8 Coolest Small Towns in North Carolina for a Summer Vacation

Are you looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life this summer? Look no further. North Carolina is home to some of the coolest small towns in the United States! Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat or an adventure-filled getaway, there’s something for everyone. From exploring stunning beach towns and quaint fishing villages to discovering unique shops and local eateries, here are eight of the best small towns in North Carolina for your next summer vacation. Discover why each one is worth visiting and start planning a dream vacation ensconced in Southern hospitality today!

Blowing Rock – The Mountain Town

Autumn view of Broyhill Park and Mayview Lake in downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Autumn view of Broyhill Park and Mayview Lake in downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Blowing Rock is the perfect summer mountain retreat. Just a short drive from nearby cities and towns, Blowing Rock offers a tranquil escape and plenty of activities for visitors to enjoy. The most popular attraction in Blowing Rock is Grandfather Mountain — a breathtaking peak with incredible views. Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Blowing Rock. With many trails ranging from easy to moderate difficulty levels, you’ll find something that suits any skill level. Bring your camera — you won’t want to miss all the stunning views along the way.

Tourists pass The Sunset Tee's & Hattery shop on Main St. in Blowing Rock, via Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock.com
Tourists pass The Sunset Tee’s & Hattery shop on Main St. in Blowing Rock, via Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock.com

If you’re looking for some family fun, Blowing Rock has plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained. Take a trip to the Blowing Rock Nature Preserve or explore one of the many local waterfalls, including Linville Falls and Glen Alpine Falls. When it comes to outdoor recreation in Blowing Rock, rock climbing is another popular activity with lots of routes suitable for all experience levels. For a more relaxing day, spend some time exploring the vibrant downtown area with its boutique shops and delicious eateries. Whether you’re looking for an active mountain escape or just want to relax and take in the beauty of Blowing Rock, this small town has it all.

New Bern – A Colonial Gem

Aerial View of the City hall building in downtown New Bern North Carolina, via Kyle J Little / Shutterstock.com
Aerial View of the City hall building in downtown New Bern North Carolina, via Kyle J Little / Shutterstock.com

As one of North Carolina’s oldest cities, New Bern offers visitors an abundance of colonial history to explore. Home to Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens, it’s easy to get lost in centuries of history as you roam around this charming town. Take time out from your sightseeing and walk down Middle Street, where you can browse various antique stores and stop off at one of the many eateries dotted around the downtown area.

Several boats docked near a bridge in beautiful New Bern
Several boats docked near a bridge in beautiful New Bern

For those looking for a fun family day out, there are plenty of activities on offer in New Bern. Be sure to visit The Ghostwalk Tour or take a picturesque boat ride past architecturally stunning homes built in the 1700s. The city hosts several festivals each year that are perfect for summer fun. Take part in the Mumfest Festival – one of the Southeast’s premier waterfront celebrations – or enjoy a variety of cultural offerings at ArtWalk Downtown. There are also plenty of seasonal events to check out with arts and crafts shows, concerts, and farmers’ markets all taking place throughout the summer months.

Asheville – The Hipster Haven

The skyline of downtown Asheville, North Carolina at sunset with mountains in the background
The skyline of downtown Asheville, North Carolina at sunset with mountains in the background

As the hipster haven of North Carolina, Asheville is not to be missed! This vibrant city offers visitors a unique mix of art, culture, and outdoor recreation. From craft beer breweries to artistic coffee shops, you’ll find an eclectic atmosphere that’s sure to please all ages. In addition, the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains provide ample opportunity for hiking, fishing, or boating in rivers and lakes.

The downtown area is especially full of life during the summer. Music venues are filled with local bands performing throughout the day and night, while street performers entertain passers by on almost every corner. Local boutiques offer distinctive clothing and accessories with a unique southern flair, while the city’s many restaurants offer an array of flavors from around the world.

The Laughing Seed Cafe, on Wall St. in downtown Asheville, is busy with customers in the open air environment, via Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock.com
The Laughing Seed Cafe, on Wall St. in downtown Asheville, is busy with customers in the open air environment, via Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock.com

Asheville’s vibrant art scene is also worth a visit; galleries, museums, and public sculptures adorn the streets all year round. Local festivals are celebrated on almost every weekend, often involving food, music, and entertainment from around the globe. And for those looking for something a bit more outdoorsy, there are plenty of trails to be found in nearby Pisgah National Forest or DuPont State Recreational Forest.

Wilmington – The Beach Town

The buildings homes and architecture of the North Carolina city of Wilmington
The buildings homes and architecture of the North Carolina city of Wilmington

Wilmington offers all the classic beach town vibes you could ask for in a summer vacation destination. From miles of pristine white sand beaches to its bustling boardwalk, Wilmington is sure to make your summer getaway one for the books.

