A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_184267" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] The simple glazed doughnuts from Britt’s pair perfectly with a hot coffee. [/caption] Britt’s Donut Shop Carolina Beach A Carolina Beach vacation isn’t complete without a trip

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_184267" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] The simple glazed doughnuts from Britt’s pair perfectly with a hot coffee. [/caption] Britt’s Donut Shop Carolina Beach A Carolina Beach vacation isn’t complete without a trip

Crystal Pier at Wrightsville Beach

Daybreak on the Coast

Stack of glazed doughnuts from Britt's Donuts Shop in Carolina Beach

The simple glazed doughnuts from Britt’s pair perfectly with a hot coffee.  photograph by Millie Holloman Photography

Britt’s Donut Shop
Carolina Beach

A Carolina Beach vacation isn’t complete without a trip to the boardwalk to indulge in the glazed goodness of a Britt’s doughnut. Opened in 1939, the shop has built a loyal following by keeping things simple: Classic glazed is the only style on offer. As those who eagerly jump in line will tell you, these sweet treats more than stack up.


Bock of doughnuts from Wake N Bake; little girl takes a bite of a doughnut

Wake N Bake has 40 specialty doughnuts to choose from — the Pebble Rock (left, center), topped with vanilla icing and Fruity Pebbles, is especially beloved by young customers. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Wake N Bake
Carolina Beach & Wilmington

After crossing the Sea Breeze Bridge into Carolina Beach, travelers eager to satisfy the cravings of their inner child pull into Wake N Bake Donuts. Most of the creative concoctions start with a yeast doughnut base that’s coated in icing and topped with sprinkles, cereal, marshmallows, candy, or bacon. Fueled by his passion for baking, Danny Tangredi started the business in 2014, having never made a doughnut. He believes that enjoying doughnuts shouldn’t be limited to breakfast, so Wake N Bake is open all day.


The Village Chapel of Bald Head Island. Overlooking the marsh in Bald Head Island, North Carolina

The Village Chapel of Bald Head Island was dedicated after the sunrise service on Easter Sunday in 1987. The moment was a reminder that joy — as the Psalmist says — comes in the morning. photograph by Faith Teasley

Island Time
Bald Head Island

Mornings on Bald Head Island are slow and peaceful. The island is accessible only by passenger ferry, meaning that the noise of passing cars is practically nonexistent. Here, golf carts rule the road, and high-rises are nowhere to be seen. People strive to live in harmony with nature — 200 acres of beachfront, dune ridge, maritime forest, and marsh ecosystems. And while the island certainly promotes secluded relaxation, there are still opportunities to strike up conversations and make new friends in town or at church.

A boat off the coast of Kure Beach. The Kure Beach Pier

Jutting 711 feet out into the ocean, the Kure Beach Pier lets you take in the sunrise high above the crashing waves. photograph by Matthew Prensky/Coastline Photography; Christopher Derrick

A New Day
Kure Beach

Built in 1923, the Kure Beach Pier holds the proud title of “oldest pier on the Atlantic coastline.” But the distinction has come with a lot of trials. L.C. Kure built the first structure, which deteriorated from sea worms after just a year. Three subsequent piers followed and were all significantly damaged by hurricanes Hazel, Diane, and Bertha, respectively. The current pier was built by Kure’s grandson and raised 26 feet to withstand turbulent weather. The Kure family probably understands better than most the hope that a sunrise symbolizes. Expectations and new beginnings are heavy burdens for pink clouds and golden light to bear, but the sky carries it all with ease.

