By Flo Williamson (Moderator at Topretirements.com!)
March 8, 2017 — There’s nothing so exciting as the thought of a road trip. My husband and I had been discussing revisiting and exploring the coasts of North and South Carolina, and as the grey winter started to settle in, we began to plan our trip in earnest. Our thought was to revisit some towns we had previously seen on a former visit several years ago, dubbed the “Inner Banks Tour”, and to explore some new areas that have always piqued our retirement relocation interest. We’re definitely the type who believe that getting there is half the fun, so rather than speed down Interstate 95, our trip really began as we picked up Rt.17, outside of Norfolk, VA.
Our first stop, Edenton, NC is a town we had visited before. Edenton, the county seat of Chowan County, is a small town with approximately 5,000 residents, located on the Albemarle Sound. If you like being around the water, this is the place to be. At the end of the main street bustling with shops and restaurants is a waterfront park. Edenton has a historic district with beautiful buildings, amazing architecture, and well tended homes. It seems to be a fairly vibrant community, with loads of fairs and festivals.The two nearest airports are Norfolk International about 80 miles away and the smaller Pitt/Greenville Airport, 70 miles away. There is a Greyhound Bus terminal in town.
Following Route 17, through farmland and woods, we arrived in Washington, NC, locally known as “Little Washington”, to differentiate it from Washington, DC. Washington is the county seat of Beaufort County, with a population of 9,000. Situated on the Pamlico and Tar Rivers, it too is a water oriented community that prides itself on fishing, boating, and paddling opportunities. There is a lovely downtown area with riverfront access. Washington has a lively arts and music scene. Washington is closer to Greenville, 20 miles to the west. The Raleigh Durham Airport is about 100 miles. On our last visit to Edenton and Washington, we were somewhat dismayed to see empty storefronts lining the busiest streets. It was great to see that the downtown areas are more alive and active.
To to me, at least, Edenton and Washington seem a bit too “remote”. I’m not a big fan of driving in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area, so I can’t see myself going there for Anything, and we’re at the airport at least 3 or 4 times a year. I’m not sure how much Greenville has to offer, but I know their airline schedules are limited. Both Edenton and Washington are historic and quaint. Recreational, social, and cultural opportunities abound. They both have hospitals, public transportation, and active senior centers. If you’re in the market for small town living, either one of these southern beauties may be for you.
Heading further south
Our trip south continued on Rt. 17. We bypassed New Bern as we were anxious to start exploring Morehead City and Beaufort. Eventually the strip malls gave way to the Croatan National Forest and more upscale shopping as we approached Morehead City. Both towns are situated on the water. Morehead City, the larger of the two has a population of about 8600 and has the primary shopping, medical, and cultural venues for the area. There is a historic district and riverwalk in the downtown fronting the Sound. Morehead City is home to the connector bridge going to Atlantic Beach and others beaches along the Crystal Coast. Several 55+ communities are located in the area.
Crossing the bridge from Morehead City we eventually arrived in Beaufort, the county seat of Carteret County, population 4,000. There are, as in Morehead City, beautiful homes and historic buildings, waterfront parks, great boutique shopping and restaurants, and loads of fairs and festivals. And, Beaufort is golf cart friendly. When my husband and I went out to a great dinner in Beaufort, we found it interesting that the bar was packed with seniors having a VERY good time!! Both cities have hospitals, senior centers, scheduled bus route transportation (which also goes to New Bern, Wilmington, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill) and a bus that connects Morehead City to the Amtrak Palmetto Rail line in Winston, NC. It’s a great place to explore if you’re into fishing and boating, the beach, and watersports of all kinds.
There are nearby ferries to the barrier islands and Outer Banks, as well. The New Bern Airport, 36 miles away, has two carriers going to Atlanta and Charlotte so can get you just about anywhere. Wilmington is a non-stressful 100 mile drive down Rt 17. This is an area that we would definitely like to explore further. For us, at least, it checks a lot of boxes.
Our last stop in North Carolina was the Southport area and the St. James Plantation community. Located about 35 minutes south of Wilmington, Southport is small (population 2800), walkable, and very charming with lots of parks and waterfront access. It’s almost like taking a step back in time. Numerous benches along the river walk invite you to enjoy the view of the Cape Fear Coast. Southport has many fine restaurants and boutique shopping along the main streets in town. There seems to be a large interest in music and the arts, and it’s golf cart friendly!! Southport has a hospital; box store shopping is located on the outskirts of town.
St. James Plantation
While in the area, we stayed at St. James Plantation, a sprawling community about 4 miles from Southport with over 3,000 residents. St James Plantation is not technically a 55+ community, though most residence are retirees. It’s an incorporated town with its own Security Force, Fire, EMS Department, and mayor. We did the “Discover Package”. Our real estate guide was great, showing us all of the amenities, and there are a lot. Private Beach Club, Pools, Fitness Center, Marina and Restaurant are all included and owned by the POA. There’s open space and parks, along with ponds and manicured grounds. There are 5 country clubs, each with its own golf course; you can join all for an additional cost. St. James Plantation seems to have something for everybody, but not for us. Although the amenities are great, it seems like we would be moving into a big suburban development, almost too perfect, and at this stage of our lives, we just want to be a little more adventuresome. We’re coming back though, to further investigate that little town of Southport!!
Thanks Flo, we almost feel like we were on the road trip! We appreciate this informative recap on your travels, and also your diligence in keeping the Topretirements.com Blog and Forum sorted out, free of stuff that doesn’t belong there!
Comments? Tell us about your travels or living experiences in North Carolina. The next best thing to being there is to hear from someone who has walked the walk!