Elizabeth City is known as The Harbor of Hospitality, and for good reason. A popular stop for folks heading to the Outer Banks, this northeast North Carolina town, located along the banks of the Pasquotank River, is also an ideal destination for anyone wanting a quieter, less crowded vacation.
Quieter and less crowded certainly don’t mean dull, however. The area has 20,000 acres of nearby state parks for hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, and more. A 3-hour drive from Raleigh and 1 hour inland from the beaches of the Outer Banks, Elizabeth City beckons visitors with the local flavor of its charming walkable downtown area, fascinating history, and friendly citizens.
My husband and I spent a leisurely three days getting to know Elizabeth City, which was more than enough time to recognize that we had come upon a treasure in this waterfront town.
Note: Although our Elizabeth City experience was graciously hosted by Visit Elizabeth City, all opinions are entirely my own.
1. Historical Walking Tours
Historical preservation has made Elizabeth City a haven for history and architecture buffs. And since the town is wonderfully walkable there’s nothing like delving into the past on foot. Here are two options to consider.
Start by walking the Main Street Residential District, with its lovingly preserved historic homes and buildings. Prior to the Civil War, this street was farmland. Early in the 1890s, local businessmen began to transform the land, and many homes date back to the late 1800s and early 20th century. Architecture mavens will easily spot Queen Anne styles and Colonial Revival designs. It isn’t unusual to walk by a home that is in the process of being renovated. Also, be sure to stop at the stately old courthouse when exploring Main Street.
The Elizabeth City Civil War Trail Markers Tour is part of the national Civil War Trails program. This tour tells of the events that took place during the Union occupation of Elizabeth City between 1862 and 1863.
2. Museum Of The Albemarle
Elizabeth City is the seat of Pasquotank County, one of 13 counties comprising the Albemarle region. The fascinating exhibits on display at the Museum of the Albemarle interpret and celebrate the rich history of the region. My husband and I spent 2 intriguing hours learning about the people, culture, and ecology of this unique area.
Spearpoints and other artifacts dating back several centuries, a reconstructed shad boat from the 1800s hanging from the ceiling, duck decoys, as well as many more areas of interest kept us occupied. The museum even had a small wooden house that we explored. The Jackson House dated back to 1755, and its size and simplicity gave us a glimpse of how the earliest settlers lived.
Pro Tip: Admission is free, so you can put your money to good use at the gift shop, which features handcrafted items from area artists.
3. Downtown Elizabeth City Shopping
Elizabeth City’s downtown area is charming and packed with shops, restaurants, and colorful, enchanting murals decorating walls and windows. If shopping is your jam, you won’t be disappointed with the selection of treasures calling your name.
Stop in at Jade Whale Co., a shop geared to surfers, skaters, and whale lovers. The founders of the store have a goal to contribute 15 percent of all proceeds to worldwide whale and ocean conservation efforts. Just walking into the shop will make you feel good. You’ll feel even better when you treat yourself to something special from Sultry Scent Company, where you’ll find soy candles, wax melts, soaps, and scrubs — all handmade in Elizabeth City. Then check out The Market, a homey spot selling a variety of groceries, deli items, fresh produce, beer and wine, grab-and-go breakfasts, and made-to-go sandwiches and salads.
Don’t leave the downtown area without ducking down Pailin’s Alley. Once an eyesore, today, it’s alive with thriving businesses, trendy restaurants, street art, and live entertainment.
4. Dismal Swamp State Park
Opportunities to revel in nature’s glory are plentiful in Pasquotank County. If you drive 25 minutes out of Elizabeth City, Dismal Swamp State Park has all the outdoor activities and natural beauty you could possibly desire.
Stop in at the visitor center for information. While there, take some time to peruse the exhibit hall. Visitors with mobility challenges can easily navigate the 300-foot boardwalk into an ecological wonderland. 17 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, the Dismal Swamp Canal for leisurely paddling in a rented canoe or kayak, and a bumpy half-hour wagon ride can fill an entire day with activities.
5. Local Sips
When finding the perfect spot for a refreshing break while exploring Elizabeth City becomes a necessity, in this town where locally owned businesses abound, you’re sure to find something as unique as it is delicious.
