Barrier islands stretch the length of North Carolina's coastline and are home to sandy beaches, estuaries, historic sites, and enclosed lagoons. Linked by bridges and ferries, the thin curving line of sand bar islands shelters the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean.
Known as the Outer Banks, they've become popular tourist destinations in North Carolina and include the islands of Bodie, Roanoke, Hatteras, and Ocracoke. Located in the Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores, it contains wildlife refuges, stretches of undeveloped beaches, tall dunes, and salt marshes that are home to a variety of birds.
Among the historic sites of interest is Roanoke Island, where the continent's earliest settlers, known as the Lost Colony, vanished inexplicably shortly after their landing in 1587; and the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, which commemorates the world's first powered flight in 1903.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches for 70 miles (113km) down the Outer Banks and has a wealth of history relating to shipwrecks and lighthouses. Once known as the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic', wrecks of over 600 ships lie in the treacherous waters along the coast.
Boasting some of the best fishing and surfing spots on the East Coast, the park's beaches provide opportunities for many water activities. Cape Hatteras towns offer shops, restaurants, and accommodation, while Cape Lookout is a beach wilderness unconnected to the mainland, remaining pristine and undeveloped.
The beach resort of Wilmington sits at the southern end of the North Carolina Coast in the Cape Fear Coastal area. Although the largest seaport on the coast, it is an attractive and friendly town with an appealing historic district around its waterfront, as well as cobbled streets, cafes, and restaurants.