A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

    What We Love About Elizabeth City Almost as far northeast as you can go in our state, just before you reach the Outer Banks, lies North Carolina’s Harbor

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

    What We Love About Elizabeth City Almost as far northeast as you can go in our state, just before you reach the Outer Banks, lies North Carolina’s Harbor

View of Elizabeth City across the water at dusk.

Your Guide to Elizabeth City

 


 

What We Love About Elizabeth City

Almost as far northeast as you can go in our state, just before you reach the Outer Banks, lies North Carolina’s Harbor of Hospitality. In Elizabeth City, boaters are welcome to dock free of charge at Waterfront Park’s bulkhead or at Mariners’ Wharf Park, where city ambassadors greet boaters with wine, cheese, and roses in a time-honored tradition. But standing watch over the Pasquotank River, Elizabeth City might also be called the harbor of history. Incorporated in 1793, this city holds a rich legacy as a significant East Coast seaport. Along the waterfront, historic downtown is filled with modern restaurants and cafés, colorful murals, and independent specialty shops and boutiques, but looking out over the water, it’s easy to imagine four-masted sailing ships coasting by — even as you watch aircraft fly in and out of the massive U.S. Coast Guard base. Whether you come by land or by sea, you’ll be welcomed with a smile.

 

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What to Do in Downtown Elizabeth City

Sightsee: Get your bearings at Waterfront Park, which anchors the south end of downtown. This area along the Pasquotank River and the nearby Great Dismal Swamp was part of the Underground Railroad. Just down the street, Mariners’ Wharf features beautiful views and a rich history: In 1863 a brigade of Black soldiers freed 2,500 enslaved people here during a three-week expedition known as Wild’s Raid.

For more local and state history, the impressive Museum of the Albemarle offers 50,000 square feet of exhibition space as well as its popular “History for Lunch” series. A short walk away, the Arts of the Albemarle gallery showcases local and regional artists and hosts a range of cultural events, from film festivals to live drawings.

Shop: Get inspired at Page After Page, a cozy independent bookshop on Water Street. Pick up a best seller, discover an indie author, and shop for toys, gifts, journals, and more. At Kitchen Kuriosities on Main Street, you might find your favorite new cooking gadget or a vintage casserole dish just like your grandmother’s. Emerald Rose Couture is the one-stop shop for special occasions, outfitting customers with suits, tuxedos, bridal gowns, and prom dresses, as well as shoes, purses, and accessories.

People dine at Tooley's Tavern and Paradiso Roma in Elizabeth City.

With walkable downtown dining options, such as Tooley’s Tavern (left), and waterfront locales, like Paradiso Roma (right), the experience at Elizabeth City’s restaurants goes beyond just good food. Photography courtesy of Visit Elizabeth City

Sip & Dine: Start the day with an espresso at Kraken Coffee House, located inside a fairytale cottage on Main Street. For brunch, head over to Tooley’s Tavern for a bloody mary and a bacon, egg, and cheese burger. Veteran and Black-owned Allecious is all about faith, family, and food, with specialties like prime rib and stuffed flounder. Another fan favorite, Hoppin’ Johnz serves upscale Southern and Cajun cuisine in the popular Pailin’s Alley. For happy hour and small bites, be sure to duck into 2 Souls Wine Bar, which features a global wine list and elegant ambiance without pretension. Boaters are welcome at SAGOS on the River, a stunning waterfront hotspot with live music, festive cocktails, and a renowned chef. Or sit out on the riverfront deck at PROOF aka Paradiso Roma on the causeway, where pastas, pizza, sauces, and desserts are all handmade.

 

 


 

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Where to Dine Beyond Downtown Elizabeth City

Avdet Brewing Company: This veteran-owned nanobrewery pays homage to the owner’s military roots with craft beers like Ready for Take Off and First Light Search. Pay a visit to the food truck and enjoy a cold one next to the fire pit while listening to live music.

Owners at Avdet Brewing Company behind the bar.

