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North Carolina’s Coastal Bucket List

Posted on 06/03/2020 by Breanna Brower

Whether it’s your first time in Elizabeth City or your fiftieth, there’s always something fun to do or new to explore. We couldn’t possibly fit them all on one list, but here’s a quick bucket list of things to do and see to help you get started planning your next visit the North Carolina coast! Elizabeth City businesses are following safe reopening guidelines including touchless transactions, increased sanitation, mandated face coverings, rearranging stores and restaurants to allow social distancing and more. For additional information about how we're reopening safely, click here.

1.    Visit Museum of the Albemarle

First things first…what is the Albemarle? The Albemarle region was named in honor of the first Duke of Albemarle and was founded in 1668. This area, comprised of half land and half water, has a big story to tell which is why we let the 750+ displayed artifacts at this regional state museum do most of the talking.

mother and daughter pointing at exhibit at museum of the albemarle

2.    Explore on Two Wheels

There are multiple cycling options in Elizabeth City and the surrounding areas, whether you’re looking to explore neighborhoods or take longer treks into the beautiful countryside. 

man riding bike around downtown, historic elizabeth city

3.    See the Corolla Spanish Mustangs

These majestic horses roam freely on the off-road areas of Corolla and Carova and are a distinct breed to North Carolina’s barrier islands. It is illegal to intentionally come within 50 feet of the horses, so that means no petting or feeding, but they can be appreciated from a distance on a wild horse tour. There are multiple tour companies that can get you within picture-taking distance while also giving you a great history lesson about the horses and the area.

harem of wild spanish mustangs walking on the beach near the ocean

4.    Architecturally Speaking 

If you walk the streets of downtown Elizabeth City, you’ll notice the unique architecture and detail of the historic homes and business buildings. Elizabeth City's self-guided walking tours provide a great way to get some exercise while seeing historic homes, tree-lined streets and stately government structures. These tours cover practically every corner, from Main Street to Riverside Avenue. Stop by the Elizabeth City Welcome Center in Museum of the Albemarle and pick up a free copy of one of the guides or download here.

chesson's department store building in downtown elizabeth city

5.    Soak Up the Sun

The Pasquotank River is a beautiful setting to enjoy a relaxing, or adventurous, day on the water. From fishing to kayaking and rowing, the waterfront has it all! You’ll have more options to get out and play on the water and under the sun with the opening of Coast Guard Park and new kayak tours. If you don’t have a kayak of your own, no worries! You can rent kayaks, paddleboards, or even a pontoon boat from Pelican Marina. If you’re feeling up for a day trip, grab your swimsuit and head to the beaches of the Outer Banks just an hour away to spend a day on the sand.

girls having fun stand up paddleboarding on the water

6.    Get Creative

Indulge in the arts of Elizabeth City with painting lessons from Dear Alchemy and Studio 511. There are plenty of opportunities to get creative at both locations. Studio 511 offers art classes for kids of all ages. If lessons aren’t your style, buy a blank canvas at Dear Alchemy and let your own creativity lead the way in their eclectic new location. Would you rather observe local art than create your own? Head over to Arts of the Albemarle's Jaquelin Jenkins Gallery and immerse yourself in the art of over 150 local and regional artists, craftsmen and photographers.

people painting on large canvases at waterfront park

7.    Gone Fishing

A bad day of fishing still beats a day at the office or tending to household chores. Fishing is made easy with the Albemarle Fishing Charters and Captain Jeff Onley knows all the local waterways and honey holes. Be sure to stop by the Pelican Marina if you need a fishing license or supplies. If you have a boat of your own, there are several  places to launch including Waterfront Park, Sawmill Park, and Newbegun Creek.

grandfather and grandson fishing off bass boat in marsh

8.    Paddle the Dismal Swamp Canal

The Dismal Swamp Canal offers some bonding time for you and your travel companions. Both kayaks and canoes are available for rent at the Dismal Swamp State Park. The word “swamp” may not sound appealing up front, but once you’re out on the water you’ll see how serene and beautiful the natural landscape really is. You might even catch sight of the local wildlife including turtles and ospreys.