Muddy Waters Coffeehouse
Kick-start your day at Muddy Waters Coffeehouse. This cozy haunt, with comfy armchair groupings and outdoor seating, is ideal for a to-go cup or a relaxing interlude. They roast and grind their own coffee beans for their rich, flavorful coffee drinks, and offer tempting baked goods to go along with them.
Looking for something healthy? Electric Garden concocts fresh, high-quality plant-based bowls and beverages. Creative combinations of fruits and vegetables make for a nutrition-packed beverage or snack. Everything is made fresh, so don’t be in a huge hurry. The results will be worth the wait.
Ghost Harbor Brewing Company
If a frosty brew is on your mind, try Ghost Harbor Brewing Company. Located on the edge of Pailin’s Alley, this family-owned microbrewery and taproom is so popular that the owners recently expanded the facility and the beer is now produced next door. Try the Coffee Stout or the Poetry in Motion Triple IPA.
Seven Sounds Brewing Company
If you want a meal with your beer, Seven Sounds Brewing Company, housed in a smartly renovated hardware store with a stunning river view, has you covered. This dog-friendly independent brewery offers a kettle sour, pilsner, lager, IPA, and porter, and they’re all worth trying. If the catfish is on the menu, definitely try that, too.
2 Souls Wine Bar
For an impressive selection of wine by the glass and a snack, 2 Souls Wine Bar is a homey escape in the heart of downtown. We thoroughly enjoyed our Ramat Albarino Saira 2017 from Catalonia, Spain — a rich, juicy, red — and an elegantly arranged charcuterie board with an array of meats, cheeses, fruit, and nuts.
6. Elizabeth City Restaurants
The Mills Downtown Bistro
When those hunger pangs hit, Elizabeth City has food options to fit every taste. We filled up on a leisurely brunch at The Mills Downtown Bistro, located in a historic building with exposed brick and a tin ceiling. Our meals arrived on charming old-fashioned china plates. My Southern Eggs Benedict — fried cheese grits cakes topped with lean thick bacon, fried eggs, and cheese sauce — was a delightful change from the English muffin version. The Mills has a varied rotating menu that includes tapas, crepes, flatbreads, and creative cocktails.
Elizabeth City Pizza Company
Elizabeth City Pizza Company can satisfy the strongest pizza craving. As we discovered, this is not your ordinary pizza parlor. Owners Laurie and Will Edwards are passionate about producing flavorful pizzas with the freshest ingredients. The white truffle pizza with mushrooms, mozzarella, and ricotta drizzled with truffle oil was outstanding. Not only was the topping full of earthy flavor, but the crust was crispy, even on the bottom. Add the friendly and laid-back atmosphere of the restaurant, and it’s a pizza lover’s fantasy come true.
Cypress Creek Grill
An excellent dinner option is Cypress Creek Grill. The atmosphere is casual, the service excellent, and the food superb. You can’t go wrong with the blackened shrimp pasta or the blackened tuna.
The Sweet Easy
If your sweet tooth is aching for something extraordinary, The Sweet Easy has the perfect cure. This downtown bakery offers a wide variety of sweets, including chocolate potato chip cookies, creative and fun macarons, lemon tarts, and more. Complement your sweet treat with one of the bakery’s coffees, bubble teas, or lemonades.
7. Pepperberry Inn
Elizabeth City has plenty of accommodations from which to choose. We spent 3 delightful nights at the Pepperberry Inn a charming bed and breakfast that was far more than a clean, comfortable room.
Located on a tree-lined street in the Main Street Historic District, The Pepperberry Inn is a 1902 three-story house full of character and good cheer. A short walk to the harbor waterfront and downtown, the inn is convenient to almost anywhere you might want to go.
The breakfasts were a fantastic start to our day, with delicious homemade granola and baked goods. We also spent an enjoyable evening rocking on the front porch and chatting with our enchanting hosts Kelly Boyd and her husband, Rick.
This property is not wheelchair accessible. Also, Kelly and Rick have two dogs, so pets cannot be accommodated.
Pro Tip: There’s no bad time to visit Elizabeth City, but autumn and spring are spectacular and less humid than summer.