Whether you prefer the beach or a lake it’s hard not to love being by the water as the weather gets warmer. And here in North Carolina, we have numerous beaches, and lakes that offer water lovers a haven to spend their time. And of course, the best is subjective. Not every beach town or lake offers the same experiences. And personal preference varies as to what the most important offerings of these spots. But when Southern Living makes their pick for the best waterfront town in North Carolina, I take their opinion seriously.

The Best Waterfront Town In North Carolina

After all who knows the South better than the experts at and the readers of Southern Living? Readers of Southern Living actually voted on this list as part of the publication’s South’s Best Awards. One of the categories voted on was the reader’s favorite waterfront town in the South. In total fifteen towns were recognized one in each of the “southern” states. Here’s how the voting process worked according to Southern Living. “An online survey was conducted by third-party agency Proof Insights among Southern Living consumers, asking them to rate their favorite places across the South for the South’s Best Awards 2024. The survey was fielded from July 12 to August 23, 2023, and had over 20,000 respondents.”

Related: Southern Living Named This Mountain Town The Best Small Town In North Carolina

And what they chose as the best waterfront town in North Carolina is certainly a local favorite not just in this survey. In fact, my biggest complaint about this town is simply that it’s too crowded to find parking if you aren’t staying there. And it’s a beach that many people commute to both locals and tourists. Do you know which waterfront town in North Carolina I’m talking about? Keep reading to find out. And also learn about the best waterfront towns in some neighboring states as well. This includes towns in South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. Who knows maybe your new favorite vacation destination is about to be discovered. They are all a reasonable drive for a quick or long weekend getaway. Interested in the full Southern Living list? You can read that here.

  • North Carolina - Wrightsville Beach

    Locals, UNC Wilmington students, and visitors all adore Wrightsville Beach. It’s less than 10 minutes from Wilmington making it one of the most accessible beach towns the state has to offer. Wrightsville is a favorite of surfers and is an ideal spot for a number of outdoor activities. The walkable town (again the parking is not so great) is home to beach boutiques and surf shops as well as fantastic restaurants. A favorite of mine (and countless others) is Dockside which is located right on the water.

  • South Carolina- Hilton Head Island

    The argument could have been made for numerous South Carolina towns. But ultimately the winner is the resort town of Hilton Head Island. Located in the South Carolina Lowcountry Hilton Head Island is a laid-back coastal paradise full of resorts, nature, pristine beaches, and some notable restaurants. Did you even visit Hilton Head if you haven’t paid The Salty Dog a visit?

  • Tennessee-Gatlinburg

    Since Tennesee is landlocked you knew this wasn’t going to be a beachfront town. But would Gatlinburg be your first guess? It wouldn’t have been mine. But turns out Gatlinburg is located on the Pigeon River and rafting as well as other activities are popular amongst tourists. Gatlinburg is certainly a tourist hotspot, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. There is certainly no shortage of things to do here!

  • Georgia- St. Simons Island

    St. Simons Island one of Georgia’s barrier islands known as the Golden Isles is the state’s best waterfront town. Here you’ll find island streets bordered by Spanish moss-draped live oaks. Visitors love the beaches (obviously) as well as museums, golf courses, shops, and restaurants. Choose to stay in a quaint inn or luxurious resort. There are no bad decisions here.

  • Virginia- Virginia Beach

    With other states having slightly more “under the radar” spots as their best waterfront town I was a little surprised Virginia Beach was named. Now let me preface that with I’ve never visited so I do not have an opinion on the town or city in this case. I just know it’s much larger than other destinations on this list. Virginia Beach is a popular tourist hotspot on the Virginia coast. There every season is “beach season” and there is no shortage of things do from activities, to places to say, miles of beach to visit, or restaurants to check out.

  • Florida- St. Augustine

    I’ve paid a quick visit to the nation’s oldest city located right on the Atlantic Ocean. It boasts 450 years of history, brick-lined streets, historical sites, and restaurants, all in a waterfront location. The city is gorgeous and full of historic building which I adore. Learn more about visiting St. Augustine here.

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