Meet the winners of our annual search for the best coastal places to call home—for a weekend or a lifetime. (Check out the 2016 lineup and vote for your favorite here, through 11:59pm PST January 25th!)
Photo: Christopher Shane
Putting proof to the dictum that “small is beautiful,” this tiny (2.2-square-mile) harbor town at the outlet of the Cape Fear River with only 3,060 residents wins big on Southern beauty and charm. Everyone’s your neighbor here, and most of the town’s residents walk, bike, or drive golf carts down Southport’s oak tree–lined streets to enjoy a morning coffee at Port City Java, browse antiques shops and galleries, and head to the waterfront for a table—and delicious fish tacos—on the pier of Fishy Fishy Café.
One stroll through town (and perhaps a stop at Bull Frog Corner, with its barrels of penny candy) makes it easy to see why Southport has long been sought after as a film location. Bright white cottages with red roofs, stately sea captains’ homes, two lighthouses, and water in seemingly every direction (what with the confluence of the river and the Intracoastal Waterway) create vistas at every bend in the road. It’s a vintage postcard sent from a halcyon past.
In addition to the town’s harborfront pleasures—the jaw-dropping views of massive container ships navigating toward the ocean from inland Wilmington, plus a narrow strand of sand along the water—Southport is also a quick ferry boat ride out to Bald Head Island, boasting one of North Carolina’s most stunning beaches. Finally, there’s nothing small about the Independence Day party here: Southport swells with revelers who come to celebrate at the North Carolina 4th of July Festival—a truly all-American weekend.
Where To Stay: The buttercup yellow circa-1890 Robert Ruark Inn offers a historic retreat, not to mention a welcoming line of rockers on its ample front porch; 910-363-4169 or robertruarkinn.com. Lois Jane’s Riverview Inn has cozy, pretty rooms near the water; 910-457-6701 or