Veteran-owned nanobrewery Avdet takes its name from the term “aviation detachment.” Photography courtesy of Visit Elizabeth City

Montero’s: For the ultimate Southern hospitality, enjoy fine dining inside a stately house surrounded by azaleas and dogwoods. While the traditional dinner menu at Montero’s features seafood and steaks, vegans and vegetarians will delight in the delicious plant-based offerings, which include spinach and mushroom Wellington, cauliflower tacos, and vegan apple cinnamon pie.
 


 


 

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Where to Take the Kids

Port Discover: Imaginations run wild at this hands-on children’s museum, where learning is cleverly disguised as play. Little ones can shop inside a mock market, splash around on the water table, experiment in the STEM lab, or climb into a flight simulator.

Mom and child shop for candy at Harbor Treatz.

From ice cream to candy to house-made taffy, Harbor Treatz has endless ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Photography courtesy of Visit Elizabeth City

Harbor Treatz: Satisfy your sweet tooth at this new bright spot downtown. Enjoy a hand-scooped ice cream cone or help yourself to heaping tubs of candy. Unique offerings include freeze-dried treats and fresh taffy made in-house.

The Khan Planetarium theater in Elizabeth City.

The Khan Planetarium at Elizabeth City State University offers an immersive experience that’s out of this world. Photography courtesy of Visit Elizabeth City

Khan Planetarium: Explore the universe from the comfort of your seat at Elizabeth City State University. The theater features a 30-foot screen, surround sound, and North Carolina’s only DigiStar 6 high-resolution projection system for a truly immersive experience. 


 

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Where to Enjoy Special Events Year-Round in Elizabeth City

North Carolina Potato Festival: Each May, all eyes are on the celebratory spud. Enjoy three days of fun, including live music, vintage cars, the National Potato Peeling Contest, and free French fries. Little tots will love the amusement rides, U.S. Coast Guard demonstrations, and the farm and tractor show.

People gather at Mariners' Wharf in Elizabeth City for the annual Fall Festival.

Bring your lawn chair and picnic blankets to Mariners’ Wharf for the annual Fall Festival. Photography courtesy of Visit Elizabeth City

Music at Mariners’ Wharf Fall Festival: Head to the waterfront for this free outdoor music festival. The September festival (2024 dates to be determined!) features popular local artists, as well as entertainers from Nashville and Asheville. Cool off at the onsite beer garden, which serves craft beers from local breweries.

Reenactors pose next to gravestones

Discover the spooky side of local history during the annual October ghost walks.  Photography courtesy of Visit Elizabeth City

Historic Ghost Walk: Join in the spooky fun each October with a friendly ghost as your tour guide. Step inside historic homes and learn about the inventors, freedom seekers, trailblazers, and other fascinating characters who lived — and died — here.

Hot Cocoa Crawl: Elizabeth City is the proclaimed Hot Cocoa Capital of the World, where local businesses create a delicious trail of treats each holiday season, from Thanksgiving through the new year. Kids will love creative twists on traditional cocoa, while adults can get in the holiday spirit with festive drinks like “The Dirty Snowman” or a vanilla-mocha stout from Ghost Harbor Brewing Company.
 

 


 

Explore More in Elizabeth City

Rowers along the Pasquotank River in Elizabeth City

From Land to Sea in Elizabeth City

Before the Pasquotank River flows into Albemarle Sound, it passes by a historic and welcoming coastal town known as the “Harbor of Hospitality.”

The marina in Elizabeth City, North Carolina

A Guide to Downtown Elizabeth City

This waterfront community has always welcomed visiting boaters with a smile. And thanks to the efforts of local business owners, visitors have plenty to smile about, too.

Man drinks hot chocolate while overlooking the Pasquotank River.

Hot Cocoa Harbor

Nothing conjures memories of winters past like a sweet cup of hot chocolate. As temperatures dip, restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses whip up their favorite recipes for Elizabeth City’s annual Hot Cocoa Crawl.

 

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This story was published on Oct 27, 2023

Laura Lee

Laura Lee has lived and worked all over the Southeast. When she's not writing, she loves traveling with her family and her goldendoodle, ready to discover the next hidden gem.