Whether dreaming of living in a quaint, historic coastal town or just ready for a friendly stay waterside, these six small Carolina gems beckons: NC's Manteo, Morehead City and Edenton; SC's Beautfort, Mt. Pleasant and Bluffton.
• See: A waterfront landmark is the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, an exterior reconstruction of the structure that stood at the entrance to Croatan Sound near Wanchese. Venture along the streets to find gems like Outer Banks Distilling, makers of Kill Devil Rum, and to spot the Elizabeth II, a replica of one of the seven English merchant vessels from the Roanoke Voyage of 1585.
• Eat: Avenue Grille overlooks Manteo’s waterfront with seafood always on the menu. Across the street is casual, family-friendly Full Moon Café and Lost Colony Brewery. For a celebratory evening, check out 1587 Restaurant in Tranquil House Inn, which also overlooks Shallowbag Bay.
• Only Here: “The Lost Colony,” America's longest running symphonic outdoor drama, recounts the historical events leading to the disappearance of the first English colonists in America. Shows are May 26-Aug. 19 for the beloved production’s 80th anniversary.
• See: If you have a hankering to fish with the big dogs, the Big Rock Blue Marlin tournament marks its 59th year in June. Year-round, book a fishing charter or sunset cruise. The Annual N.C. Seafood Festival in October celebrates it 30th year. It's the state’s largest festival with 175 vendors, live national entertainment, a sailing regatta, fireworks, rides and the popular Sunday Blessing of the Fleet.
• Eat: Try Circa 81, a tapas and cocktaileria, for distinct cuisine boasting docks-to-dish and farm-to-table offerings; the Arendell Room for hand-crafted cocktails; thendance the night away at Off the Hook, a favorite waterfront watering hole.
•Only Here: Expect a “hon” or two from the waitresses at El’s Drive-In, featuring car-side service under massive live oaks. It's been home to the original Superburger since 1959, the Shrimpburger and Oysterburger are also locals’ favorites.
• See: With dozens of historical markers stationed along the streets, it’s hard to miss the historical significance of what was NC's first permanent settlement. Take the Trolley Tour that passes by the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, the oldest public building in North Carolina. Tour the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse, moved here from its original screw-pilings in the Albemarle Sound, where it marked the entrance to the Roanoke River near Plymouth.
• Eat: The Table at Inner Banks Inn is a head-turner for fine dining in this town of only about 5,000. Emilio’s, a small store/restaurant combo beside the historic Taylor Theater, features sandwiches on fresh-baked bread. Waterman’s Grill is popular for its downtown location. Stately B&Bs like ornate Granville Queen Inn include southern-style breakfasts.
• Only Here: The Edenton Teapot heralds the bravery Penelope Barker and 50 other women who in 1774 publicly signed a petition to abstain from purchasing English tea and cloth and mailed it to King George. The bronze teapot marks the home of Mrs. Elizabeth King, believed to be the site of the protest.
Beaufort (pronounced "BEW-fert" and not to be confused with another charming coastal town of the same name, but in NC and pronounced "BOW-fert")
• See: Tour historic downtown in a horse-drawn carriage and hear tales of the Lowcountry’s rich history. Take to the water for fishing, kayaking or paddle boarding. Nearby Hunting Island State Park has SC’s only lighthouse you can climb. The Gullah galleries downtown exhibit works by local artisans. Penn Center is the site of the first African-American school established for free slaves. History flourishes at spots like the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church or at Santa Elena, the first European settlement in North America, established in 1566.
• Eat: Experience making Lowcountry cuisine with a cooking lesson at Gullah Grub Restaurant, indulge in the Shrimp Shack’s noted shrimp burger, and sip a one-of-a-kind sweet tea float at Scout Southern Market. Wine, dine and unwind at one of many downtown restaurants, including Old Bull Tavern, Saltus River Grill or Breakwater Restaurant & Bar.
• Only Here: Beaufort Highway 21 Drive-In is a blast from the past with two outdoor screens and four movies nightly. The smell of chocolate permeates The Chocolate Tree, noted for making that famous Forrest Gump box of chocolates. Another take-home must is a handmade sweetgrass basket.
• See: Major John Boone, an Englishman, established Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens, one of America’s oldest working/living plantations, in 1681. The family and its descendants were influential in the history of South Carolina, the colonies and the nation. The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site recounts the plantation and life of its namesake, a principal author and signer of the Constitution. Check out Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park or join Coastal Expeditions for a kayak tour.
• Eat: Eateries abound, including Tavern and Table, whose chef beat out Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America; Charleston Harbor Fish House with a rooftop bar overlooking the Ravenel Bridge, USS Yorktown and Charleston skyline; Red's Ice House dockside since 1947; Halls Tavern, part of Old Village Post House Inn in the historic fishing community of the Old Village; Fill Restaurant & Piano Bar, as well as Red Drum with dining room, pub room, patio and bar.
• Only Here: Patriots Point, at the foot of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, is a naval and maritime museum, home to the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, with overnight group camping on board as well as a ghost tour. The eight-lane bridge spans the Cooper River to link Mount Pleasant with the City of Charleston. It offers great sunset views.
• See: Situated on the bluffs of the May River, Bluffton was named #1 for Amazing Non-Beach Getaways by Huffington Post. However, some may point out there is plenty of water to play on, with river and nature excursions available. Or, bike the trails at Palmetto Bluff, stop in at the Farmer’s Market on Thursdays, or simply marvel at the antebellum homes that grace the streets.
• Eat: Check out Cahill’s Market for fresh, southern home cooking’ like chicken and waffles, and visit the chicken coop before or after dining. Other restaurants to sample are The Cottage Cafe, Bakery & Tea Room; Old Town Dispensary, Calhoun’s and Captain Woody’s.
• Only Here: Heyward House Historic Center not only offers info on this pre-Civil War house but also serves as the town’s Welcome Center, so it’s a great place to start. Inside are several photographs on display that “come to life” (thanks to an app) to give you a tour of the rooms and the property.
(This was the cover story in the Mar/Apr 2017 issue of AAA Go Magazine in the Carolinas. All Rghts Reserved. To purchase in-depth stories on any of thse small coastal towns, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)