Downtown Swansboro certainly brings the town's mantra as the "Friendly City by the Sea" to life. Home to a number of acclaimed art galleries, restaurants, shops, and fun events for locals and visitors alike during virtually any time of year, a visit to the community's busiest section of town is sure to be a highlight of any Eastern North Carolina vacation.
The main area of downtown is located along the waterfront, just a minute's walk away from the White Oak River Bridge and the massive White Oak River itself which separates the mainland from neighboring Bear Island, Huggins Island, and Emerald Isle. Along this small stretch of city blocks, shoppers will find plenty of ways to score some new treasures, with boutiques and locally owned stores that cater to a world of varying tastes. Browse through book stores that specialize in local history and beach reads, skim through nautical antique stores, or brush up on the latest coastal fashions and hand-crafted maritime accessories. All of these shops and more can be found within the turn-of-the-20th century wood-planked and brick buildings, with wide porches and tempting store fronts, and virtually all stationed within view of the waterfront.
Downtown Swansboro is also home to some of the region's most eclectic restaurants, including a waterfront Trattoria restaurant located next to Bicentennial Park which specializes in gourmet pizza and homemade breads, an Irish Pub and Deli, and several harbor front bistros and grills that serve up the fresh catch of the day with a wide selection of the region's local wines and brews.The unique downtown dining scene is unusual in Eastern North Carolina, and pays homage to its local fresh ingredients while giving visitors a new way to experience coastal cuisine and down home cooking in completely distinctive and creative ways.
Not surprisingly, considering the town's heritage as a coastal destination, a large portion of the activity takes place along the waterfront, and a visitor on any sunny day will spot dozens of kayaks, skiffs, and sailboats cruising past the harbor. There are two fishing piers in the area, including a public pier and a privately owned pay pier, as well as three marinas for folks who want to launch on their own self-guided boat tour of the region. Several watersports rental companies offer kayak and canoe rentals for active visitors who want to take a tour of the waters bordering the downtown, and an "Aquaculture Dude Ranch" offers tours of the Croatan National Forest, as well as local adventures including clamming, shrimping, and crabbing right off of a Downtown Swansboro dock.
The town is also one of the most spirited communities along the coastline, as evident by the massive number of festivals that are celebrated along the downtown streets throughout the year. The annual mid-March Swansboro Rotary Oyster Roast is a must for seafood lovers, featuring all-you-can-eat steamed oysters, flounder, clam chowder, and traditional southern sides, while anglers flock to the area for the May King Mackerel Blue Water Tournament, featuring cash prizes of up to $25,000.
The 4th of July always features an incredible fireworks show, launched right over the river bordering the downtown, while the October Mullet Festival, which began as a celebratory town party when the White Oak River Bridge was completed in 1954, has become a local town staple with a street carnival, arts and crafts vendors from across the region, and a traditional annual parade. Holiday visitors with a love of the sea will want to stick around until Thanksgiving, when the annual downtown Holiday Flotilla creates a fabulous and festive display along the Swansboro waterfront.
As for accommodations, Swansboro is home to a several hotel chains, including one located on Cedar Point Boulevard just over the bridge, as well as one that's just a few streets away from the center of downtown. There's also several lovely local B&Bs which are located close to the waterfront, in addition to the three marinas which provide all the facilities a coastal mariner could need for a pleasant night, week, or even a full month of exploring this hardy, salty, and altogether charming region of coastal North Carolina.
Many first-time visitors are initially surprised with Swansboro's selection of summertime farmer's markets, beer and wine shops, and eclectic book stores, but upon discovery, the majority of Swansboro's downtown vacationers keep coming back for more. An unusually unique scene that's filled with great eats, cool boutiques, and miles of water in all directions, Swansboro's downtown is an up-and-coming coastal destination, with a community spirit that is both contagious and uniquely North Carolina.