adults kayaking in winter clothes at dismal swamp state park north carolina

9.    Visit a Lighthouse 

Did you know there are four lighthouses within 90 minutes of Elizabeth City? Head out on a scenic rural road trip to visit the Roanoke River Lighthouses in Plymouth (212 W. Water Street) and Edenton (7 Dock Street), the Currituck Beach Light Station in historic Corolla Village (1101 Corolla Village Road), and the Bodie Island Lighthouse south of Nags Head (8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road). Top it all off with a selfie at the lighthouse mural in Elizabeth City (505 E Church St)!

currituck lighthouse through the trees

10.    Grab Something Fresh

If you’re looking for a variety of fresh fruits, veggies, honey, handmade crafts, and more from local vendors, stop by the Downtown Waterfront Market at Mariners’ Wharf. The market is typically open every Saturday from mid-May through August, with the occasional rain cancellation. If you’re in town during these months make sure to swing by and support our local growers and artisans. 

little girl at downtown waterfront market selling fruit and vegetables

11.    Catch a Sunrise or Sunset

The unique landscape of North Carolina’s Inner Banks call for some pretty awesome skyscapes. I’m more of a sunset gal myself, but if you’re a morning person and love a beautiful sunrise, EC is happy to oblige! A few of my favorite places to watch the sky change in Elizabeth City is George M. Wood Memorial Park, the dining patio of Paradiso Roma Ristorante, and on a drive by the windfarm off Hwy 17. Make sure to take a special trip to the nearby Outer Banks beaches for a sunrise over the Atlantic and sunset over the Albemarle Sound.

silhouettes of birds flying over the river at sunset

12.    Take a Hike

Elizabeth City has four state parks located within 65 miles, so there are plenty of opportunities to visit the great outdoors. Trek scenic mossy paths, scope out the local flora and fauna, and see majestic bald cypress trees at Pettigrew State Park, Dismal Swamp State Park and Merchants Millpond State Park. Fun fact: the dark brown tinge of the Pasquotank River and waterways is caused by the abundance of tannins released by the bald cypress roots. If you’re headed to the beach for the day make sure to stop by Jockey’s Ridge State Park!

hiking trail with bench in the woods of coastal north carolina

13.    Eat Oysters Like the Locals 

A visit to Elizabeth City isn't complete until you've sampled some local cuisine. When visiting the coast, a stop in at a raw bar is a perfect place to try all the fresh seafood you can stomach. Fresh oysters are available from October to April at many local establishments including the very popular C&H Oyster Bar and Paradiso Roma Ristorante on the waterfront.

plate of shucked raw oysters

14.    Grab a Cold One

Elizabeth City's Ghost Harbor Brewing Company opened in 2017 and has since become an EC staple for a night on the town. During the day, visitors can relax in beautiful Pailin’s Alley and enjoy a nice cold artisan beer from the microbrewery. The brewery is also family and dog friendly during daylight hours so bring the whole family for board games and fun. In nearby Currituck County the oldest microbrewery in North Carolina, Weeping Radish, and the beautiful Sanctuary Vineyards offer more opportunities to enjoy a refreshing glass of artisan beer and wine and relax. 

ghost harbor brewing company logoed pint glass on the bar of brewery with taps in background

15.    Shop Til’ You Drop

Elizabeth City has tons of small businesses spread out around town from boutiques to book stores. The downtown area is a hotspot for shopping, and you can find anything you’re looking for within walking distance. For fashion and jewelry swing by Elle Lynn Boutique, Lazzy Frog, Small Town Trendz, In Stitches, and Eclectic Jewelry. Don’t forget to check out Brackwater Brush Studio’s art and unique furniture and grab a book to take home from Page After Page.

smiling woman walking on downtown street holding shopping bags


Looking for more things to do and places to see in Elizabeth City? Check out our Insider's Guide Blog for a local's perspective on why EC is a great place to visit any time of year!

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