100 Atlantic Avenue
(910) 458-5524

Plates of eggs benedict, berry pancakes, and coffee drinks from Drift in Wilmington

The breakfast entrées at Drift satisfy sweet and savory preferences. Try the berry stack with an iced latte or the smoked salmon eggs Benedict with a flat white. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Drift Coffee & Kitchen
Ocean Isle Beach, Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach

A fun-filled day at the beach shouldn’t start on an empty stomach — or without a cup of coffee. Having grown up traveling the world as competitive surfers, brothers Michael and Ben Powell knew this well, which was part of their motivation for starting Drift Coffee & Kitchen. Their cafés serve drinks made with beans from Black & White Coffee Roasters in Raleigh and dishes that help beachgoers fuel up, like smoothie bowls, eggs served with crispy strips of bacon, and fluffy pancakes topped with fresh fruit.


Fishing boat glides over the water in Beaufort, NC

Beaufort’s waterfront swings into action early with boaters and commercial fishermen heading out at daybreak.  photograph by Chris Council

Golden Hour

In Beaufort, when the sun is up, the boats are in motion. Established as a fishing village in the late 1600s on what is now the Intracoastal Waterway, the town has a rich boating culture. Vessels of all shapes and sizes, from skiffs to pontoons to yachts, bob in the slips lining Taylor’s Creek. In the early morning, boaters cast off, ready to embrace a new day and whatever adventures await.

Family at Stack'em High, plate of pancakes, and a table with breakfast platters

Stack’em High has remained a family affair: At the Kitty Hawk location, Chef Steve’s wife, Kristine, often jumps in to take orders, while their daughter, Emilia, 11, and son, Alex, 8, take turns bussing tables. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Stack’em High
Kill Devil Hills & Kitty Hawk

Perry Kiousis was sitting on the Avalon Pier with his wife, Kiki, and sons, Nick and Steve, when he declared: “We’re going to open a restaurant!” He made good on his promise in 1981, when he opened a pancake house in Kill Devil Hills. Today, Nick and his wife, Dawn, run the original restaurant, while Steve and his wife, Kristine, run a second location in Kitty Hawk. Lines of people wrap around both buildings as early as 7 a.m. to order cafeteria-style, picking up coffee and juice before placing an order. By the time folks choose a seat, their breakfast — pancakes and other classics like French toast and eggs made to order — is close behind.


Morning at Bodie Island Lighthouse in Nags Head, NC

The saltwater marsh around Bodie Island Lighthouse is quiet at daybreak. photograph by Wes Snyder Photography

Shift Change
Nags Head

When the third iteration of the Bodie Island Lighthouse opened in 1872, its keepers were the only people around for miles. The closest school and community were in Manteo on Roanoke Island, which was only accessible by boat. After working through stormy nights, helping ships navigate to safety, keepers surely found solace in the rising sun — a different sort of light, guiding mariners over calmer seas.

8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road

Lily Ratliff surfs waves in Buxton, North Carolina

Surfer Lily Ratliff of Buxton takes her board out to Avon Pier first thing in the morning to catch the best waves. Opened in 1963, the pier is a Hatteras Island landmark. photograph by Daniel Pullen

A Swell Morning

The early bird gets the wave … at least when it comes to birds who like to hang 10. The Avon Pier is a popular surfing spot year-round, but summer, especially July, is the best time for shredding. Surfers love the area for its clean, consistent swells, which offer longer rides in light wind conditions. When you paddle out in the early morning light, chances are you’ll catch a good wave.

41001 NC Highway 12 
(252) 995-5480

Kayakers at Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Paddle out early to catch a brilliant display of colors over the sound at Carolina Beach. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Kayak Carolina
Carolina Beach

After departing from Zeke’s Island Reserve, Angela Caldwell Marshall and her sunrise tour group paddle toward Fort Fisher in the predawn light. There, they spot night herons, black skimmers, and great egrets. Marshall has offered the tour since founding Kayak Carolina in 1998, and her favorite part is that the sunrise is different each day. Every time, she sits in awe and anticipation, watching a blank canvas transform into a showcase of color.

(910) 458-9171

This story was published on May 23, 2024

Chloe Klingstedt

Chloe Klingstedt is an assistant editor at Our State magazine, a Texan by birth, and a North Carolinian at heart.