Where to eat + drink by the ocean/lake.
Toes in the water, ass in the sand… and a snack and a bevy in hand—natch. If you’re not posted up at a beachfront/lakefront bar or resto this Memorial Day Weekend, water you even doing?! Here, some of our favorite sip and sup spots at NC lakes and beaches to activate your #VacayMode.
Sanitary Fish Market & Restaurant
Come for the staple “Sanitary” tee, stay for the famed “deluxe shore dinner” (fried flounder, shrimp, oysters, bay scallops and soft crab)—or any of the fresh high-quality seafood caught by local fishermen!—at this treasured Crystal Coast resto on the water.
Got a sweet tooth? This Emerald Isle, ahem, sweet spot has the scoop. Indulge in 50+ flavors of Hershey’s ice cream (make it a milkshake if you’re feelin’ frisky) or 70+ kinds of saltwater taffy.
SeaWitch Cafe & Tiki Bar
Booze and bands… name a better duo—we’ll wait. This hidden paradise at Carolina Beach is known for its fab food and open-air live tunes, with drink specials on select days to boot (hey, $4 well liquor Wednesdays!). How bewitching.
Britts Donut Shop
For the best doughnuts in NC hands down, head to this Carolina Beach boardwalk walkup counter, known for its homemade glazed doughnuts that have been satisfying beachgoers for over 80 years (!). Trust us, you do-nut want to pass up a bag of these babies while lazing the day away in the sand.
The Fat Pelican
For a “beach trailer park chic” vibe, look no further than this Carolina Beach mainstay, offering the best beer selection in the area. Come for a brew every day from 11am to 2am (hair of the dog, anyone?) and/or grab some to enjoy on the water.
This colorful beach shack just over the bridge from Wrightsville Beach serves up a delicious Panamanian menu inspired by owner Hunter Tiblier’s upbringing in Panama. Nourish your body with tapas, empanadas, seafood dishes and, of course, ceviches, all made with only the freshest of ingredients.
Ida Thai Cuisine
This hidden gem at Carolina Beach serves up some of the best Thai food in the area—think chicken satay, spicy basil noodles, som tom (papaya salad) and a multitude of curries. The crowd-favorite coconut cake is heavenly—and a must-have dessert after any meal.
No Sunday scaries here. By day, this South End WB cafe serves coffee, lattes, milkshakes, smoothies and acai bowls in rotating flavors. By night, come out for wine and local beer, plus grub from area food trucks.
Waterman’s Brewing Company
Well-known NC brewmaster Bob High concocts a variety of easy-sipping beers that go down effortlessly after a day on the water. Choose from the Sea Love Sour made with locally harvested sea salt; Stoker’s Select, a passion fruit summer blonde ale; and more. Plus, enjoy daily specials like 75 cent wings on Wednesdays and half-price wine bottles on Thursdays.
It’s all smooth sailing at bright and sunny Lake Norman waterfront resto and bar Hello, Sailor, open seven days a week for Southern-inspired and seafood-focused fare (think NC peel ’n eat shrimp, and crispy flounder and chips)—plus cocktails, blended bevs, beer and wine. Pro tip: Pop a squat on the deck for primo sunset views.
The Gardens Restaurant
Feast your eyes on gorge views of the Bald Mountain Golf Course while feasting on breakfast, lunch or dinner at this Rumbling Bald resto near Lake Lure. Faves include the pimento cheese BLT, casarecce pasta, and spinach and artichoke dip.
It doesn’t get much better than bagels and boats. Hit up this Lake Wylie spot before spending the day on the water for a day that’s sure to be a hole-in-one.
Home is where the lakeside eats are. Dock and dine on burgers, sandwiches, bayfront platters, seafood and more—then wash it all down with a lakeside libation (or two)—at this popular Lake Lure outpost.
The Pointe at Lake Gaston
“Flip-flop elegance” is the MO here—and something you can certainly get behind after a long day out in the sun. Belly up for casual eats and drinks, plus live music and primo sunset views.
If you’re cruisin’ down to Wrightsville Beach, you might as well venture into Wilmington for some sips and snacks as well. Here’s some of our recs.
Feelin’ salty? You’ll have no issue seasing the day at husband-and-wife team Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton’s historic downtown Wilmington seafood restaurant and oyster bar. Stop by in the morning before a day at the beach for grab-and-go pastries and biscuits baked fresh by Clopton, or tuck in at night for raw and baked oysters, small plates, entries and more.
Kipos Hellenic Cuisine
Prolific restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias of Giorgios Hospitality Group promises to Greek you out—coastal style—with a menu celebrating the food of his’ homeland of Greece, with an added focus on the sea, naturally (think spanakopita, moussaka, raw oysters and seafood entrees). A lush partly covered patio, intimate herb and flower terrace, and romantic gazebos up the Mediterranean flair. Opa!
Dram & Draught Wilmington
The uberpopular go-to neighborhood bar (and perennial voted Raleigh Mag Best Bar Overall) went coastal last year with a two-story (!) Port City location features the same vast whiskey collection and seasonal craft cocktail menu as all Dram sip spots—NTM the same cool, comfortable and sexy style and vibe that we all know and love.
Bull City Ciderworks WilmingtonYou had us at cider slushies. … Bull City Ciderworks’ Port City location is the first cidery by the coast (!)—and its fifth location in NC. The roughly 7,500-square-foot taproom touts 24 taps, fire pits, green space, lounge seating and an expansive bar—plus award-winning ciders, cider cocktails, beer, wine and nonalcoholic options.
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