stay.

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!

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.

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.

These are just a few of the things to do in Kinston when you visit. Check here for more!

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

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.

We included The Big Rock among 50-plus 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.

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

We even interviewed a local about New Bern, in case you’re still not convinced about this amazing small town.

Oak Island

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 towns 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

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

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.

We also included the NC Fourth of July Festival in our guides to July and Summer in North Carolina.

Spring Lake

Carvers Creek State Park Spring Lake NC

Carvers Creek State Park sits in 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 Topsail Island Surf City Fishing Pier Image

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 which is open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.

Swansboro

Swansboro is a Jacksonville suburb that’s known for Hammocks Beach State Park and its gorgeous waterfront. We loved walking around Front St, where you can shop and eat all day long.

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.

Swansboro also featured in our guide to a weekend in Jacksonville.

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.

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.

We mentioned a few of these things in our guide to a weekend in Wilson, too.

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!

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