Our state is filled with some amazing cities, but we thought it was high time to feature the small towns of North Carolina. Because in case you didn’t know, many of these places have hooked us from the moment we parked your car and set foot in them. Others grabbed our attention thanks to beautiful surroundings, great people, and amazing hospitality. That’s why we’ve decided to show off so many small towns for you here. And if you have a chance to visit any of them, trust us. You’re going to be in for a huge treat.
The Wonderful Small Towns of North Carolina
Downtown Banner Elk 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.
Black Mountain is about the last spot you can stop in before Asheville on I40 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 is home to a lovely downtown and surrounded by some amazing scenery. You can come for The Blowing Rock, shopping, their awesome restaurants, and walks around Moses H Cone Memorial Park. Or you can use Blowing Rock as your base for exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain, and more.
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.
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.
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 National Park when in Bryson City.
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.
Learn about Native American heritage in Cherokee at the Oconaluftee Indian Village or the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. There’s also Mingo Falls inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC side) for the waterfall lover.
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.
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. Franklin is also fun for shopping and for catching shows at Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts.
You should head to Hendersonville for more reasons that 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.
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.
We think of Switzerland Inn there as YOUR mountain getaway, too, and shared more about our lovely weekend there in this post.
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.
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 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 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!
Gardner Webb University calls Boiling Springs home and students and parents have a beautiful campus to explore. The nearby Broad River Greenway is a great way to get outside and away from it all, too.
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 chillest 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.
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 before checking 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!
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 the Wooden Nickel Pub. You can also stroll along the Riverwalk and grab some grub at Hillsborough BBQ Company on Nash Street.
NASCAR fans will know Kannapolis as the home of the late Intimidator Dale Earnhardt and you can find a statue dedicated to him along the Dale Trail. There’s also Village Park, which is a lot of fun for families. Don’t forget about Douglas Vineyards if you’re interested in a tasting.
We first stopped in Kings Mountain when spending our first weekend in Cleveland County and really dug the vibes there. Learn about the area at the Kings Mountain Historical Museum or 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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 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.
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, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and Haw River Ballroom.
Visit Seagrove and you’ll be smack dab in the middle of the handmade pottery capital of the United States. 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.
Many folks come to Shelby for a look at Bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs, who is also a Cleveland County native. 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.
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.
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 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.
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 oh, by the way, Parker’s and Marty’s both have some of the best Eastern NC barbecue you’ll find.
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.
The wild horses of the Rachel Carson Reserve were the main reason we stopped by Beaufort, but you can also come 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. We went into more detail about the latter here.
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.
Duck has one of the best beaches in The Outer Banks for families, and its boardwalk is another way to enjoy this fun small town. We also included its Roadside in our guide to Outer Banks restaurants, if you’re coming hungry.
Edenton was the first permanent European settlement of North Carolina and its second permanent capitol. 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.
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 Museum of the Albemarle, which is the northeastern branch of the NC Museum of History.
At the western end of Bogue Banks, opposite Atlantic Beach and adjacent to Indian Beach, you’ll find Emerald Isle. It can get busy in the summer and has shops and restaurants to handle the traffic. Head to The Point for some of the best beach views in all of North Carolina.
Kill Devil Hills
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 is worth exploring at least for a meal at Vivian Howard’s famed Chef & the Farmer. 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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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. There’s also the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center that’s fun to visit on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.
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 (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.
What are Your Favorite Small Towns in North Carolina?
So now that we’ve laid out the small towns of 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!