Wilmington, North Carolina Riverwalk along the waterfront of the Cape Fear River
Wilmington, North Carolina Riverwalk along the waterfront of the Cape Fear River

Ideal for families and couples alike, visitors can enjoy activities such as fishing off Johnnie Mercers Pier, visiting the Intracoastal Waterway, and kayaking in nearby creeks. Not only is there plenty of outdoor recreation available throughout the area, but Wilmington also boasts an array of restaurants and bars that are sure to please any palate. The city’s downtown district features some of the best locally owned shops, with everything from vintage clothing stores to antique furniture shops. Plus, the Wilmington Historic District is a great place to explore and learn more about the city’s past.

Highlands – A Welcoming Escape

Trees and houses reflecting in Lake Sequoyah, Highlands, North Carolina
Trees and houses reflecting in Lake Sequoyah, Highlands, North Carolina

Aside from its natural beauty, Highlands also has plenty to offer visitors looking for some entertainment. From quaint shops, cafés, eateries, art galleries, and more, there’s something here for everyone. The surrounding area is home to lakes and streams offering fishing and opportunities for kayaking or rafting.

Highlands is also known for its vibrant cultural offerings. Each year, the town hosts several festivals, like the Highlands Dog Show in April, and events that bring the community together. Music lovers can enjoy performances by local bands, while foodies have plenty of cuisine options to choose from at the nearby restaurants. No matter what your interests are, Highlands has something to offer for a summer getaway. With its inviting atmosphere and plenty of entertainment and activities, it’s no wonder why Highlands makes one of the best small towns in North Carolina for a summer vacation.

Southport – An Untouched Pearl

Wide aerial view of downtown Southport NC
Wide aerial view of downtown Southport NC

Located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in southeastern North Carolina, Southport is a quaint fishing village with plenty to offer visitors. Its historic downtown area offers a glimpse into the past and its many lighthouses and fortifications are sure to please those looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

A beautiful house in Southport
A beautiful house in Southport

Those seeking some fun in the sun will find it here too, as Southport’s ample beaches, like Oak Island Beach, provide lots of room to spread out and relax. Visitors can even enjoy fresh seafood from one of Southport’s many restaurants — perfect after a long day spent exploring this lovely coastal town. For those looking for an off-the-beaten-path summer getaway, Southport is the perfect destination. Its untouched charm and ample attractions offer something for everyone — from nature lovers to history buffs.

Valle Crucis – The Land of Traditions

Rural landscape in Valle Crucis, North Carolina
Rural landscape in Valle Crucis, North Carolina

Valle Crucis is a small mountain town in western North Carolina, near Boone and Blowing Rock. Filled with tradition and history, it’s the perfect destination for a relaxing summer vacation. The town is home to some of the oldest buildings in the state, including the Mast General Store, which dates back to 1883. It’s also home to The Original Valle Country Fair in October – an old-fashioned fair with carnival rides, arts & crafts vendors, live music and more!

The historic Mast General Store, first opened as the Taylor General Store in 1883, via Nolichukyjake / Shutterstock.com
The historic Mast General Store, first opened as the Taylor General Store in 1883, via Nolichukyjake / Shutterstock.com

For outdoor enthusiasts, Valle Crucis has plenty of activities for the entire family. Explore the Watauga River or take a hike in one of the nearby state parks. Or, if you’re looking for something more leisurely, stroll through town and admire its charming collection of historic homes and buildings. Valle Crucis is also known for its exquisite dining — from great restaurants like Over Yonder to local favorites like Ham Shoppe. With such a variety of options available, there’s something to satisfy every appetite.

Brevard – The Outdoor Paradise

Courthouse in Brevard, North Carolina
Courthouse in Brevard, North Carolina

Brevard, located in western North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Mountains and Pisgah National Forest, is an outdoor paradise that offers something for every kind of traveler. From peaceful hikes to extreme adventure, there’s something here to fill your summer vacation with unforgettable memories! Hiking is a top activity in Brevard. There are hundreds of miles of trails winding through the forests that offer stunning views and wildlife sightings. Fishing enthusiasts will also find plenty to do in Brevard. The rivers and streams are teeming with trout. Camping is another great way to spend an outdoor-filled summer vacation in Brevard. There are hundreds of campsites throughout the area that cater to any type of camper.

Last but certainly not least, Brevard is a great destination for cyclists and mountain bikers. The area has some of the best trails in the country for many riders — from beginners to experts. Whether you’re looking for an easy ride or something more challenging, there’s something here for everyone. Brevard truly is an outdoor paradise that offers something for every type of traveler. From peaceful hikes to extreme adventures, this small town provides everything you need for an unforgettable summer vacation!

In Summary

With so many diverse destinations, North Carolina has something for every type of traveler. Everyone from serious nature-lovers to laid back vacationers will find exactly what they’re looking for here. So, whether you’re a veteran explorer or are doubtful about your first time in the Tarheel State, you can trust that it will have something wonderful waiting for you. So don’t wait any longer — get out and explore all that North Carolina has to offer for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

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